Filipino Martial Arts

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Filipino Martial Arts
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Philosophy and Overview:

Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) is a combat sport that includes hundreds of different fighting styles from the Philippines. Arnis, Eskrima and Kali are the categories of the three main styles that are practiced today. Although they all have different techniques and terms, all three styles are similar and many people use the names interchangeably.

Filipino Martial Arts LogoKnown for their weapons training and fast footwork, Filipino martial artists are always prepared for combat. Most popular for its blade system, FMA is taught to certain soldiers US Army and practiced by Russian Special Forces. All of the members of the Filipino military and police are trained to be highly skilled in FMA. Unlike weapons training in other martial arts, the training in FMA is applicable to modern day combat and especially useful in street fights. Practitioners are trained to use almost any object imaginable as a weapon, and are trained to defend against almost any weapon. It is an extremely effective self-defense tool.

History and Origins:

Originally used for combat, the Filipino Martial Arts were taught to soldiers as a way to fight off attackers. The Philippine Islands were almost constantly under threat from foreigners, and the soldiers of this small nation needed to be well-versed in combat arts.

The exact origin of FMA is unknown. It has been hypothesized that Eskrima has Indian roots, and Kali was brought over in the ninth century from Eastern Asia and Malaysia. In the late 1500s, the Kali method of fighting was witnessed first-hand by the Spanish. Although the Spanish took over, many Kali practitioners still trained by performing ritual dances featuring mock battles and swords.

The Spanish controlled the Philippine Archipelago for several centuries, but the native inhabitants never stopped training. The Spanish influence led to the creation of Eskrima- an art which involved daggers and rapiers. Over the years, the styles continued to evolve. Arnis, Kali and Eskrima separately flourished in their respective regions.

FMA was not prevalent in other cultures until the 1920’s, when Filipinos began to migrate to Hawaii and California. Even then, the sport was mostly kept within the Filipino community.
In 1972, FMA became a national sport in the Philippines. It was included in the Palarong Pambansa, the National Sports Arena and was also included in high school and college physical education requirements. Currently, the sport is becoming more popular in other cultures as it has been continually used in action movies and TV shows. Movies, such as the Bourne Identity and James Bond: Quantum of Solace, feature renowned actors showcasing FMA techniques.

Training and Techniques:

Unlike some other martial arts systems that involve weapons, FMA teaches weapons first. There are headbutts, kicks, punches, elbows, knees, finger strikes, disarming strikes, and grappling techniques. However, they are taught after weapons techniques are mastered. This is becomes most of the bare-handed striking techniques are merely adaptations of weapon strikes.

Movement in FMA is all about getting the right angle and using the proper method of attack. Footwork is just as important as weapon usage, and every good FMA practitioner drills both aspects of the sport. Footwork emphasizes angular movements, mostly accomplished with triangular patterns and sidesteps. The triangle is a major symbol in FMA, and most footwork patterns are based on the triangle. Fighting in FMA is split into three areas: short-range, medium-range and long-range, and the footwork is different for all three types of fighting.

The weapons training can be split into several categories. There weapons training may involve swords, sticks, palm sticks, knives, projectiles and linked objects. This diversity prepares students to use and defend against everything from slingshots to machetes. No matter what the weapon is, there is a four-step technique to harm the opponent:

  1. Get close enough to strike
  2. Stop a strike attempt made by the opponent
  3. Strike powerfully to the opponent’s head or neck
  4. Move out of striking range

When on the offensive, Filipino martial artists use slashes, strikes and thrusts to harm their opponents. The movements can be further broken down into twelve basic angles, but there is great variation as the angle of the strike can be done in full strikes, half strikes and even reverse strikes. Generally, the angles of strikes are numbered. In training, these numbers are called out and the strikes performed until they are memorized.

FMA teaches defensive strategies as well as offensive. Interestingly enough, FMA teaches students to react to angles of attack, and not to specific types of strikes. The technique to defend against any strike coming from a certain angle above is the same, regardless of the weapon. Footwork is one of the keys to avoiding strikes. The fast footwork of the sport means that strikes with a weapon do not necessarily need to be blocked; strikes can be avoided with angled movements. Disarming an opponent is extremely important in FMA, and there are many different techniques used to accomplish this goal. Students are taught how to trap an opponent’s arm, how to twist joints of an opponent and many other disarming methods.

To train both offensive and defensive strategies, most students participate in drills with partners. There is usually a flow to drilling- one student may attack, and his partner counters. This can continue on until someone is disarmed, and may be slow or fast-paced. Other training involves sparring and walk-throughs of the angles of striking. In the US, there is an emphasis on rhythm and many drills are accompanied by music with a steady beat to keep a constant pace.

Filipino martial artists can compete in organized competitions. One of the most popular organizations for FMA is the World Eskrima Kali Arnis Federation, or WEKA. Sparring is done in a padded vest. Competitors must wear a skirt, sleeves and headgear. Fighters use sticks with no padding and strikes are not allowed below the thigh. Judges score WEKA matches based on a points system. Rounds are three minutes long with thirty seconds of rest in between. After three rounds, the judges declare a winner. For those not interested in sparring, there is a form competition.

Another form of competition is through the ARPI. This system of sparring is safer than WEKA, mainly because the sticks are padded. However, competitors can strike anywhere. Headgear, shinguards, leg wraps and vests are required. Scoring in ARPI competitions is similar to scoring fencing, and the judges determine the winner.

Uniforms and Rankings:

Because there are so many forms of FMA, there is no standard uniform or ranking system. Many American FMA schools have a uniform of a vest and sashed pants, and will wear this when performing routines at public events. Some have also adopted a belt ranking system to keep students motivated and training organized.

Modern Arnis is a form of FMA that has more structure than some of the other systems. This system uses a belt ranking system similar to that of Karate. There are ten or eleven ranks in the system. There are uniforms, but they vary from school to school. Most uniforms are pants with stripes down the side, accompanied with a white t-shirt.

Organizations dedicated to the Style:

Filipino Martial Arts Network– A place for FMA enthusiasts to gather and communicate with other Filipino martial artists
World Eskrima Kali Arnis Federation in USA – An organization dedicated to FMA and those who compete
Modern Arnis Remy P. Presas International Organization – Information about Modern Arnis

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