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Arnis, the Filipino martial art
Posted on Thu, Nov 18, 2010 at 7:23 am
by IDMA Editor

A familiar sight at Luneta Park and other public parks in the country are groups of young men or women training in the intricate art of arnis de mano under the tutelage of a senior "master." Most often, foreigners are part of the group in learning the graceful but power-packed execution of hand defenses and offenses.

Photo from Wikipedia

Arnis de mano is an art of the mind, hands, and feet whose system and subsystem of mind focus and skills have been developed over the years. Its beginnings in our country cannot be traced. We can only surmise that the natives’ basic instincts for physical survival in our 7,100 islands were enhanced by the Indonesians, whose martial art is known as jakalili, and by the Malays, whose national martial art is called pangkat selat. When Islam reached our southern shores through the Arabian traders by the old Eastern Route from the Middle East and Europe, the Muslims brought with them the "close quarters" techniques in martial art and sports. The scimitar, the Muslims’ well-known weapon, is best suited for short-range encounters.

Photo from The

The Spaniards arrived later through the Western Route from Europe by crossing the vast Pacific Ocean. They were master swordsmen, and their European skills in martial arts were honed and tested in their colonization campaigns. By the sword and the cross, they brought the vast continent of the Americas under the control of the Spanish sovereign.

The Spanish colonial government outlawed the carrying and display of arnis de mano during the 1896 Revolution. It is undeniable, however, that the more scientific aspects of arnis de mano such as the "path of the arnis," "stability based on one’s center of gravity," and "force production and acceleration," were infused by Spanish influences.

When the Americans arrived, their policy of "benevolent assimilation" led Filipinos to embrace the democratic way of life. The opening of public schools throughout the country vastly improved our literacy rate. The Americans neither prohibited nor encouraged the practice of arnis de mano. However, they introduced Olympic games such as volleyball, softball, basketball, and track and field as part of school curricula. Thus, the practice of arnis de mano was sidelined.

But arnis de mano cannot be dichotomized from the psyche of the Filipino people. Informal learning about the art continued in the homes and communities even without government support. Thus surfaced as pioneers in these efforts names like the Canete and Saavedra families in Cebu City, Tatang Ilusistrimo and Jose Lima in Manila, and Remy Presas and Jesus Fallorina in Negros Occidental and Iloilo. It was Prof. Presas, however, who introduced a methodical way of teaching arnis that attracted the youth and the schools and later spread the art in the United States and Europe.

Congress recently passed Republic Act No. 9850, which declared arnis the "National Martial Art and Sport of the Philippines." The act was signed into law by the President on Dec. 11, 2009.

RA 9850 came quite late as our neighbors in the Asia-Pacific region had declared their national martial art and sport many years earlier. Nonetheless, this act of Congress has vindicated our indigenous martial art and sport, which can stand shoulder to shoulder with the martial arts and sports of other peoples in the world.

The declaration of arnis as the "national martial art and sport" of the country was premised on the law on the role of "national heroes and symbols in the historical development of the country." Indeed, arnis de mano symbolizes the character, discipline, and pride of the Filipino people.

The law mandates the Department of Education, the National Commission for Culture and Arts, and the Philippine Sports Commission to promulgate the rules and regulations to ensure the implementation of arnis. In particular, the Philippine Sports Commission is mandated to inscribe the symbol of arnis in its official seal and to make arnis as the first competition to be played by during the Annual Palarong Pambansa.

Sports-loving Filipinos await with much interest the concrete steps by these government agencies to implement RA 9850.

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