Escrima Squad of the International Academy of WingChun

Escrima Squad of the International Academy of WingChun

Escrima is an essential part of advanced WingChun training. Without the knowledge of weapon fighting the pre-primary level and the technician grades can not be achieved. The attainment of these high degrees of WingChun requires a corresponding ability in dealing with simple weapons.

In our Escrima we teach the deployment of functional weapons from diverse cultures. Starting with the simple stick, lessons then move from the machete on to the various types of swords. We also incorporate training with knives, shields, even long pole and double knives (in the scene often misinterpreted as top secret), farther tonfa, palmstick and (for special bodily training) unusual weapons such as the battle axe.

Our way is the unconditional avoidance of converting a weapons art into a sport. We waste no time with competitions or spectator events. Such misappropriation of an art is the exact opposite of what is taught in my academies. Lessons and practice should be done with the purpose of learning the pragmatic use of a certain weapon or combination of weapons. The context of and connection to reality, which students must never lose sight of, is indispensable. This approach protects us from injury, optimizes bodily training, and cultivates a necessary respect, not only for other students, but as much so for the various weapons. Physical self-mastery, an alert mind, and firm initiative are the first stages to which we strive.

Escrima was at one time a generic term for various styles of weapons arts, and was most likely derived from the Spanish term for fencing, Esgrima. In French, the word for fencing, Escrime, is similar as well. However, the most prevalent term for stick fighting is Arnis, which is synonymous with Escrima (meaning "weapon fighting"). Arnis or Arnis de Mano, comes from Spanish and may be translated as "armor (protection) of the hand" since weaponless techniques were viewed as rather secondary in this art. In earlier times, the word Kali was used, which consists of the words Camot and Lehok and can be interpreted as "hand movement". Up until the beginning of the 15th century, no significant weapons combat arts were taught in the Philippines. Only through and with attempts at colonization were functional weapon combat arts in the Philippines known.

Escrima evolved over the centuries via Indian, Indonesian, Malay, and Spanish influences into a distinct weapon combat art. This is a fact that the Filipino pride does not like to accept. Often I read "Filipino weapon martial arts" and smile, because were not the Filipinos the losers? That's what I call a historical misunderstanding.

Portuguese sailor and conqueror Ferdinand Magellan (who was sailing under the Spanish flag) was one of the first Europeans to make an uncomfortable acquaintance with the Filipinos proficiency with weapons. After Magellan landed on the central Filipino island of Mactan, he tried to validate Spanish crown claims on the surrounding islands. When the islanders resisted, the battle of Mactan took place on April 27, 1521, during which the Spanish conquerors were completely destroyed by Lapu Lapu and his warriors. Ferdinand Magellan was killed in this battle. From the notes of the Italian chronologist Antonio Pigaffetta, who belonged to Magellan's fleet, it can be gathered that, due to extremely effective fighting techniques, the warriors of Lapu Lapu, equipped only with machetes, hardwood sticks, short swords and spears, defeated the well-armed Spanish army. Let us now turn from myth to historical events. Magellan had only 45 men armed with spears, halberds, simple armor and a few small firearms. The warrior king Lapu Lapu had over 1100 island inhabitants on his side. Magellan's force was therefore well outnumbered (almost 25 to one), and therefore it is not such a great surprise that he lost his life in the flurry of arrows and spears. In the historical recording of this event, this circumstance is not often taken into consideration, along with the fact that in the end Magellan's ship did manage to escape. In most of the stories about the evolution of Escrima, the natives´┐Ż skill and proficiency with weapons is overly emphasized. There is one subsequently relevant event that is completely forgotten: in the year 1571 another Spanish explorer came with orders to colonize the islands. This time the Spanish weapons arts were far superior to those of the Filipinos. The Spanish ship canons were at this point still very inexact and could in no way compensate for the Spanish force's smaller number of fighters. Additionally, the Spanish were also very far from their homes and families and had to fight under uncustomary climatic conditions.

