Archive for the Origins Category

Styles in the FMA

Posted in Masters and History, Origins, Other Stick Methods with tags , , , , , , , on September 16, 2010 by bigstickcombat

James posts the following, and I thought it was something I should address as a separate post.

“When I first learned about FMA I could not understand how they could call long range a style or Elastico a style, to me all ranges and all strike styles should be within the context of a style and not a style unto themselves. I just believe in being a complete fighter.”


With regard to “styles,” the late GM Giron taught 20 or so of them. GM Giron can be seen holding “the master’s fan”

El Abaniko del Maestro

El Abaniko del Maestro of GM Giron

here. Each rib of the fan is a style in his system. This page also has a full listing of the styles. According to GM Estalilla, the 21st, unwritten style on the back of the fan was kabaroan.

Some of these styles on the master’s fan might be thought of as tactics, many of them based on environmental considerations. For instance, “De Fondo” was designed for times when you can only plant one foot solidly.

I remember meeting guys from one art that did multiple  “styles,” Disalon and Decampo (Literally, “of the parlor” and “of the country.”) among them. Desalon was a tight, close-quarters style designed for indoors. Decampo was a broader style designed for the outdoors.

Another style was “tinulisan” (“to make like a bandit”), which was hit and run. In other words, a thief doesn’t have time to trade blow for blow, because the cops and enraged neighbors are coming, so he’s going to get in a quick hit or two and take off.

Some of the old Filipino stylists knew only one or a couple of “styles,” others might know multiple styles. While our goal is to be proficient at all ranges and in all environments, I try to give people “full faith and credit” for their system.

I’m careful to avoid the snobbery of some people, who if you don’t do single stick, double stick, wrestling, spear, knife, double knife, bow and arrow, empty-hands, rope, nunchaku, staff, etc., then you aren’t a “real” Filipino martial artist and your art is somehow lacking.


What a Filipino Uniform Looks Like

Posted in Commentary, Masters and History, Origins with tags , , , , on February 25, 2010 by bigstickcombat
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.

Kali, Anyone?

Posted in Commentary, Origins with tags , , on February 24, 2010 by bigstickcombat

Moros of Mindanao

Reader Don posted the following:

I’m glad to find such a recent post on this topic. I’ve seen the same things you and cook are talking about. From my knowledge Giron’s and Cabales’ arts came from regions of Spanish occupation but I still can’t find a Moro (Filipino Muslim ) fighting system use the Kali.

I’ve read an Illustrisimo book where the current grand master refutes Kali and it should be corrected kalis Illustrisimo reflecting the blade (kalis) . As for the Indonesia and Malaysia argument, everyone calls it [pencak] silat over there. And silat is also weapon based that do address long weapons at certain level of training. so I advise people not to assume one empty hand and the other is weapon. Also look for the general meaning of silat, escrima,and arnis. They all reference “fighting” in some way, simple as that.

Kali always gets this romanticized story to validate it.

The money quote is here: “I still can’t find a Moro (Filipino Muslim ) fighting system use the [term] Kali.”

And I’d be willing to bet money, Don, that you never will. As Nepangue and others point out, every single arnista of renown is either Visayan (with the vast majority of those from Cebu), or Ilocano (Ilocos and Pampanga regions). Anyone in Mindanao who practices arnis is typically a transplant from the Visayas.

And the Illustrisimo clan, noted for the use of the term kali, are Cebuanos.

Once again, I am NOT saying that kali practitioners are no good, nor am I saying that you don’t have a right to call your art kali. What I am saying is that kali is not necessarily better than arnis or eskrima as practiced in other parts of the Philippines, and that there is no indigenous Muslim art called kali.

I will take any Visayan or Ilocano practitioner of the FMA over any indigenous Mindanao art practitioner, any day.

GM Inting Carin

Posted in Masters and History, Origins, Real Life Combat with tags , , , on February 24, 2010 by bigstickcombat

GM Carin

Credit must be given to GM Inting Carin, who served honorably in the Philippines resistance against the Japanese. He also participated in the Doce Pares vs. Balintawak grudge matches.

If you’re ever tempted to glamorize combat, especially knife fighting, read the following account of a melee in Cebu City Mabolo district, which is not far from the SM Mall.

