The Reemergence of a Warrior's Art
By Mark V. Wiley
Filipino martial arts have existed, been suppressed, and reemerged as
a subculture within Philippine society for centuries. For over three hundred
years, practice of the arts was outlawed by the Spanish colonizers. However,
the popularity of the arts of arnis and eskrima began to resurface on
the island of Cebu during the 1920s, whereon a number of martial art practitioners
began to openly teach their arts.
In 1920 the late Venancio "Anciong" Bacon, the founder of Balintawak
arnis, opened the Labangon Fencing Club-the first commercial arnis club
in Cebu. Following Bacon's, lead Johnny Chiuten, Pedring
Romo, and the famous Cañete brothers also began openly teaching
their respective styles of stickfighting. The 1920s also found the Philippine
Olympic Stadium promoting full-contact arnis tournaments. Placido Yambao
reigned as champion in a number of matches held in the late 1920s and
early 1930s. Yambao was then to go on and write the first book on arnis
thirty years later. It was also during this decade that the United States
was given its first glimpse of these fascinating arts. From 1920 to 1929,
Ramiro A. Estalilla, Sr. taught Rigonan-Estalilla kabaroan at the Minneapolis
Athletic Club in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
It wasn't until the 1930s, however, that the various masters in Cebu
and the neighboring islands came together in the interest of perpetuating
the Filipino martial arts. As a result the famed Doce Pares Association
was organized in 1932. The Doce Pares Association is the oldest and longest
standing martial arts organization in the Philippines and was a driving
force behind the reemergence of Filipino martial arts into Filipino society.
In 1939, Doce Pares was joined by the six Cañete brothers. With
differences in political view, Bacon left and founded the Balintawak Self-Defense
Eulogio "Yoling" Cañete became the new
Doce Pares president.
1937, Benjamin Luna Lema founded the Lightning Arnis Club in Mambusao,
Ten years later, in 1947, he was requested by the United States Air Force
to relocate to Agana, Guam, to instruct their enlisted men in hand-to-hand
combat and arnis. The 1940s also saw the development of the infamous Filipino
butterfly knife known as the balisong. In a town in Batangas now known
as Barrio Balisong, Perfecto de Leon is credited with developing and manufacturing
the first balisong knife. Since that time the balisong has become perhaps
the most infamous Filipino weapon.
being founded in the 1920s, sikaran, the Filipino art of foot fighting
received recognition and acceptance in the 1950s from such countries as
Japan and Korea. The fifties also found arnis becoming popular in Negros
Occidental. From 1956-58 the Bacolod Arnis Club existed under the direction
of its founder, Narciso "Sisoy" Gyabros, who taught twelve methods
of arnis and in turn had twelve disciples.
Amador "Mading" Chavez was one disciple who was fortunate to
have learned all of the twelve styles. After the Bacolod Arnis Club dissolved,
Chavez founded the Chavez Arnis Group in 1959. 1957 saw the publication
of Placido Yambao's book, Mga Karunungan sa Larung Arnis (Knowledge in
the Art of Arnis).
book caused quite a stir among Filipino martial arts practitioners, as
they still regarded the art as an artifact oftheir unconquerable history.
However, Yambao's work did much to promote the art of arnis. In 1959,
Gerardo Alcuzar founded the Durex Self-Defense Club in the Cebu Institute
of Technology, where in addition to eskrima, he offered instruction in
combat judo and karate.
During the decade of the 1960s Filipino martial arts again felt a resurgence
of interest with schools and styles opening themselves up to the public.
In Manila this revival was initiated by an organization called Samahan
sa Arnis ng Pilipinas (Association of Arnis in the Philippines). In his
speech during the launching of the revival of arnis in Manila, Former
Secretary of Philippine Education, Alejandro Roces praised members of
the Association, stating:
"A neglected aspect of our cultural history as a people, arnis
is as old as the Philippines. It is germane to the Filipino, his culture
and temperament. During the prehistoric times, it was indulged in as a
form of recreation. Filipinos learned it together with reading, writing,
religion, incantation, and Sanskrit. It was not, at that time, merely
fencing, as we now regard that term. It had its variations in the form
of dance and combative arts known as sayaw or sinulog, which was both
artistic and entertaining."