Escrima

FMA 101: A Practical Primer on the Filipino Martial Arts

In this post, Julius Melegrito — who’s on the cover of the April/May 2017 issue of Black Belt, shown below — explains key concepts from the group of styles commonly referred to as the Filipino Martial Arts: escrima, kali and arnis. If you haven’t started your FMA training yet, this will whet your appetite. If you’re a veteran of the stick-fighting and knife-fighting arts, you’ll have your memory jogged even if you don’t learn anything new. — Editor

Classics: “Your whole purpose in classical Filipino stick fighting is to hit your opponent until he’s out of the fight — you don’t mess around with other techniques like traps,” Julius Melegrito says.

Julius Melegrito on the cover of the April/May 2017 issue of Black Belt.

Targets: “In practice, you use your stick to hit his stick as close to his gripping hand as you can manage while staying safe, but in a real fight, you’d hit the hand,” Julius Melegrito says. “It usually makes him drop his weapon. Of course, in a fight, an attempt to hit his hand might miss, which is why you practice follow-ups.”

Follow-Up: Melegrito likes to use an empty hand — assuming he’s not holding a second stick — to check the opponent’s hand right after it’s hit. That’s his insurance policy: If the strike doesn’t have the intended effect for whatever reason, Melegrito can prevent the man from bringing the hand back into action. He immediately follows up with a stick strike to the forearm, elbow, face, neck or some other available target.

Simplicity: “You don’t try to grab him or do anything else,” Julius Melegrito says. “You just hit anything that comes at you — be it a hand, a knife or whatever. Whoever hits first usually wins the battle.”

Legs: If the opponent kicks, the same principles apply, Melegrito says. Aim for the foot or ankle, check the leg if necessary and then follow up. Don’t try to trap the leg.

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Schism: “In classical stick fighting, the stick is treated like a sword — which means all strikes are regarded as cuts,” Julius Melegrito says. “If you’re doing the classical arts, you don’t touch the stick because that would be like touching a sharp sword blade. In modern Filipino stick fighting, however, the stick is treated like a stick.”

Modern Approach: “In the modern arts, it’s OK to touch the stick,” he says. “After all, it’s a stick, not a sword. You just treat it as an impact weapon. When the guy swings at you, you intercept his strike with a strike from your stick — aimed at his hand — then you grab his weapon close to his hand if he doesn’t drop it. Grabbing it allows you to use it against him or take it away.”

Options: “Once you grab his stick, move it out of the way if you want to strike,” Julius Melegrito says. “If he holds onto it, his arm will be carried along with the weapon, which will leave his body open for your counterstrike. If he tries to kick, you can maneuver the stick down to block his shin, then hit his body with your stick. Or you can use his stick to lock his arm. At any point, you have the option of switching to the classical approach and just hitting him.”

Disarms: Part of modern stick fighting is separating your opponent from his weapon, Melegrito says. As he already mentioned, you can hit the hand holding the stick with the intention of making him drop it. You also can leverage it out of his hand using a twisting motion. Or you can use your stick to push his stick out of his hand in such a way that it goes flying. This last category of techniques he calls “projectile disarms.”

Warning: “Disarming an attacker is a good concept for self-defense, but before you can disarm him, you have to grab his stick, and to do that safely, you have to understand the angles at which it’s dangerous,” Julius Melegrito says. “Of course, it helps if you ‘soften’ him up with a strike before you try the disarm. Then it’s easier to use leverage to force the stick out of his hand.”

Theory: “In modern stick fighting, the whole idea is if you can hit his hand, you can probably grab his stick, and if you can grab his stick, you can disarm him,” he says. “If it’s a knife, that changes things a little — your survival depends on being …

10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Filipino Martial Arts

1. Sticks are an extension of the hands; without the hands, there can be no sticks.

This is worth knowing because people still like to ask, sometimes sarcastically, “Why do you practice stick fighting — it’s not like you carry sticks everywhere you go?” It’s good to be able to answer them, and it’s good to be able to remind yourself when you need to.

Although practitioners of many styles do lip service to this statement, only practitioners of the Filipino martial arts back it up by doing the same exact techniques with and without weapons.

2. The Filipino martial arts (kali, escrima, arnis) teach weapons first, after which come the empty-hand techniques.

Although it may seem backward to some martial artists, most, if not all, FMA hand-to-hand combat techniques originate from the principles that underlie the historical stick and sword movements.

3. The Filipino martial arts represent the most well-rounded and practical fighting techniques in the world.

How so? They’re well-rounded in that they cover all distances in which combat takes place: long range (kicking), middle range (boxing, elbowing, kneeing) and short range (grabbing, poking, biting, grappling).

