FMA master traps a weapon strike and executes a hammer fist on the ground

Leo T. Gaje Jr.

Read Part 1 of “5 Misconceptions About Escrima” here.

Read Part 2 of “5 Misconceptions About Escrima” here.

Read Part 3 of “5 Misconceptions About Escrima” here.

Read Part 4 of “5 Misconceptions About Escrima” here.

Misconception No. 5: Escrima Is a Weapons-Only Art

The belief that escrima is not a complete fighting art arises from more than one source. The first is the most obvious: When the art was first brought to the West, it was taught almost solely at seminars and was promoted as an add-on to whatever system the student was already studying. This was done to get the word out to as many people as possible as quickly as possible.

But in the rush, very few sophisticated empty-hand techniques were put out because they didn’t fit into the scenarios that had been created. If you advertise that something is an add-on to the student’s art, you can’t make it too complete; otherwise, it might be too difficult to justify the teaching methods.

The second reason has to do with the art itself and the range of variations practiced by different instructors. In actuality, there is no specific empty-hand system that accompanies escrima. Since styles of escrima vary so widely, why should we expect that all have the same empty-hand system?

Empty-hand FMA master faces an opponent armed with a stick Photos by Brandon Snider

In this respect, the Filipino martial arts are like the Chinese martial arts. If we look at the terms “escrima” and “kung fu,” we begin to see some similarities. There are hundreds of styles within the kung fu umbrella — with a wide variety of weapons, empty-hand and kicking styles. Most of these have a more specific name than just kung fu.

In escrima, however, there are at least as many styles of fighting as there are in China, maybe more because the Philippines is composed of some 7,000 islands. Yet martial artists don’t seem willing to recognize these differences.

Many escrimadors practice a form of fighting called pangamut, which is basically Philippine boxing with throwing and locking techniques. Others use fighting styles brought from other places and adapted to complement escrima stick techniques. These include judo and jujitsu, silat and Chinese-based kuntao. There is also the local grappling style dumog, along with many styles of kicking with names like sipa, sikaran and pananjakman.

Finally, there are escrima practitioners who developed an empty-hand system based almost completely on the motions of the stick and knife, and this has even more variations because of the differences in the way the practitioners use their sticks. All are escrima, but none is like any other.

Combatives for Street Survival book cover

Stick fighting is one of the many topics covered in this book from Black Belt!

If we add the first issue to the second, we can see things a little more clearly, perhaps. The seminar styles of escrima first taught in the West were actually aggregations of a variety of escrima styles. Instructors passed along systems that were drawn from many teachers and many styles. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it can cause a problem for the art.

Martial artists need to stop thinking of escrima as a single art, for it is not. Now that it's accepted as a legitimate system in the martial arts world, it's time to allow it to find its proper place. As happened to karate in the 1950s and 1960s and kung fu in the 1960s and 1970s, escrima needs to be recognized as a general term for a country’s fighting style. Then the various systems within that style can and should receive the exposure they deserve.

About the author: Steven C. Drape has practiced escrima for more than 17 years. He is the U.S. representative of the Institute of Filipino Martial Arts in Cebu, Republic of the Philippines.

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