A Tribute to Ambrose Sagalla, First Igorot Karate World Champion

By Michael Bengwayan, Ph. D

As I write this, I am in recollection creek. There is grief in the air. Ambrose Sagalla is someone I knew very much. First, as one of my karate instructors and co-karateka under the Japan Karate Association (JKA). Second as my student (he took up MS Rural Development at Benguet State University) and I was his professor in Development Communication and Communication Strategies. And followingly, as a co-worker in community development (we shared the same belief that only when people are conscientisized would they be able to to rise from their apathy). Beyond all, I was a drinking buddy–we laughed to our hearts’ content at everyone’s joke and shared a wise word or two when discussions got serious or otherwise.

Ambrose Sagalla was first dan brown belt in karate under sensei Kunio Sasaki in 1975. It was when the first JKA world karate tournament was held in Baguio City. In the finals of the kumite (sparring) he emerged champion over 6 footer 3rd dan black belt Shien Huei of Taiwan. He became the first Igorot karate world champion, a feat not even the late Arsenio Bawingan Jr. ever attained.

Ambrose was always humble in victory. He dedicated his winning to his instructors Sasaki, Bawingan, Cesar Pelingen, Chris Torcedo, and Jerry.

As the years progressed, the JKA became fragmented. Ambrose worked hard to reconcile Bawingan and Sasaki but Jun (Bawingan) was unrepentant. Sasaki had no choice but to recommend JKA Japan to strip off Bawingan’s belt.

Ambrose always acted as a big brother. He was full of energy. Handsome, muscular and jolly, he was an edge to be with either in baseball, softball, basketball or karate. He was one of the original “Rusty Knuckles” basketball players from Guisad because not a few players have kissed the pavement or got an elbow in the face or the ribs when playing with them.

At R & R Bowling Lanes (owned by their aunt), I used to go with Dick (his cousin) and visit him to talk and drink. Later on when he was with the Office of Northern Cultural Communities (ONCC) and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) he concretized his beliefs on rural development even to the consternation of his bosses. He always sought the truth and spoke with eagerness on issues he felt were right. He would stand for a friend come hell or no hell and drank his liquor true like a man without water in his belly. He was a loyal friend.

One time in the wooded cottage of manong Lambert in Pennsylvania, we talked about Ambrose (I and manong Lambert), about karate (which manong Lambert is also an expert in) ove two bottles of whisky and a bottle of brandy. What a night.

When Ambrose headed the provincial office of the NCIP in Palawan, we rarely saw each other. He gave me an invitation twice to see him in Palawan saying “Naimas ti threatened species ditoy, Addo nga ugsa, bayawak, igat”. No wonder the species are now rare, I wrote back to him.

I saw him last year before I headed for Germany at the Easter School Centennial. I was hopeful he would become strong but God had other plans. God wanted Ambrose to play basketball, softball, baseball in heaven and teach those innocent angels karate. A sensible thing.

Ambrose will be missed for sure, not only by us but also by the people whose lives he touched. He valued friendship and was friend to everyone. It is something people can learn from because true and real friends are difficult to find.

Goodbye Ambrose and keep an eye on us who are left here.

Our condolences to Ambrose Sagalla’s family.

This article is from Bibaknets and we are reprinting it here the permission of its author, Dr. Michael Bengwayan. Thanks to Chyt for forwarding this tribute to us.

INFO SOURCE: Michael Bengwayan.

17 thoughts on “A Tribute to Ambrose Sagalla, First Igorot Karate World Champion”

  1. Maybe Brigitte Sagalla is related to Lambert and late Ambrose. Our condolences to his family in the Philippines and abroad.

  2. I remember Ambrose when we were students of Jun Bawingan in JKA. Easter school, mid 70’s. We were also team mates in softball (Easter Weavers) when we beat the Philippine Blue girls 6-2, in an exhibition/practice game at the Melvin Jones grandstand right before the RP Blue Girls placed second in the World Softball Championship tournament. He will surely be missed. My condolences to his family.

  3. Hi Daniel, Trublue, Antonia, and Anon 10:39,

    Thanks to all of you. I can’t believe I missed your comments.

    Anon 3:18,
    It must have been fun to play those BlueGirls. Your post reminded me of the Sagada little league team which placed second to the team from Zamboanga in the national competition. This Zamboanga team represented RP, became world champion but was eventually exposed to have lots of overaged members.

    Sayang, if they were exposed earlier, baka yung Sagada team ang naging world champion.

    I’m sure Ambrose is playing softball in heaven and also cheering for the home team. Thanks.

    Hi Frank and Lydia,
    Thanks for dropping by. Our condolences to them too.

  4. I also feel sad for the Sagada Little league team after, all the while cheering for the RP team when the tournament was going on, although I did not know what or how the RP team got to the top in the Phils. By winning over the Sagada team? WOW! That S__ks! And for the RP team to get caught by doing something illegal? You are right, if only the irregularity was exposed in time……SAGADA! World champs!
    Yes, manong Ambrose loves to play softball. May he rest in peace.

