Jannelle So

By Jannelle So

I have always heard that it’s like a secret society of learned men and women; that there’s an unspoken code of confidentiality among students and masters. And so when I endeavored to do a Kababayan LA special on Philippine Martial Arts, I was excited at the thought of breaking into the uber-exclusive community.

“It’s a family legacy. It’s not always marketed or pushed,” said Master Willie Laureano when asked about Philippine Martial Arts. He should know. He was introduced to the craft back in the Philippines; Tondo, to be exact. He grew up in Navotas and went to Bagumbayan Elementary School in the early 70’s where he learned modern arnis from Dr. Remy Presas, one of his professors. And the love for the art was heightened by his appreciation of movies by Roland Dantes and Bruce Lee.  In our interview with Laureano, the master who’s been studying Philippine Martial Arts for years, defined it as “the most complete system that involves kicking, taking down, boxing and weaponry.” He added that “It’s been around since the 12th century.”

And although, Laureano said, it’s been influenced by the Western culture, even before conquerors came to the Philippines, “we already  had a system. We didn’t learn anything from them (colonizers) that we did not already know. They might have exposed us to a different type of training. But we already had our own.”

After all the interviews and observations, I can estimate that Philippine Martial Arts is very unique in itself. And it’s something to be proud of because when you trace it back to Philippine history our ancestors used it for battle… to fight for our freedom. And it’s something to be proud of; something to own.

“But there are two fundamental problems to Philippine Martial Arts,” according to Kurt Flor, a Baguio-born Filipino who took up tae kwon do at an early age and ended up fascinated with mixed martial arts that introduced him to Philippine Martial Arts. “Since people don’t readily talk about it, we don’t know where to get information. And the art itself deals with things that people are normally scared of. For instance, people aren’t always welcoming of the thought of holding a knife to practice ‘defending’ one’s self.”

Perhaps because of the danger involved in learning it, students of Philippine Martial Arts actually appreciate the craft more.

“Philippine Martial Arts is a finer skill to grasp. It takes time to learn it,” said Ann Margaret Monteclaro. She only started as her brother’s tag-along when he ventured to learn martial arts. But after years of training, she admitted she was hooked for life. “What I like best about it is I learn about Philippine history through the art. I like going to classes because the instructor always breaks into history lessons between our drills.”

Like many women who get into the sport, Monteclaro believes that learning Philippine Martial Arts helps her to become more confident  in knowing that she could defend herself in any given situation, against any imminent abuser or oppressor. But unbeknownst to many, a sport that can seem so masculine on the onset can actually be very feminine and Monteclaro underscores that.

“What’s interesting is that the moves are actually graceful and the patterns are almost dance-like. I actually enjoy learning the patterns and consider it as dancing. I did not have a chance to study dance like I wanted to. But I’m getting it from martial arts. I use Philippine Martial Arts as a feminine outlet for myself,” she said.

Clark Dizon, a Filipino-American student who’s taken up the art since 1989,  did tae kwon do for 4 years before delving into Philippine Martial Arts, said he is happy that the sport he’s learning is also giving him an understanding of where his culture came from.

And then, again, there are the younger ones who get into it for different reasons.

Four-year-old Madinique Shibata, half-Japanese and half-Filipino says he got into martial arts so she could “beat his dad.”

And if you think it sounds funny reading her quote, you have to watch to get the full effect of what she says. Catch Kababayan LA’s Philippine Martial Arts special at www.youtube.com/kababayanla18.