Ola`a Nalo Eskrima
History of Eskrima
History of Eskrima-Martial Arts of the Philippines: The art of Filipino weaponry known as Eskrima, Escrima, Kali, Arnis or by many other names has a long and colorful past. A lot of its history has been lost as little was recorded in writing prior to the 1900's, but rather taught from father to son or daughter. Masters and teachers of the art would pass their knowledge and secrets to only those select few who were deserving of such training. In these modern times we are lucky to have some masters who have been and are currently willing to share their art with others. These masters are concerned with promoting the Filipino culture and demonstrating to the public that the Filipinos have a martial art of their own.
The development and history of Eskrima parallels the development of the Philippines as a nation. The various immigrants and invaders alike have had an extensive impact on the Philippine national history and its martial arts.
Around 200 A.D. Arab traders brought bladed metallic weapons and a fluid style of fighting to the islands. These Moslems, who settled on the southern islands of Mindanao, were noted for their tenacity and their ability to fend off invaders.
In the 9th century the Chinese began trading with the Philippines, bringing their flowing influence to Escrima. Trade was also heavy with Japan in the pre-Spanish years (around the 15th century) their blade methods and joint locking martial art systems effected additional changes in the Filipino martial arts. The Spanish merchants who followed Magellan in the mid-1500's brought their styles of "Espada y daga" (sword and dagger), which natives were also quick to adopt. All these outsiders have had a drastic effect on all the Filipino blade and stick fighting arts.
Development in Secrecy: The Spanish effort to control the people was the primary reason the art of Eskrima was driven into secrecy. During their move to Christianize, claim and exploit the Filipinos, the Spanish officials decided that the existing Filipino martial arts were too dangerous to their efforts to control the natives. Therefore, they announced that practicing Escrima was banned and the penalty for violation of the law was death. Eskrima became a covert martial art for over 400 years. Many moves, counter moves and techniques were lost during this period. However, many of the movements that were lost were replaced with movements that the Spanish brought with them. It should be noted, the Spanish did not control all the land in the Philippines, only the vital coastal and fringe areas; they dared not enter the forest and jungles, which were inhabited by countless snakes and the ferocious natives whose martial arts they had banned in the cities. By the 1900s, the Spanish oppression of the people had really taken its toll on the practicing of Eskrima. Few remained who knew the revered blade and stick movements.
In the 1900's the Americans came into the picture after defeating the Spanish in the Spanish American war of 1898. For five years, the Filipinos fought the Americans, who desired peace but resembled the Spanish too closely to be readily accepted by the Filipino people. However, the Americans brought their martial art of boxing which no doubt has influenced some of the more modern movements of Escrima.
Migration to Hawaii and the USA: When peaceful coexistence finally came, the Filipinos learned of the tremendous wealth of the American nation and many flocked to Hawaii and the USA hoping to strike it rich and return home wealthy. Once in America, however, the immigrants found that the streets were not lined with gold and that hard work six to seven days a week was the only way to earn a living, usually of low wages.
Modern Eskrima (1920-1950) took a giant step forward at this point because Escrimadors from all over the Philippines were brought together to work and live. Past suspicions and ethnic barriers were dropped as each ethnic group of plantation workers were responsible for their own section of land and their profits depended on the yield of their section. Competition for jobs was high because other immigrant workers were there competing for the same jobs as the Filipinos.
When Filipino men were not working in the fields in Hawaii and California, they gathered to practice Escrima to keep up their timing and movements. Lasting friendships developed between masters who, were it not for immigration would never have been brought together much less become friends.
Some of the elderly Filipinos in Hawaii remember the days when you could go to the old Civic Auditorium in Honolulu and watch full-contact matches: two men with sticks but no protective gear fighting it out until one could not continue. Combatants were devoted to their masters and their styles, each believing his style was better than his opponents and ready to prove it in the ring. In 1929 the matches were outlawed in the territory of Hawaii because of two deaths and constant serious injuries suffered by the participants.
Studying Eskrima: A student is first introduced to the art by learning basic stick exercises. He or she is shown the basic twelve offensive strikes. These are practiced extensively before the student is permitted to advance to the twelve basic defensive blocks. After the student becomes comfortable with the basics the more advanced forms are practiced, "doblekada" (two sticks), "espada y daga" (sword and dagger), "saboy" (one long stick), and staff (two handed stick).
One of the more exciting forms is "one for one" in which a strike is delivered, blocked by the opponent who follows with a strike to the closest area immediately after the block. This form of fighting can continue for long periods and is the closest thing to actual fighting. There are many variations such as hand-against-weapon and hand-against-hand. The most advanced forms of Escrima are the counter-for-counter movements. The loser is determined when he/she cannot counter the other's move.
Emphasis is placed on the student's ability to learn and progress, advancement in the ranks is based on ability and the observation of the instructors rather than merely the length of time spent in class. One student may advance quickly while another may be slow to advance, but everyone is given the same chance to learn.
Fluidity, rhythm and timing are the three key elements to learning Eskrima. There are few sharp, abrupt movements, only smooth flowing transitions from each movement to the next. The flowing skills are the most important and most difficult to learn and apply.
Respect for the master, the instructors and all other martial arts schools are a vital part of the training. The spiritual and physical aspects of Escrima are nurtured simultaneously. As in the former days of Escrima, secrecy and self control are stressed. It is only in public demonstrations that the student is encouraged to share their martial knowledge. In days of past, many of the old Escrima Masters would choose to die with their martial knowledge rather than teach it to someone that might disgrace the Master and/or his style. Remember to always respect the art and the master.
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