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Filipino Martial Arts

Filipino Martial Arts

Making a definitive general statement about Filipino Martial Arts is extremely difficult, due to the sheer breadth of different styles available.  However, we’ll do our best.

Weapons come First

In the FMA, weapons are typically learned first, followed by empty-hand techniques.  The reasoning for this is simple: if someone is going to attack you, the chances are great that they will be wielding a weapon.  Maybe it is a knife or club they brought for just that purpose, maybe it is a tire iron they grabbed out of their car in the heat of the moment – either way you had better be prepared to deal with it.

Many of the more common martial arts hold weapons training back until the student has had a few years of training.  The thinking is that until the student has mastered his or her own body, why make things worse by adding in another element?

To the Filipino Martial Arts, however, the weapon is the tool that will make the student progress faster.  Reflexes improve, sensitivity increases, and any errors a student is making are magnified by the weapon making it easier to identify and correct.

Perhaps another reason is that weapons are so dangerous that training to deal with them should take priority.  The potential of being maimed for life is pretty small from a single punch, not so from a knife wound.  

Translating Skills from Weapon to Weapon

A lot of the basis for FMA can be summed up by the following: there are only so many ways a person can strike.  Therefore, any way you can strike with your hand, you can also strike with a stick, a knife, a chair or whatever you can find.  And likewise, any way an opponent can attack you with his hands, he can also attack you with a weapon.

So what does that mean?  Well, for starters, it means that you should be able to take training in one weapon (let’s say a stick) and translate that ability to another weapon (a machete).  You can further extrapolate and use your weapons training as the basis for your empty-hands fighting.  Now, we are skimming over a lot of stuff, and making some sweeping generalities here, but that’s the gist.  Any drill done with a stick usually can be done (with minor adjustments) with a knife, double sticks, stick and knife, or empty hands.

Now, don’t get the idea that an FMA’er will treat a bladed strike, a swinging baseball bat or a punch the exact same way. Allowances have to be made for differences in the situation – length of the weapon, blunt versus edged, what you are armed with and what your opponent is armed with. Expecting a knife-wielder to be the same as a stick-wielder is a good way to get stabbed or cut.

Here’s an example often seen in books and articles: the X block (forearms crossed, so that the crook of the arms catches the opponent’s limb) supposedly used to trap an opponent’s attack.  Opinions are mixed but for argument’s sake, we’ll say it will work against a punch. Against a knife, however, the X-blocker will quickly find both of his wrists slit when the attacker retracts his weapon.  If the nature of the weapon (in this case, the ability of a knife to cause a serious cut with little effort) is ignored, the defender is in for a very rough time.

Angles of Attack

Another characteristic of FMA (besides coming from the Philippines) is something that might be called an abstraction of strikes.  For instance, imagine striking diagonally downwards with your right hand, following a line from your right shoulder to your left hip.  Many FMA styles refer to this as Angle #1.   What happens if you follow the same line, but use your left hand, so now it is more of a backhand strike?  It is still Angle #1.  What if you vary the angle a little?  Angle #1 still, assuming it stays within a certain range.  If not, it is considered to be one of the other numbered angles.

What are the Angles of Attack?

Depends on the style.  The range of numbered angles can vary considerably, with some having as few five (one notable example has two), and as many as twenty.

Here’s what we use in Siling Labuyo Arnis:

#1 – diagonal strike down from your right shoulder
#2 – diagonal strike down from your left shoulder
#3 – level strike from the right to left
#4 – level strike from the left to right
#5 – straight thrust forwards
#6 – diagonal thrust downwards from the high right
#7 – diagonal thrust downwards from the high left
#8 – diagonal strike upwards from the left hip
#9 – diagonal strike upwards from the right hip
#10 – hooking thrust from the left 
#11 – hooking thrust from the right

What Weapons are Taught?

Again, there is wide variation in the arsenal of each Filipino Martial Art.  What is often seen in North America is:

Single stick
Double stick
Stick and knife (espada y daga)

Those are the basics.  Some schools may do double knife, staff, flexible weapons (like the tabak-toyok, the Filipino name for nunchaku), projectile weapons and specialty weapons native to the area a particular style originated.  Others may specialize in just one of the basics listed above.  The Serrada style, for instance, is well known for its devotion to espada y daga methods.

In general, whenever you talk about martial arts developed in a place consisting of over 7,000 islands, there is bound to be a wide variety to experience.  However, when it comes right down to it, there are only so many ways to swing a stick.  So, on one hand there is  a breath-taking range to FMA, but on the other, there are going to be commonalities.

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