Friday, November 6, 2009

About Eskrima / Kali / Arnis

So, what is Eskrima, Kali and Arnis? The three names are used interchangeably but they all really describe the same thing: A highly effective weapon-based martial art from the Philippines. The rattan stick is usually the staple weapon, with some styles also using a variety of knives, swords and empty hands.

Recent research on the subject (“Cebuaba Eskrima: Beyond the myth by C. Macachor & N.Nepangue) proposed the argument that it was developed as a fighting system to protect communities from the Moro raids which began in the 16th century. The pirates attacked coastal settlements across the Philippines for the primary reason of taking slaves. The raids were instigated for both economic and social purposes. The Moro pirates sometimes raided to settle old scores and to enhance their reputation.

Some people believe that “Kali” describes the art descended from bladed weapons and “Arnis” and “Eskrima” describes stick-orientated arts. I tend to agree with others that “Kali” was a modern term used by famous Grand-Masters like Dan Inosanto in the late 70s / early 80s. Certainly, this was one of the main reasons why the famous GM Antonio ilustrisimo named his art “Kali Ilustrimo” (or “Kalis Ilustrisimo”) because the “Kali” label was well known. Prior to the time he began passing on his art he didn’t have cause to name it. Speaking of the late, great “Tatang” here is a demonstrating his art against sticks, blades and empty hands:

You have to consider that in the Philippines branded names are used to describe all products in the market. For example “Colgate” is used to describe all toothpaste and “Kleenex” all tissues. So now the word “Kali” is widespread to describe the art. It is usually only known in the Philippines as “Eskrima” or “Arnis” – probably due to the pioneering work of GM Remy Presas and his style “Modern Arnis” which is taught in high-school here. It has to be said that many don't know what it is. The signs on the main roads all advertise "Karate" or "TKD" classes. Boxing is most definitely in vogue though due to the amazing achievements of Manny "Pac-man" Pacquiao.

Not all “FMA” (to group the three terms together) are the same. The amount of weapons used depends on the individual system. Some systems just use sticks. They don’t do any knife / sword work at all. Some Balintawak Eskrima grouips are an example of this. Some systems do a lot of knife / sword work and use the stick in the same way. Kali Ilustrisimo is an example of this. Some systems are heavily involved in the sports sparring events (e.g “Modern Arnis”, “Doce Pares”) whilst others don’t spar for sport at all. Some systems have little to no empty hand game, others introduce the empty hand curriculum after the weapons curriculum and some concurrently.

Like many other martial arts, FMA has evolved and moved with the times. I believe it has gone from the extremely functional art of the coastal defenders to what we have today. You will see similarities in most FMA systems like triangular footwork and striking and bocking angles, etc, etc. Maybe these came directly from the older FMA styles like Ginunting and Llave Cadena? It’s hard to say with certainty.

Some styles today have been heavily influenced by the other arts their Grand-Master studied or traded skills with. So some styles have long stances like in Karate, spins like in Tae-Kwon-do and cross-steps like in Silat and Kung-fu. Some also have thrusts like European fencing. It would be naive to think that the Filipinos didn’t take a trick or two from the Spanish.

It is almost impossible to identify what is “Pure” or “Traditional” FMA. History is usually recorded by the victor, or the accepted educated people of the time like monks, poets and artisans. The Philippines was colonized for over 300 years by the Spanish who looked to quell any native unrest from the “indios”. Prior to their arrival a large portion of the Philippines were literate and used a language called Baybayin or Alibata. The Spanish used the language to colonize them. However, the Filipinos mainly wrote small notes and used things like leaves, rattan and tree bark so not a lot of literature survives.

Like many other cultures the Filipinos have a strong oral culture. Lovers would serenade each other all day long and there were also long songs to mark special occasions like harvests, weddings, burials etc, etc. For me this is interesting as it could be a reason why Filipinos are fond of sending so many text messages and so good at singing!

To wander back on topic the question of “Lineage” is not of relative importance to students of FMA at the moment as other arts. There are instructors out there who have primarily learnt from books or video. Others have “Bolted on” stick-fighting to their existing (usually Chinese or Japanese) systems. Many claim to have learnt a “Family System”. It is up to the student to distinguish the worth of both the art and the instructor to them. Of course, the instructor should make full disclosure and without it students should be wary.

Eskrima does have it’s veritable legends though. At the end of the 2nd world war General Macarthur outlawed the practice of “Death Matches”. These were basically a duel between Eskrimadors using hardwoods like “Kamagong” and “Bahi” and no padding. These sticks weigh about 1/2 kg / 1.2lbs each so you can imagine the consequences of swinging them at somebody’s head.

Those who are rumoured to have won many “Death Matches” include Floro Villabrille, Antonio Illustrisimo, Anciong Bacon and others. Quite a few Eskrimadors have been imprisioned after “winning” such events due to the death of their opponents. Philippine law was also changed to discourage these acts of “Duelling”.

Personally I find matters of lineage and terminology a curiosity, but not the be all and end all. Coming from a good “lineage” does not mean that you can fight. Nor does knowing all the terms for the movements. IMO this is all secondary to the art itself and as my instructor says “Can you carry the art?” You might know the names but can you apply it correctly?

Having said that there’s quite a few good resources on the net for FMA. Below are a couple to supplement this article. For everything else there is google ;)

Some great articles and interviews

Baybayin Website / translator

Thanks again for reading.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Taxis in the Philippines...are you talking to me?!

