MANILA. Philippines—it’s time Filipinos learned the basics of the native martial arts "arnis."
President Macapagal-Arroyo has signed a law declaring arnis as the national martial art and sport and mandating that arnis competitions be the first to be played at the annual national games.
Arnis—derived from the Spanish word “arnes,” which literally means armor—is known nationwide and even in other countries. But it often plays second fiddle to the foreign martial arts taekwondo, judo and karate in terms of prominence.
This martial art involves the use of one or a pair of wooden sticks as a weapon and a training tool meant to simulate a knife or a sword.
Also known as eskrima, kali and garrote, and by various other names in the Philippine regions, it is characterized by the use of swinging and twirling movements, accompanied by striking, thrusting and parrying techniques for defense and offense. Bare-hand fighting is also an integral part of the art.
Filipino action star Ronnie Ricketts is a known advocate of arnis, often featuring it in his movies such as “Mano Mano 3 Arnis ... The Lost Art.”
It has also made a mark in Hollywood. The renowned Filipino-American martial arts instructor Dan Inosanto used it in the movie “The Bourne Identity,” where he was the fight choreographer.
“Mission Impossible 3” and “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” also featured fight scenes with the lead stars—Tom Cruise and Angelina Jolie, respectively—using the Filipino fighting sticks.
In June 2008, the Discovery Channel came to Manila to feature arnis for its show “Fight Quest.” At a briefing in Malacañang, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde told reporters that he trained in arnis during his youth in Cebu.
“I’m particularly happy about [Republic Act 9850] because arnis or eskrima is quite popular in Cebu. In fact, the most prominent arnis grandmaster is from Cebu in the person of Mr. Ciriaco Cañete,” Remonde said, adding: “I was able to train in arnis. I’ve forgotten about it, and it warms my heart because this is something that’s our own, which has made a name in international martial arts. And so in recognition of this, we’ve made arnis the national martial art or sport.” RA (Republic Art) 9850, which was signed by Ms Arroyo on Dec. 11, conforms with the state policy to inculcate patriotism, nationalism and appreciation of the role of national heroes and symbols in the Philippines’ historical development.
“The state must give priority to education, science and technology, arts and culture, and sports to foster patriotism and nationalism, accelerate social progress, and promote total human liberation and development,” it states.
With the enactment of RA 9850, the symbol of arnis will be inscribed in the official seal of the Philippine Sports Commission.
An arnis competition will be the first to be played at the annual Palarong Pambansa. The PSC is tasked to lead the implementation of the provisions of the law and to promulgate the rules and regulations, along with the Department of Education and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.
Arnis was said to be widely practiced among the natives before the Spanish era, but its popularity began to wane at the beginning of the 20th century.
In 1975, the National Arnis Association of the Philippines was formed by Fabian C. Ver, the dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ trusted lieutenant. The organization was replaced by Arnis Philippines—later to become Arnis Philippines Inc. (Arpi)—on July 11, 1986. With the objectives of “preserving our culture and the dying art of arnis” and “develop[ing] the sport aspect of arnis for and in the hope of its inclusion in major sports events like the Southeast Asian Games, Asian Games and ultimately, the Olympics,” among others, Arpi successfully lobbied for the inclusion of arnis in the 1991 and 2005 Southeast Asian Games.
The Philippines dominated the sport in the two SEAG appearances, winning 10 of the 14 gold medals at stake in 1991, and bagging the top spot along with Vietnam in 2005.
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