    Also noticed my mentor, once our principal in Easter School, Mr Rex Botengan on this site. He was a friend in every which way. He was our BIBAK president and host when we lived in Victorville (L.A. area) HE was a NATURAL BORN LEADER. May he rest in peace.
    And Sagada….I miss Sagada! I wonder where Joseph Gewan is now.
    And St Mary Parrish?
    How about the Stapletons? Wonder where they are here in the States now?
    Also miss those times when we, at Easter School go to play at Sagada Town Fiestas…….
    Sorry, I’m now getting out of topic….

  5. Frank W: Did the late Rex B a principal of Easter School? I knew his brod Eusebio was a teacher there.
    Your younger sister Edna used to be a “puppy love crush” of mine, well briefly, hehe..went to watched your Shakespearean play “Othello” years ago. My cousin played Othello and believe you played Lago. Did Cleo Sacoy played Desdemona or Ms Aragon? Actually, wasn’t interested on the dramatics, went there to have a glimpse of Edna..hehe. Wish her and Wagner the best.
    Cheers and goodhealth…

  6. Hi Frank,
    Yes, I think they do a tournament here to determine who will represent the country. In the finals, the Sagada team faced off with the overaged Zamboanga team. Et mapansin ay aamam-a da kano hehe (they look old).

    Yes I included him for organizing Igorots. Because you know him, maybe you can do a feature on him that we will publish here? I feel bad for writing just a paragraph about him.

    St. Mary’s is still there but its not as full as before because they have established aided parishes in the other barangays which, I think, is a good thing.

    I think Archie Stapleton went back to Sagada and help start a pottery that’s now being run by iSagadas.

    No problem about getting out of topic,we all do every now and then 🙂 Thanks again.

    Hi Trublue,
    Hehe, childhood crushes ha 🙂 I guess no one is staging Shakespeare plays these days. I caught the tailend of it because I remember watching a Shakespeare play in St. Mary’s when I was a kid.

    Now, it’s all about watching TV/cable. Bad, no?

  7. I wish I could write a lot more about my “hero” Mr. Rex B. he was once our principal in Easter school as was his brother Eusebio. I don’t know this for sure but, I think Eusebio took over as principal when Rex left the country, I think, Canada. By the way, Eusebio is an Uncle by affinity because his wife is a Pucay, our relatives. If you want, You can get more info about Mr. Rex B. from the Ocabs, Sacoys and/or from his son, Jr. or do a search on Los Angeles BIBAKS in which he might still be president of. I say again, Mr Rex B. is a natural born leader and a great Igorot from Besao that we should all be proud of.
    I hope you can write more about him. Rest his soul.
    My sister Edna is doing well, although, she has changed through all the years being here, (USA) as a lot of others, stateside, but otherwise OK.
    The play Othello, directed by the “famous” Marie O.? I’d rather not talk about it.
    Take care,
    Frank (FJSW) in BCO dap-ay forums.

  8. trueblue,
    Thanks for all the update about Sagada. Still miss the place.
    Yes, your cousin, Boni S., played Othello, was my classmate as most of the cast was.
    I’m also wondering how he is now, and all of our batchmates(1970) in “Terscor”.

  9. bb,
    Yes, the RP LL team were all old and look old. They just had “high cut” haircuts so that whites and other nationalities would not be able to tell.
    Other nationalities have a hard time guessing the age of Filipinos, especially Igorots. LOL.

  10. Frank W: credit goes to Bill Bilig
    who administers this blog, regarding updates of Sagada….

    Sorry for my mistake about who played “Othello”. Godfrey C. is my cousin, thought he played Othello. Bonnie S. I believed is in Manila. Johnny Tauli, a drinking partner with Godfrey years ago in Baguio, is also somewhere in Metro Manila.

    Late Rex B. was my principal at All Saints Mission Bontoc, just couldn’t recall him at Easter School. I’m very familiar with the Botengans, as my father also came from Besao, and they’re family friends. In fact, met him in Las Vegas, Nevada, during the late Anthony Aptimes’ funeral, another IBesao who left us early. And of course my close friend, the late Wilbur Sacoy (Rex B’s newphew). Sad Wilbur went early also. He was such a very jolly good fellow.

    Yes, Godfrey is with the DENR Baguio. He attended late Ambrose’s funeral. Do you know if Jun Bawingan is related to Cady Bawingan (used to be Manila cop, I think).
    Cheers and goodhealth to all..

  11. trueblue,
    I might be the one mistaken about who played Othello. Might have been Godfrey but it’s been so long ago, I can’t even remember.
    Mr. Rex B., last time I saw him was when he came to the Bay Area as a guest speaker in our Grand Canao of BIBAKs of Northern CA. I was in Baguio though when I heard of his demise, or else I would have driven to L.A. for the wake and the funeral.
    So sad about our old friends who left us early, also some classmates… so young……Yes, Wilbur also, Edna’s classmate and one of our softball team mates.
    And Godfrey, I heard about what happened to Annie. How’s Godfrey and their kids taking it?
    Sorry, I don’t know anything about the Bawingans in Manila.
    Take care and cheers,
    Frank W

  12. arsenio bawingan is a master he defeated japanesse in japan when they went there he is my neighboor also one of their friends who went to japan

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