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Contrary to popular belief among American stylists, the art of is still
one of the Philippines richest treasure.

Article by Gat Puno Abon "Garimot" Baet
(published in Inside Kung Fu Magazine - May 1997)

Is Arnis de Mano dead and obsolete in the Philippines? Are native Filipino no longer practicing the art of their mother country? Did the Filipino martial arts even originate in the Philippines? These are the questions commonly asked by both students and detractors of the Filipino arts of arnis, escrima, estokada. Many articles have been written in popular martial art magazines by authors attempting to sharpen their creative writing skills by addressing these issues. Misguided at best, these authors would do well to examine the true factual history of the Filipino combative arts.


The mother art of the Filipino martial arts, is the original style of the bladed weapon developed by the indigenous Indo-Malay inhabitats of the Philippines during 13th century. During the Spanish occupation of the Philippines over 400 years ago, the art of Kali was banned and the Spanish promoted its practice as a deadly recreation. In response, the Filipino developed the "Moro-moro," a socio-religious play designed to surreptitiously incorporate the fighting techniques of kali into its creative dances and movements.


Viewing these plays as mere entertainment, the Spanish overlords remained oblivious to the true meaning of the actor's movements. Sparked by the development of Moro-moro plays and continued underground practice, this period marked the birth of "Arnis de Mano": the art of hand to hand combat which incorporates weaponry (an assortment of bladed weapons and wooden sticks called baston and brokil) into its self defense and combative techniques. However, the strong Spanish influence would come to bear on the naming conventions in this latest refinements.

Today, Arnis de Mano is openly demonstrated and recognized as a national sport of the Philippines. One of the many support organizations is the Paete Arnis Club founded 1920 by a group of arnis masters from Laguna province on the island of Luzon. Since its inception, it has supported a bi-annual tournament and the "Moro-moro" traditions of ancient times.

July 24th and 25th is the set date for the Paete Town Fiesta, while November 4th marks the San Antonio Abad. The two events comprise the "Palaro" (arnis competition) sponsored by arnis consortium including Centurion Original, Paete Arnis Federation, and a number of other organization in Laguna, Quezon and Rizal provinces.


Arnis de Mano is misleading Spanish term which is means "harness of the hand". The term was originally derived from the Spanish words "arnes", which referred to the decorative trappings or "harnesses" worn on the hands of the Moro-moro actors; "de mano" refers to the hands. The word "arnes" was soon corrupted into present "arnis"; Arnis de Mano uses Spanish words almost entirely to describe its technqiues. With its very title a Spanish expression, this fueled the popular mis-conception, even among Filipinos, that arnis was brought to the Philippines by the Spanish invaders.

"Escrima" is also the Spanish word for "fencing" of use of the sword. Further, the Spanish word "estocada" is derived from the defensive theory of "bull fighting" used by the "Matador" (bull fighter). According to the Escrimadores and estocadores from the Tagalog provinces, Moro-moro actors were required to learn escrima (basic fencing skill), and estocada (basic defensive skills) for their presentations. Combined, they form a secondary representation of Arnis de Mano.


Shortly after the Spanish occupation, became widespread in the Philippines that in 1896, Jose de Azas started the first school dedicated to the study of arnis and escrima. This marked the first public arena for the practice of the Filipino schools called "paaralan" (equivalent to the japanese "dojo"). Thsese students were taught social ethics and codes of the true Filipino warrior.

In 1972, the Philippines government includes arnis in "Palarong Pambansa" or National Sports. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports also included it as part of the physical education curriculum for high school and college students. With the founding of the Modern Arnis Federation of the Philippines (MAFP) by Professor Remy A. Presas as well as the Philippines Arnis Association (PAA) and the National Arnis Association of the Philippines (NARAPHIL), arnis began to enjoy international recognition. Today, knowledge of arnis is mandatory in the Philippines Army, Navy, Air Force, and the local Police agencies.


Arnis de Mano is vigorous sport which requires and develops stamina, speed, occuracy and superb coordination. Arnis is also a mental game. It is important that the arnis practitioner visualize the various movements in his mind until he can physically perform them without thought as to how the body should move. The serious student soon finds that the real excitement comes from out thinking (ergo "out striking") the opponent. Quick analysis of the opponent's style and formulation of a plan of defense attack are imperative. One must set a trap for the opponent while being careful to avoid the trap being set for oneself.

In addition to analytical thinking, arnis requires decisive thinking and the courage to assume the offensive at any instant. Windows of opportunity are brief at best: lack of courage to act gives the advantage back to the opponent. By being prepared to move at any time, carefully dominating one's opponents, and successfully executing one's plan, only then will self-confidence increase.


Good sportsmanship is an integral part of the arnis tradition. Arnis was for many years considered a sport of gentlemen; practicipants were expected to conduct themselves accordingly. Much of this flavor still exists today: practice, sparring and etiquette require that the arnis practitioner must acknowledge that all that touches him, and then strive not to be touched by any other practitioner attempting to touch or score.

Competition and Rules

Arnis de Mano has three tournament formats: The "Solo Baston" (Single stick), The "Espada y Daga" (Sword and Dagger), and the "Doble Baston" (Double Stick). There are also three traditional ruling formats used in competition: the "Tres Palo" (Three Points Tournaments: continous fighting until three killing blows have been landed by one player), the "Largo Mano" long range fighting (three rounds of three minutes each, points are tallied at the end) and the "Matira Matibay" (freestyle fighting, three rounds of three minutes each, with a win by "knockout", points are tallied at the end if KO has not occurred).


Unpadded stickfighting is the pride of true arnis masters who have practiced the art realistically and conducted themselves confidently in the time of the battle through out the generations. Today, some areas of the Philippines still hold traditional unpadded stick fighting tournaments. However, more than a few other areas have diluted the sport by adapting head gear and various forms of body and limb protection leaving no target on which pain may be inflicted. The padded tournaments of today remove both artistic form and techniques that are the effectiveness from the art.

Today, very few "masters" have felt the heat of rattan from an opponent's attack. Some "masters" have never experienced a real unpadded fight they believe to be effective. Particularly in the United States, where padded competitions yield so many "masters" and "champions", few realize that the padding not only removes reality from the fight and effectiveness of techniques but also instills a false sense of confidence which quickly fades when facing the true arnis masters on the real (unpadded) field of battle.

Arnis de Mano has been proven in combat in the revolutionary wars of the Philippines, World War I and II, and in numerous full contact tournaments. Today, Arnis de Mano is held in high regards by law enforcement officers and martial art masters of other styles throughout the United States as well as abroad.

Practitioners of this system have learned techniques which work equally well whether empty handed or armed with weapon. If after reading this article you still find things unclear, you are invited to travel to the Philippines and witness for yourself that Arnis de Mano is very much alive and well practiced by the living Filipino warrior legends.

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