A Brief History of a Knife Fighting Martial Art and the Origin of Close Quarters Defense

Tactics of the Modern Armed Forces of the Philippines

Pekiti-Tirsia Kali (PTK) is one of the few remaining authentic and complete Filipino closed quarter combat systems in existence today. It is a system and technology of knife training and knife combat techniques to deal with  hand to hand combat scenarios. The art is formulated on the strategic principle of the Triangle. The geometry of the triangle serves as the basis for the footwork, striking, and tactical principles of the art’s close quarters combat techniques.

PTK had its beginnings in the provinces of Panay and Negros Occidental in the Philippines. It was formulated and perfected by the Tortal family. Grand Tuhon Conrado B. Tortal, passed this system and its attributes onto his grandson, the sole heir and present guardian, Grand Tuhon Leo Tortal Gaje, Junior. This system of kali dates back to an era when the carry and use of the knife and other bladed weapons was common and required to survive. The knowledge of this family system was passed down four generations unto the present day. Norberto Tortal taught the system to his son Segundino Tortal. Segundino taught his five sons; Balbino, Tedoricio, Francisco, Quirino, and Conrado.

Conrado was chosen the chosen heir of the system with Balbino as one of his principal training partners. Balbino was later shot and killed by Japanese soldiers in the area of Barangay Conception, Talisay, Negros Occidental. This occurred in 1945 after he disarmed a Japanese officer of his samurai sword and killed two soldiers who attempted to “knife him” with a bayonet. This family system was perfected through real life encounters of hand to hand combat. These encounters consisted of instructional exchanges, sparring duels, and direct combat resulting in the death of the enemy. In this way, Pekiti-Tirsia was trained, modified, and validated.

Grand Tuhon Conrado was a highly respected man in the western Visayas and northern Mindanao regions of the Philippine Islands. He was born in 1897 in Tigbawan, province of Iloilo, Panay. After his birth, the Tortal’s emigrated to Negros Occidental where they owned and cultivated several agricultural properties. Conrado was fluent in English, Spanish, and many his native dialect Illongo, as well as Cebuano and other regional dialects of northern Mindanao. This was a useful skill since he travelled often for commerce and as a Christian Missionary. He later served as the first Chief of Police of Victorias, home of the largest Sugar Central (Mill) in Negros Occidental. He had a reputation as a strict disciplinarian yet compassionate mediator.

Conrado’s expertise in the Filipino Fighting Arts was well known and recognized. He had several well-known and public combat duels. One knife fight worth mentioning is his victory over the Lizares brothers in 1928. The Lizares brothers were members of a prominent political ruling family from Talisay, Negros Occidental.   After they attempted to take control of a Tortal property, Conrado fought them both at the same time armed only with two hardwood sticks. The Lizares brothers were both armed with steel machetes and knives. Conrado disarmed them with direct strikes to the hand and body thus sparing their lives. In another famous skirmish during 1933 Conrado defeated Tansiong Padilla, the lead authority of the Aldobon style of kali from Panay. It was a highly publicized duel arranged by the mayor of Bago, Negros Occidental.

In 1938 Grand Tuhon Leo Tortal Gaje was born. Leo was taken into custody and raised by his grandfather Conrado. From the age of six years old Leo was trained in the system of Pekiti-Tirsia. From the ages six to nine he trained exclusively in footwork. As part of his daily training he was placed on top a wooden table while Conrado struck at his feet with a stick. This helped him master the strategic maneuvering patterns of the PTK system.  Leo was then trained in the Doce Methodos, Contradas, and other advanced combat methods twice a day beginning in the mornings before school and continuing late into the evening throughout his secondary, high school, and college studies.

Leo Tortal Gaje, Jr. inherited the legacy of the family’s art. At this time, the Tortal family combat system was taught only to family members. For the next decade Tuhon Gaje followed this tradition until he entered business where he served as President of the Confederation of Free Trade Workers Union and Executive Vice-President of the Bataan Free Trade Zone Industrial Development Corporation. There he trained his own Security Forces for the escort of cash funds. He also trained Bodyguards and Protective Teams for local and provincial politicians, and, in his own words “my wrecking crew” of confidants that provided his personal security.

In 1972, Tuhon Gaje emigrated to the United States of America and settled in New York City. He envisioned the success of Filipino martial arts and recognition of Filipino culture through the superiority of its combat systems. In keeping with the philosophy of the Pekiti-Tirsia system and its belief in Life, Health, and Success, Tuhon Gaje opened the door of knowledge to a select few Black Belt students.

