Archive for Filipino martial arts

The Filipino Spear –Bangkaw

Posted in Masters and History, Weapons with tags , , , on January 13, 2011 by bigstickcombat

The Filipino Spear --Bangkaw

Today I have something you’ve probably never seen before, no matter how long you’ve been in the FMA. File this under rural weapons of the Philippines.

Kuntawman argued for including other weapons besides sticks in Filipino Martial Arts competitions, including the bayonet:

Yes, the Bayonet. Maybe some of you from the province forget that our old men taught this weapon as part of the Eskrima we studied. Some of us are actually embarassed by this weapon, as if the Bayonet made our systems look “country” and unsophisticated.

This post raised the idea in my mind of spears or pole weapons in the province of the Philippines, particularly the Visayas (central Philippines) where I often travel.

In a rural home in Cebu I spotted a weapon that at first resembled a spear, a long pole about five feet long with two barbed spikes at the tip. I thought it was for fishing. It was explained to me that the late grandfather used to go into an abandoned house and catch bats!

The idea was not to spear bats, per se, but to jab the barbed ends upward as bats swirled around. The barbed prongs would ensnare the bats outstretched wings.

Why would you catch bats? To eat, of course. Filipinos will eat almost anything, and grandpa liked his bats adobo style.


Ignorance, Stereotypes, and Misconceptions

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , on March 1, 2010 by bigstickcombat

Master Monino

That pretty much sums up most people’s knowledge of the martial arts. I just had an exchange with a martial artist (here), who was looking for a Filipino uniform. He has to take into account what people view as a “real” martial artist.

I’m reminded of an experiment in which one of the world’s top violinists was persuaded to play at a subway station “undercover,”using one of the world’s most valuable violins. It was an experiment to see if people could recognize genius in a man without a tuxedo, not in a concert hall, and without any fanfare. The result?

He bombed. The same guy who is paid $1,000 a minute, made $32 in 45 minutes. Without the tux, without the concert hall and orchestra, in street clothes in a subway, he was just another talentless schmuck in the public’s eyes.

How can you be accepted as a martial artist and an authority when people have no idea what the FMA are? Without the gi, the barefeet, and the black belt, will you be just as invisible as the violinist in the subway?

What do you do when this is what people think a real martial artist looks like?

Here is the problem. You’re a Filipino martial artist. The questions start, and it’s like an avalanche of ignorant misconceptions raging from the mouths of people who couldn’t find the Philippines on a globe.

  • Is that like karate (pronounced kuh-rotty)?

  • Where’s your uniform?

  • What belt are you?

  • What? You’re teaching kung-fu and you’re not a black belt?

  • Oh, weapons. Like the numchucks?

  • So you train barefooted, right?

  • Eskrimuh. Yeah, I can do that. Hee-yah! ha ha ha

The ignorance runs so deep, how to even begin to explain what you’re doing, especially when people are drawn to the vaguely familiar arts with belts, bare feet, yelling, nunchaku and swords, etc.?

Look at this video, with the guy smoking a cigarette while practicing eskrima! This is the real deal eskrima, in jeans, t-shirts, and tsinelas, with cigarettes and a couple of bottles of San Miguel or Red Horse thrown in for good measure.

The Student-Teacher Relationship in the FMA

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , on December 29, 2009 by bigstickcombat

There is an interesting article at Filipino Fighting Secrets about an American who goes to the Philippines to learn the Filipino martial arts, but who doesn’t seem to view the art or the student-teacher relationship too seriously.

I signed up for kickboxing in Cebu City. What sealed the deal for me was that they offered arnis, too. Unfortunately, just as I finished a grueling two hour workout, the arnis teacher would show up. I was soaking wet from sweat, and there were blisters on my feet. So I tried to cool down while the teacher changed into a satin uniform with fringe on it (That should have been my first warning sign that something was wrong.).

Arnis lessons consisted of learning a long form, practicing strikes while stepping into deep cross stances. All the while I was trying to wipe the stinging sweat from my eyes.

