By Peter Lockhart
With the recent discussions of the history and evolution of Martial Arts in Australia, there is one man who is both prominent and significant, for his role in the development of Australian Martial arts.
Despite this, here in this country, he is largely unknown and his contributions to Australian Martial arts, are mostly unsung. Tolstoy tells us that such is the way of true heroes. To the best of my knowledge, it was Frank Scalercio Jr, who in fact, was the man that first introduced both Kickboxing and Arnis to Australia.
To revisit the time when I first met Dr Scalercio, we go back three decades, to a time when Martial Arts in Australia was in the main, what I describe as "orthodox". By that term, I mean the instructors and practitioners here, did not venture from the customs and practices of their particular Oriental Art.
One Australian who broke away from the prevailing orthodoxy of the time and, who explored different avenues outside the precincts of just one traditional Martial Art, was of course Bob Jones. His story is now well known, with the recent articles in the Blitz magazine.
In 1973 however, when Bob Jones was developing his Martial art schools in Melbourne, a visiting Martial arts master, arrived in the Northern Territory. Dr Frank Scalercio Jr, a clinical psychologist and Tae Kwan Do instructor, went to Alice Springs from the USA to give instruction to the Tae Kwan Do club in the very centre of Australia.
The Alice Springs Tae Kwan Do club, had been founded originally by an American gentleman, called Darryl Kelbar. Kelbar had worked at Pine Gap, the joint defence and research station, located a short distance outside of the Alice Springs township. Pine Gap (affectionately known as "the Space base"), was manned by a significant number of American citizens, who lived in Alice Springs, often on tours of duty that lasted for some years.
While living in Alice Springs, Darryl Kelbar had started the Tae Kwan Do Moo Duk Kwan club, at the Alice Springs Youth Centre. Consequently, he had graded two Australians to Black belt level, before returning to the United States in early 1972. The two Australian black belts, Martin Gardiner and Leon Samsonenko, then inherited and continued running the Tae Kwan Do club. At the recommendation of Kelbar, they looked to Dr. Frank Scalercio Jr. of Santa Rosa California for further instruction.
The communications between the Alice Springs Club and Dr Scalercio, was primitive by today's standards and was restricted to letters and the occasional telephone call, until, Dr Scalercio visited Alice Springs for the first time in 1973. He travelled there, to give first hand instruction to his Australian students.
The students in Alice Springs at the time, were learning orthodox Tae Kwan Do. The arrival of Dr Scalercio therefore, was something of a watershed, as he proceeded to instruct the Australians in fighting techniques, from well outside the traditions of Tae Kwan Do Moo Duk Kwan.
Kickboxing was introduced to the Alice Springs club at that time. Boxing techniques were also taught to the Australians, together with many basic wrestling moves, such as takedown techniques and submission holds.
In addition to the actual techniques, boxing and wrestling training methods, were also incorporated into the training methodology of the Alice Springs club. The wrestling methods and techniques were completely unknown to the Australian students before Scalercio introduced them. These days, the then training methods of the Alice Springs club, would be called "cross-training" as the many different disciplines were brought into play.
Boxing was, at that time, of course, familiar to the Australian students. However, unable to use it in the context of Tae Kwan Do, the techniques had been filed away by the more proficient boxers. The introduction of boxing to Tae Kwan Do by Dr Scalercio then, was like a breath of fresh air to some of the Aussies with boxing prowess. Boxing has after all, a lot of truth in it.
Wrestling however, was then and still is, in the main, unknown in Australia. By contrast, wrestling is very popular in the United States and is widely taught in High Schools there, as part of mainstream sport and physical education. Wrestling is very effective in close and anyone who underestimates the art of Wrestling does so at their peril.
These days, much attention is given to Brazilian Ju Jitsu techniques, but to my knowledge, the very first time such techniques were ever taught in Australia in the context of Karate, was by Dr Scalercio, nearly thirty years ago in Alice Springs. Without doubt, wrestling and grappling is very effective in close quarter combat, as many people are only now discovering, with the advent of Brazilian Ju Jitsu in this country.
In 1973, the Australian instructors in Alice Springs, Gardiner and Samsonenko, graded two other Australians to Black Belt level, Lawrence Byrne and Graham "Barney" Barnet. Their grading was conducted along orthodox lines however.
The next crop of Australian Black belts after Byrne and Barnet, was graded in Alice Springs, in 1974 by Dr Scalercio. A major part of that particular grading, after the "forms" or Kata, of course, was a full contact Kickboxing tournament, possibly the very first ever held in Australia. The rules of that particular tournament, included, kicking above the waist only, all the boxing punches and all wrestling takedowns and submission holds (boxing gloves permitting).
At that first Kickboxing tournament, 8 oz boxing gloves were worn by the combatants. Gloves that light, gave the bouts a distinctly brutal realism and during the proceedings, there was even some Muay Thai style kneeing to the head, but although some knees were thrown, so to speak, none actually connected. That first Kickboxing tournament was definitely hard core, with no quarter asked or given, such was the enthusiasm of the Australian students.
