In mid 1800’s, Ka Rumagit met Bonifacio Geronimo when he came to the latter’s rescue when Bonifacio was attacked by five outlaws. Ka Rumagit came to his aid and they successfully repelled the attackers. Whether they used SIKARAN techniques or not, was not clear. However, it was known that Ka Rumagit’s fighting system combines techniques of Arnis de Mano and SIKARAN. The meeting marked the start of a long and fruitful relationship as teacher and student and a lasting friendship.
Bonifacio was a natural-born fighter. However, he lacked the adroitness of a champion relying mainly on his size and strength. Ka Rumagit called Bonifacio Geronimo Higante (giant). He was a duwende (dwarf) compared to Bonifacio Geronimo. Bonifacio Geronimo was tall (by Filipino standard) at five foot and ten inches. He was lanky with powerful features. Ka Rumagit on the other hand standing at five feet tall was massive and erect like a tree stump.
Ka Rumagit schooled Bonifacio the old hard way. He did not hold back and instilled in Bonifacio the awareness that SIKARAN was not just a game to be played, but a system that may very well save his life.
With the passage of time, farmers found out that SIKARAN contest was a very good way of expressing and showing off their skill and strength through friendly competition. Although contests were already being held regularly in the early 1800’s, it was not until the mid to the late 1800’s when rules were established to determine a champion.
The first rule was how to determine the best fighter. It was agreed that a fighter must win twelve “official matches.” To be classified as official, the match must be arranged by the alalays (seconds). This insured that only quality fighters be declared as titleholder. The term Hari was adopted to mean champion. Literally, the term means king. There was no second place or runner-up because in the game of life it was always assumed that being second means being dead. Winning twelve official matches was not enough to be named Hari. This was also true in the labanan ng mga Hari. Being the victor was not enough. A lupon (board) must approve the granting of the title Hari. The lupon was made up of the alalays of the victor and the loser and three independent alalays. The personnel may change but the composition was fixed. It was an “unofficial” independent body but has an “official” function, albeit for formality’s sake. The lupon had the authority and must proclaim the champion as a Hari or Hari ng Mga Hari. Without this proclamation, the title cannot be assumed. SIKARAN elders explained that there were no written records of the fights and since some fights were not so well publicized, it was necessary for an independent body to verify and authenticate the claims of the fighters.
Rules, particularly the use of the hands, were set without a need for a referee or mediator to enforce them. Breaking any set rule was cause for ridicule and expulsion from the circle of fighters and therefore was unheard off. In the old SIKARAN society, a fighter was expected to be a man of honor at all times.
There were unique rules that set SIKARAN contests apart from other empty hand fighting competitions. The use of the hands was limited to blocking, parrying, pushing and pulling. However, kicks were not “pulled short of contact.” All kicks were delivered full contact with both the speed and power a fighter can muster.
Hand techniques, were not allowed in contests and competition. In a real life and death struggle, however, SIKARAN was an art where everything goes and no technique was prohibited. Hand techniques are used extensively and effectively not only for strikes but also for takedowns and throws.
In SIKARAN contests, the whole body was legal target, except for the groin and the eyes, which were primary targets in SIKARAN as an art of self-defense. Despite the large target area, SIKARAN fighters prefer direct attacks to vulnerable parts that will immediately incapacitate, prompting a fighter to give up. The shorter it took to dispose of an opponent, the better it was for a fighter’s reputation. SIKARAN action was always fast, furious and sometimes bloody. They were like fighting cocks on a non-stop frontal confrontation. Fighters never stood still so they do not absorb the shock of the blow. By constantly moving they do not present a clear target and they can roll with the blow easier and faster. It was very rare for an accomplished SIKARAN fighter to move backwards from an attack. They move directly forward neutralizing the force of the attack or to the sides maintaining an effective counter-attacking distance.
There was no set venue for a SIKARAN contest. It may be held at the town plaza where they make a circle about 12 to 25 feet in diameter or the middle of the pitak (rice paddy) where they place markers. This size varied in accordance with the level of skill of the contestants. The more advance in skill, the smaller the circle so the action was non-stop and continuous until a winner was declared. Determining the winner was the easiest part of the contest. The first fighter who stepped out of the fight area, or who gave up was declared the loser. Sometimes when it was really almost impossible to fight in the rice paddy, the contest was held on the pilapil (levee). The edge of the levee and an agreed marker served as the borders and whoever fell off or stepped out of the marker was declared the loser.