Growing Awareness of Filipino Martial Arts in America

Continuing now into a fourth decade, Grand Tuhon Leo T. Gaje has been the leader in promoting and teaching authentic Filipino Fighting Arts around the globe. Grand Tuhon Gaje was the leading Filipino Martial Arts authority in the 1970’s. Grand Tuhon Gaje was the first to organize and conduct large-scale promotions and demonstrations of Filipino martial arts in the eastern US in venues like New York’s Lincoln Center. He conducted the first ever public demonstration of full-contact Filipino stick fighting at the Great Gorge, New Jersey Playboy Club. He opened a Filipino martial arts school at the Philippine Consulate in New York City and promoted Filipino martial arts among other national martial organizations. Grand Tuhon Gaje joined with other recognized leaders such as Alex Sternberg of the Jewish Karate Federation and Grandmaster Robert Trias of the United States Karate Association. He conducted training programs for senior Black Belt students and joint public demonstrations.

Grand Tuhon Gaje was recognized as style head of the Filipino martial arts for the United States Karate Association (USKA) by Grandmaster Trias. He was inducted into the Indonesian Pendekar Banting, association of Indonesian Silat Pendekars. In 1979 he was a principal organizer, with other Grandmasters, of the First National Arnis (Kali) Tournament in the Philippines sponsored by the National Arnis Association of the Philippines (NARAPHIL). Tom Bisio, a student of Grand Tuhon Gaje for 3 and 1/2 years, won as Grand Champion of the Instructor’s division against a field of senior instructor competitors. In 1980 Grand Tuhon Gaje was appointed NARAPHIL Commissioner for North and South America. Throughout the 80’s, the first generation of Pekiti-Tirsia students and instructors dominated the full-contact stick fighting tournament scene across the US. His fighters were feared and had a reputation of having great speed, power, and footwork.

Close Quarters Combat and Knife Training in Military and Law Enforcement

Grand Tuhon Gaje’s influence is not limited to the martial arts industry, but throughout the Military and Law Enforcement communities as well.  He introduced his knife combat techniques to the New York Police Department (NYPD). He developed and instructed department-endorsed knife training programs such as the Safety Baton and Edged Weapon Awareness/Strategic Knife Defense programs. He was later appointed National Training Director for the Justice System Training Association and the U.S. Police Defensive Tactics Association. He was the Technical Advisor and made an appearance in the Calibre Press video SURVIVING EDGED WEAPONS (see video excerpt below) in 1988. This highly acclaimed video substantiated the threat of edged weapons to the law enforcement community and established him as the leading authority on edged weapons defensive tactics.

He has been endorsed and recognized at every level of the Philippines government including the Exemplary Achievement Award from the Office of the President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. This award was given for his worldwide promotion of Pekiti-Tirsia Kali and the Filipino Martial Arts. He continues to work with the highest levels of Philippine government in the promotion, recognition, and preservation of the cultural legacy of Filipino combat arts.

Pekiti-Tirsia is the ONLY Filipino Martial Art system recognized as the official warfighting doctrine by the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The Military knife training and Edged-Impact Weapon System of Pekiti-Tirsia is the official close-quarters combat system of the Force Reconnaissance Battalion, Philippine Marine Corps (PMC). PTK is part of the official PMC Schools command being taught at Enlisted Basic Training and the Officer’s Basic Course.

The success of this program has spurned training requests from all other branch services of the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP). Today, Filipino soldiers are now recognized as a world leader in close-quarter combat skills. Since 1998, the Philippine Force Recon Marines have instructed various US Special Forces operators and other combat armed units in tactical knife training, CQB, and close quarters defense. This system of Kali is combat proven and tested in close quarters fighting and is invaluable for preparing Operators of the law enforcement and military community become more effective at their jobs.

Presently, Grand Tuhon serves as a Senior Advisor to the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police. He conducts advanced training programs for operational units engaged in the Global War on Terrorism. Throughout this history, Grand Tuhon Gaje has trained and influenced thousands of soldiers, law enforcement personnel and martial artists all over the world in countries such as the United States, Europe, India, Russia and across Asia.

Excerpt from “Surviving Edged Weapons”

WARNING: Graphic Material. Video shows wounds made by sharp instruments. Please use discretion before viewing.