Way of the Warrior Carin has had to apply his self-defense skills on numerous occasions in day-to-day life. The following incident was documented on the BBC’s “Way of the Warrior” episode on eskrima. While attending a fiesta in the Mabolo district of Cebu, Carin noticed that a friend was being overrun by four men. After noticing one of the men drawing a knife and then preparing to stab his friend from behind, Carin instinctively parried the knife thrust and followed up with a kick to throw the attacker off balance.

Carin’s intervention forced the attackers to concentrate their energy on him. The mass attack was fast and furious; subsequently, Carin did not know how many he was facing. Suddenly, Inting was smashed on the skull with a wooden chair, which sent him to the floor. As he lay on the ground bleeding profusely, one of the attackers sat on top of him and delivered finishing knife thrusts. Carin was stabbed twice in the abdomen and received two extremely deep wounds. He finally disarmed his assailant and countered with a fatal thrust into the armpit of his attacker.”

Regardless of your style or affiliations, GM Carin is a long, long way from the flashy gi and sinawali twirling stylists. He’s a master who has put his butt on the line and seen real combat (particularly really nasty combat) firsthand.

Note the knife scar.

How Stick Fighting Masters Dominate

Posted in Masters and History, Origins, Other Stick Methods, Princples and Theory with tags , , , on February 23, 2010 by bigstickcombat

GM Carin

Grandmaster Maranga of Combat Eskrima Maranga shared with me the secret of how all of the big name masters in Cebu dominate their opponents whether sparring, in tournaments, or if challenged: They grab the opponent’s stick and whale on him. Most stick fighters have no defense against this simple technique. Sure, there are counters to stick grabbing, but they are hard to apply when you’re getting repeatedly hit in the head with a stick.

It was GM Maranga’s father, the late GM Timor Maranga, who recognized just how common the grab-and-hit technique was, how effective it was, and how nobody could counter it. So GM Timor Maranga developed a series of realistic, practical techniques to counter grab-and-hit.

Once Timor Maranga was in a stick fighting tournament when an opponent irritated him by grabbing his stick. “Stop holding my stick!” he growled. His opponent continued grabbing, so Timor freed his stick and slammed his opponent with a fist to the face. The only problem was that his opponent was wearing a metal basket-style face guard, which cut up Timor’s knuckles. Although Timor was willing to continue the fight, it was stopped because of his injury.

The Late GM Timor Maranga

How to Stop Grab-and-Hit

The counter to someone who grabs your stick is to get your other hand on the stick. Once you get both hands on the stick, it now becomes two hands against one, and you have the advantage.

The problem is that while you are trying to get your live hand onto the stick, the opponent is striking you. You cannot at the same time use your live hand to defend against stick strikes and to regain control of your stick. You are now in a bind: If you try to free your stick, you get hit in the head, but if you try to defend your head, your empty hand is ineffective, and you still get hit, plus you have lost control of your stick.

Every arnis style teaches to counter grab-and-hit by getting the live hand onto the stick. The problem is that it doesn’t work. A key innovation of Maranga style is always to have the live hand near the stick. When the opponent grabs your stick, your live hand is already there, not at your chest.

Lessons for the Big Stick

One big advantage of gripping the long stick with both hands is that you are always prepared to defend against disarm attempts. While other styles futilely try to get the other hand on the stick while getting hit, if you have a two-handed grip your other hand is already on the stick.

When you grip the big stick in bat grip, you always have the advantage, whether the opponent grabs with one hand or both.

What the Hell Is Kali?

Posted in Commentary, Masters and History, Origins, Other Stick Methods with tags , , , , , , , on January 28, 2010 by bigstickcombat

I’m about to get controversial. There has been a rash of people using the term “kali,” which was popularized by Master Dan Inosanto. As far as I can tell, the Ilustrisimo group were the first and only people to use the term “kali,” and of course Master Inosanto is a part of that group.

Kali has become something of a fad, because I suppose it sounds hip and cutting edge, while terms like “arnis” and “eskrima” sound like old school stuff practiced by old codgers. Some have alleged that kali is the “mother art,” (which according to Inosanto originated with Muslims in the southern Philippines) and have implied that other arts are watered down, pale imitations of the “real kali.”