Contests in rice paddies presented difficulties more than in the town plaza. In the town plaza, the ground was even and most of the time free from debris. However, the rice paddy was uneven after it had been plowed. It may be knee-deep in mud after the rain. Due to the unevenness of the terrain, it was quite difficult to keep one’s balance, making it more difficult to execute or evade a kick. Fighters who favored jumping kicks insisted on this type of arena because they have an advantage over fighters who cannot jump.
There was no regulation attire in SIKARAN. Fighters square off bare-chested and bare- footed. They usually wear loose fitting red trousers rolled up just below the knees. This was considered a normal farmer’s work pants.
Normal play may be held anytime, anywhere. Only the challenge "magpanikaran tayo" (let us play SIKARAN) was needed to start a contest. In order for fights to be “official,” they must be accomplished through alalays (seconds) where an alalay pitted his fighter against another fighter. Although no monetary consideration was awarded the winner, side bets were common. There was no time limit in a match. A match may last a minute or a day. There was also no height or weight classification in SIKARAN. Inter-gender contest was never allowed. It was very seldom for a woman to engage in SIKARAN.
A fighter who won 12 “official” matches was eligible to be declared a Hari (king or champion) by the lupon (board). It was up to the SIKARANista and his alalay to keep an accurate record of his “official” fights and convene the lupon. Combatants may come from different towns and provinces. Once declared a Hari, he carried the name of his town; i.e. Hari ng Baras, Hari ng Morong, Hari ng Pillilla and other towns. Although possible, it was very unlikely to have more than one active Hari in a town at any single time. The 12th “official” match of a contender must be against the Hari of his town if there is one. If there is no Hari in his own town, he can challenge the Hari of another town. If he wins, he will be called Hari of his own town.
There were three ways a Hari may be dethroned. The first was losing an “official” match to a non-Hari. The second was by turning down the challenge of a worthy opponent in an “official” match for the crown of the Hari. The third is by being inactive without “sanction” from a lupon.
Losing a match to a non-Hari was considered degrading. Refusing a challenge of a worthy opponent was considered cowardice and shameful. In both cases, the title of Hari was withdrawn. A Hari, who does not avail of the classification as a Haring tulog, but has remained inactive, sometimes assumed the role of a guro, alalay, tagasanay or sometimes he just faded away in obscurity.
Worthiness of an opponent was determined by the alalays of the different fighters. Their decision was based on a majority vote determined by the number of victories and the reputation of the fighters the contender defeated.
A Hari who was inactive or failed to fight for at least 12 months due to injury was not dethroned but was called a Haring Tulog (dormant champion). This allowed the Hari an opportunity to fight when he can without losing his status of Hari. The classification of a Haring tulog must be verified and approved by a lupon of five independent alalays. It was up to the prospective Haring tulog to convene a lupon for this purpose. Injuries sustained in a fight, which prevent a fighter to work in the field was the most common cause of inactivity.
A Hari must be able and willing (but not required) to accept “partida” (handicapped) challenges. One type of partida was to remain in a small circle while the opponent was free to move about outside the circle. Another was to engage multiple opponents while inside the circle. Still another was to keep the feet tied together to limit the ability to attack or counter-attack. If the Hari steps out of the circle, he was declared the loser. In a partida match, although the Hari loses face his stature as Hari was not affected.
Some SIKARANistas have developed blocking and pushing techniques to such a degree that they do not have to kick or strike to win a match in a partida match. All they apply were blocks and pushing or pulling techniques. Sometimes a bigger fighter will rush his opponent, grab, and throw him out of the match area. A Hari was allowed a teasing slap on the opponent’s face that equated to “how dare you fight me.” This was a common partida (handicap) match between friends. In contests where reputation was at stake, this kind of match was non-existent. It was always taken for granted that when a fighter issued or accepted a challenge, he was good and capable of fighting in an even match.
A favorite partida by a more accomplished fighter although not necessarily a Hari, was to draw a line and dare another fighter to cross the line.
During the town fiesta, of any town that chose to host a SIKARAN contest, a challenge was issued to all Haris of the different towns to a Labanan ng mga Hari (contest among champions). Labanan ng mga Hari was not an automatic annual event. Several years may pass by without a contest of champions. The cost involved in this formal affair was sometimes too much for a host. All the invited participants together with their alalay (second) tagasanay (coach) and everybody involved in the event must be dined and wined separate from the other regular fiesta guests. Although there was no monetary compensation to the victor, alalays (seconds), tagasanay (coach) and the followers of the different Hari spent a considerable amount of money for pustahan (bets).
