TOM BOLDEN - AMERICAN MODERN ARNIS ASSOCIATES - FOUNDER / PRESIDENT - SIFU, PUNONG GURO, DATU, PINAKAMATAAS NA GURO
Shortly after graduating from high school in the Summer of 1962 Tom Bolden joined the United
States Marine Corps. It was here that he was formally introduced to the martial arts in
the form of Marine Corps hand to hand combat training, which was comprised of knife
and bayonet fighting strategies, and components of karate and combat judo. This was
while in Marine Corps Basic Training at Parris Island, South Carolina and during Advanced
Infantry Training at Camp Geiger, North Carolina. Tom Completed Advanced Infantry Training
in December of 1962 and in Febuary of 1963 was assigned to the The 8th Marine Infantry Regiment
at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. While at Camp LeJeune he participated in ongoing combat
(firearms, bayonet, machete, garrote, hand to hand, etc) training and studied Shorin Ryu
Karate at the Base Club (which at that time trained in the 8th Marine Regimental Gymnasium),
under Sensei Sam Pearson.
In the Summer of 1964 Tom Bolden was transferred to Camp H.M. Smith, Oahu, Hawaii where he served with the Guard and Military Police Unit. While in Hawaii he studied Kenpo/Kajukenbo with the Central Hawaiian Activities Association-3 (CHA-3), Kenpo Club, Headquartered in Aiea, Oahu, Hawaii. The CHA-3 Kenpo Club was headed by Professor Marino Tiwanak (Filipino Hawaiian), the first Black Belt Student of the legendary Adriano Emperado (Filipino Hawaiian), founder of Kajukenbo. Professor Tiwanak had also been a world class boxer who had fought for the world title in the 1940s. Shortly after Tom's arrival in Hawaii, a CHA-3 Kenpo Club Branch was formed at Camp Smith by Filipino Master Florentino Pancipanci, a Black Belt Instructor under Professor Tiwanak. Thrilled at the idea of being able to train on base as had been the case at Camp LeJeune, Tom was one of the first to join, thus becoming a Charter Member of the Camp Smith CHA-3 Kenpo Club. The CHA-3 Kenpo training regiment was rigorous and consisted of nightly classes at either Camp Smith with Master Pancipanci or at the Headquarters School in Aiea, with Professor Tiwanak. On weekends Master Pancipanci would often conduct special/secret field training sessions in an old abandoned/partly broken down shack in the jungle near his home in Waipahu. These sessions covered elements such as special punching, chopping, kicking and situational/environmental combat training. During these sessions Master Pancipanci would alternately assign one the students to be a lookout to assure that no one else was watching while the rest of the students trained.
After several months of Kenpo training, Master Pancipanci chose Tom Bolden as his Assistant Student. This was a position of trust involving the traditional role of playing "The Opponent" during demonstrations, while providing the rare privilege to receive esoteric knowledge and special training. It was in this capacity that Master Pancipanci introduced Tom to his family art of Eskrima. This was the mid-nineteen sixties when few non-Filipinos had ever heard of The Filipino Martial Arts and even fewer had been privileged to formally study them. Tom would later learn however that many of the knife and bayonet fighting strategies and techniques used in Marine Corps hand to hand combat training, had first been taught to American military units serving in The Philippines during World War II, by attached Filipino scouts who were proficient in Kali, Eskrima and Arnis.
Eskrima practice with Master Pancipanci was always done behind closed doors and would often take place at Camp Smith, after Kenpo class had been dismissed and the other students had left. Training would involve the use of tightly rolled and taped newspaper as well as sticks and blades, with translations to empty hand self-defense. Many of the empty hand concepts were the same as those taught in Kenpo, except that here they were always related to the weapons. Master Pancipanci spoke of how Filipinos in Hawaii, many who worked on sugar cane plantations cutting the cane during harvesting, would practice their art using empty hands and their bolos during work breaks. Having been raised on a farm himself where sugar cane was grown, Tom could relate to many of the activities associated with cane harvesting such as the use of machetes/bolos for cutting and stripping the sugar cane stalks. Master Pancipanci never explicitly used the term Eskrima at that time, he just referred to it as "Filipino Art". Tom trained diligently and in 1966 Master Pancipanci promoted him to Assistant Instructor (Brown Belt) of the Camp Smith CHA-3 Kenpo Club.
Shortly after his promotion to Assistant Instructor, Tom Bolden was transferred back to the mainland where he was assigned to the 1st Infantry Training Regiment at Camp Geiger, North Carolina. While at Camp Geiger, He served as a Platoon Commander and taught Kenpo and hand to hand combat to Marine trainees. Tom was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in the Fall of 1966. In January of 1967 he enrolled in the Engineering Program at Savannah State College (now University), in Savannah, Georgia. While a student at the college, he formed the first Martial Arts Club in the school's history, and taught Kenpo until his graduation in the Summer of 1970.
