Exploring the brutal origins of the world’s deadliest discipline

Arnis is a martial art steeped in Filipino culture. Chinese trade routes during the Tang Dynasty traveled through the many islands of the Philippines. This is where the art of Arnis was born. It became refined during the 1600s when the Spanish started to invade the islands for their resources.

The Filipino people fought back. Years of bloody battles ensued. Arnis was a martial art that used any suitable weapon for defense. It needed to be taught quickly to all inhabitants and was easy to learn with only a few modes of attack and defense.

Ultimately the Spanish won. But the ferocity of the Filipino people did not go unnoticed and the practice of Arnis was banned.

The Filipino people persevered the martial art in ritual dances and performances. Instead of deadly weapons they used sticks to practice. The Spanish would often watch the dances, unknowingly playing witness to the art of an ancient and deadly martial art being passed on to the next generation.

Spanish influence can be seen in Arnis, too. Elements of fencing can be seen in parts of Arnis, certain terminology is often borrowed from Spanish words as well. It is intended to disarm the opponent first, ending in fatality. It is a traditionally brutal form of martial art and one that was built from necessity.

“It’s not about fighting all the time. It’s about controlling yourself and controlling your partner.”

Ermar Alexander

All martial arts provide a spiritual connection to an inner self and no matter what your culture, martial arts are inclusive and accepting. This fighter was born in the Philippines and finally settled in England where he found his root martial art, and along with it, himself.

It just so happens that his root martial art is Arnis; developed from Chinese culture, adapted into Filipino culture, seasoned with Spanish culture, and preserved for hundreds of years until it reached Alexander. Here he found his inner-self, his peace, and where he feels he most belongs.

Despite its brutal origins, today's incarnation of Arnis is inclusive and uplifting.
Despite its brutal origins, today’s incarnation of Arnis is inclusive and uplifting.

The adaptation of other cultures into a new, homogeneous blend is nothing new. Spaghetti was adapted from the Chinese before it became an Italian specialty. Tomatoes came to Europe through Peru. The combination of the two became new and yet somehow seem intrinsically Italian in our minds.

Ermar never closed the doors to opportunity nor did he build a wall to prevent opportunity from entering his life. He is a blend of many pieces and cultures, and yet is seamlessly one, as a fighter and warrior.

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