Lots were drawn to determine which fighter fought which. Several Hari’s and wannabe Haris held exhibitions, such as breaking coconut with the lulod (shin) or with biyakid (spinning heel kick), "flying" over obstacles as in high jumps and other feats of strength and skill. A Hari was not required to fight in a labanan ng mga Hari but was expected to do so.
The victor of the Labanan ng mga Hari was called the Hari ng mga Hari (champion of champions). For formality’s sake, the title of Hari ng mga Hari had to be confirmed by a lupon. A Hari ng mga Hari was feted in a manner befitting a royalty. He was given the silangngang kabisera (east head of the dining table – denoting sunrise) and given the honor of making the first cut of the litson (roast pig) and give the toast of tuba (palm wine). Being a Hari ng mga Hari was an honor. Aside from the glory associated with the title of best fighter, it carries social standing and was appointed escort of the town’s beauty queen.
Labanan ng mga Hari was an all-out fight where the only two prohibited techniques were attacks to the eyes and the groin. Extensive use of the hands for parrying, grabbing, pushing or takedowns was allowed as long as it was a direct part of a legitimate foot technique.
The labanan ng mga Hari was always attended by a “medical person” called hilot (bone setter) who was also an arbularyo (herbalist). This type of hilot (bone setter), must not be mistaken for another type of hilot (midwife) who attends to giving birth. This “medical person” can stop the fight if both of the fighters were unable to continue but nobody wanted to give up and there was no clear winner. In such a case, both fighters retain their titles until such time that they can fight again. They usually do, being very anxious to prove who the better fighter was. Sometimes they do not wait for a town fiesta and just hold the fight as a special event as long as there was a sponsor willing to host the match.
A Hari ng mga Hari may be dethroned two ways. First was by losing in the Labanan ng mga Hari. Second was by refusing to defend his “title.” If for some reason the Labanan ng mga Hari was postponed or cancelled, the last Hari ng mga Hari kept the title until such time that he was defeated in a Labanan ng mga Hari or he passed away before he can defend his title. There was only one Hari ng mga Hari at any given time.
As a consolation, a losing Hari in a Labanan ng mga Hari kept his title as Hari of the town he came from and was eligible to fight in any subsequent Labanan ng mga Hari. A Hari ng mga Hari who refused to defend his “title,” was allowed to keep the title of Hari of the town he hailed from, but was not allowed to fight in any subsequent labanan ng mga Hari.
The title Hari was not transferable and cannot be passed on to a successor. The title has to be earned and won in the “battlefield of combat.”
Ka Rumagit never fought to be a Hari. His training in SIKARAN was geared towards self-defense and his techniques were designed for survival. However, Ka Rumagit narrated how Bonifacio beat a fighter from the town of Tanay (but originally from Laguna) who was deridingly called, Kastila (Spaniard), because he was said to be the illegitimate son of a prayle (Spanish friar). It only took Bonifacio a biyakid to win the bout. According to Ka Rumagit and Cipriano Geronimo, this feat of winning a match with the first kick was never duplicated. It was not clear whether this was the bout that won the title Hari ng mga Hari for Bonifacio Geronimo. Bonifacio Geronimo also defeated a certain Juan Diego who was allegedly Hari ng Tanay. It was not clear whether it was a title bout or not. Nobody also seemed to remember if Kastila and Juan Diego are the same person.
Due to memory lapse that may have been time-induced, nobody was able to shed any light on how many times Bonifacio Geronimo defended his “title” if he ever did. Likewise, none of the three living SIKARAN experts can remember the Hari ng mga Hari before and after Bonifacio Geronimo or if he was the first or the last or the only Hari ng mga Hari. They attested, however, that Bonifacio Geronimo passed away unbeaten Hari ng mga Hari (champion of champions).
Bonifacio Geronimo was said to have downed a carabao with a single biyakid. Pedro Castaneda, a contemporary of Geronimo, was said to have performed the same incredible feat. Another feat attributed to Bonifacio Geronimo, was his ability to break a coconut with a biyakid. A coconut will be thrown up in the air and Geronimo will jump up and with a biyakid break the coconut in half while in mid-air. Meliton Geronimo (grandson of Bonifacio Geronimo) however, exceeded this latter feat. Instead of coconut, Meliton Geronimo kicked and broke concrete tiles and blocks.
There were no different styles or schools of SIKARAN to contend for supremacy. There was, however, genealogical order that identifies the family origin or fighting influence of a fighter.
In the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s, the last five SIKARAN progenitors left were the Geronimo, the Ballesteros, the Tesoro, the Castaneda and the Llagas lineages. It was the Rumagit genealogy that was the precursor of the Geronimo SIKARAN lineage.