They’re practical in that they don’t focus on fancy or complicated moves that are likely to fail under duress.

Even the forms (anyo) used by some Filipino systems are composed of actual fighting moves. Historically, those components were hidden in a dance (sayaw) for a variety of reasons.

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The practicality of the Filipino arts is enhanced by the versatility of the weapons. At long range, you can use the tip of the stick or sword; at middle range, you can use the body of the stick or the blade of the sword; and at short range, you can use the bottom part of the stick (punyo) or handle of the sword.

4. The Filipino martial arts are the only ones that can complement any other fighting style.

They don’t conflict with other styles; they actually strengthen them. That includes kicking arts, hand-based arts, pure self-defense arts, and grappling and throwing arts.

5. Stick fighting is suitable — and beneficial — for everyone.

For children, sinawali is appropriate. This form of double-stick fighting strengthens the limbs and develops hand-eye coordination as well as any sport. Kids also benefit from the character training that occurs when they learn how to safely handle weapons that are potentially dangerous. For many, this setting is preferable to the old way — which is how I learned. When I was young, my grandfather taught me to handle a live blade while learning how to use it for survival and self-defense. (My first lesson: how to hand a knife to another person.)

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For women, the Filipino arts are perfect because even the smallest hands can hold a knife and wield it in deadly fashion. With minimal training, a woman will be able to keep almost any sane attacker at bay. For the insane ones who approach anyway, they risk getting cut or killed.

Don’t believe it? Try this experiment: Give a woman you know a marker, then attempt to get close to her without getting inked. It’s not easy to do. Once she’s taught how to discreetly carry and draw the weapon, your task will be exponentially tougher. Suitably armed, she’ll be able to truly protect herself, even against multiple attackers.

For police officers and members of the military, the Filipino arts provide an essential set of skills — namely, those that involve the tactical knife. Our fighting men and women need real blade skills, both offensive and defensive, and the Filipino arts are among the few on earth that have been tested in battle.

6. The Filipino martial arts help you connect the dots in your self-defense training by focusing on versatile concepts rather than a different technique for every situation.

FMA instructors talk about angles of attack rather than specific attacks. Once you’re able to discern whether an attack is coming from the inside or the outside and whether it’s from the left or the right, you have the base you need to deal with it. After that, your training will be about progressions and combinations involving those basics.

If your instructor is good, you won’t ever find yourself splitting hairs over whether you need to …

FMA Up Close: Arnis Grandmaster Crispulo Atillo

Few people in the world can truly be called a grandmaster of arnis. Fewer still have studied with the original Filipino masters or fought in stick-fighting challenge matches. Crispulo “Ising” Atillo is one of those rare people.

History

Crispulo Atillo was 14 years old when he began his formal training in 1952 under arnis legend Venancio “Anciong” Bacon, but his first fighting experience came at a much younger age. During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in the early 1940s, Crispulo Atillo’s father was a member of the resistance, and more than once both father and son narrowly avoided capture. It was also during these war years that he witnessed Venancio Bacon and another legendary balintawak master, Teodoro Saavedra, fight in challenge matches.

These early experiences left a deep impression on the young Crispulo Atillo and made him a lifelong devotee of the original style of balintawak arnis.

After World War II, the only surviving balintawak master was Venancio Bacon. It was from him that Crispulo Atillo learned most of this single-stick style. But Crispulo Atillo’s father was also a student of the late Teodoro Saavedra, and the senior Atillo passed those skills along to his son. The result was a style of arnis that made the junior Atillo one of the best ambassadors of arnis in the Philippines.


Your Filipino martial arts training starts with this FREE download!
Escrima Sticks 101: Julius Melegrito’s Practical Primer on the
Fighting Arts of the Philippines


Technique

Crispulo Atillo’s balintawak arnis is a single-stick style. The free hand is used for controlling the opponent’s stick. When a student begins training, he starts with basic blocks, strikes and stances that are common to most styles of balintawak. The stick is held vertically and directly in front of the face while the practitioner swivels from side to side to block attacks. Crispulo Atillo then teaches stick-to-stick drills, followed by stick-and-hand drills — all of which lead up to his specialty, sparring.

In the Philippines, Crispulo Atillo is famous as a fighter, and his style reflects this. It emphasizes simple techniques and footwork. In fact, like many boxing coaches, Crispulo Atillo believes that mastering stances and footwork is the most important part of fighting. They, along with the vertical-stick defense, are given a great deal of attention in his style of balintawak.