About the third lesson the kickboxing teacher explained that there was a fee for the arnis. I thought the arnis lessons were part of the gym membership. The young guy in the frilly satin uniform handed me a sheet like a menu, and when I saw the fee at the bottom, I was shocked.

I really had no choice but to explain that I couldn’t afford to continue studying arnis.

Later I met the young guy’s teacher. I told the grandmaster, “Oh yeah, I took a couple of lessons in your style with so-and-so.”

The grandmaster looked troubled and shot a look to one of his associates. “I’ve talked to him about this. You see, he studied with me for years and paid nothing. I have asked him that if he wants to teach using my name and my style, that he should pay me some of what he makes. If he doesn’t want to do that, he should call his style something else and teach on his own.”

I relayed the grandmaster’s concerns to the gym owner. It didn’t seem ethical for me to have someone teaching who was defying the wishes of his teacher, the grandmaster. The gym owner explained that from the young teacher’s point of view, it was only fair because he often taught classes to foreigners while the grandmaster rested or talked with others.

This episode to me highlights an appalling lack of gratitude and respect for one’s teacher. If you were taught for free, is it really too much to ask you to repay something when you have the opportunity? Had the young guy thought that perhaps being assigned to teach others was not a chore, but a learning and growth opportunity? Teaching and doing are two separate skills. Many Filipinos have difficulty communicating with foreigners, which is a skill that can be learned by practicing speaking, such as by teaching.

In a real warrior art, the teacher-student relationship goes beyond paying for classes. One of my teachers has high blood pressure, and told me that he once had to stop his medication because he couldn’t afford it. I told him that if he ever needed medication to get in touch with me, and I will see that he gets it. When I visit him I check to see that he has his medication, and I will get it for him if he doesn’t. It is not about paying for instruction, but about the ongoing debt I owe a man who taught me and who has done so much for the art.

Christmas -A Reminder of the Spiritual Side of the Art

Posted in Commentary, Masters and History with tags , , , , on December 25, 2009 by bigstickcombat

GM Ramiro Estalilla

GM Estalilla’s father fought against the Japanese in WWII. His unit had two Bibles with them, one in English and the other in Ilocano. They left the Ilocano Bible untouched because it was their first language, but eventually wound up using pages from the English Bible for cigarette papers.

The elder Estalilla had left for battle an agnostic, but returned as a Christian. He explained, “Son, there are no atheists in the foxholes.”

There is a good reason why there should be a spiritual component to the martial arts, and all of my Filipino teachers are devout Christians. GM Maranga said to me one day after training, “Forget about me, forget everything I’ve taught you, but never forget God.”

GM Drigo Maranga

The spiritual component of the art, rather than draw warriors away from reality, in actuality grounds them in reality –that they are human, and therefore mortal.

Too many martial artists use the arts to fuel fantasies, such as fighting bare handed against six men with swords and emerging unscathed.

The fantasy martial artists imagine that they are the world’s deadliest man. I’m reminded of the psychiatrist who had several patients in a mental hospital, each of whom thought he was Jesus. The psychiatrist had the idea that he would put all three into the same room, and that in time they would realize, “Hey, wait a minute, we can’t all be Jesus, I must be delusional.”

The psychiatrist was disappointed when each man told him, “I’m the real Jesus, those other two guys are imposters.” That’s the situation we have today, with hundreds of fantasy martial artists each claiming to be the world’s deadliest.

Not only does the fantasy martial artist need to delude himself about his invulnerability, but also needs to puff himself up above other “lesser” martial artists. The result is a proliferation of outlandish costumes and ever more grandiose titles. Acknowledging the debt he owes to his teacher(s) implies that there is someone greater or better than he is, so he is compelled to invent his own style and to pretend that he never had any teachers, or that he has surpassed those who were practicing the art before he was born.

