origins of arnis are difficult to trace, primarily because there
are nearly as many styles of Filipino stick fighting as there
are islands in the Philippine archipelagomore than 7000!
The races that settled in these islands came from India, Southwest
Asia, China and Indonesia. These diverse races and cultures
blended their heritage's over the centuries, producing a common
method for employing sharp swords, daggers and fire-hardened
sticks in combat. These highly sophisticated fighting
styles have grown in popularity in the international martial
arts community. One of the earliest known forms was called
tjakelele (Indonesian fencing). Kali
is another term familiar to stick fighters around the world
today. When the Philippines were invaded by the Spanish,
the invaders required guns to subdue their fierce opponents.
The deadly fighting skills of Filipino warriors nearly overwhelmed
them, and they dubbed the native stick style escrima
Escrima was subsequently outlawed, but the techniques did not
disappear. The were preserved in secret, sometimes under
the very noses of conquerors, in the form of dances or mock
battles staged in religious plays know as moro-moro.
These plays featured Filipinos, sometimes costumed as Spanish
soldiers, wearing arnes, the harness worn during
medieval times for armor. The blade-fighting forms and
footwork were identical to those used in escrima. The
word arnes so became corrupted to arnis,
and the name stuck.
Historically, Arnis incorporated three related methods: espada
y daga (sword and dagger), which employs a long blade
and short dagger; solo baston (single stick); and
sinawali (to weave), which uses two sticks of equal
length twirled in weaving fashion for blocking and
striking (term is derived from sawali, the bamboo matting woven
in the Philippines).
At age six, Grandmaster Remy Amador
Presas (Filipino arnis master and founder of modern arnis) was
already learning the fundamentals of kali, the forerunner of
modern arnis, arnis de mano. In Cebu, Presas studied arnis
under Rodolfo Moncal, Timoteo Marranga and Marrangas instructor,
Grandmaster Venancio Bacon, all experts in Arnis and the Balintawak
style of stick fencing. In addition to Arnis, Presas became
proficient in Judo, Jujutsu, and Karate. When Presas first
traveled his country, he took what he considered to be the most
effective principles of each island style and combined them
with his own knowledge of other martial arts.
Modern Arnis, as Presas terms his system, incorporates empty-hand
moves based upon the same motions used in solo baston and sinawali.
Unlike kali, his systems also uses low kicks and takedowns for
a more well-rounded approach. Presas also insists on modernizing
a particular training aspect traditional in arnis: that of hitting
your opponents hand or arm instead of his sticka
painful practice that was tolerated because the rattan
canes used in arnis were considered sacred. Presas decided
that hitting the stick was just as good a practice method and
would obviously discourage far fewer students of arnis, preventing
many painful injuries.
Presas does not merely combine techniques, he encourages the
individual student to adapt arnis principles to his own feel
for each technique. The method should suit the person
and not the other way around. This is known simply as
using the flow. The flow is Presas universal
term for defining the comfortable place where the movements
of arnis and the individual human body meet for maximum effectiveness;
body and weapon blend to achieve the most natural fighting style
based on an individuals needs and attitudes.
Arnis makes many martial artists discover new things about
their own style, Presas says. They recognize
the beauty of arnis because it blends naturally the best movements
from many arts. Most of my students continue to study
their own stylesthey just use arnis to supplement their
understanding. Presas left the Philippines in 1975
on a goodwill tour sponsored by the Philippine government to
spread arnis to other countries. He arrived in the United
States, conducting seminars to groups diverse as law enforcement
agencies and senior citizens.
The Professor, as his students affectionately call
him, has been welcomed wherever he goes, demonstrating the daring
techniques of the bolo and the bewitching twirl of double rattan
sticksthe sinawali. In 1982 Presas was inducted
into the Black Belt Hall of Fame as Instructor of the Year for
his devotion to teach the art he loves. Years of refinement
have given Presas a personal style that makes his seminars among
the most popular at many martial arts schools
For his seminars, Presas has furthered simplified some of his
teaching in order to give novices a tangible amount of self-defense
skill through specific drills. Sinawali, for instance,
is practiced first with the hands in a patty cake
fashion, then the sticks are picked up and the student repeats
the motions. Presas demonstrated how these weaving
motions can be translated into empty-hand movements for blocking,
punching and takedowns. He has designated 12 important angles
of attack on the human body and 12 basic ways of dealing with
each angle. There are also many disarming techniques and
the variations and improvisational capabilities implied are
Arnis is a growing art, expanding in this country rapidly.
Arnis tends to transcend stylistic distinctions and discovery
seems to be a primary benefit from the study of modern arnis,
especially under the methods of Grandmaster Remy Presas.