Gilroyans taking Eskrima to the world level

Linda Pulido, left, and Jeanie David practice Friday at Champions Martial Arts gym. Pulido retained her world titles, first place single stick, first place double stick and first in team and David got first place in single stick and first place in double

Linda Pulido prides herself on pushing the limits and extending the parameters of what’s possible. Spanning her career, the Gilroy native has traveled the earth chasing down those world titles. Most of those trips, save a few friends and family joining in support, she has been by herself, competing alone.
Needing a new challenge, Pulido, who owns 16 world championships across various forms of martial arts, began training in Eskrima, or stick fighting, six years ago.
The Filipino martial art came naturally to Pulido and she immediately took the global stage by storm, winning her first single stick world title in 2006, which she has since defended three times, plus added two consecutive double stick world titles.
As her involvement in Eskrima gained momentum, Pulido noticed a growing interest in the sport among some of her regular students at her gym – Champions Martial Arts – in downtown Gilroy. She began to teach the discipline, recruiting a couple more bodies along the way, and last month, Pulido had some company at the 2012 Global Blades and Stick Alliance Eskrima World Championships in Las Vegas.
Alone no more, Pulido was joined by Roy Garza, Janet Garza, Jeanie David, Manny Pulido and Haleigh Nino at the tournament. The group, which served as a small portion of a large contingent representing the United States, pocketed 12 medals – including nine gold.
Pulido defended her crown in single and double stick, and anchored a team victory for “Chicks with Sticks” – a trio that included Janet Garza – but it was the success of her pupils that provided the icing on the cake.
“The last few (world championships) that I’ve been to I have been by myself,” Pulido said last week. “This is amazing that I actually had students who made it. I was very proud.”
In Eskrima – which can include one or two sticks – combatants use their stick to strike each other, gaining points for number of strikes, quickness and overall style.
Rounds, three in this case, are judged like boxing; the winner of the round receives 10 points, the loser, nine. Fighters can lose points if they drop or have their stick taken from them by their opponent.
To get to the world championships, the five newcomers had to all qualify through a regional and national tournament.
Training, in Roy Garza’s case, began long before he wrapped up his world title in single stick. Garza gained interest after Pulido returned from the Philippines in 2008, where she defended her single stick title for the first time. After failing to qualify in 2010, Garza knew he had to step up.
“A lot of experience and listening to what Linda has to say,” Garza said, pointing out some of the changes he made. “As far as training, I work her in the gym four to five times a week, including the kickboxing class for cardio.”
Garza, 45, competed in the 169 to 184 pound Senior Division, and went 3-0 leading to the championship match. It was thrilling, to say the least, as Garza and his opponent needed a sudden death fourth round to decide it.
“It was pretty exciting,” Garza said. “We had these different countries there, and it was just cool to be there. The atmosphere was incredible. It’s the best of the best.”
Garza also won silver in double stick, and said that he will definitely attempt to defend his gold at the next world championships, which are held every two years.
“Oh, I’m going,” he said.
David’s time in Las Vegas wasn’t quite as stressful. With no other competitors in her over-40 class, David, 45, was awarded gold in single and double. She did, however, fight in two exhibition matches. Injuries to both of her feet topped a list of reasons why David began her stint in Eskrima about two years ago, looking to add another method of self-defense to her repertoire.
“I figured I couldn’t run, so I thought that I’d better be able to stand and beat up somebody,” David said. “The classes and the drills are a phenomenal workout.”
Manny Pulido, 45, Linda’s brother, found inspiration in his sister’s 2010 world championship performance in Puerto Vallarta. He dove head first into training, and two years later, has a double stick world title of his own.
“It was pretty intense – a whole week of adrenaline rush,” said Manny, who entered into the 19 to 39 age group. “It was something to challenge myself with. It was a tough match. The guy had held the title for a number of years.”
Manny’s match also went into a sudden death situation, and it was the endurance training that kicked in and made the difference between gold and silver in his match against the defending champ.
“I think where I had him was with my conditioning,” he said. “It felt really good.”
Manny Pulido also won bronze in single stick.
Victory was just as sweet for the youngest member of the team, Nino, 15.
Nino’s background in taekwondo led Pulido to believe her student could also excel in Eskrima. That intuition proved golden. Nino picked up stick fighting a year ago and quickly rose to the top of the 15 to 17 year old division with a gold in double stick and silver in single.
“My hands just took over and I didn’t really think about anything,” Nino said of her double stick final. “She was slowing down and I just kept getting faster. She got tired in the last round. When my hand was raised I was just so happy.”
The rewards reaped were validation of all the committed hours of grueling sessions late into the night – training that Pulido said gave her the edge it needed.
“I’ve always pushed myself, I think, more than the average competitor. I think these guys realized why when we got to the world championships. They understood,” Pulido said. “We all had stressful stuff going on, but we all put in the hours like no other – and it showed. The way we trained was definitely the key. None of us got tired. If you don’t have endurance, you die out – your arms start getting tired, you stop moving and you just get tagged. The judges saw that and we stood out.”

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