Escrima - the martial art from the Philippines


The primarly exercise weapon of Escrima

is the rattan cane. Although the Spanish term "Arnis de Mano" actually means the art or protection (lit. harnessing) of the hand, it refers to a self-defence system originating in the Philippines which mainly uses sharp blades, sticks and other weapons. Weaponless hand techniques are seen as only secondary in this art. While this fighting system was little known in Europe for a long time, it is widespread in America owing to the large number of Philippinos who have emigrated to the USA. Once also referred to as Kali, this art is now usually called "Arnis (de Mano)" or by another Spanish name "Escrima", which roughly means skirmish or combat.

This art has a long and violent history which can be traced back to the year 1521, when the Philippines were conquered by the Spanish. Previously Arnis de Mano had been taught in the same measure as reading, writing, religion and Sanskrit, and constituted a form of military training for the children of the warrior class.

The Spanish had great difficulty in imposing their will on the inhabitants, who wielded their bolos, daggers and sticks to deadly effect. It was only by the use of firearms that the Spanish were able to create a semblance of order. By the 18th Century the Spanish had the Philippines firmly under their control and practicing or learning Arnis de Mano was strictly forbidden (just as the Japanese had forbidden the inhabitants of Okinawa from carrying weapons). Carrying a bolo (similar to a machete) or a dagger was also not allowed. These prohibitions were intended to "civilise" the hot-blooded Philippinos.

Accordingly Arnis de Mano became a clandestine art (like karate in Okinawa) which was only taught in secret.

When it reemerged from its secret world it had become unrecognisable to the Spanish, for Arnis de Mano was disguised as a dance to the local folk music, with the movements performed as graceful dance steps without weapons. Indeed even the Spanish found this "dance" appealing, allowing it to be publicly performed during ceremonial events. However the real Arnis de Mano had by no means died out, as the occupying power often found to its cost whenever another revolt took place.

From generation to generation these many different regional fighting styles, collectively known as Arnis de Mano, were kept alive and passed on down the centuries.

The philippine martial arts were influenced in a european way by the Spanish.

When Spanish colonial rule ended in 1898 and the Americans took over, the prohibition was repealed. Sporting competitions were held openly on public holidays, however the teachers still refused to "open their doors" and Arnis remained a secret art.

There was still plenty of fighting to be done in the years to come, for when war was declared the Japanese overran the Philippines and many Philippinos fought alongside the Americans in guerilla units. There were numerous incidents of close-quarter combat in which many owed their lives to their Arnis training. Their official weapon, the machete, was very similar to their traditional weapon, the bolo, which meant that they were able to refine their techniques in real combat over a long period of time.

The Philippines remained a violent place to be even after the war. In 1967 the city of San Juan was the first to impose a ban on the use of the nunchaku. And in September 1972 it was only by imposing martial law that the President was able to end the habit of resolving personal disagreements with firearms, knives and other deadly weapons.

After the war many Philippinos emigrated to the United States, taking Arnis de Mano with them of course. Most of them became resident in Hawaii and in Stockton, California, from where Arnis/Escrima began its spread onto the American martial arts scene.

The rediscovery of Escrima is in some measure due to the late Bruce Lee. By demonstrating the use of the Philippine sticks in his films "Enter the Dragon" and "Game of Death" he brought the old martial art of Escrima back into public awareness.

In 1977 the Escrima masters Latosa and Newman brought the Filippo martial art to Germany. Within the EWTO grandmaster Bill Newman is guarding the quality of the Escrima activities. (Source: EWTO)