Filipino martial arts: Finding your identity through Arnis

“I was training in JKD [Jeet Kune Do], in Muay Thai, and other forms of kung fu kickboxing; never in my life though, had I heard of eskrima [arnis] Filipino martial arts, even though I was from the Philippines.”

Ermar Alexander

Born in the Philippines, yet living in Kent; two very different ways of life. One which Alexander says there’s a noticeable difference in appreciation of life; characteristics which can be transferred to forms of combat: patience, rhythm and control. 

“I grew up in the Philippines, where everyone there takes their time, it’s slower; they appreciate life more. Everyone in England is fast pacing, worried about their jobs, paying the bills. In the Philippines you don’t have the problem of bills, when I was young, there was no electricity”.

Arnis was declared a national sport by the Congress of the Philippines, December 11, 2009. A combat sport which comes under the term for Filipino Martial Arts, a form of fighting from sticks to the open hand; deadly due to the nature of skilled fighters in the sport being able to maximise the damage inflicted by any object.

Such as its danger, it was outlawed by Spanish overlords in the 1600s, and its practice was forbidden.

“[It’s an] art for self-defence, whilst also being devastating; it can translate to every day objects: pens, books, hands. You can see it in a lot of films, it’s a very versatile technique.”

The way the skill is utilised can been seen in a number of well-known pop culture movies:

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Although these films can glorify the fighting, with frantic combinations acting to devastating effect, Alexander emphasises how the moves come from a calm rhythm, and the simplicity of dance.

“They banned the use of eskrima because they could see the locals were really good at it; very skilled fighters, so they hid its practice by using sticks and through dance; that’s how it developed”.

The development saw its use maximised in points of conflict such as the Philippine–American War; a war where reportedly an American emptied his revolver on a warrior, only to be decapitated by the Moro warrior via arnis.

It is this extraordinary damage that the techniques can cause, but with methods which might only be able to be applied and fully understood if you’re from the Philippines yourself:

“When I started learning it and understanding it, it took me back to my roots; I understood more about myself.

But it [arnis] needs time, time to train it… The ethics for martial arts is not for fighting, but for controlling yourself, and controlling your opponent.”

This is perhaps again something that is born within you, a relaxed nature of the Philippine life that Alexander refers to. Not purely wanting to be the best on the street, but the individual who’s in the most control; the one with the rhythm and best self-defence, but deadly execution.


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