Originally published on Chicago Tribune and LA Times around 1/2010.
Choosing a Martial Art – Filipino Martial Arts
If you’ve seen any of the Jason Bourne movies, you’ve seen the Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) in action. FMA is a generic term referring to several different Filipino arts including Arnis, Kali and Escrima. These variations stem from different regions of the Philippines however, at their foundation, they are very similar and many times the terms are used interchangeably. The most differentiating characteristic of FMA from other arts is that training starts with weapons. While Filipino martial arts are lesser known amongst the populace compared to Kung Fu or Karate, their simplicity and effectiveness have made them a integral part of training for martial arts practitioners as well as many armed forces.
Background: The first written record of the Philippine systems date back to the 1500’s as documented by the Spanish conquistadors. However, these arts are generally assumed to be significantly older. After the colonization of the Philippines by the Spanish, indigenous arts were banned and most FMA were taught in secret, being passed down family lines. It was during the 20th century that Filipino arts began to gain more visibility, first in the Philippines and then eventually internationally as skilled practitioners left the islands to spread FMA throughout the world. One of these practitioners was Remy Amador Presas who founded Modern Arnis. This is the art I have been studying for the past fifteen years.
Self Defense: The FMA are an extremely effective and complete self defense systems. Training starts with weapons techniques that evolve into empty hand techniques. Students generally learn techniques using a single stick (baston), double stick, dagger (daga) and stick and dagger. Weapons training can also translate to almost any object. Students learn weapon against weapon, weapon against empty-hand, and empty-hand against empty-hand. Additionally, depending on the exactly style of FMA, training can include joint locks, throws and grappling (dumog). Because of the variety of techniques taught and translated to use with or without weapons FMA can appeal to a wide range of individuals and body types. Additionally, because of the various fighting ranges incorporated in the art, FMA is well suited for those who want to keep their distance from their opponents as well as those who want to close in on an attacker.
Physical aspects: Because FMA are technique focused, most technique can be executed regardless of strength and flexibility, if done properly. Many schools, however, incorporate exercises to develop strength, agility and flexibility that can be an asset in more advanced training. Due to the significant focus on the use of sticks, the average practitioner will quickly develop arm and shoulder strength through the repetition of drills. Additionally, training with sticks that can move at significant speed also helps rapidly develop hand/eye coordination.
Typical Class: My typical class is approximately an hour and fifteen minutes long. When I have new students I will do a formal stretching and warm-up session for about ten minutes. Typically most of my students will stretch on their own prior to the start of class. The class itself consists of about twenty minutes of basic drills to develop speed, strength and muscle memory, followed by about twenty minutes of practicing previously acquired techniques. The latter half of class usually consists of building on previous techniques or learning new ones. If time permits, we also practice reality based situation analysis (i.e., how would you defend yourself in a certain situation).
Classroom atmosphere: Class atmospheres can vary depending on the instructor, but they generally tend to be more relaxed and less regimented than traditional martial arts. My classes generally bow in at the beginning of the class and bow out at the end, however, the rest of class is fairly casual. Uniform requirements can also vary and most school will required some sort of uniform, whereas individual instructors may just require sweats and a t-shirt.
Overall: The Filipino martial arts are an effective system of self-defense and one of the best training for weapons techniques. Due to the simplicity and effectiveness of the system, it can be adapted to many different situations and individuals. It is ideal for those who want to be able to quickly learn skills to defend themselves and expand their martial knowledge.