Grandmaster Benjamin Luna Lema, Founder of Lightning Scientific Arnis International (LSAI). Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A few years ago, I was looking for a sport to replace basketball. I love the game but age had caught up with me and I was already feeling some discomfort in my knee. Then I learned that a friend of mine was into Filipino Martial Arts (FMA). I had always loved to learn martial arts even as a kid, but my desire was cut short one day when my 7-year old self came home from an impromptu karate class at a neighbor’s house, and I told my dad I wanted to join, and he said no.

And that was that.

But then I was around 40 already, and dad could no longer object, so I decided to see what it was all about. At this stage, the only exposure I had to it was seeing a trailer of the Lito Lapid movie, Kamagong, back in high school — and it portrayed two people holding two sticks each in both hands trying to hit each other. So my first thought going in was that FMA was all about using sticks.

I was about to get an education.

I entered the gym to observe the action. My longtime friend and former college roommate, Joepot, met me and explained things as we went along.

Filipino Martial Arts is also called arnis or kali or escrima. Practitioners are called arnisadors or escrimadors. Unlike most other martial arts where beginners learn to fight with bare hands, and are only made to handle weapons at higher levels, novice escrimadors are taught to use sticks right from the start.

The logic is pretty straightforward: As a beginner, if you get into a real fight, you need every advantage you can get. If you went home that night after your first lesson, and found yourself face to face with an intruder inside your house, would you rather face him with your bare hands or armed with a weapon?

In other martial arts, you might spend months or years training before you are prepared to get into a real fight. In arnis, you are taught how to whack someone hard on the head as your first lesson, which is probably as good a defense as any if you find yourself backed to a corner.

As the lessons progress, the weapons become shorter, you move from stick to knife to empty hand. So the assumption is that you only fight with your bare hands when your skill level is high enough, but even then, the basic philosophy is to seize every advantage you can. Any object within reach can be a weapon — a bottle, a vase, even your cellphone. There is no such thing as a fair fight, especially on the street.

My friend then told a story of his law school classmate who approached him one day, after learning that he was an FMA instructor. This classmate said, “So what would you do if I rushed you like this?” And he suddenly rushed headfirst trying to grapple my friend in a bear hug, but he suddenly stopped short when he saw that my friend held a ballpen in his hand aimed towards his attacker’s oncoming head.

“Hey, that’s not fair,” he said.

“Well, you asked me what I would do. That’s exactly what I would do,” my friend replied.

Arnis teaches one to have a healthy respect of weapons, especially knives. The worst thing that a martial art can teach is false confidence — for you to face an armed attacker thinking that you can grapple with him or disarm him with techniques you learned just the other night. Most of the time, the best defense is to run, or to distract or hurt your opponent enough for you to run away.

After that introduction, I was sold.


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Learn Arnis with Mandirigmang Kaliradman YMCA Chapter at the Davao YMCA Gym (near Central Bank/Sutherland Global Services) along Jacinto Ext., Davao City, 6PM to 8PM (T-Th-S).

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