I REMEMBER the first time I was introduced to arnis--or kali--as a third grade cub scout in South Cotabato. The unforgettable experience made me swear off anything related to the martial art, even if the instructors proudly said it was a Filipino art.
Heck, I don’t think any of the hundreds of fellow scouts that time appreciated anything the instructors said. It was during one of the hottest days during the jamboree when the instructors made us all line up under the heat of the sun to teach us the basics of arnis. The absence of a sound system didn’t help as we were reduced to mimicking whatever the instructors up the stage were doing.
Worse, while we the scouts had to deal with the sun, the instructors up the stage were under the shade, doing their own thing that only they understand. Scouts are naturally a disciplined bunch; that we had a revolt of sorts after almost three hours after doing kali should tell you how hellish the experience was. We didn’t want to do any of their moves anymore because it was getting too hot and they were not giving us any water breaks.
That was my first experience with kali or arnis, and for years, I’ve carried that with me. I’ve always thought that arnis is just a martial art with a couple of sticks.
But that’s wrong, and it’s a misconception that most Pinoys have of arnis and eskrima. And that’s the challenge for the Philippine Eskrima Kali Arnis Federation. Changing the mindset of an ignorant populace.
A few years ago, while dropping by the Doce Pares headquarters in Sto. Niño Village, I was told there was an ongoing special session for Israeli special forces instructors, who had travelled all the way to the Philippines to learn the art from Supreme Grandmaster Dionisio Cañete, so they, in turn, could teach their soldiers. That should tell you that eskrima is not just a martial art with a couple of sticks.
I dropped by the Pekaf tournament at SM Seaside the other day, and as always, I was impressed with the number of foreign participants. Foreigners love our martial arts so much that our grandmasters drool and wish that Filipinos also have the same love for the martial art.
But for most, it’s just a martial art with a couple of sticks.
I also had a talk with Eric Mosqueda, the Wekaf country director for Qatar. And the master who learned from the legends like SGM Diony, Cacoy briefly showed why it’s not just a martial art with sticks as he used a ballpen to demonstrate how to parry or avoid a knife attack.
How to change that misconception, I think, is going to be Pekaf’s biggest challenge. And I believe they can do it. It already did the almost impossible job of uniting the fractured arnis community under one organization, playing under one set of rules. Coming up with something basic to be taught to the students or boy scouts is peanuts compared to that. And I’m sure, unlike my first instructor, Pekaf-trained instructors will leave the right impression on the students, not make them swear off the martial art.