Crispulo Atillo claims that his fights are what really make him a master of arnis. He has fought in four full-contact challenge matches with no protective gear and banged sticks with some of the biggest names in the Filipino martial arts. In fact, he fought doce pares grandmaster Ciriaco “Cacoy” Cañete in the last officially sanctioned “death match” in the Philippines in 1983. While the fight ended in controversy — both sides claimed victory after less than a minute of fighting — it was the kind of encounter that most arnis practitioners never even come close to experiencing.

Future

Crispulo Atillo said his goals include sharing his art with stick fighters in other countries. He has a special fondness for the United States because of childhood memories of his father fighting alongside American soldiers during World War II. Crispulo Atillo is truly interested in teaching his style to the world, and he now has students in Europe and the United States.

His dream of spreading his art is an admirable one. In a world that seems bent on making everything contemporary and overly complex, Crispulo Atillo is one of the last remaining masters of original balintawak trying to pass on an uncomplicated but powerful martial art as he enters his twilight years.

Resources
To download a FREE Guide titled “Stick Combat: Learn Doce Pares Eskrima’s Most Painful Self-Defense Moves,” go here.

Modern-Arnis Techniques Master Remy Presas: A Stick-Combat Legend Remembered (Part 2)

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published as “Remy Presas, Founder of Modern Arnis: Pioneer of the Philippine Arts Is Still Polishing and Spreading His System” in the August 1998 issue of Black Belt — prior to Remy Presas’ passing in 2001. To preserve the article’s tone and historical context, the time references have been left intact. Read Part 1 of this profile here.


Testimony Regarding Modern-Arnis Founder Remy Presas

In recent years, Remy Presas has focused his energies on running intensive training camps hosted by his students in major cities across the United States. The camps last three to four days, beginning at 9 a.m. and often lasting until midnight. Remy Presas offers apprentice, basic and advanced instructor certification, as well as belt testing for rank within the modern-arnis organization.


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Escrima Sticks 101: Julius Melegrito’s Practical Primer on the
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Editor’s Note: As stipulated at the top of this article, this piece was originally printed before Remy Presas’ death. These testimonies are presented in the interest of celebrating modern-arnis founder Remy Presas’ legacy as a stick-combat technician and instructor. Our hope is that today’s modern-arnis instructors and students will appreciate and learn from such comments as guides for how they themselves may teach or practice arnis techniques as part of their own martial arts curriculum. Please note that small-circle jujitsu developer Wally Jay was also alive during the article’s original run.

Dr. Randi Schea, a modern-arnis black belt from Houston and grandson of tai chi expert Kwie Tjeng Schea, began studying with Remy Presas in 1982 and attended many of the first camps.

“Professor Presas is able to stimulate the creative mindset in his students,” Dr. Randi Schea says. “His exciting teaching methods enable him to cut across egos, stylistic barriers and biases. I especially like the way his various drills and exercises interconnect and develop practical applications. He taught me to allow my techniques to flow. When I first started modern-arnis training, the camps were 14 days long and not once were we ever bored. The professor’s energy was contagious, and we only stopped for meals and sleep because he insisted we needed to. Professor Presas is not only the most creative and gifted fighter in the martial arts today; he is also the most generous teacher and human being I’ve ever met.”


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Stick Combat: Learn Doce Pares Eskrima’s Most Painful Self-Defense Moves


Ron Van Browning, an expert in san soo kung fu and trainer of world-class submission fighters and kickboxers in Dallas, credits Remy Presas with bringing a fluidity and directness to his techniques. “The professor forces you to relax and realize that your techniques are already there,” Ron Van Browning says. “The whole point of blending styles is not to water down your system but to strengthen and expand it. The professor accomplishes this through his own willingness to grow and learn. Just being around him renews my excitement toward the martial arts. He’s a lot of fun.”

Chuck Gauss, defensive-tactics instructor for the Taylor Police Department near Detroit, uses his modern-arnis training daily. “I was bored with judo and went to a one-day seminar featuring the professor and Wally Jay of small-circle jujitsu,” Chuck Gauss says. “That was it; I was hooked. The techniques fit right in with the pressure-point control tactics that we teach, but they are much more complete and effective. Since a police officer always carries a gun, every confrontation is an armed confrontation. If the one technique the officer learned during basic training doesn’t work, the result is panic, which almost always leads to excessive force. With modern arnis, a following technique is always there, and it represents an avenue to avoid excessive force while maintaining control of the suspect and the situation.”


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Human Pressure Points: 3 Jujitsu Techniques by
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Terry Wareham has been hosting camps at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, for the past 10 years. Originally a tang soo do stylist, he began working with Remy Presas in the early 1980s. “The professor is a fascinating character and truly exciting to be around,” Terry Wareham says. “He likes to expand and work with ideas in a way that is truly unique.”

