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20th-Century Arnis

The Reemergence of a Warrior's Art

(Part 3)

By Mark V. Wiley

As human nature usually has it even the best of intentions go awry. During the course of the revival of Filipino martial arts many of the schools became rivals and their members would fight against one another to see who was superior. However, in the hope of once again promoting solidarity amongst fellow practitioners and schools in Cebu, the Cebu Escrima Association was formed in 1976. The newly formed Association lost no time in perpetuating the arts and that same year, in association with NARAPHIL, it sponsored the First National Arnis Convention and First Asian Martial Arts Festival. Then, in 1977, in Talisay, Cebu, Grandmaster Florencio Lasola founded the Oolibama Arnis Club.

Perhaps the most successful association in the central and southern Philippines in the 1970s was the Tres Personas Arnis de Mano Association. Tres Personas was founded by Timoteo E. MarangaTimoteo E. Maranga, master of Balintawak arniswith four specific goals in mind: to promote brotherhood and understanding among the advocates of Filipino martial arts; to encourage and propagate Filipino martial arts among the youth; to defend the weak, the young and the old; and to defend the oppressed people, country, and God. Maranga's martial arts background is varied and includes studies in combat arnis, judo, karate, and Western wrestling. Tres Personas arnis is a mixture of the de marina, de cadena, literada, Batangueña serada, florete, and sumbrada styles.

In the United States in 1977, Dan InosantoDan Inosanto, Filipino martial arts pioneer in the Westpublished The Filipino Martial Arts. Although not the first book on the arts published in English, it was the most widely distributed and well-rounded. Inosanto's early pioneering efforts to expose different Filipino masters and systems is reflected in this work. Then, in 1978, Kyokushin-kai karate instructor Ben Singleton sponsored the Pro-Am Classic tournament in Vista, California. This tournament featured the first full contact open weapons sparring division in the United States. Narrie Babao, a student of Carlito A. Lañada and Dan Inosanto, took first place. On March 24, 1979, the National Arnis Association of the Philippines sponsored the First Open Arnis Tournament in Cebu City, where Tom Bisio reigned as champion. Then, on August 19, NARAPHIL sponsored the First National Invitational Arnis Tournament in Manila. Among the masters who par-ticipated in the "masters sparring division" were Cacoy Cañete from Cebu, Timoteo Maranga and Alfredo Mangcal from Mindanao, Jose Mena, Benjamin Luna Lema and Florencio Pecate from Manila, and Hortencio Navales from Negros Occidental. In Both tournaments Cacoy Cañete reigned as champion. Interestingly, the most infamous master, Antonio Ilustrisimo,

Antonio "Tatang" Ilustrisimo, founder of kalis Ilustro

refused to compete under the tournament's rules. In response, Ilustrisimo made the statement: "If anyone wants to take my reputation, they will have to fight me with a sword." There were no challengers.

The 1980s saw a number of tournaments sponsored to further establish arnis as a sport. On March 16, 1985, the Third National Arnis Tournament was held in Cebu City, and the Fourth National in Bacolod City on July 26, 1986. Then, on January 2, 1987 Dionisio "Diony" Cañete, the nephew of Cacoy Cañete, was elected as the new president of NARAPHIL. From May 26-29, 1989, the Philippine Kali Grand Championship was held in Manila. Both events were jointly sponsored by the Kali Association of the Philippines and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. In response to the world wide spread of Filipino martial arts the World Kali Eskrima Arnis Federation (WEKAF) was founded in 1987 in Los Angeles, California, with Dionisio Cañete as its first president. The First United States National Eskrima Kali Arnis Championships was then held in San Jose, California in October of 1988. The First Eastern USA Eskrima Kali Arnis Championships was then held in New Jersey in May of the following year. Then, on August 11-13, 1989, WEKAF sponsored the First World Kali Eskrima Arnis Championships in Cebu, Philippines.

One of the best-known grandmasters of arnis in the Western world is Remy Presas.

Remy Presas, father of modern arnis

Presas first gained popularity in the United States in 1983, with th epublishing of his third book, Modern Arnis: Filipino Art of Stick Fighting. As a result of this book, Presas became known as the "Father of Modern Arnis," and has since been featured on the cover of numerous martial arts magazines, produced six instructional video tapes, and has a larger base of students around the world than any other single Filipino master.

In 1991, Arnis Philippines became the "official" government-sponsored organization to spread the art of arnis. Arnis Philippines then became the thirty-third member of the Philippine Olympic Committee. Through this organization's efforts Arnis was featured as a demonstration sport in the 1991 Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games). Arnis Philippines then formed the International Arnis Federation which brought thirty countries together to work towards the acceptence of asnis as a demonstration sport in the Olympic games. With arnis now the national sport of the Philippines, the Senate Committee on Youth and Sports Development, the Philippine Sports Commission, and the Philippine Olympic Committee jointly sponsored and endorsed the Grand Exhibition of Martial Arts in Manila. The event, held on July 31, 1993, featured demonstrations by practitioners of arnis Lanada, sikaran, kali Ilustrisimo, sagasa, ngo cho kun, pencak silat, hwarangdo, hsing-i, and kyokushin-kai.

The 1990s also saw many other masters coming out of the woodwork to teach or further promote their arts.

Edgar Sulite, founder of lameco eskrima

Included in this group would be the late founder of lameco eskrima, Edgar Sulite,

Bobby Taboada, grandmaster of Balintawak arnis cuentada

Balintawak arnis cuentada master Bobby Taboada,

Sam Tendencia, master of arnis and hilot

arnis and hilot master Sam Tendencia, and

Ramiro Estalilla, grandmaster of Rigonan-Estalilla kabaroan

Rigonan-Estalilla kabaroan grandmaster Ramiro Estalilla.

The 20th-century has seen a revival of martial arts in the Philippines paralleled by no other country. In the past sixty years the arts went from almost complete isolation and obscurity to world wide exposure and commercialization. With this exposure, and paralleling the ethnic, tribal, and religious separateness in the Philippines, have sprung a plethora of new organizations and associations, new schools and styles, new masters and grandmasters. What the Filipino martial arts needs if they are to remain through the next century is a stronger sense of cohesion. One organization must be crafted to accommodate the various martial ideologies. A single ranking structure must be adopted to assure a high standard for and legitimization of rank among and between systems and styles. This must happen without losing sight of the roots of the arts which commercialization tends to do.

In closing, the words of Leonard B. Meyer are fitting:

"New styles and techniques, schools and movements, programs and philosophies, have succeeded one another with bewildering rapidity. And the old has not, as a rule, been displaced by the new. Earlier movements have persisted side by side with later ones, producing a profusion of alternative styles and schoolsóeach with its attendant aesthetic outlook and theory."



About the Author

Mark Wiley is an accomplished martial artist and leading authority on a variety of Philippine and Chinese martial arts, French savate, tae kwon do and karate. He is the author of three books on Phillippine martial arts, including Filipino Martial Culture, from which this article was in part excerpted. He has served as Martial Arts Editor for Charles E. Tuttle Publishing Co., Book Publishing Editor for Unique Publications, Editor of Martial Arts Legends magazine and Associate Editor for the Journal of Asian Martial Arts. He is author of eight books on martial arts and qi gong and over 100 articles published in a variety of martial arts magazines. He also serves as Associate Editor for FightingArts.com.


To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

Arnis, eskrima, Filipino martial arts, Cebu Escrima Association, Florencio Lasola, Tres Personas Arnis de Mano Association, Dan Inosanto, Remy Presas, Edgar Sulite, Bobby Taboada, Sam Tendencia, Ramiro Estalilla


Read more articles by Mark V. Wiley

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