Following graduation from college Tom relocated to the Mid-Hudson Valley Region in upstate New York to work as an engineer with IBM Corporation. Shortly after his arrival he began studying Tae Kwon Do (Ju Di Kwan) with Korean Master Paul Cho, while continuing to train in Kenpo and Eskrima. Tom earned the Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do in 1973, and for the next year, taught classes in Kenpo and Tae Kwon Do at the State University of New York at New Paltz. In 1974 Tom Bolden wrote, directed and starred in a ten week self-defense series "Self-Defense Workshop" on the local (Poughkeepsie, NY) Public Access Cable Television Channel. This was the first television program of its kind ever to be aired in the region and one of only a few being aired nationally.
Over the next several years Tom Bolden studied various other martial art systems including Aikido, Tai Chi Chaun (Grand Master Da Liu and Issac Student), Fu Jow Pai Kung Fu (Sifu Wo Look), Capoeira Regional (Mestre Ubira Almeida Jara) and Capoeira Angola (Grand Mestre Joa Grande and Mestre Nego Gato). He continued his Kenpo and Eskrima development by traveling back to Hawaii to train with Master Pancipanci. However, in addition to Kenpo and Eskrima Master Pancipanci now added Tai Chi Chaun and Chi Kung to the training regiment. In 1978 Master Pancipanci promoted Tom to Full Instructor in Kenpo and Assistant Instructor in Eskrima, making him one of only a few instructors of Pancipanci Eskrima in the world.
In 1984 Tom Bolden met and became a student of Grand Master Remy Presas, founder of Modern Arnis. In addition to having studied various other martial art disciplines, Grand Master Presas was also a Balintawak student of the Great Grand Master of Balintawak Eskrima, Vernancio Anciong Bacon. In 1986 Tom started one of the first Modern Arnis Schools in New York State, and in 1987 he opened The Mid-Hudson Valley Modern Arnis Development Center in Highland, New York. Under his leadership the school became widely recognized as a center for technical and artistic excellence in Modern Arnis. During his tenure Tom earned the status of a Senior Instructor of Modern Arnis. He served as Director and Head Instructor of the school until July of 1992, when he resigned in order to have the freedom to globally pursue and promote excellence and high ethical standards in Modern Arnis.
The several years following his resignation from the school were very busy and rewarding for Tom Bolden. In 1993 he was inducted into the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame as "Instructor of The Year". This was the first time (Tom Bolden was inducted with three other Modern Arnis practicioners: Kelly Worden, Doug Pierre and Billy Bryant) that any Modern Arnis practicioner other than Grandmaster Remy Presas had been recognized by a world/international awards granting body! The same year he also founded the American Modern Arnis Associates (AMAA). The AMAA is an organization dedicated to the continual development and propagation of " American Modern Arnis"(his personal adaptation of Modern Arnis) and to advancing the highest standards of excellence in the Filipino Martial Arts in general.
"American Modern Arnis" is a collaterial system of Modern Arnis which embraces modern as well as traditional teaching and training methods. It is a reflection of Tom Bolden's own personality and over four decades of study, research and training in various martial art systems, as well as other disciplines such as Science, Engineering, Music and Dance. Like Modern Arnis, "American Modern Arnis" embraces the philosophy of eclecticism and by using the Filipino Martial Art principles of flow and rhythm, integrates principles and concepts from various styles. These styles include Pancipanci Eskrima, Balintawak Eskrima, Crossada, Cinco Terros, Palis Palis, Ocho Ocho, Redonda, Elastico, Espada y Daga, Hawaiian Kenpo, Tai Chi Chaun, Silat, Jujitsu, Dumog, Capoeira and others. Flow is the glue which ties it all together and allows it to work as an effective, highly refined and totally integrated combat art.
In 1994 Tom Bolden initiated an annual National Seminar Tour to propagate "American Modern Arnis" and promote excellence in the Filipino Martial Arts. He also conducted a lecture series throughout the Northeast entitled "Recognizing Quality In The Martial Arts", to educate the public on the process of choosing a quality martial arts instructor and school. On the local level he taught courses in "American Modern Arnis" at well known Vassar College located in Poughkeepsie, New York, and in the Poughkeepsie School Districts' Continuing Education Program. He also became actively involved in training peace officers and security personnel in "American Modern Arnis". 1994 was also the year in which Tom Bolden was again inducted into the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame, this time as "Master Arnis Instructor of The Year".
The year 1995 was an exciting one for Tom Bolden. He continued his annual seminar tour and released his ground breaking 1st video tape "The World Of American Modern Arnis" (The Art, The Science, The Spirit). In 1996 Tom again conducted his annual seminar tour and was also honored by Grand Master Ronald Malone (who also studied with Master Pancipanci and Professor Tiwanak) and the World Christian Martial Arts Hall of Fame. Tom Bolden was inducted and recognized as a Grand Master and awarded the "Golden Life Time Achievement Award" for 35 years of study and training in the martial arts.
