By Fatima Lee Garsi
If you’ve ever been curious about this intriguing art, here are 12 amazing facts you need to know about arnis.
I was first introduced to arnis when I was living in Taiwan in my twenties. I saw an ad on a blog for expats that said “stick fighting” and felt compelled to see what this was about. When I attended the class, I was moved by my instructor’s precise striking power, accuracy, and beautiful coordination. At the time, I was training in Muay Thai and thought arnis would be a wonderful addition to soothe my hunger for training.
12 Amazing Facts You Need to Know About Arnis:
1. Mysterious origins: Arnis is a weapons based martial art, a self-defense system, and the national sport of the Philippines. The exact origins within the country as well as which tribe founded the deadly art is highly contested. According to the lineage I was trained in – LSAI/LESKAS/BUENA MANO – it was discovered by Muslim farmers as a covert self-defense system using existing farm tools.
2. Foreign invasions contributed to the development of arnis. After hundreds of years of development through battling foreign invaders and sharing techniques with other martial art forms from India, China, Malaysia, and Japan, the art of arnis became more refined. Eventually, lineages were formed. Different tribes had different styles and methods of training that were developed privately.
3. Arnis is taught through a system of lineages. A lineage is similar to a bloodline – it is the root of the style, philosophy, perspective, method, application, and origin. Each lineage is founded within the Grandmaster. This is someone who has received the highest level of training and has developed their own methods in the art.
4. Knowing and mentioning your arnis lineage history is important. I practice this to show respect and signify the credibility of my lineage history. All lineages have a Grand Master and the lineage name comes from the name of the founder of that system. Grandmaster Luna Lema was a very humble man and used the name LSAI(Lightning Scientific Arnis International) to promote his system. LSAI was then morphed into LESKAS (Lema Scientific Kali Arnis System) by Grandmaster Lema’s protoge, Grandmaster Elmer Ybanez.
I believe Grandmaster Ybanez was paying resect to Grandmaster Luna Lema be using this new acronym while also making slight changes in the curriculum himself. Finally, I cited Buena Mano because Grandmaster Fil V Buena was a student of Grandmaster Lema but this style has a more complete self-defense system that uses combination striking with empty hands, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, and long range weapons like ax throwing and guns.
My instructor’s name is Kiko Tenchavez. He was a senior student of Grandmaster Buena. Not all Grandmasters teach with the intention of combat and self-defense. Some teach for cultural preservation. It’s important to do your own research with any lineage that is of interest to you.
5. The LSAI/LESKAS/BUENA MANO lineage taught at Sister Fit applies the science of physics to every move. We are a science based combative art. That means when we strike full force, we need to deflect or block strikes with a comparable force to prevent getting hurt. We also apply certain angles and a reverse triangular footwork rather than a standard triangular footwork like other lineages because it’s more efficient and logical. Other lineages practice for cultural preservation over combative science. They do not strike full force in partner drills and therefore apply certain blocks as counters that would not be effective in a realistic combative situation. I believe I was blessed to have stumbled upon this lineage on my first try. I have ventured out into other lineages and styles, but I have not seen the science (physics) applied as accurately anywhere else.
6. Arnis was banned under Spanish rule. The practice of arnis was banned for several hundreds of years during Spanish rule as a form of oppression. The Spanish did not want the oppressed to openly practice such a deadly form of self-defense. People practiced in secrecy, which contributes to the cultish ways of arnis schools in present times.
7. In 2009, arnis became the national sport of the Philippines. In the early 1900’s, Spanish rule was gone and the teaching and development of arnis became a way of connection and cultural preservation amongst Filipinos.
8. Arnis can be exclusionary. Many Arnis instructors are very exclusionary and will not teach their art to just anyone who walks into their training center. Part of me respects this because teaching this science and art requires a lot of patience. However, some instructors exclude people from learning in order to hold some sort of power over a person who would like to learn, but might question techniques. Thankfully, this was not the attitude from my instructors. The only time someone would be excluded was if they were going to use this skill for harm rather than self-defense. I love when students question techniques. It gives everyone the opportunity to test techniques out and decide what works and what doesn’t.
9. Weapons are practical tools. The weapon used in arnis was originally a multi-purpose tool! Farmers used a tool called a “bolo” which looked like a machete. This tool was used to harvest crops, clear land, and was eventually used for self-defense.
10. As you progress, your use of weapons also advances. In most lineages, a beginner student will start with a single stick, progress to two sticks, and will later progress to one stick and one dagger. Single dagger drills are also a common practice.
11. The insertion of open-hand techniques is a modern element in classic arnis. Some lineages may choose to teach a more well-rounded system by teaching empty hand techniques, kicks, joint locks and jiu-jitsu as part of their system….but that is not native to arnis.
12. In legitimate arnis competitions, no one should get hurt. For safety, there is more emphasis on learning with a stick before moving on to a blade. During practice, students are in a padded suit which protects their body. They also wear a full face shield and helmet, as well as elbow pads, and gloves. No one should get injured in arnis competitions. There are competitions where competitors wear just helmets and gloves and use other strikes such as punches, kicks, knees, and wrestling techniques. This is a practice popularized by a group called “Dog Brothers.” I am highly against this method of competing. People get hurt, they bleed, and leave with broken bones. If I were to participate in this style of practice and competition I could be removed from my rank as an instructor of my lineage as it causes unnecessary harm.
Arnis is an art that I teach with full sincerity. I respect the Filipino culture and the countless hours that went into crafting the curriculum, which I was blessed enough to learn and memorize. When I teach my students, I must often practice again with them so they may imitate my movements. It helps me hone my skills and pass on the wonderful science to dedicated students who are invested in the quest to learn self-defense in order to honour themselves and to better their communities.