What a Filipino Uniform Looks Like

GM Carin. Note his "uniform."

GM Carin. Note his "uniform."

As I posted yesterday on GM Carin, I was struck by how his substance –raw, pure, fighting prowess– contrasted with his style, which is typically Filipino. I was thinking, “Gee, where’s his uniform?”

An eskrimador was asking online at the Stick and Knife Fighters Forum for help finding a “Filipino uniform.” The problem is that what he appears to have settled upon as a Filipino uniform is really just a dressed up kimono.

Now one of my teachers dresses in Japanese gi’s, which makes sense for him, because he is a black belt in karate. (In fact, GM Vasquez’a Modified Karate book can be found in every Filipino National Bookstore. One of his students is a high-ranking judo black belt. Out of respect for my teacher, I put on a gi and posed for pictures.

But I have a problem with Filipinos wearing Japanese gi’s, because of the Japanese brutalization of the Philippines in WWII. I know one Filipino gentlemen who as a boy in WWII threw a sharpened stick at a Japanese soldier. He and his friend were caught, and the parents were forced to beat their own children. Unbeknownst to the Japanese, he had padding under his clothes, but his friend did not. He survived, but his friend died from the ordeal.

Now this is not an anti-Japanese screed –I bear no ill-will to the Japanese, and the war is long over. But at least I can say for me (and I’m obviously not Filipino) that Japanese style clothing should not represent a Filipino art. Imagine a Tibetan style training in Chinese uniforms, or black martial artists training in Klansman’s robes.

I think that the wearing of Japanese clothing can also reflect a Filipino “colonial mentality,” in which Filipinos look down upon Filipino things as crude, provincial, and low status, while foreign things are held up as sophisticated, cultured, and high status.

"Filipino" vest.

When I first started training I tried to assemble on my own what I thought was a uniform representative of the Philippines. My guide was Master Dan Inosanto, with what I am calling the “maglalatik” look. (The maglalatik is a Filipino cultural dance with the dancers consisting of guys in short pants and barefooted.)

I had white t-shirts imprinted with “Laging Una” (“Always First”), the insignia of Filipino fighting units of WWII. I’m proud that the uniform was at least historical in that regard, and honored Filipino veterans.

But if you look at how guys really train in the Philippines, there is a shortage of uniforms. Look at Anciong Bacon…where’s his uniform? GM Maranga doesn’t wear uniforms. Look at GM Carin, training in a sleeveless shirt and a pair of shorts.

For me, I had to decide to stay with what I know to be true as an American. I prefer to err on the side of masters such as Carin, Maranga, Bacon, etc. (If I can be so bold as to include myself anywhere near these masters), rather than those with the robes, and sashes, and patches, and rainbow coalition colors, and the click-clacking sinawali, and twenty-step progressions from a single strike.

But if I were to go with a uniform, I might wear a camisa de chino (common in the Philippines), or a shirt that honored Filipino veterans by including their insignia.

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