Arnis for the rest of us

The stick is the most popular Filipino martial arts (FMA) weapon hence arnis is always identified with stick fighting.

The stick is the most popular Filipino martial arts (FMA) weapon hence arnis is always identified with stick fighting.

In the search for the perfect exercise to keep them fit, many people turn to different sports. Among the more popular choices are running, boxing, and mixed martial arts, to name
a few. But Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) is not  to be left behind as more and more people from all walks of life are taking interest in arnis—the Philippines’ national sport
and martial art.

The FMA made a giant leap on December 11, 2009 when former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed Republic Act 9850, also known as the Arnis Bill authored by Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri into law. When word got out, people started getting curious.

Architect and associate professor, Nicolo Del Castillo was one of them. “When I learned that arnis became our national sport, I felt I had to learn it. It was a sense of nationalism, and also there was a need to learn a martial art. Knowing that we had our own martial art only made me more eager to learn it. And I was not disappointed. When I learned about its history, and its system of movements, I was fascinated and sold to the idea of practicing arnis for life.”

Arnis students practice single stick work at the University of the Philippines Diliman. Contributed photos

Arnis students practice single stick work at the University of the Philippines Diliman. Contributed photos

The growing awareness on arnis continues to reach Filipinos overseas. In fact, the FMA’s popularity abroad was one of the factors that piqued the interest of environment consultant and now arnis practitioner Lessandra Berbano. “Back in late 2011, a friend I met at a party started telling me about FMA and Prof. Bot Jocano [Felipe Jocano Jr.]. She isn’t an arnis practitioner herself, but she was doing research on FMA for her college thesis. I was more than a little intrigued by what she was relating about FMA and how much more popular it is abroad than in the Philippines,” said Berbano.

Anthropologist, arnis teacher, and associate professor, Felipe Jocano Jr., said that active promotion of arnis by nationalistic Filipino martial artists started way back in the 1960s.

“There were initiatives by FMA teachers from that time to introduce FMA to the educational system in order to gain wider respectability (and for many of them, a stable source of income).”

However, the task of making arnis attractive to the general public was not an easy one. Arnis being military rather than civilian in origin was honed through centuries of warfare and painful injuries were common  during practice. “Practitioners risked bumps, bruises, contusions, and open wounds to the limbs, body, and head during training, this deterred many people who otherwise would be interested in learning the arts,” said Jocano.

Because of the aforementioned risks, Jocano narrated that arnis teachers Remy and Ernesto Presas realized that certain modifications needed to be made in order to prevent people from shying away from arnis in favor of safer combat sports. “This trend meant that more and more people could train for longer and longer periods of time. These made the art acceptable to a wider spectrum of people,” Jocano added. Through the effort of the Presas brothers (now both deceased), it became easier to introduce arnis into the Philippine educational system. In the late 1980s, certain innovations were made in sport arnis further boosting the popularity of the FMA.

Arnis practice abounds with benefits. Both Berbano and Del Castillo were quick to note of the fitness and self-defense benefits of studying this martial art. “[Arnis] works your arms, torso and legs (and butt) and gives you a good cardio workout (especially when doing two-person drills or sparring bouts,” said Berbano. As for the self-defense part, she explained:  “It develops that mentality that you can use anything as a weapon – whatever is available – with which to defend yourself.”

For those who want to get into arnis or any type of FMA, Jocano has the following tips:

1. Ask yourself why you want to learn.

2. Once you’ve clarified what you want to do it for, the next step is to ask around about a teacher. It’s not really that difficult.

3. Having found a teacher ask around about his or her background—his or her character (what would he or she be doing when not teaching). When talking to the teacher, find out what you can about what he or she teaches and what it emphasizes. Is it about sports and fitness or self defense?

4. Before attending a class, watch and observe first the students as they practice

5.Also, make sure that the price of training is well within your budget.

Jocano said that after answering these questions, the rest is up to you.


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1 Comment

  1. My son Gonzalo ‘Jing’ Gonzalez who learned his arnis from Ernie Presas keeps Filipino arnis alive and well in Toronto, Canado by teaching the art and maintaining updated there. He and his 8 year old son in fact will represent Canada among other players, in the forthcoming world competition in Hungary this July. They will always love to hear from you here in the Philippines.