I should point out that the old masters, like GM Giron, GM Estalilla, GM Cabales, GM Presas, etc. did not use the term kali. My teacher, GM Estalilla, a highly literate man who was on a Filipino Bible translation team and who speaks several different Filipino languages, could only hazard a guess as to what the word “kali” might mean. Since GM Estalilla doesn’t use profanity, other, more blunt masters might ask, “What the hell is ‘kali’?” And we are talking about the who’s who of Filipino grandmasters.

Ned Nepangue rightly points out,

“Fact #9 The suggestion that kali is the root word of some words found in different Filipino languages and dialects is not based on linguistics, in fact a study on this claim is yet to be made.

Important pre-Hispanic household words like diwata, Bathala, datu, ulipon are still understood by many and this same is also true with words associated with the warriors, like bangkaw, baraw, tameng. So what is supposed to be the ancient name for the Filipino martial art? Kali? If it is kali then, why don’t we find this word in dictionaries of the different Filipino languages and dialects? In fact this particular word was just “re-introduced” years ago. Kali is never a traditional name for the native martial art. If one goes to a secluded place in Cebu for example and ask those eskrima old-timers there if they know what is kali, the will probably say they don’t know. And these people are supposed to know better.

Bontoc Igorot. No Kali Here.

The most compelling explanation I have heard of the origin of the Filipino martial arts is from the Cebu Eskrima Society. Find the book here. In short, they argue that eskrima originated with Spaniards in the Spanish colonial era of the Philippines. Due to persistent Muslim (Moro) raids, the Spaniards raised a Filipino expeditionary force and trained them in swordsmanship and hand-to-hand combat. Rather than being originated by Muslims, the Filipino martial arts originated in a group of Filipino warriors who raided Muslim areas of Mindanao and waged a bloody war of retaliation and deterrence.

Now there’s nothing wrong with calling your art “kali.” The Ilustrisimo people rightly have a high reputation among Filipino martial artists. You can call your art “hubu bubu” if you want to.

My problem is with those who want to suggest that those who don’t do “kali” aren’t practicing the real thing. My problem is with those who want to jump on the kali bandwagon not because they have historically called their art kali, but because they’re making crap up to cash in on the latest fad. My problem is with those who don’t know better, who are looking for a good kali school and dismiss anybody who uses the terms “arnis” or “eskrima.”

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Posted in Origins, Other Stick Methods with tags , , , on December 9, 2009 by bigstickcombat

GM Maranga related a story to me of his early days training in Balintawak with the late GM Anciong Bacon.

They had arranged a sparring session with a rival school. The Balintawak members lined up against the wall. Rivals from the other school would pick an opponent out of the line up. One challenger stepped forward and moved down the line of Balintawak practitioners, trying to choose a suitable opponent.

One of the Balintawak guys was very muscular, so he was passed over. Unfortunately, the challenger didn’t know that the muscular guy with the ferocious mustache wasn’t very good.

As the challenger looked over Drigo Maranga, Maranga did his best to look tough, because at the time he was relatively new to eskrima and didn’t feel prepared for the match.

At last the eskrimador from the rival school pointed to a small, older man. He had made his choice.

Rodrigo Maranga and the other Balintawak stylists repressed laughs. “Sili kolikot!” they sputtered.

You see, in Visayan a “sili kolikot” is a tiny but very fierce chili pepper (called “sili labuyo” in Tagalog).  The challenger had unknowingly called out the master of the school, the legendary Anciong Bacon, who was small, but hell on wheels, and one of Cebu’s greatest masters of stickfighting!

I met the late GM Sonny Umpad only once. He was a slight, unimposing guy with large, expressive eyes. The impromptu demonstration he did with my own knife was downright scary. And I thought to myself afterward, “If I had gone into a bar to pick out an easy guy for me to beat, I would have chosen Sonny Umpad, and that would have been the greatest –and last–mistake of my life.

These two true masters stand in stark contrast to the satin gi “Punong Tuhon Datu Puti” self-promoters out there. Anciong’s and Sonny’s art did their talking for them, and it still speaks after their passing.