Ar­nis: Fail­ure or medi­ocrity?

The Philippine Star - - SPORTS -

Ar­nis has been in a state of limbo for years. De­spite the pass­ing of the Ar­nis Law rec­og­niz­ing it as the of­fi­cial sport and mar­tial art of the Philip­pines, Filipino stick fight­ing (known over­seas as FMA or Filipino Mar­tial Arts), is a mess. Re­gard­less of what may ap­pear in the pa­pers, it is still frac­tured, tribal, feu­dal. Prac­ti­cally ev­ery re­gion has its own style. In the south­ern Philip­pines, com­peti­tors use live sticks and are fully cov­ered, mak­ing them look like they’re com­pet­ing in kendo. In Lu­zon, com­peti­tors wear pro­tec­tive vests, head gear and groin guards and use padded sticks. There is no true set of uni­fied rules. And it doesn’t ap­pear that any­one will give way to any­one else any time soon.

How did this hap­pen? When Ar­nis Philip­pines (ARPI) was first formed in the mid-1980’s, it was a part­ner­ship be­tween Ray­mond Ve­layo and the late Roland Dantes. Dantes was a run­ner-up to Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger in the 1969 Mr. Uni­verse, then ap­peared in the film “Du­ru­gin si To­toy Bato” as the an­tag­o­nist boxer threat­en­ing Fer­nando Poe, Jr. a decade later. How­ever, as Roland told this writer, he had a huge dis­agree­ment with Ve­layo re­gard­ing how to run ARPI. Roland wanted to share his knowl­edge with ev­ery­one, and as fu­ture events would show, he did. In dis­gust (his own words), Dantes left the Philip­pines in the late 1980’s, and taught ar­nis over­seas out of his new home base in Aus­tralia. He taught po­lice forces in Cal­i­for­nia, se­ri­ous prac­ti­tion­ers in Europe, and any­one who wanted to learn. Roland Dantes was one of only a hand­ful of peo­ple who, like prophets away from their moth­er­land, spread the word of ar­nis every­where they went. He and the likes of Trovador Ramos are cred­ited with in­tro­duc­ing FMA to the world.

Mean­while, in the Philip­pines, de­spite the pres­ence of a sup­pos­edly ac­tive na­tional sports as­so­ci­a­tion, most ar­nis mas­ters went their merry own ways. Many claimed au­thor­ity in the face of ARPI, and the fur­ther from Metro­manila, the greater au­ton­omy they claimed. For­tu­nately, one group with cred­i­bil­ity and moral as­cen­dancy stayed true to the val­ues and his­tory of the sport, and guided its growth in close to three dozen coun­tries. Ca­coy Doce Pares, founded by the late Supreme Grand­mas­ter Ca­coy Cañete in 1949, held reg­u­lar events and con­ven­tions, rec­og­nized con­trib­u­tors to the sport, and formed im­por­tant part­ner­ships. Lolo Ca­coy him­self trav­eled to teach con­stantly, well into his 90’s, even when al­ready con­fined to a wheel­chair. His legacy is in good hands, as his grand­son and world cham­pion Chuck has taken over the reins of their hum­ble gym in Cebu upon his pass­ing.

What about Lu­zon? Let’s take a look at the facts. Ar­nis has only been part of the South­east Asian Games when the Philip­pines has hosted. There­fore, the last SEA Games medals in ar­nis were given out in 2005. Af­ter the 2009 SEA Games, then-Philip­pine Sports Com­mis­sion chair­man Harry Ang­ping sus­pended ARPI from re­ceiv­ing any more fund­ing from the agency, cit­ing a pol­icy that any sport not in­cluded in two suc­ces­sive SEA Games be sanc­tioned in that man­ner. The fol­low­ing year (af­ter nine years of bounc­ing around both houses of Congress), the Ar­nis Law or Repub­lic Act 9850 is passed, al­beit with­out any im­ple­ment­ing rules and reg­u­la­tions. Two of the un­ful­filled con­di­tions of the law are that it be taught in all schools, and that the PSC logo be changed to re­flect the sport. The for­mer is ob­vi­ously much more crit­i­cal than the lat­ter.

But first, Roland Dantes had qui­etly re­turned to the coun­try in 2006, and gath­ered all the old mas­ters to form the Philip­pine Coun­cil of Kali, Escrima and Ar­nis Mas­ters (PCKEAM). Kali and Eskrima are the two in­dige­nous, pre-colo­nial bladed-weapon mar­tial arts that in­spired ar­nis, the stick-us­ing ver­sion. Dantes, ever in­clu­sive, in­vited ev­ery­one, and with al­most unan­i­mous agree­ment, it was de­cided that PCKEAM would wel­come all styles, but have a uni­form set of rules for com­pe­ti­tion pur­poses. This writer was in­vited to those for­ma­tive meet­ings. Un­for­tu­nately, Roland died soon af­ter that, from com­pli­ca­tions brought about by gout.

Soon af­ter, in honor of Grand­mas­ter Roland’s mem­ory, this writer and grand­mas­ter Rey Dominguez formed the World Ar­nis Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WAO), with a mem­o­ran­dum of agree­ment signed by SGM Ca­coy Cañete. WAO or­ga­nized a na­tional youth open, and two world cham­pi­onships, the last in 2011. Of course, there was op­po­si­tion from ARPI, as re­ported by our tech­ni­cal of­fi­cials who were also ARPI mem­bers. They were threat­ened with ex­pul­sion and/or ban­ish­ment. But as they de­rived no in­come from ARPI which had, at best, one ma­jor event a year ac­cord­ing to them, they ig­nored the threat. WAO has been con­duct­ing smaller-scale ef­forts since then.

Now comes Miguel Zu­biri, fa­ther of the Ar­nis Law, with the Philip­pine Eskrima Kali Ar­nis Fed­er­a­tion, sup­ported by the cur­rent PSC board. Ve­layo, Philip­pine Olympic Com­mit­tee as­so­ciate mem­ber since 1987 and head of ARPI for even longer, is cry­ing foul and claim­ing sovereignty over the sport. Frankly, POC mem­ber­ship – at least in this case – means very lit­tle be­cause, un­like muay thai, ar­nis is not up for con­sid­er­a­tion as an Olympic sport. As a non-Olympic sport, ARPI can­not even vote, and isn’t even a reg­u­lar SEA Games event, as ear­lier stated. Se­condly, is ARPI the de facto world body for ar­nis? No. In terms of mem­ber­ship, WAO and Ca­coy Doce Pares could chal­lenge that, if it were re­ally im­por­tant at this point, which it isn’t. Even mag­a­zine is run by Amer­i­cans, for good­ness’ sake.

So that is the state of ar­nis, a mud­dled mess. On one hand, you have Ar­nis Philip­pines, a fief­dom which has kept the sport in the im­pound yard of sus­pended an­i­ma­tion for three decades and barks at any­one else who tries to or­ga­nize the sport with­out pay­ing homage or ar­bi­trary fees. On the other, you have PEKAF which, at this point, holds much prom­ise, but does not in­clude ev­ery­one, ei­ther. And you have dozens of mas­ters and sons of mas­ters and stu­dents of mas­ters wall­pa­per­ing their gyms (rightly or wrongly) with cer­tifi­cates often of their own mak­ing.

The fight­ing art of our fore­fa­thers de­serves far more than to be stranded be­tween medi­ocrity and fail­ure.

By BILL VELASCO

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