Grandmaster Robert Castro is the grand master of many arts.
A San Franciscan since moving at age 2 with his family to the Haight-Ashbury district from the Philippines, Castro’s musical career began when he was a student at the now defunct Polytechnic High School in the 1960s.
As a boy in his premusician days, Castro had studied karate under the great “Cat Man” Yamaguchi at his school on Castro and 14th streets.
While studying at City College of San Francisco, Castro worked part-time downtown as an usher at the American Conservatory Theater. Overheard while singing in the marble hallways at ACT, he was urged to audition for the original production of HAIR.
Castro got the role that launched a successful run in the entertainment business.
“From usher to actor in one day,” he said. “I traveled all over the planet with the top musicians in the world.”
In his mid-20s, Castro, weary from the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle, returned home to San Francisco where his artistic passions had developed.
A friend invited him to a demonstration of Kali, a Filipino weapons-based martial arts fighting discipline.
Instructed to attack the Kali master with a bat, Castro said: “As soon as I went to swing at him, I was on the ground and the bat was at my temple; and I fell in love with the art. I’ve been studying since.”
For 25 years, Castro has been teaching ESKABO Daan, a hybrid system that he created from synthesizing various martial arts weapons-based disciplines (the “K” in the acronym refers to Kali) with non-weapon disciplines (the “B” is for boxing). In 2007, Castro was promoted to grandmaster by one of his mentors, Ernesto Presas, while also being honored with induction to the Philippines Hall of Fame.
“ESKABO is set up not to hurt people but to prevent you from hurting people,” Castro said. “It’s already been proven that this stuff works. We are using it for the higher consciousness.”
Castro sees the “mutual bonds” between his artistic lives.
“Two components of music and martial arts are harmony and spontaneity,” Castro said. “Both are art forms that transcend the mind.”
The 61-year-old Excelsior district resident teaches the “self awareness, self-empowerment” defensive skills martial arts classes at his school on Russian Hill six days per week, including kids on Saturdays.
Seven-year-old Kalli Chan replaced ballet with ESKABO.
“It’s really fun,” she said after completing her recent Saturday session. “We do flips and tumbles.”
ACRONYM: Eskrima, Serrada, Kali, Arnis, boxing, Jeet Kune do
WHAT: A combination of various Filipino martial arts stick fighting with empty-handed systems
WHERE: 1920 Polk St. (between Pacific and Jackson streets)
WHY: Grandmaster Robert Castro reports that one student, after two sessions, learned enough to fend off an attack in a parking lot
INFO: www.eskabodaan.org or (415) 674-4388