5 good reasons to practice Filipino Martial Arts

I discovered Eskrima in 2004 at the same time as Wing Chun and I was immediately seduced by this martial art. As I clarified in this post, Wing Tsun (see my article on terminology) and Latosa Eskrima were commonly taught in many martial arts clubs in Western Europe from the 1980s. As a martial arts practitioner with self-defense focus, these two disciplines have allowed me to touch on a global and complete approach to self-defense with on the one hand, empty hand combat, and on the other hand, weapon combat.

In 2013, following my first trip to the Philippines and my training in Combate Esrima Maranga (CEM) with the Maranga family, I decided to offer my Wing Tsun students, CEM sessions to promote and transmit this martial art. I regret not having succeeded in “fishing” many students. This is what made me want to write this short post ; give meaning to the practice of Eskrima for people who still have doubts.

In the following lines, I will outline 5 good reasons to practice Eskrima, or in the broad sense, the Filipino Martial Arts (FMA).


1 / The Filipino Martial Arts are practiced with weapons and are complementary to the self-defense bare hands methods.

Unlike many martial arts, learning begins with weapons in the Filipino Martial Arts. First, we usually start with the short stick which can be likened to a machete. The practice then diversifies by introducing the double sticks (Sinawali) and the knife. This weapons training makes it possible to approach a dimension of combat which can be complementary to the unarmed hands self-defense methods. The weapons used in the FMA, mainly the stick and the knife, have the advantage of being still anchored in reality and/or easily transposed (this is the subject of point 2 below). This is not the case for ancestral weapons used in Chinese or Japanese arts for example. The saber, the sword, the spear or the halberd seem quite remote from a situation of contemporary aggression.

Angel Cabales in fighting stance (Tinding Serrada) with Espada y Daga.

On the other hand, the Filipino Arts are also devoted to unarmed combat, often using the principles of combat and coordination developed with weapons. In CEM for example, the different sinawali that make up this system provide a basis for coordination of movements, fluidity and continuity to approach the combat with bare hands. Several terminologies designate the practice with bare hands : arnis de mano, mano-mano, panantukan, pangamot, suntukan, sumbagay, cadena de mano… or Filipino Boxing. The techniques used are very varied, there are percussions (kick, fist, elbow, knee and head), arm lock as well as grappling and trapping techniques.

Ultimately, the Filipino Martial Arts are very complete and pragmatic. They alone are good methods of self-defense.


2/ The Filipino Martial Arts are effective and transposable to various everyday tools.

Complete and pragmatic, the FMA are also without frills or gimmicks. As in many martial arts, there are individual exercises, forms, to learn how to handle his weapon. You can also spend time hitting with a stick in stacked tires to develop your punching power. However, in the FMA the emphasis quickly shifted to working with a partner. The exchange of stick is essential to forge an experience and sometimes intuitively find what works. FMA practitioners are generally familiar with the unique smell of burnt wood generated by the friction and impact of rattan sticks. The Filipino Martial Arts allow quickly achieve ease, fluidity and efficiency in practice.

“Anything in your hands is a weapon” Rodel Dagooc, Fighting Sticks of Arnis, 2016.

Matt Damon plays Jason Bourne a former CIA agent capable of transforming any lambda tool into a weapon. In The Bourne Supremacy, Jason Bourne uses a magazine to confront his attacker armed with a knife (Click on the picture to watch the video). Source : picture from imgur.com

The Filipino Martial Arts also make it possible to easily transpose many everyday tools into a substitute weapon. Indeed, the skill developed with regular training weapons (stick, knife …) gives the possibility of using the same movements and techniques with everyday tools. It happens very often to me to make Eskrima movements with any tool which passes to me, and this in a sometimes unconscious way. I remember once in the evening with a friend who is a member of a music group, being surprised to make Eskrima movements with a mallet ! I’m also a fan of this kind of movement with the magazines found in the Marseille subway … in short, the transpositions are multiple and only limit the imagination.

I am a big fan of the Jason Bourne film series where the character played by Matt Damon can be seen defending himself with various tools like pen, rolled up magazine, book, towell, power cord, wooden chair leg, saucepan … The very realistic approach of these action scenes are good examples of the transposition of FMA with everyday tools. Note that Jeff Imada, the choreographer of the fight scenes of The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, is an expert in Filipino Martial Arts.

To know how to handle a lambda tool, it is necessary to take into account two fundamental criteria ; its size and ability to cause damage, is the tool sharp or blunt ? Then we can refer to the old proverb popular in Filipino Martial Arts which says:

“Stick seeks bone. Blade seeks flesh.” Filipino saying.

3 / The Filipino Martial Arts develop transposable skills for unarmed combat.

As we saw in point 1, the FMA also specialize in unarmed combat. Some practices with bare hands are a direct transposition of the exercises carried out with the sticks, it is the case in CEM with the sinawali.

Rico Maranga explains in this video the relationship between sinawali and bare handed practice. (Click on the picture to watch the video).

For martial arts practitioners like me already experienced in their unarmed discipline, the work of weapons in FMA develops transversal skills that can only enrich your martial practice. I am not talking about techniques that could be borrowed from the FMA, but of training on combat concepts that can be found in all martial disciplines such as distance, timing, coordination, continuity, dynamism, body mechanics … etc.

However, the FMA also bring an interesting technical background on the concept of disarm techniques. In all styles of FMA, we train disarm techniques regardless the weapon used by the opponent. This systematic training in disarming provides considerable experience in this area. It also allows a transfer of disarm techniques in a completely different context ; we can therefore consider disarming virtually any tool from the hand of an attacker. There, I am talking about techniques !


4 / Filipino martial arts are very playful and fun to practice.

We all played knights or musketeers with wooden swords when we were little … well, like me, some never stopped !

The Filipino Martial Arts are really fun to practice. Many systems integrate conditions in their training to generate a flow that allows practitioners to exchange techniques over several seconds at high speed ; this type of dynamic and adaptive training is simply super fun and brings extraordinary sensations ! In the Balintawak current, to which the Combate Eskrima Maranga belongs, this type of training is called palakaw.

Still in the Balintawak current, there is a concept of anticipation of the movements of the adversary which is called Cuentada and which presents itself as a real game of chess between two practitioners of Eskrima where the pawns have been replaced by rattan sticks. Learning a complex situation is done in isolation, precisely, before being integrated into this dynamic and adaptive flow. So first intellectualized, then reinvested in an intuitive way, there is no doubt that this training develops and maintains a certain brain activity that makes me think of fast chess games.

My Sifu, Julian Junemän, and I introduce the Combate Eskrima Maranga in this video. NB: cem-france.com no longer exists. (Click on the picture to watch the video).


5 / The Filipino Martial Arts allow to discover the wonderful Filipino culture.

Which martial arts practitioner have not dreamed of going to the other side of the world to discover the roots of their art and learn directly from the great masters, while immersing themselves in the culture of the original country ?

The Philippines is very large and the masters of FMA are numerous. Filipinos are very welcoming and enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge, in any case this is the experience I had with the Maranga family in Cebu city.

There is so much to say about the Filipino culture, I don’t want to improvise myself here as a tourist guide on a few lines. I let you discover a glimpse of this wonderful country through this documentary Philippines, les couleurs du voyage from the show Echappées Belles (one of the few things I still watch on TV).

A famous jeepney photographed in the streets of Cebu. For the record, jeepneys are originally the American military jeeps left in the Philippines after World War II. Filipinos have modified vehicles to turn them into means of transportation. It’s super cool to travel with it ! Source: personal picture, Cebu 2013.


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