I’m using the occasion of this holy day of Christmas to point out certain spiritual truths:

We are all human, and therefore mortal

We are not superior to anyone else

Regardless of our skill level, life and death (particularly when

weapons are involved), hangs by the most frail thread

Regardless of our skill level, we can learn from anyone, and anyone is

capable of defeating us in the right circumstances

Life is a fragile and therefore precious thing

In the light of an all powerful God, we are compelled to be humble and to

respect others

God bless you all, and Merry Christmas

Maligayang Pasko (Tagalog)

Naragsak nga Paskua (Ilocano)

Maayong Pasko (Bisaya)

Feliz Navidad

I Don’t Do It All

Posted in Commentary, Real Life Combat, Uncategorized with tags , , on December 21, 2009 by bigstickcombat

Once I was training in Cebu City at a kickboxing gym, when one of the students came up to me and said, “We have 49 kicks in our style. How many do you have in yours?”

Two,” I replied.

Ego is an unavoidable hazard of the martial arts.

I see these styles with curricula as large as the Texas panhandle. They do single stick, double stick, espada y daga, single knife, double knife, boxing, kicking and wrestling (only you have to call it sikaran and dumog in order to be authentic), the staff, the spear, the bullwhip, projectile weapons, the two-handed stick, weapons with a point at each end, etc. Do they really do all of these weapons or do they just want to brag about doing all of these weapons?

For some of these styles I think one-upmanship is involved. “Look at Master Kidlat’s school; They don’t even do spear and shield.”

One guy on a DVD was teaching the 59 angles of the system. Nobody wants to admit that he only does twelve angles, and you really sound ignorant if all you do are five.

Nobody wants to look like his art is “kulang (“lacking,” or “kurang” in Ilocano). Oops, there I go, dropping Filipino language terms to make me sound authoritative. “What, you don’t speak Tagalog?”

I got the lecture the other day from some guy who does a retreating step, an advancing step, a cross-hopping step, the diagonal slide closing step, etc. It sounds even more impressive when you label these terms in Tagalog or Bisaya.

To put all of this into perspective, just this week a co-worker told me of his conversation with an American veteran of the Pacific campaign in WWII. In that conflict it often came down to hand-to-hand combat. The American faced Japanese soldiers who had martial arts training –he had none. In fact, he only had one technique/strategy, and that was embarrassingly simple.

Imagine the field day that the stylists with the 59 angles, the 27 weapons, the 17 different footwork methods, the Tagalog, Bisaya, and old Filipino alphabet would have with this guy. Why, he wouldn’t last 15 minutes! That ignorant grunt didn’t even have diagonal cross-stepping footwork.

Yet he survived and prevailed. In combat to the death the American vet’s only technique was to “bullrush” the slighter Japanese, who were trying to work their complicated techniques on him. Sometimes it came down to him slamming the enemy’s head against a rock. And now he’s a very old man telling his story.

Don’t fall into the trap. Don’t feel like you have to know it all. Be on the lookout for the baseless puffery of guys bragging about all of the stuff they do (and “stuff” is not my first choice of words) in order to make you feel like an idiot, like you’re somehow lacking because you don’t do everything, including the bow and arrow.

Titles in the Filipino Martial Arts

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on December 6, 2009 by bigstickcombat

A trend that I find disturbing is the tendency of many in the Filipino martial arts to appoint themselves as masters, with ever more elaborate titles. There is “guro,” “punong guro,” “master,” “grandmaster,” “supreme grandmaster,” “datu,” “tuhon,” etc.

The formula is to choose one of these titles, maybe combine several, get a flashy costume, and pose with weapons in a dramatic, master-like fashion. The stance you pose in should NOT be a fighting stance, but one that looks intimidating.

KuntawMan posted the following on his blog:

“I had always been taught that the title “Master” was to be bestowed not by an organization or by oneself, but by the community you belong to.

I had two significant  experiences with  the title Master around 10 years ago, and I believe that teachers should achieve it this way, rather than to pay for certification. The first was shortly after my arrival to California, when I was still on the tournament circuit and making friends among the instructors. A few times when I had visited a school, I would be introduced to students as “Master Gatdula”. This is aligned with the saying that teachers become masters when the community recognizes you as one.

