Stick Fighting in The Pearl of the Orient Seas
Location: Cebu City, Philippines
“It is difficult to understand the universe if you only study one planet” ― Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings
I recently went on a holiday to some south East Asian countries. I had hoped to try out some martial arts that were distinct to each country’s combat system. I abandoned the idea when I found myself sitting on a beach sipping out of a coconut and thinking to myself ‘why the hell do I want to beat my body up? I’m on holiday.’
I wanted to try Eskrima (Arnis) in the Philippines. Eskrima is an armed/unarmed combat based fighting system that goes as far back as the 15th century. Spanish explorers fought with the natives who would use bamboo spears with deadly efficiency; they killed one of the first European explorers to set foot in Philippines; Ferdinand Magellan; a Portuguese explorer who organised the Spanish expedition to the East Indies from 1519 to 1522.
We found a club that was in Cebu; it has three floors, the mats looked worn out but the gym had nice open walls, which helped because the week had been 30 plus degrees. The gym is called Doce Pares, run by Dionisio "Diony" Cañete. In
1975, He initiated the formation of the Cebu Eskrima (Arnis) Association. All major Arnis clubs in Cebu banded together. He was also one of the first to implement sparring regulations, which is widely enforced in competition around the world.
We warmed up our body first with the sticks, getting mobility in our wrist and legs. I realised that I was holding my stick too stiff and it needed to be more relaxed. We started off with simple strikes and foot movement. The stick was held in our right hand. When we swung, it cuts at a 45-degree angle, followed by swinging back up in the same angle. This is done simultaneously with footwork. Right arm swing means right leg forward, back arm swing means left leg forward.
You switch stances between strikes, and you always want to be in striking distance of your opponent. You can do the same thing going backwards too.
Each strike is done with your body being in a 45-degree angle. The joke the instructor said is 45 in Cebu meant a 45-calibre Gun. I laughed but realized he’s probably half joking. Guns in Cebu are probably easy to acquire. There was a 12-step combination of moves that you had to do; each included blocking, parrying, trapping, and disarming (the snake arm). Every strike can be countered from head, body to lower strikes.
At the end there was a freestyle stick-fighting test, we did not go at 100 percent but I eventually relaxed and allowed my muscle memory to take over. I managed to mainly stick with one or two traps and disarming techniques. Also I accidentally hit one instructor in the face, and the other in the balls. (Sorry) I was not going to learn everything in one lesson, and kept in mind that it does not matter how efficient you may be with this skill. You will still get cut, so if anyone is dealing with an assailant who has a weapon the best way of survival is to run away, only engage if you have no other choice. I found this martial art to be very interesting, and if done so over a long period of time, with a resisting opponent then you will be very efficient in armed combat.
The chances of both you and another person having sticks on the street are perhaps uncommon, however a knife is more likely. They gave us a demonstration on the knife fighting skills they use to disarm, maim or kill their assailant. The instructor said it is the same principle as the stick fighting. This fighting technique is so efficient that the US marines incorporated Filipinos to teach it in their combat system.
Later the head instructor Dionisio “Diony” Cañete joined us. He was interested in the Eskrima scene in New Zealand. He had spoken about an event a while ago that had a demonstration of Arnis in Auckland; mainly Kiwis were doing the demonstration while Filipinos watched. He wishes to see more Filipinos take up Eskrima, as New Zealand has a large community of Filipinos, and aside from boxing, Eskrima is a part of their culture too.
I have grown accustomed to practicing the same martial art routine back here in New Zealand. Sometimes the best thing you can do when you are travelling to a foreign country is to try their martial arts that are uniquely theirs. In doing so I feel you get a better sense of their culture, their history and you realise how friendly all the locals really are, even if they are trying to sell you an overpriced t-shirt.