The ‘grandmaster’ is dead

I just got out of bed, still groggy from my hangover when I received a text message from Cebu that Johnny Chiuten just passed away.

Here was the supposedly “immortal” Johnny F. Chiuten, who had rightfully deserved the title of “grandmaster” in Philippine martial arts finally succumbing to a lingering heart ailment.

His students can only pay tribute to a dead teacher in Bantayan island in Cebu where he had lived in virtual seclusion after retiring as the classic mentor of Hung Gar Kung fu, aikido, karate, eskrima and Tetada kalimasada.

He was the same Johnny Chiuten, a Filipino of pure Chinese Cantonese descent who grew up in Cebu City, but gained prominence as a brawler and street fighter during his students days at the University of the Philippines in the sixties.

Johnny had his first lesson in Wu Shu from his grandfather right after World War II when he was asked by his father to return to their Taisan to study Chinese culture and language. But in the process, he practiced martial arts at the Shaolin Temple and on the side assisted Chinese migrants.

When he returned home had acquired a good background in Shaolin kung fu and was close to learning the katas and forms prior to his return from his grandfather, When Johnny finally studied in Manila, he sought apprenticeship Lao Kim of the Hon Sing Athletic Association in Manila,

Admission to the secretive kung fu was through board nomination. At first, the highly respected kung fu master Shakespeare Chan, who was then the assistant instructor of Lao Kim, tried to bloc his appointment in the dojo.

But through his father’s intercession, Johnny was admitted. Chan later became Johnny’s close friend and through the years maintained mutual respect in a discipline, which had become their way of life.

All in all,  Johnny spent 10 years in Manila shifting from one course to another at the State University so that he can prolong his martial arts studies at the Hong Sing and other martial arts school.

He also became a legendary figure in the university after he once encountered 36 members of the Upsilon Sigma Phi, 25 of whom eventually landed in the hospital. He belonged to the rival Beta Sigma Fraternity, and the late Police Col. Ernesto San Diego, who was then head of the police investigation, can only apologize to the  victims’ parents that the police couldn’t file a criminal case against Johnny who was  tagged as the aggressor against a mob of fratmen in a rumble

In their book “The Power Within,” George Pyke and Philip Pyke later wrote, “ the ‘old’ Johnny fought as if he were a bullet with blades.”

One of them even had the honor of sparring with Johnny in a company of about 30 martial artists. There was also time when they would take on all of them one after the other or four at a time. But he taught them how to administer formidable speed and power. His students were not really a bad bunch of street fighters, considering that many of them were national champions.

It is really difficult to lose an icon in martial arts for  many of us who had been influenced by Johnny’s prowess, his teachings and friendship. Joel Paredes


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