Arnis: A proudly Pinoy sport

Camille Dawn Fabrero
Learn more about arnis, the Filipino martial art that is part of Palarong Pambansa 2012.

MANILA, Philippines – If Japan has karate and Korea has taekwondo, the Philippines also has its own martial arts sport that it could be proud of. 

Arnis, also known as kali or eskrima, refers to a category of Filipino martial arts that emphasizes the use of weapons – whether it be fighting sticks, blades or improvised weapons. In arnis, the weapons are used as an extension of the body. Thus, some body movement techniques are basic to the sport.

There are no exact references as to the origins of arnis because of lack of proper documentation.

One theory was that it was started when the Spaniards arrived. During the Spanish colonial period, weapons had been banned in Luzon and Visayas.

Indios used sticks to practice wielding their swords and bolos which they disguised as a folk dance. This is one possible reference as to how arnis developed into an actual martial art.

The other theory goes farther back in history than the first. It is suggested that we actually got arnis from our Southeast Asian neighbours – specifically during the Madjapahit and Shri-Vajayan empires. This suggestion is due to linguistic similarities of the other names of arnis. Some accounts also describe a martial art practiced during the said periods that is similar to arnis.

However, because of the new culture brought by our colonizers, arnis was overshadowed and almost went out of the spotlight.

Luckily, with the rise of martial arts as a popular sport during the 1980s, arnis was able to recapture the interest not of the Filipinos, but also of the whole world in general.

How to play

Players could basically participate in two types of arnis sports, the anyo or form, and the laban, or full combat competitions.

Different scoring systems and rules and regulation apply for each division, depending on who hosts the competition.

In anyo, athletes would perform sequences of movements using 2 batons. Competition will judged based on the execution of the anyo and the creativity of overall choreography of the performance. Gracefulness combined with strength and force is needed to execute these forms properly.

Meanwhile, in the full combat competition, players are required to strike their opponents’ different body parts with one baton. 

Unlike other combatitive sports, arnis does not usually require any body contact between each player besides the batons that they are holding. 

Any attack using bare hands or feet is considered a foul.

Scores depend on the number of strikes each player could deliver. 

Agility and quick thinking combined is required to have a high score in this type of competition.

However, some competitions allow full contact between players. Competitors could grapple, disarm, and block their opponents.

A national symbol

Arnis was further distinguished as Philippines’ own when former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed Republic Act 9850, an act declaring arnis as the National Martial Arts and Sports of the Philippines, last December 11, 2009.

Section 2 of RA 9850 defines arnis as “an indigenous Filipino martial art and sport characterized by the use of swinging and twirling movements, accompanied by striking, thrusting and parrying techniques for defense and offense” which is done by using either one or 2 sticks. 

Athletes use these to strike, block, and grapple their opponents.

The actual origin of the sport arnis, however, is still yet to be determined. 

Due to the fact that the Philippines has over 7,000 islands, the sport could have flourished in one place or another at the same time. Because of this, more than one school emerged throughout the years.

PINOY SPORT. Arnis, the Philippine national sport, is one of the events to take the stage in the 2012 Palarong Pambansa. April 23, 2012. Charles Salazar.

According to Arnis Philippines, there is actually a need to consolidate all the various techniques, forms, styles, and rules of the sport.  Strong leadership should be implemented to prevent arnis from slipping back into oblivion. 

Pinoys and arnis

Arnis practitioners and athletes all over the country celebrated the declaration of arnis as the national sport, stating that finally, the sport received the proper recognition that it deserved.  

Filipinos now have a sport that they can fully identify with, they said.

Organizations such as the National Arnis Association of the Philippines (NARAPHIL), KAMAO, Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) and Arnis Philippines (ARPI), promote and encourage every Filipino to learn the sport. 

In 2010, an independent production house, Pointsource Films, produced the film “Eskrimadors: A Filipino Martial Arts Documentary,” featuring legendary Filipino Arnis athletes. 

The film features Cebuano Arnis Grand Masters, Ciriaco “Cacoy” Cañete, Dionisio “Dinoy” Cañete, and Uno Caburnay, and aimed to increase knowledge and awareness about the sport and to further recognize the contributions that these grandmasters have given to the sport.

But it is not only here in the Philippines that arnis is appreciated.

The sport first came into world prominence when martial arts superstar, Bruce Lee and his student, Filipino-American Dan Inosanto promoted the sport back in the 70s. 

Currently, organizations such as the International Kali Arnis Eskrima Federation (IKAEF), Rapid Arnis International, International Modern Arnis Federation (IMAF), and many more help promote the Filipino sport in other countries.

A breeding ground

With the implementation of RA 9850, schools have been mandated to include arnis in their physical education curriculum.

Through the supervision of the Department of Education Arnis Association of the Philippines (DEAAP), students from elementary to high school have been given the chance to learn and practice the sport.

 According to Al Pelgone, DEAAP National President, the inclusion of the sport in many school’s curriculum is vital because it would help the younger generation to appreciate our very own national sport.

It would also serve as a breeding ground for children who wanted to be future arnis athletes.

Pelgone also said, teaching arnis to the students would help formulate their values in the early stage of their lives. 

Not only would it help them to be ready in case the need to defend themselves arise, but also, learning the sport is one way to appreciate the Filipino culture it represents.

Younger athletes could look up to Arnis Grand Masters such as Remy A. Presas, dubbed as the man behind modern arnis, and Federico T. Lazo, who founded the Luzviminda Arnis Kali combat system. Both grand masters helped preserve and develop the sport as we know it today.

In the upcoming Palarong Pambansa, the nation’s largest sporting event for elementary and high school students, arnis will be featured as one of the competitive sports.

Athletes from all over the country will compete in both the anyo and laban ,this May 6-12.

The event will be headed by DEAAP President, Al Pelgone.

It would only be the second time that the competition will be opened to the elementary division. Hopefully, the continued increase of popularity of arnis will further spur interest in the sport. –

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