By Henni Espinosa, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

Mar. 28, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO – With the beating of drums and the direction of Grand Master Robert Castro, men and women at the Eskabo Daan martial arts studio, move in unison and purpose. They honor a hybrid art that mixes ancient Filipino Martial Arts elements with Muay Thai, Aikido and Jiu jitsu.

And they call it “Eskabo Daan.”

“Filipino Martial Arts are death arts. They were used to fight to the death. But now that we’re not doing that anymore, it becomes a life art. You use it to protect yourself and your family,” Castro said.

Castro, 63, was born in the Philippines and moved to the U.S. when he was two. He said growing up Filipino in America was tough.

“It was very difficult back then in the 1950’s. Filipinos were regarded as third world citizens. It was really hard,” he said.

To defend himself from bullies, he took up martial arts at twelve. After years of training, he left the San Francisco Bay Area and the world of martial arts to pursue his music career in Hollywood. He performed with the links of The Supremes and Sonny and Cher. But he became embroiled in a life filled with drugs, women and vices.

It was then that he again turned to martial arts.

He came back to the San Francisco Bay Area and trained under Filipino Grand Masters Angel Cabales and Ernesto Presas.

In 1994, he founded Eskabo Daan, a technique that allows anyone to turn anything — a pen, a set of keys or even rolled-up magazine — into a weapon.

Castro and his team have reached out to local high schools to teach students self-defense.

Urmi Patel lives in the Tenderloin District, one of the most dangerous areas in San Francisco. But because of Eskabo Daan, she said she feels safe.

“If anything happens to me, I know I can take anything out of my bag and use it as a weapon. But at the same time, GM (Grand Master) teaches us that you don’t use it for violence. You’re going to defend yourself,” she said.

Bob Squeri, director of the non-profit organization, One Child at a Time, partners with Castro to provide free training to youth from low-income backgrounds.

“It gives you an opportunity to teach children what they could use in their life. It’s a very disciplined art,” Squeri said.

With its headquarters in San Francisco, Eskabo Daan now has four chapters all over the U.S. and trains over a hundred students.

Joseph Bautista trained under Castro and is now a Master at Eskabo Daan. He said that more than anything, Eskabo Daan brought him back to his Filipino roots.

“We are quite possibly the only Filipino Martial Arts school that only teaches Filipino Martial Arts. People like me who don’t understand the language, who are not exposed to it, we are learning about our Filipino culture and history through Eskabo Daan,” he said.

For his contributions to the community, Castro has been recognized by the City of San Francisco and the State of California. Eskabo Daan was recently voted the Best Martial Arts on the Bay Area A-List.

Inspite of his success, Castro remains humble.

“I am just an average person and that’s the beauty of it. I just do what I do. And if I get acclamations, I say ‘Thank you so much for the honor!” said the grand master.

If you know a kababayan like Grand Master Robert Castro who inspires you and makes you proud, you may nominate him/her by sending an email to or calling (650) 508-6137.

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