It’s been said that arnis, escrima and kali collectively known as Filipino Martial arts (FMA) are more appreciated abroad than in their country of origin.
But in the last three decades, military organizations around the world began to recognize the tactical value of Filipino weapons systems particularly knife fighting skills. In an interview with FIGHT Times, Italian FMA practitioner and military operator Andrea Rollo tells how his exposure to the Filipino fighting arts served him well in and out of the battlefield and the growth of arnis, escrima and kali in Italy.
FIGHT Times: Can you tell us a brief account of your martial arts career particularly your involvement with FMA?
Andrea Rollo: I took an interest in fighting sports at an early age, boxing and kickboxing in my home town from the age of 14.
After the Military Academy course to become an Officer in the Italian Army, I started practicing submission wrestling, muay thai, and FMA. Once in Rome for my first job appointment, I met two Filipino masters from Mindanao, Aurtenciano Junior and Jorge Miranda, heirs of their own family martial arts known as Kali Istukada Miranda System. It was created by their father, Aurtenciano Miranda Senior, who was a Colonel of the Philippine Army. So fascinated by their system, I decided to quit other sports and focus all my effort on FMA, which I felt I excelled at more naturally. In a few years, I was fully immersed in this exciting martial art, competing many tournaments and practicing 2-3 hours of kali-arnis-eskrima a day, every day, along with physical training and conditioning.
To perfect my techniques, I usually recorded my lessons in order to see them again once at home.
I won my first Italian title in 2007. That victory allowed me to join the Italian National Team to compete in the WAO Kali Sport World Cup in Manila in 2008, where I won the gold medal. I won two other gold medals in 2011 during the WAO World Championship in Manila. Up to now, I have won three World Gold Medals in three different weight categories. Now I am the current European Global Stick and Blade Alliance (GSBA) Champion, thanks to my placing first in Barcelona, Spain last July 2013.
FT: Can you tell us of the Italians’ attitude and perception toward the FMA?
AR: As a young martial art compared to the more popular karate, taekwondo, and judo the Filipino way of fighting is becoming more popular all over the Italian Peninsula [Editor’s note: Though the FMA came to Europe much later compared to other mainstream martial arts, it is way older than karate, taekwondo and judo, which are essentially martial sports]. In particular, soldiers, police personnel, bodyguards and security guards are attracted by the applicability of the FMA techniques in self-defense situations.
Furthermore, many martial artists coming from other styles of combat and experts in hand-to-hand fighting are approaching the FMA, which are the most specialized in the use of weaponry.
From a sports point of view, Italian fighters are more and more interested in armed competitions and the number of FMA tournaments organized during a year in Italy is dramatically increasing.
In conclusion, Italy is a prosperous field of growth for FMA and Italian practitioners are keen to discover them.
FT: Italy has a unique swordsmanship tradition; did you manage to find the commonality between Italian fencing and FMA?
AR: Sure, the FMA have been influenced by the western fencing, especially Spanish and Italian, during the period of the Spanish colonization.
In the 16th century, fencing was not a sport, but a complete system of fighting, which embraced weapons, disarms and bare handed techniques. Indeed, the word “fencing” in Italian language is “scherma” (similar to eskrima), which root is the same of the verb “schermare” that means “to protect” or “to defend”.
The influence of western fencing on FMA is particularly evident in the Filipino techniques dictionary, which contains many Italian and Spanish words and in the geometrical schemes of teaching, angles of attack and blows trajectories, which are a peculiarity of European fencing, as demonstrated by ancient manuscripts on this topic.
Moreover, Italian martial arts tradition includes various systems of stick-fencing or scherma di bastone, which techniques are very similar to those of FMA.
FT: You are a military operator deployed in a conflict area; can you tell us how did your FMA training serve you in the tactical aspect?
AR: Training in FMA improve and integrate the self-defense training which is an important aspect of the preparation that each soldier receives before being deployed to conflict areas.
Moreover, typical values of a soldier’s life, such as discipline, honor,spirit of self-sacrifice, and respect are enhanced through martial arts training.
In particular, determination and willpower are mutualpersonality characteristics developed by both martial arts and military training which help me to face with serenity stressing situations during long periods far from home.
FT: What are your future plans for FMA in Italy?
AR: I am doing my best to promote the FMA in my own country.
I wrote many articles about the Filipino martial culture on Italian newspapers and specialist magazines and I support the Miranda brothers teaching the Kali Istukada Miranda System in Rome and around Italy.
My current project, still on going, is a cultural and historical website about the fighting arts of the Philippines Islands called www.kalifilippino.it
It contains several pictures and accurate descriptions of about 100 Filipino weapons, the history of the FMA development in the Philippines, articles related to the martial folklore of the Philippines Archipelago and the animistic – Christian – Muslim mix of the Filipino warriors’ beliefs, online videos of FMA documentaries and much more.
In the near future it will likely turn into the first online point of reference for practitioners, fighters, and researchers of FMA in Italy.