By Pedro Reyes
Arnis de mano is the name of a Filipino method
of self-defense. Its practitioners emphasize the use of weapons, especially
the walking stick and
ubiquitous farmer bolo, a two-foot long knife that a farmer invariably hangs from his waist whenever he steps out of his house. but bare-hand fighting is
an integral part of the art; practitioners study how to use their bare hands and feet, either in conjunction with their training in weapons, or after they have
mastered the weapons.
"Arnis de mano" is almost invariably shortened
to "arnis" in ordinary conversation and writing. the practioners of the
art are known as anisadores
(singular, arnisador) and the teachers, maestros (singular, maestro). A grand master is called gran maestro.
The derivation of the term "arnis" is still
a matter of speculation. The word is probably a corruption of the Spanish
word, "arnes," which means a coat or
armos made of mail. Thus "arnis de mano" would literally mean "armor composed of the hand", clearly a figurative way of saying, defense with the
hands. it could also be an allusion to the reputed ability of the arnisador to defend himself with his hands as though he put on a coat of mail.
"Arnis" is the term of choice in referring
to the art. The Spanish synonyms "escrima" (to fight) and "estoquada" (to
fence) are fading away with the
disuse of the Spanish language. A few arnis maestros would like to us "kali, " claiming it is the the pre-hispanic term fort he art. But mention "kali" to a
traditional maestro and would gape at you open-mouthed, he can not understand the term. So "arnis" is it.
The main weapon is a stick about twenty to
thirty inches long and between a quarter of an inch to one inch in diameter.
But the arnisador may also use
walking canes, swagger sticks, and lead pipes. In former times, arnisadores relied on long knives; they still prefer bladed weapons in serious fights.
There are five fundamental forms of arnis.
The first is solo baston. in this form, the
arnisador fights with a single stick, called a baston. The second form
is a doble baston. Here the arnisador uses
two bastones of equal length. When the arnisador wields a long baston and a shorter one simultaneously, he is using the third form called espada. In
those forms, the arnisador holds his stick with one hand. When the arnisador grips the stick with two hands, he would be using the fourth form, dos
manos. In this form the stick is longer, from thirty-five to forty-five inches tip to tip. The last form is bare-hand fighting called mano-mano.
A peculiarity of arnis is that the same principles
govern weapon techniques and bare-hand techniques. The two are seamlessly
integrated, so that in
practicing with weapons one simultaneously gains training in mano-mano, and vice versa. Maestros start their students with weapons before they train
them for mano-mano, in contrast to other systems which start with bare hand fighting, considering the use of weapons to be advanced. In arnis the two
Arnis is thus a self-contained system of self-defense
that encompasses a broad range of fighting skills from weapons to bare
hands. At the higher stages
of the art, the arnisador might not even fight physically; instead he might use oracions, or spells, to deflect attacks, or to break the spirit of his opponent.
What distinguishes arnis from other self-defense
systems is that the arnisador will usually try to disable his opponent's
arms before attacking further.
Should his opponent surrender at that point, the arnisador can stop and save him from more serious injuries. But should the opponent persevere, the
arnisador can continue his attack without fear of an effective defense, or possible counter from his opponent.
The advantage of arnis is that it is as suitable
for women as it is for men. Success in the art depends more upon finesse
and timing than upon brute
strength. For the same reason, the elderly can use it to defend themselves.
Arnis does not put excessive strain upon the heart and lungs, so that even the weak and the aged can practice it.
Nor is it expensive. All the arnisador needs is a companion to practice with, two sticks and room to swing.
The Ilustrisimo has been handed down to successive
generations of the Ilustrisimo family of Daan Bantayan, Cebu, Phillipines
for as long as anyone can
remember. Its arnisadores have proven the style in actual life-and-death fights, not just in exhibitions or in sports tournaments.
Gran Maestro Antonio Ilustrisimo is the inheritor
of the style and its leading grand master.