Ar­nis: The Filipino Mar­tial Art

“A good mar­tial artist never com­pares or takes down an­oth er’s] art,” our coach says sagely. It’s Sat­ur­day morn­ing, and our coach, mas­ter en­nis San­tos, has some time to spare be­fore our weekly ar­nis les­son, so we end up talk­ing and re­flect­ing about

Palawan News - - OPINION - Elise Suarez 6P

“A good mar­tial artist never com­pares or takes down [an­other’s] art,” our coach says sagely. It’s Sat­ur­day morn­ing, and our coach, mas­ter Den­nis San­tos, has some time to spare be­fore our weekly ar­nis les­son, so we end up talk­ing and re­flect­ing about ar­nis, its rich his­tory, and what it per­son­ally means to him, to me, and to all of us Filipinos. From the very first day I started learn­ing ar­nis, it was hard work. First les­son, the stances. How we carry our weight — on which knee, on which foot for­wards or back­wards — de­ter­mines the out­come of a fight. Next les­son, ba­sic strikes with our ar­nis sticks. 12 strikes, all tar­geted to­wards a spe­cific body part on our op­po­nent’s body, from strike 1, aimed at the side of our op­po­nent’s head, to strike 10, aimed at our op­po­nent’s left eye. Bru­tal. Next, dis­arm­ing. By ma­nip­u­lat­ing our op­po­nent’s body an­gles and plac­ing weight on a spe­cific spot on their arms or sticks, we can grab their weapons out of their hands and into ours. As I slowly pro­gressed through the dif­fer­ent stances and po­si­tions and strikes, there came a point when I re­al­ized that I was do­ing this, and I was do­ing it well. I could twirl my sticks with­out hit­ting my face, spar with Coach for a minute or two straight, and re­mem­ber the steps to the clas­si­cal abaniko style with­out trip­ping over the com­pli­cated foot place­ments. I felt great! I felt pow­er­ful! Learn­ing how to de­fend and stand up for my­self felt so em­pow­er­ing. I not only learned how to dis­arm my op­po­nents and de­fend my­self against phys­i­cal at­tacks, but I also trained my­self to an­tic­i­pate and re­spond to dif­fer­ent threats and sit­u­a­tions. A lot of tech­niques in ar­nis teach you how to use your op­po­nents’ mo­men­tum against them, or be flex­i­ble enough to slip your way out of a di­rect strike. So for a reg­u­larly sized girl who might not be able to over­come a much stronger preda­tor phys­i­cally, I can at least put up a fight long enough to call for help or es­cape a dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion. I can learn how to sense whether or not a par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tion is safe or not, and avoid all con­fronta­tion or dan­ger en­tirely. In every­day life, as I go about my busi­ness on my own, it feels strangely com­fort­ing to know that I have the power to de­fend my­self if any­thing hap­pens. As I grow up in this dan­ger­ous and messed up world, I know that I can fight back. But the longer I trained, the more I ap­pre­ci­ated ar­nis as more than just a mar­tial art. When Coach de­cided one day it was time to teach us how to write our names in bay­bayin or al­i­bata, the an­cient Filipino method of writ­ing, I re­al­ized that ar­nis has a much older his­tory than I had known. It has such deep ties to Filipino cul­ture that reach all the way to the indige­nous tribes who de­vel­oped the art, to when they suc­cess­fully used it against the Spaniards when they first came to col­o­nize the Philip­pines (in the case of chief Lapu-lapu and his peo­ple), to the il­le­gal un­der­ground prac­tice of ar­nis dur­ing the Span­ish oc­cu­pa­tion, to mod­ern day Philip­pines when it be­came our na­tional sport in 2009. Time and time again, the study of Filipino mar­tial arts has been threat­ened and il­le­gal­ized, and yet, some­how, the Filipino peo­ple man­aged to pre­serve it how­ever they could. When I was dis­cussing its his­tory with Coach, I re­al­ize that maybe it had to do with the im­por­tance of know­ing your roots and where you came from. Coach told me that your masters are your roots, and re­mem­ber­ing who helped you get to where you are now is very cru­cial in ad­vanc­ing in the pro­fes­sional world of ar­nis. By ac­knowl­edg­ing and cred­it­ing the masters that have trained you through­out the years, you in turn be­come part of a com­mu­nity that re­spects you and the train­ing you re­ceived. Coach can name all the masters that he trained un­der, and in some cases, even THEIR masters. He ex­plained that it is al­most like a fam­ily tree. “I’m just a branch of my mas­ter, who is a branch of HIS mas­ter.” By prac­tic­ing ar­nis, we have be­come part of a cul­tural fam­ily tree span­ning gen­er­a­tions, the art slowly evolv­ing over time. It’s very po­etic, and the main rea­son why pre­serv­ing this mar­tial art is so im­por­tant not only to the mar­tial arts com­mu­nity, but to Filipino cul­ture in gen­eral. Ev­ery time I prac­tice ar­nis, I am do­ing the same stances, strikes, and steps that my Filipino an­ces­tors did hun­dreds of years ago. I am now some­how con­nected to ar­nisadors of the past, to na­tional he­roes like Jose Rizal, An­dres Boni­fa­cio, Gre­go­rio del Pi­lar, to the royal blood of the Filipino tribes, to Coach Den­nis, and to hun­dreds and hun­dreds of other stu­dents and masters through­out the world in a cross-con­ti­nen­tal multi-gen­er­a­tional fam­ily, all re­spond­ing to the open­ing salu­ta­tion of, “Handa sa pag­pu­gay!”

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