This article is called "Taxis in the Philippines" but really all taxis are not the same. For example, we have taken many cabs in Cebu city and find the majority of them to be o.k. As for Metro Manila though... :(

Let's start by looking at the different methods of public transport. Roughly in order of cost.

  • Jeepney - Ply pre-set routes & have around 20 passengers in the back
  • Tricycle - Or "Motorbike and Side-car". For smaller distances usually house to the main road.
  • Bus - All over Manila & Beyond
  • Air Conditioned Bus - All over Manila and Beyond. Many have TVs and DVD players.
  • MRT / LRT - A pretty good system that covers most (but not all) of Metro Manila
  • FX - SUV's that ply the same kind of routes as Jeepney's with up to 10 passengers inside
  • Taxi

As you can see there are lots of options to the taxi. Generally the people taking the taxis are considered "well off" here due to the cheaper alternatives that exist.

Taxis in Manila work on a different system from everywhere else in the world. Just because you see a taxi and successfully get it to stop doesn't mean you are actually going anywhere.

Here is my "Top 10" list taxi's have given us. They are either to ask for "Additional" payment to the meter, or to flat-out refuse to take us.

10. The rain damaged my meter
9. How much are you going to pay per litre?
8. He's too heavy! (pointing to me 200lbs or so)
7. It's too far!
6. It's too close!
5. There's too much traffic! (said at any time)
4. I'm hungry!
3. I don't have any passengers coming back!
2. I'm not going that way!
1. No. I don't want to!

Some list eh? Anybody would think that they're carrying you piggyback to your destination. Or they would just like to stay stationary at the side of the road whilst you give them money.

After you have negotiated your way into a taxi you still can't relax. It is common for taxis to pull into a garage. Here they will fix their car, add oil / air / gas or perhaps take a leak themselves. All the while the meter is running...

Whilst actually in motion many drivers will feel the need to commentate for you. Utterances such as "Tsk, tsk, tsk!" and "Traffic!" are commonplace. This should serve to remind you how lucky you were that the taxi stopped in the first place. Get ready - another request for "Additional" could well be on the cards soon. A few taxi drivers seem to get visually irritated and pound the steering wheel in frustration or accelerate madly for short-distances.

You should also consider that races with jeepneys, buses and FX add extra entertainment to your trip. Likewise, so do near-misses with motorbikes and pedestrians. Pedestrians however seem to at least be participating in the game. They cross the road and hold their hand up in a "Halt!" motion whilst looking the other way. For extra excitement this game is best observed in the rain at night.

It is easy to assume that a lot of the problems I report are due to being a foreigner. Again, one can assume that this is normal for any foreigner in any country. However, the attitude of the taxi drivers here is also hurting the local economy.

If you go to some parts of Manila between 5 - 7pm or so you will see many young professionals lining the streets. Taxis curb-crawl up and down the street going from one group to the next, trying to cherry-pick just the right fare.People can wait 1 - 2 hours for a ride home. We did.

Don't believe me? Check these links out:

The last website has some good tips. Always have change on you. It's not just taxi drivers as many people who run businesses (like the post-office even) do not have change. If the smallest note you have is 500 pesos you could really be asking for trouble. Whenever I go to the ATM here I always withdraw in 900s or 400s (example 1,900 instead of 2,000). People collecting whiskey bottles of small denominations just do not happen in the Philippines. Nor does finding "loose change" down the back of the sofa. Even 1 pesos coins are used for tricycyles, jeepneys etc, etc.

Going back to the taxis what can be done? Well, one government initiative is to get them to issue receipts. Australia does this and you can even pay with bank cards. There is a telephone number to call to report taxis who do not convey passengers. However, this does not seem to work as a deterrent. It won't get you a taxi either.

If you have to take a taxi be prepared to be asked for an "Additional" 50 - 100 pesos. This depends on weather, traffic and location. Be prepared that you might have to see up to 3 or 4 taxis come and go before you get one. If the taxi changes the rules of the game in motion (they also do this) stop the taxi somewhere safe and give him 50 pesos or so and send him on his way. There's nothing worse than being traumatized by the journey and then having to pay for the pleasure.

I would like to add that not all taxi drivers are like this. We take maybe 6 - 8 taxis a week and get some good ones who just charge the meter and drive. We always give a tip to these guys and hope we get them again.

Ingat Lagi (Take care always) + thanks for reading my blog.


Saturday, October 31, 2009

Living & Training Eskrima in the P.I

Hi All,

Well, this is the new blog. I had one previously at ebay but they're getting rid of them. Anyway, I could do with a fresh start so here we are.

As it says in the description; this blog will be about living in the P.I (Philippines) and training in Bahad Zu'bu Mangtas Baraw (A form of Eskrima). It will also feature shameless plugs for our webstore - - just like that one! The store and practice is a large part of my / our life here. My wife also practices and is invaluable helping run the business.

As to living here...well...I could probably fill up half the internet with reflections on that. I always say that I am lucky that I moved here from Taiwan. If I had have come straight from the U.K so many facets of living in this part of Asia would have killed me. Living here makes you realize how much the Filipino people have to put up with on a daily basis and how much we take for granted...

Trying to do business here is equally frustrating and at turns comical. As for trying to get a taxi.....See? Lots of material. I think I will start the blog with "Taxi's in the Philippines" as I've been saving up the material for a long time and (unfortunately) have many new experiences daily.

Please send me lots of comments. The problem with the ebay blog was that several thousand people read it but not one single person commented. Even to say "Shut-up!" Which I will do now ;)