Types of Sticks in the Filipino Martial Arts
Here is some background on the various stick lengths used in the Filipino martial arts. I think it is important to understand why certain lengths of sticks are used. I will talk here in generalities to give the reader a big picture. Stick lengths are approximate and will vary.
The Short Stick -28 Inches
This is the most common length of stick in the FMA. I would guess that it’s used by 90% of Filipino stylists. I believe that the 28 inch rattan stick is designed to simulate the machete. No other real world item handles like a 28 inch or so rattan stick.
My contention, though, is that real-life field machetes are heavier than the typical “show” machete many FMA stylists train with.
The Very Short Stick -21 Inches
When I trained in Serrada with Jaime Cabiero the length of the stick was from the armpit to the palm. When I measured mine, it came out to about 21 inches (I have a hammer handle that I use for that length of stick.). Although it was never explained to me, I believe that the chief reason for such a short stick is that in close the stick is less likely to get caught in the defender’s arm or the opponent’s arms or weapon.
Some people believe that this length of stick is used because it is easier to conceal. GM Estalilla explained to me that Filipinos would conceal a short stick down the middle of the back to be used in the event of a brawl. This length could also be concealed in a sleeve.
Some Serrada stylists use sticks that are even shorter than the pit-to-palm length mentioned earlier. I once heard the late GM Giron refer to a very short stick as a “chopstick.” As far as I can tell, the only purpose of the extremely short stick is to increase speed, which I think is mainly done for show.
The Long Stick -36 Inches
This is used by the Ilocano styles, such as Kabaroan, Giron Arnis, and Marinas from lowland Luzon.
According to the late GM Giron, the larga mano styles are based on the “panabas” which is a machete- like blade mounted on a stick. There are other brush-clearing machetes of longer length than the shorter bolo.
GM Estalilla also explains that the Kabaroan stick matches the length of the European walking cane that was in vogue in the Philippines.
The Short Staff -48 Inches
What is interesting, though, is that GM Estalilla’s father used a stick about 46 inches in length, reaching from the floor to the “didi” (nipple). Traveling merchants used to carry their merchandise on a pole slung over the shoulder, with a basket on either end (“pingga”). This pole could be used to fight off dogs or bandits. Sometimes these vendors would engage in challenge matches, wagering their merchandise.
The founder of Tapado, the late GM Mamar, deliberately chose the longer stick (approx. 4 feet) to give him a greater reach advantage as well as a greater margin of safety against other eskrima stylists using the 28 inch long stick.