Cipriano Geronimo was the heir to the Geronimo and Ballesteros SIKARAN lineage. The Tesoro genealogy ended with Melencio Bigasin, while that of the Castaneda genealogy ended with Manuel Ocampo. Both Bigasin and Ocampo have passed on their skill to Meliton Geronimo. They also elected to pass on their genealogical heritage to Meliton Geronimo. The Llagas ancestry ended without a progeny.
It was a tradition in Filipino fighting arts for a master to pass on his skill and legacy to a chosen successor. Ka Rumagit passed his skill and his legacy to Bonifacio Geronimo. It was so with Bonifacio to his son Cipriano. It was only natural that Cipriano continued the tradition and passed on his skill in SIKARAN (but not his title of Hari) to his sons Meliton and Jaime Geronimo.
The only lineage that has survived to be the foundation of SIKARAN as it is practiced today is the Geronimo lineage.
There was no ranking or grading system in SIKARAN. However, there were four classifications: Hari (champion), guro (teacher), manlalaro (player) and a nagaaral (student).
Manlalaro (player) was a fighter who has not achieved the status of Hari (champion).
A Hari (champion) was always a sought after guro (teacher), but a guro (teacher) was not necessarily a Hari (champion) but may have been one.
A guro (teacher) was also a manlalaro (player) who has not achieved the status of hari and has thereafter chosen the sedentary position of training a nagaaral (student) to be a fighter. The guro (teacher) also takes on the task of being an alalay (second) and a tagasanay (coach).
There were guros who do not fight regularly to become a Hari, so as not to risk being injured preventing them from performing their regular occupation. There were also manlalaros who do not fight regularly or win regularly to become a Hari. There were those who are willing to demonstrate their feat of strength or skill but not fight.
Unless and until one becomes a SIKARAN Hari (champion) or a guro, one was not taken seriously as qualified to pass on the art.
SIKARAN enjoyed its golden age as a sport, in the mid 1800’s to the early 1900’s. In the 1920’s, SIKARAN went into a rapid decline. Exposure to American ideas and the ingress of American culture brought new interests. Younger men moved away leaving only the older men to carry on the tradition of the system. In the province of Batangas, birthplace of the balisong (fan knife), baseball replaced the fighting arts. Western boxing became the craze in the Visayas (Central Philippines). The onslaught of foreign domination in the psyche of the Filipino was such that the only place where SIKARAN was still being played was the town of Baras in the province of Rizal.
Melencio Bigasin and Manuel Ocampo became SIKARAN Hari before Cipriano Geronimo. At the age of 35, Cipriano Geronimo became the last Hari of Baras. Even before he was named Hari, interest in SIKARAN had started to wane. There were no more labanan ng mga Hari (contest of champions) contests. Contests were still held, but only as an entertainment.
Even in their advance age, the three SIKARANistas were still spry and full of combative energy as they recall their fighting days. The tales they told bordered the realm of exaggeration and fiction that stretches the imagination.
Manuel Ocampo, also known as Maning Kabayo (Manuel the horse) claims to have downed a carabao (water buffalo) with a single sipang kabayo (back thrust heel kick) to the head.
Melencio Bigasin, who in his fighting days was known as lulod na bakal (shin of steel) claims the scars on his shin were marks of the many coconuts that he broke with his shin. A coconut will be thrown up in the air and Bigasin will jump and with a Dambang sipa-kot (jumping roundhouse kick) break the coconut in mid-air with his shin. Bigasin attributes this remarkable skill to his predecessor Alfonso Tesoro.
Cipriano Geronimo, known as Agila (Eagle) a moniker he shared with Perfecto Ballesteros, claims to be able to jump and kick the hat off the head of a person standing on the back of a carabao, a feat duplicated by his sons Meliton and Jaime Geronimo.
When the Philippines, was drawn in the war against Japan, several SIKARAN masters who were also masters of Arnis de Mano, joined the guerilla movement in defense of the Philippines. The hostilities further decimated the already dwindling number of SIKARAN practitioners.
SIKARAN was becoming obsolescent had it not been with the seeming intervention of divine providence.
SIKARAN masters and practitioners, out of patriotism and love of adventure joined the resistance and almost all became statistical part of the Second World War. It was probably only because it was a part of a “grand plan” that three of the survivors of the Second World War were Cipriano Geronimo, Melencio Bigasin and Manuel Ocampo.
After the Second World War, the Filipinos were busy rebuilding their lives. Non-essential activities, such as sport was set aside, in favor of patching up shattered lives. Even SIKARAN was on the brink of death and extinction.