The location was Lisbon, Portugal, and the event was the Global Stick and Blade Alliance (GBSA) competition, where opposing competitors battled hand-to-hand in the hopes of winning a world championship title.
The GSBA championships is the World Series for competitors of the martial art of eskrima, the national sport of the Philippines. Eskrima emphasizes weapon-based fighting using sticks, knives and bladed weapons.
This year Team USA sent a 45-member contingent to the competition, which took place July 18-22.Team member Linda Pulido, owner of Pulido’s Pro-Fitness at 30 Third St, is also a recent inductee into the Grandmaster Martial Arts Hall of Fame, but she wasn’t the only Gilroy delegate. Edwin Lopez and Dylan Lazaro, both 13, joined her. Dylan’s mom, Delyn Noir, Lazaro, rounded out the four-member team.
Pulido believes practicing martial arts instills confidence. In addition to eskrima, her gym offers Tae Kwon Do and numerous other forms of martial arts, including fitness training.
“It teaches you about not giving up,” Pulido said.
For both of the boys, their journey began eight years ago when they joined Pulido’s gym to learn Tae Kwon Do.
“I wanted to start martial arts because at first I thought it would be fun,” Dylan said.
Edwin’s parents encouraged their son to join because they thought it would be “a good fit for discipline and self-defense.”
The boys, both seventh-graders at South Valley Middle School where Noir teaches, were eager to sign up for eskrima classes when Pulido offered them for the first time last year. Later in the year each of the boys competed in the Regional GSBA contest in Union City.
“For Regionals, since it was my first completion, I was kind of worried because I didn’t know how others were going to be,” Edwin said. “Then I won and I felt pretty accomplished.”
He followed the Regionals with another first-place win at the Nationals competition in Wisconsin.
“I had a bit more of an offensive style; that worked really well,” Edwin said. “My trainer (Pulido) said if I just believe in myself and do it and train enough and have overall confidence, that I can achieve it.”
Dylan, who recently earned his black belt in Tae Kwan Do, followed right behind Edwin, coming in second in both competitions.
Those wins secured the boys a place in this year’s GSBA Worldwide competition. Eskrima, which shares similarities with Tae Kwan Do, adds the use of weapons, elevating the skill level of the sport. To excel in this particular form of martial arts you have to train, and train hard.
“Being able to keep your stamina, keeping your stick as fast as possible, hitting with power, moving, dodging, making sure you’re not getting hit, that’s the key,” Pulido said.
“Technique is also important because technique and speed create the power at the end of the stick; it’s like a whip.”
Pulido’s training more than paid off as the four Gilroy competitors took gold in each of their categories and weight divisions, proving what Pulido had always told her students. “The training is the hard part, not the competition.”
“She was right,” Noir said.
Pulido placed first place in all five categories she competed in: single stick, double stick, Chicks with Sticks, padded single and open division.
“I maintained all five,” Pulido said with a grin.
Dylan competed in the Junior Boys and Girls Single and Double Stick Lightweight categories.
“I fought against two people in the same division for the single and double,” Dylan said. “It was Germany and Norway, and I came in first in both.”
Edwin competed in the Juniors Boys and Girls Single and Double Stick Heavyweight category.
“My parents were really proud,” Edwin said, adding that they told him, “We can call you champ now.”
“These guys were amazing, and I was so proud of them and everyone complimented them,” Pulido said.
Noir took first place in both single and double stick competitions in her weight division. She also placed gold in a third category, one she had no prior training in. Pulido had a last-minute cancellation in the team event, Chicks with Sticks, and drafted Noir for the sparring competition.
“I went there just to shoot for two medals, and then I come home with three medals,” Noir said. “It took me to a different, higher level of self-empowerment. I was just amazed and pleasantly surprised.”
Noir was extremely proud of her son’s accomplishments and also those of her teammate, Edwin.
“Edwin is from east Gilroy and he represents east Gilroy, and a lot of people in the community…sponsored him,” Noir said, adding, “I’m just so proud that we three (are) all world champions and we’re all representing east Gilroy, because we come from South Valley Middle School. So, we’re proud world champions, but we’re also proud Tigers as well.”
“I just want to show the world and everyone, that no matter who you are, you can achieve anything if you just believe in yourself and if you believe, you can do it,” Edwin said.