There are solid historical proofs showing the profound influence of India on the Philippines. Indian influences may have started entering the country during the first three centuries of the Christian era via Indian trading activities in Southeast Asia. The oldest written document found in the Philippines, namely the Laguna Copperplate Inscription displays obvious Indian influence. Including loanwords from Sanskrit, the document, which releases its bearer from a debt in gold, has a date that corresponds to the year 900 AD. Upendra Thakur in his book Some Aspects of Asian History and Culture, wrote, “As we all know, the Philippine islands, Malay and Indonesia were greatly influenced by Hindu religions and philosophy since the early years of the Christian era. Some writers have suggested that direct Indian contact with the Philippines occurred in the early centuries of the Christian era. This belief is based on the archeological remains consisting mostly of pottery, beads and bracelets and other materials similar to those found in South India, which have been found in the Philippines and Malaysia. They believe that without direct contact between India and the Philippines Indian influence on religion, politics and statecraft of the Philippines is not possible.”
On the extent of Indian influence on Philippine syllabary, Thakur wrote, “The best evidence of strong Indian elements in Filipino life is, however, found in Philippine languages, particularly in Tagalog which has borrowed from Sanskrit the words which signify intellectual acts, moral conceptions, emotions, superstitions, names of deities, of planets, of numerals of high numbers, of botany, of war, of titles and dignitaries, some animals, instruments of industry and the names of money. This deep influence on Philippine languages was due to the borrowing of Sanskrit words by the Malays during first centuries of the Christian era from whom the Filipinos engrafted all the words into their own languages, when they came into contact with the Hinduised Malays.”
Two Filipino words—guro and Bathala, popularly used within Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) circles are Indian in origin. Guro, which means “teacher,” a common title used by many FMA instructors was derived from the Indian word “guru.” On the etymology of Bathala, the supreme god of pre-colonial Filipinos, Thakur has this to say, “Similarly Bathala, the Tagalog supreme god, is obviously Indra [Battara].”
And now comes the question, “Did Indian martial arts reach Philippine shores?” Probably, considering that martial arts is a cultural export and Indian culture was heavily transported to Southeast Asia during the first two centuries of Christianity, “As we know, during the turmoil in South India just before the rise of the Pallavas, many Indians left their home and went to Malaysia, Campâ and Cambodia in the earlier centuries of the Christian era (c. 2nd cent. A.D.). They brought with them their culture and religion and when the Pallava kingdom was established, Indian settlements came to be founded in Malaysia and other parts of South-East Asia whose people consequently adopted Indian culture,” wrote Thakur, postulating that, “Indian transmitters of culture were court functionaries, not missionaries.” Based on this statement, Kalaripayattu (arguably India’s oldest martial) and other Indian combat systems may have reached the Philippines during this period of Indian exodus to Southeast Asia. But to what extent they have taken roots, it is hard to tell.
Indian club training and Filipino stick fighting
While it is purely hypothetical that Indian martial arts directly influenced the development of FMA, it is a fact that the two display similarities worthy of scrutiny. For one, India has its own method of stick fighting. Robert Beér in his book, The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs wrote: “In ancient Indian warfare the heavy club was a chosen weapon of the physically strong and robust—a tradition which still finds expression in the training techniques of Indian wrestlers, who use a pair of wooden clubs for strengthening exercises. Hanuman, the powerful monkey god who wields the gada or mace, is commonly the patron deity of Indian Vaishnavite wrestlers. Street-jugglers also wield the wooden clubs with great dexterity. Indian warfare employed four distinct methods of fighting with the club: vikshepa, or paired combat; abhishepa, or single club combat; parishepa, or circling of the club amidst the throng of enemies; and prakshepa, or the throwing of the club.”
It is interesting to identify the similarities and disparities between Indian and Filipino stick fighting based on what Beér has written. Just like the solo baston (single stick) and doble baston (double sticks) modalities of arnis, escrima, kali, Indian stick fighting has vikshepa, or paired club combat and abhishepa, or single club combat. The wooden clubs used by Indian wrestlers for conditioning is a popular training tool in Indian physical culture. Though practiced solely as an exercise, its swinging patterns resemble that of Filipino stick fighting. The disparity is evident though in the choice of sticks. The Indians prefer a heavy club, “a chosen weapon of the physically strong and robust,” Beér wrote. The Filipinos on the other hand prefers the rattan stick, light but durable and capable of delivering multiple hits in a second.
Stick training as preparation for blade training
The following materials are based on the wealth of information found in The Encyclopedia of Indian Physical Culture edited by D.C. Mujumdar and published in 1950.
Just like in the FMA, stick fighting in Indian physical culture is a preparation for the use of bladed weapons. The three training modalities I’ve read in the book that I believe has strong connection to the FMA are stick and shield, single stick, double-stick and dagger training.
Stick and shield
“In order to train persons in sword fight some common moves, cuts etc. must be pre-organized and practice therein should be given, so that the performers will be able to show their valor and skill in actual sword fight. Hence Fari-Gadka [shield and stick]is devised and practiced by players.”
The equipment for fari-gadka are a shield made of leather, nine inches in diameter and a leather-covered stick, 36 inches-long (similar in length to those use in largo mano arnis-escrima).
Pre-arranged two-man practice in fari-gadka is called ghai. The first lesson in this training phase is the five strikes namely Tamacha (cut on the left ear), Kamar (cut on the waist), Cheer (cut between the legs), Sheer (cut on the head) and Bahera (cut on the right ear). Reading this, I cannot help but notice its similarity to the cinco tero (five strikes), which is the simplest numbering system in arnis-escrima.
In the second version of the ghai, two more strikes are added namely Palat (cut on the right ankle) and Kadak (cut on the right knee).
Except for the absence of the shield, the manner of striking in single stick training is the same as that of fari-gadka. The size of the stick employed is 28 inches to 36 inches and about one inch in diameter, again, very similar to those used in arnis-escrima.
Without the buckler, the player must now rely solely on his stick for defense and offense. “Strikes are to be blocked by stick only.” The latter passage describes passive defense that stands in sharp contrast to the offensive strategy employed in arnis-escrima that advocates hitting the hand that is holding the weapon rather than doing a weapon-to-weapon block.
Double-stick training mimics closer the movements of fari-gadka because the second stick can now serve the function of the shield.
Just like in arnis-escrima, ambidexterity is highly desired to excel in Indian double-stick fighting, “Specific practice that is required to be attended to in this sport is that sometimes blows can be struck by both the sticks at the same time. Herein both the practices—by the right hand and by the left hand are absolutely essential to defend oneself from the blows of the adversary.”
Salami is the term for two-man drills in both single and double-stick training.
The book presented a particular method of dagger training based on 32 anatomical targets. In the accompanying illustration, it was said that the 32 vulnerable points are for thrusts. There was no mention on the use of slashes, which is an integral element in Filipino knife fighting. Remember that the primary principle of Filipino knife fighting is, “For every thrust there is a slash and for every slash there is a thrust.”
It was also mentioned that the different thrust and counters are practiced sitting, standing and lying. The drills were usually pre-arranged, “Hence special movement, tricks etc., are generally planned to maintain the skill and efficiency in the use of these weapons. The limbs of the body must be also trained to undergo particular moves so that they will enable the soldiers to defeat their opponents, without themselves being exhausted.”
Another notable element in the practice of this particular method of Indian dagger fighting is that disarming is encouraged, “The fighter is declared to have won when he is successful in snatching away the dagger from the hands of the opponent and is in a position to injure him with the same dagger.”