Arnis: Philippine Martial Art

Arnis is the national sport of the Philippines, originating from a long tradition of sword- and stick-based fighting methods. Contemporary practitioners use it as a form of self-defense or a combative art for competitions. In the western world, Arnis is usually used for self-defense where assaults involve knives and other weapons. This is because Arnis focuses on disarming the enemy.

Arnis is comparable to Brazilian Capoeira in that both evolved out of oppressive necessity, During the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, the natives were already doing a weapon-based martial art style, known as "eskrima" from the Spanish word for fencing. As a Spanish decree forbade the natives from toting full-length swords, eskrima practitioners developed the style, swapping blades with sticks. The style developed into Arnis ("armor" in Spanish). The name was given in reference to how the actors in Moro-Moro plays wore armors and fought by using swords constructed from wood.

It was Remy Presas who invented Modern Arnis back in the 1960s. For Modern Arnis, Presas took traditional elements of the Arnis and mixed it with the Japanese martial art styles Judo and Shotokan Karate. In 1974, Presas moved to America from the Philippines. That was when the US had its very first taste of Modern Arnis. Although Presas passed on in 2001, numerous institutions, including the World Modern Arnis Alliance, continue to teaching his style of martial art.

Modern Arnis stresses a number of the values traditionally found in other fighting styles, including discipline, student loyalty, and self-control. The cardinal principles as laid out by Presas in 1974 emphasize the belief that violence is born out of self-preservation and is not natural. Modern Arnis is permeated by caution and highlights respect for the opponent. The style's key goal is the disarm the enemy, a maxim called "defanging the snake".

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Modern Arnis students make use of rattan sticks as soon as they start their training, though they also train in bare-hands defense. To disarm the opponent, Modern Arnis students employ blocks, counter attacks, throws, and locks. While they train, students direct their strikes at the rattan sticks held by their adversary. In a real life fight situation, however, the strikes must be aimed towards the hands bearing the weapons to totally disarm the enemy.

Just like other martial art styles, Modern Arnis ranks its students based on belt colors. There are 6 belt color levels ("Likas") and 10 black belt levels ("Lakan"). The highest level is the grandmaster level. The training and practice requirements for obtaining belts range from three months for the beginning levels to 20-30 years for the senior master levels. To acquire the higher levels, an individual should train for life.

In the US, you will find several Modern Arnis schools. You'll find unofficial Modern Arnis schools and clubs that teach variations of the style. Nevertheless, the quality of instruction can vary among institutions. The Modern Arnis Remy P. Presas International Organization (MARPPIO) issues licenses to schools to teach Modern Arnis based upon Presas' directions. These are in San Pablo, California; Royal Palm Beach, Florida; Sterling Heights, Michigan; Davenport, Iowa; Vineland, New Jersey; and Midwest, Iowa. The MARPPIO also sets up annual summer camps with events, classes and training.