Tom Bolden was very busy during the period from 1997 - 2000. He demonstrated the Filipino Martial Arts at the 1997 New England Martial Arts Expo which was held in Danbury, Connecticut. He was also honored by the “World Hall Of Fame Sokeship Council”, which inducted him into the International Martial Arts Hall Of Fame as “Master Instructor of The Year” for 1997. During this period he continued his Filipino Martial Arts Instructional Tour and did joint seminars with such notables as Al Tracy, Roberto Torres and Bobby Taboada. He continued his "Recognizing Quality In The Martial Arts" lecture series and in 2000, started production of his 2nd video tape “The World Of American Modern Arnis” (American Modern Arnis In Action).
The year 2001 was one of the most memorable of Tom Bolden’s 40+ year martial arts career. He was inducted into Action Martial Arts Magazine’s Hall Of Fame and was awarded “The Spirit Award” for dedication to the martial arts. Tom was also invited by Grand Master Al Tracy to teach at the 2001 Kenpo Gathering Of Eagles, which was held in Las Vegas, Nevada. This invitation afforded Tom the opportunity to share his unusual knowledge and insights into the Eskrima legacy of Hawaiian Kenpo. Tom Bolden conducted a series of seminars entitled “Connecting The Systems, Hawaiian Kenpo and Eskrima”.
The "Connecting The Systems" seminars were among the most popular conducted at The Gathering, with the high point coming when Tom’s teacher’s teacher, The legendary Adriano Emperado (Founder of Kajukenbo), attended one of his seminars. Another high point for Tom came when he was awarded the title and status of “Senior Master Of Kenpo and Eskrima” by The Grand Master’s Council of Ten Grand Masters, including Sijo Adriano Emperado. The awards ceremony was witnessed by hundreds in attendance including such martial arts notables as Chosei Motobu, Eric Lee, Al Dascascos, Al Tracy, Adriano Emperado, James Ibrao, Ralph Castro, Larry Tatum, Alan Abad, Ted Tabura, Joseph Simonet, Max Pallen and others.
Tom Bolden has continued to promote the Filipino Martial Arts through his ongoing classes, seminars, camps and videos. He also demonstrated "American Modern Arnis" at the 2003 International Modern Arnis Symposium which was held in Buffalo, New York.
In 2005 Tom Bolden had the good fortune of meeting and beginning his training with Grand Master Crispulo Ising Atillo, in the Atillo Balintawak Arnis Eskrima System. Atillo Balintawak as does all of the Balintawak variants and Modern Arnis, have their roots in Saavedra Eskrima. Grand Master Ising Atillo calls his system, Atillo Balintawak because he learned the art from his father Vicente Inting Atillo, who learned along with Delfin Lopez from Grand Master Doring Saavedra (the nephew and student of Great Grand Master Lorenzo "Tatay" Saavedra). Lorenzo Saavedra and Doring Saavedra were also the teacher of Anciong Bacon. After the Saavedra clan broke away from the Doce Pares club and moved their training to Balintawak street and formed the Balintawak club in 1952 (Inting Atillo, Anciong Bacon and Delfin Lopez were among the founding members), people soon began to associate the style with the street name "Balintawak" which eventually stuck. Although Inting Atillo was a founding member of the club and assistant to Bacon (head teacher), his son young Ising, never learned from Bacon, he was taught exclusively by his father. Tom Bolden having studied Balintawak Eskrima from Grand Master Remy Presas (interestingly it was Inting Atillo assisted by his son Ising, who first taught Saavedra/Balintawak Eskrima to Arnulfo Moncol who was Grand Master Remy Presas's first Balintawak instructor) and Grand Master Bobby Taboada, found it easy to see and appreciate the obvious similarities between the systems. However new/different strategies and connections have given him expanded knowledge and insights into Saavedra Eskrima, Balintawak Eskrima and Modern Arnis. In 2008 Grand Master Ising Atillo promoted Tom to the rank of "Eskrimador" in the Atillo Balintawak Arnis Eskrima System.
In April Of 2010 Tom Bolden was honored and humbled when he was cited by Senior Grand Master Vicente Sanchez (Founder of The Kali Arnis International Federation) and promoted to the rank of Grand Master (Pinakamataas na Guro), and recognized as founder/head of his own organization/system, The "American Modern Arnis Associates". Tom Bolden was also nominated for, and presented the "DATU Award"/Citation which reads as follows:
"CONGRATULATIONS! Your marked display of loyalty and diligence renders you one of our distinguished achievers nominated as DATU in the practice and propagation of The Filipino Martial Arts of Kali and Arnis. This brings pride and encouragement to us and fellow Arnisadores who also work to attain greater heights in these endeavors. With perfection in mind and spirit, let us preserve such dynamism so that we can linger long as one of the world's prides. MABUHAY!"Grand Master Sanchez's decision to honor and recognize Tom Bolden was based upon his individual accomplishments in the martial arts, the quality of students he has produced over the years and the number of years (40+) he has been studying/teaching Filipino Martial Arts.