Quiet champion

Master Jaunito “Nito” Noval

SN&R Photo By Anne Stokes

Becoming an Eskrimador, or a master of the martial art Eskrima, a beautifully dynamic fighting form, is a challenge becoming more popular throughout the world. Eskrima comes from the Philippines and has practitioners in over 30 countries, but the majority of its world champions reside right here in Sacramento, having trained under local Master Jaunito “Nito” Noval.

Master Nito became the Eskrima World Invitational Champion in 1992 and the heavyweight Eskrima world champion in 1994. He has trained some of the finest Eskrima competitors anywhere, including seven world champions, all Sacramento residents.

Eskrima matches involve competing with fighting sticks. The combatants wear heavy protective gear, allowing them to attack with extreme force while avoiding injury. Master Nito’s south Sacramento school is often filled with students whipping their batons in elegant striking motions, spinning and twirling as they accelerate with lightening fluidity. Matches end with a silence, then the opponents bow and Master Nito instructs them on the finer points of their form. In spite of his school’s global achievements, he emphasizes that Eskrima is mainly about personal development and having fun.

Master Nito answered SN&R’s questions with the assistance of Eskrima instructor Guru Mike Turk, who helped translate.

What exactly is Eskrima?

What I teach is called Eskrima Kali Arnis. Eskrima means “empty hands,” or fighting with no weapon. Kali is fighting with swords and daggers, as well as learning how to disarm knives. Arnis is stick-and-baton fighting. I teach all of those in combination. It’s a full system. The style of Eskrima I teach is called Doce Pares.

How did you get involved in Eskrima?

I became a member of the local police in my home town in the Philippines and was taught the Doce Pares style. I became very close with the Grand Master. I thought Doce Pares was very enjoyable because it was more elaborate than the older styles of Eskrima I’d learned. I thought it had an interesting use of power and speed. It’s effective because it’s modified to bring in the techniques of various masters

How long have you practiced?

The Doce Pares style, since 1989, so 18 years now. The older styles, most of my life.

What first motivated you to start competing?

I started competing in 1991. Competing is really about the challenge. You have to work out hard. You have to practice every day. Competing and winning my world championships is actually how I ended up here in the United States. People had me come over here to train students in martial-arts schools. Then I started training law enforcement. I’ve been here 11 years now.

How did it feel to win your world championships?

I was happy. It was something I worked hard for.

How long have you been teaching?

Ten years now.

What got you interested in teaching?

I started teaching so more people would know about the Filipino martial arts. There are many different styles of martial arts that people can study—Korean, Chinese, Japanese—but before I came to the States in 1997, there weren’t many teachers here who could teach Filipino martial arts. That’s what made me want to teach. Now Filipino martial arts are popular all over the world, from Hong Kong to Saudi Arabia.

What is the most important thing you try to teach your students?

For the adults, it’s that you have to practice as much as you can. You have to do as much shadow fighting, training, sparring as possible. For the kids, it’s that family and school are the most important things—more important than martial arts. I often ask the kids, “Did you make sure to finish your homework?” I tell them, “If you want to train in martial arts, you have to understand what’s really important, like responsibility, respect and loyalty to your mother and father.”