Remy Presas: Recognition of the Modern Arnis Founder’s Achievements

In 1982, stick-combat legend Remy Presas was inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame as Instructor of the Year. In 1994, he was again honored by Black Belt as Weapons Instructor of the Year. “When I think of how modern arnis has grown in the United States and around the world, I cannot help …

Modern-Arnis Techniques Master Remy Presas: A Stick-Combat Legend Remembered (Part 1)

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published as “Remy Presas, Founder of Modern Arnis: Pioneer of the Philippine Arts Is Still Polishing and Spreading His System” in the August 1998 issue of Black Belt — prior to Remy Presas’ passing in 2001. To preserve the article’s tone and historical context, the time references have been left intact.


For more than 50 years, Remy Amador Presas has pursued his passion for the stick, knife, sword, dagger and empty hand — all in the name of modern arnis, the Philippine martial art he created and continues to refine.

Modern arnis is one of the most popular, efficient and easy-to-learn systems of self-defense in the world — and Remy Presas continues to spread the style by conducting seminars and workshops around the globe. In fact, the humble master is responsible for pioneering the modern martial arts seminar by teaching his art to students of any style or level, as long as they are willing to pick up a stick and open their mind.


Take your stick fighting to a whole new level with this FREE download!
Stick Combat: Learn Doce Pares Eskrima’s Most Painful Self-Defense Moves


Modern-Arnis Techniques Master Remy Presas: The Man

Remy Presas began his study of arnis techniques at age 6. He learned from his father, Jose Presas, in the small fishing village of Hinigaran, Negros Occidental, in the Philippines. Remy Presas left home at age 14 so he could pursue his interest in the fighting arts practiced on the many islands of his homeland. These arts were blends of systems from all over the world: Thailand, China, Spain, Indonesia, Japan and India. They had reached the islands as the people of the Philippines interacted, traded and fought with these diverse nations. Remy Presas refined and blended the important aspects of tjakele, arnis de mano, karate, jujitsu and dumog into the art he named modern arnis.
Modern arnis founder Remy Presas with a machete.
“Long ago, arnis was a dying art,” modern-arnis techniques master Remy Presas says. “The old practitioners believed the cane was sacred. This meant they would always aim at the hand of their training partner and not at the cane for practice. Most of the students got hurt right away and immediately lost interest. I modernized this and promoted hitting the cane instead for practice. Then I identified the basic concepts of the many Filipino systems I had learned to bring a unity to the diverse systems of my country. This way, we could all feel the connection.”

Remy Presas prefers to use the term “arnis” over the term kali. “In the West, you hear the words kali and escrima used a lot,” he says. “These terms mean basically the same thing, but if you say kali or escrima, not many people in the Philippines will know what you are talking about. Arnis best reflects the Philippine culture because it is a Tagalog word.” Tagalog is the national language of the Philippines.

“In the Philippines,” Remy Presas continues, “if someone heard you were a good arnis player, they would challenge you — anywhere. I did challenging, also. We fought in the streets, alleys, parks — all kinds of places. Sometimes there were very bad injuries, but I did not lose.”

Remy Presas’ experience and prowess with modern-arnis techniques were unsurpassed. By 1970, he had created a sensation in his country. His Modern Arnis Federation of the Philippines boasted more than 40,000 members. In 1975, he left the Philippines on a good-will tour sponsored by that country’s government to spread information about modern-arnis techniques around the globe. Since arriving in the United States, the art has grown rapidly.

Modern-Arnis Techniques: “The Art Within the Art”

Collectively, modern-arnis techniques are often referred to as “the art within the art.” Modern-arnis techniques are based on patterns and theories of movement instead of static moves and drills. Rather than learning complex forms and one-step sparring drills for each weapon, students learn the fundamentals of natural movement and use the same patterns of attack and defense in response to each direction, type and intensity of attack. This is true regardless of whether they are holding a sword, dagger, stick or no weapon at all. In addition, modern-arnis techniques lead into a countless variety of disarms, throws and locks using the maximum leverage available from whatever weapon is being used.

At the advanced level, patterns in modern-arnis techniques give way to a continuation of movement. This facet of the art is often referred to as the “flow.” Flowing refers to the way in which arnis practitioners transition effortlessly from one technique to the next as they sense the movements and attacks of their opponent and respond automatically and continuously.

This sensitivity is developed through a free-form sparring exercise called tapi-tapi. It’s a technique similar to the chi sao

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