Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Filipino stick fighting

I've been thinking a lot about Filipino stick fighting recently.  To save confusion, I will be referring to it as Arnis throughout this post, though it is also known as Arnis De Mano, Escrima, Eskrima or Kali.  In the Philippines, where it is taught as part of the Physical Education system, it is referred to mostly as Arnis - at least it is in the areas of Manila I visited.

I haven't been able to train in Arnis recently.  I created some makeshift training sticks some time ago, and trained as much as I was able to.  I have ordered some genuine sticks now, and will be resuming my training.  Some might ask my reason for training Arnis, when I am already a Wing Chun practitioner.  Wing Chun is a great system, and it works, but there are reasons for specifically training in Arnis.

The UK is increasingly becoming a society in which armed attacks are a reality, especially attacks with knives.  To understand the range of motion and characteristics of a weapon, experience of fighting with weapons is necessary.  As much as I love Wing Chun, and I trust that it can be used against knife attacks, the weapons of Wing Chun (if, for a moment, we discount our own limbs as weapons) are the last thing to be introduced to a student.  Anecdotal evidence would suggest that Ip Man only taught three people the knives form, for example.  I learn martial arts for self protection.  I want to close any gaps in my defensive repertoire as quickly as possible.

Another consideration is improving coordination.  This is something which I have been looking into a lot recently.  It is probably an overlooked aspect of fighting fitness.  Strength, endurance and even flexibility are all emphasised in our training to be martial artists, just as it is with sports, but coordination is seemingly neglected in our training.  Yes, there is an argument that the training itself improves coordination, and I will go along with that.  Practising the Wing Chun forms has led to a marked improvement in the precision of my movements, but I still struggle with Chi Sau.  Some members of the class get to practice Chi Sau away from the class, and I, unfortunately, have no one to do this with, so my coordination is below the level of some members of the class. The only way I could feasibly reach, and surpass, their fine motor skills is to do something other than Wing Chun to improve matters - something which trains similar movements.

The funny thing is that, here in the UK, we are more likely to refer to Filipino stick fighting as Escrima.  The use of Remy Presas' Modern Arnis as the system which is taught in the Philippine education system has led to the name Arnis being used widely in the Philippines.  In some areas, however, Escrima or Eskrima is still used.  Here, Modern Arnis is not so well known, so we tend to train in more traditional Filipino stick fighting systems, and use the name Escrima (or Eskrima) as a result.

It's easy to see how the difference in the systems which are most prevalent could lead to differences in how Arnis is performed in the UK and its native Philippines.  If we look at what has happened to jujitsu in the UK over the time it has been here, it is clear that there is the potential for any introduced art to assume the character of its new host nation.  Ip Ching apparently said something along those lines when members of the class I attend visited his training centre in Hong Kong - the way we do Wing Chun is different.  There is also the example of Lau Gar Kung Fu, which some would argue has completely deviated, in its UK form, away from the original Chinese art.  Recently, I heard that Bob Breen, here in the UK, teaches Jeet Kune Do in a very different way to how Dan Inosanto teaches it in America.  I'm not surprised, even though Bob is technically Dan's student.

As long as it is effective, I really don't care.