While none of the participants of that event, were actually rendered unconscious on that occasion (it was not from any lack of effort I assure you), there were some TKO's and one broken arm from the fiercely contested battles.
Sadly, there was a dispute regarding who actually won the final bout. There were accusations that some judges were biased against one particular contestant who, although he had clearly won the final bout, he did not take the trophy nor the accolades as tournament champion.
That particular, rather colourful contestant however, gracefully accepted the decision of three of the ringside judges, all the while, remaining a thorough gentleman and rising above his detractors without making any fuss. Sportsmanship meant something in those days - to some at least.
The following year, 1975, again saw Dr Scalercio return to Alice Springs, this time bringing with him a team of American Kickboxers. What followed was possibly the very first international Kickboxing tournament ever held in Australia. The tournament was held in a boxing ring, on the tennis court of Traeger Park in Alice Springs.
On this occasion, well known Australian Martial arts identity, Mr Bob Jones was invited. He attended the tournament in the capacity of a guest ringside judge. I personally picked Mr Jones up from the Overlander Motel, where he was staying at the time and, drove him to the event.
In this tournament, only Australians from the Alice Springs Tae Kwan Do club, competed against the American team (three years later, contestants from all over Australia were invited to compete). At the tournament of 1975, an American body building identity called Jimmy Payne, stole the show with his strength and balancing act, to the great delight of the crowd in attendance. The year 1975 also saw an Australian Kickboxing team travel from Alice Springs to the USA to compete in California - another first in Australian martial arts history.
The following year, Dr Scalercio brought to Australia yet another American Kickboxing team and, on this particular occasion, in 1976, he introduced the Philippino art of Arnis de Mano to Australia. From that first introduction, Martin Gardiner has since continued on to become the head instructor of the Philippino Martial art, of Doce Pares in Australia. Bob Jones has since included both Kickboxing and Doce Pares arnis instruction, in his many schools throughout Australia.
Despite both the influence and the significant role Dr Scalercio has contributed to Australian Martial Arts, few people in this country have even heard of him. The reasons for this, I believe, are twofold. Firstly, Dr Scalercio is what can best be described as a "quiet achiever".
This man's qualifications would literally fill a book, let alone a magazine article, yet despite his considerable and impressive academic and Martial Arts qualifications, which I assure you are manifold, he is very modest and tells people: "just call me Frank", whenever someone becomes aware of his many qualifications and, is confused about how to address him correctly.
Secondly, Dr Scalercio is an expert, not a celebrity. Frank Scalercio does in real life, the things Chuck Norris pretends to do on television (Scalercio is a police officer in addition to all his other activities). Norris and Scalercio originally attended the same Martial arts school together in Korea while in the US Army. Frank Scalercio has a long and distinguished Military record in the US Army where he is still an active member in the reserve with the rank of Colonel.
Scalercio is a Doctor, a licensed clinical psychologist, who actually uses the Martial arts in a therapeutic intervention programme, helping drug addicts in the United States and the Philippines. In short, Dr Frank Scalercio Jr PhD. saves people's lives - on a regular basis. This man battles the scourge of our modern age - drug abuse. To me, that qualifies him as a real life hero.
Scalercio was the Tae Kwan Do World Champion in 1967 and is now a bone fide Martial Arts Master in many disciplines. He is also a man blessed with both superlative physical skills and a brilliant mind. He has a military bearing that commands respect, while at the same time has a great sense of humour and is down to earth with people.
Now aged in his 60's, Scalercio is not just an encyclopaedia, but a veritable walking library of Martial arts experience, in addition to all his knowledge, he is a very gifted teacher. We have all heard of the term "horse whisperer", this man is a "people whisperer" if I can make such a phrase. To be taught by him is an honour indeed.
His philosophy in teaching the Martial arts always, is to stress realism. Boxing, Kickboxing and wrestling techniques, all have a distinctly realistic quality about them. That same philosophy extends to the particular school of Arnis he teaches.
A frequent visitor to the Philippines, Scalercio learned of one particular school of Arnis, called the Lapu-Lapu Vinas style. This school of Philippino Martial arts, has something of a fearsome reputation and is highly respected and even feared in full contact competitions. I have heard that some men will not even enter a full contact tournament, if there are Lapu-Lapu Vinas students competing. Frank Scalercio is a Master teacher of the Lapu-Lapu Vinas school of Arnis.
Having already made his mark in Australian Martial arts history, Dr Scalercio is once again to return here. This then presents an unique learning opportunity, for interested people, Australia wide, to meet and learn Lapu-Lapu arnis from a highly respected and gifted Martial arts teacher.
To register, interested people who wish to attend the course and learn arnis from a bone fide Martial arts Master, should therefore write and express an interest to the following address:
Lockhart Corporation Pty Ltd PO Box 205 WANNEROO WA 6065
Only individuals who are serious about this opportunity, should apply and express an interest in learning first hand from a living Martial arts legend. There will be a charge to cover expenses and the dates and venues are yet to be announced.