The second was at Manong Leo Giron’s school and house, when he and Grandmaster Vince Tinga introduced me to another teacher from the Bay as “Master” Gatdula. When I suggested that I was just a teacher, Manong Leo said, “you are a master because I say you are one…” Vince Tinga introduced me to the community as his nephew, and adopted my school as family (he actually taught in my school 7 days a week for nearly 2 years before his death). This is how one becomes a master, not through some ceremony.”

I think Kuntawman has it exactly right: the title is not one that you choose for yourself; it should be one that is conferred upon you by the community. Because it must be earned, you have to do more than get a satin costume and pose with exotic weapons.

By the way, a “datu” is a tribal chief. How ridiculous is it for some white guy to call himself a Filipino chieftain?

In my book, a grandmaster is the oldest, most authoritative representative of his sytem. Grandmaster is not based on how good you are or how many videos you’ve made, but on your status as an authority in the art.

Note the “Weapons of Moroland” in the backgound, which is a two dollar souvenir churned out by the thousands.

Ooh, look! Real ancient Filipino letters of the alphabet! I wouldn’t mess with this guy!

What is the sash around his torso?

Stick versus Club

Posted in Weapons with tags , , , , , on December 2, 2009 by bigstickcombat


If you study the Filipino martial arts, you are used to wielding a stick or a machete, and have probably never considered a club as a weapon. You should.

First of all, let us look at the difference between a stick and a club. A stick is generally a long tube, a cylinder that is the same diameter from one end to the other. The rattan training stick of most Filipino martial arts is a classic stick, in that you can grip either end and wield the stick effectively.

On the other hand, a club is heavier than a stick. It is typically larger in diameter (Think of the old style policeman’s billy club). A club is also what I call a weight forward weapon, in which one end is heavier than the other. Examples of weight forward weapons are the baseball bat, in which the far end is larger and heavier than the grip end, and the shillelagh, with the heavier knob end. The shillelagh-type of weapon is a natural weapon found in many cultures, in which the root of a tree forms the weighted knob end of a combat club.

Which is the Better Weapon, the Stick or the Club?

For many martial artists, you may never have considered this question. Although I trained with very short sticks in Serrada, medium sticks in Combat Eskrima Maranga, long heavy sticks in Kabaroan, and a short staff in Tapado, I always trained with a stick. A stick is easier to whip around with the wrist and forearm in the abaniko or witik strikes of the short stick styles –a heavy club isn’t suitable for those strikes.

In Kabaroan, the walking length stick can be switched from hand to hand, and from grip to grip. GM Estalilla switches from one handed grip to staff grip, and will often change grips to wield the stick left-handed. Japanese hanbo styles use similar techniques, sliding the hands along the shaft of the 36 inch length stick, varying the grip and the striking end. These techniques just aren’t practical with a baseball bat, for example.

An interesting variation of the stick is the short staff of Tapado, which reaches from the ground to the height of the practitioner’s armpit. The Tapado short staff is made from a branch of the kalamansi (Filipino lime) or coffee tree. The stick is thicker at the handle end and tapers slightly at the striking end. This makes for a stick that is faster and cuts deeply when it hits.

The advantage of the club is that it hits harder. The weight forward design of the baseball bat means that it hits harder than a bat or a stick of a uniform diameter from one end to the other. The club is more powerful than a stick.

While a club is clumsier when gripped by the heavy end, and doesn’t lend itself to grip changes, you really have to ask yourself if the ability to change grips is really worth the corresponding loss in power. In Big Stick Combat I have just three grips, and these grips are perfectly suited for use with a club, such as a baseball bat.

A problem you may have never thought about is that most impromptu, emergency weapons such as a baseball bat, hammer, flashlight, oar, etc., are actually clubs, with one end that is decidedly heavier than the other. If all of your training is with sticks, you may not be adequately prepared to use a club as a weapon.