Thus, the Spanish came back half a century later with a much larger army and began nearly 400 years of occupation of the Philippines. Nonetheless, in Filipino recorded history the prevailing influence of the Spanish is seldom mentioned, and the Spanish weapons masters to an even lesser extent, or not at all. It is, however, evident that the Spanish rapier and dagger system had a great influence on the Filipino weapons arts. Already in the mid-15th century, the Spanish and Portuguese sailors used cutting and thrusting swords. During this time there were very famous Spanish and Italian masters such as Manciolino, Marozzo and Altoni, and later on, in the rapier style, Spanish masters such as Carranza and De Narvaes. For the Spanish, the rapier was a weapon of the upper class. The seamen were trained with short, light, thrusting and cutting blades and made sure in their training that the main goal was to slash up their opponents quickly. It is certain that, due to the attempts of other cultures through the ages to conquer their land, the Filipinos learned a great deal and improved their already effective martial art. Oftentimes, the winners are victims of their military success and forget the basis and origins of their superiority. In order to get a broad view of the Western martial arts, historical facts should be accepted regardless of ethical pride or political correctness. The most important argument for why Filipino warriors used primarily sticks and Bolos (similar to machetes) and only rarely swords in fighting is, among other things, that they were technologically behind in metalworking. Even though the technology was later improved, this did not have much effect on the art's development, as all weapons were confiscated by the Spanish feudal lords anyway. Thus fire-hardened sticks and machetes (used also as working tools) remained the folk weapons of the Filipinos, to whom the Spanish Renaissance owes the revaluation of its already existing martial arts with sword forms, sword and shield, and sword and knife. Thus it could be possible that, from existing styles such as Serrada, (Single Weapon), Dos Manos and Banda y Banda (Two Hands and Double Stick) or Caneda de Mano (Chain Hands), new styles like Espada y Daga (Sword and Dagger) came into existence.

During the Spanish and then American, as well as later Japanese occupation, Escrima remained a secret art 'against the will of the occupying forces' and was passed on from generation to generation within family and friend circles. Determined neither by religious nor sport aspects, Escrima evolved into one of the most feared and effective of the weapons arts. When this art once again emerged from the underground, the Spanish did not recognize it, as Escrima was camouflaged as a dance to folk music, in which the movements were done in a dance-like manner without weapons. This dance even appealed to the Spanish and was thus permitted to be performed openly during festivities. The weapons art was, however, by no means dead, a fact which was apparent to the occupying forces each time there was a revolt. In 1898, at the end of the Spanish occupation, when the Americans took power, the weapons prohibition was finally lifted. Friendly public competitions took place during festivities, yet teachers still did not open their doors and Escrima remained a secret art. At the beginning of the 20th century, many Filipinos immigrated to the USA, mostly to Hawaii and California (especially Stockton), from where international proliferation of the weapons arts later began. In the mid-1960s, the weapons arts saw a revival under the guise of sports for commercial reasons. The consequence of altering the original techniques and fighting principles was widespread proliferation, while the effectiveness of the once feared weapons art was progressively lost. Because of contrived regulations, the practical application and combative meaning of a martial art is degraded when competitions are made possible. Today there are very few Escrima teachers who are in a position to teach functional techniques and concepts.

In countless martial conflicts and one-on-one confrontations during the course of many centuries, only the most effective methods and concepts can stand their ground. Similar to the European duels with swords, sabers and rapiers which took place in past centuries, bloody one-on-one fights between rival Escrima styles were not uncommon in the Philippines up until only a few decades ago. These so-called challenge fights were traditionally carried out without protective armor nor constraining rules. In most cases, the fighters each used 60-65 cm long rattan or hardwood sticks, with a bout ending only when one of the opponents either gave up or was unable to fight anymore. Up until the 1960s Escrima could still claim to be a pure warring art. Every Escrima expert who began to teach independently could reckon with being challenged by other Escrima fighters.

The rediscovery of Escrima can (unfortunately) probably be attributed to the world of cinema. Thanks to the portrayal of sticks in various films, the old martial art once again emerged into public view.

In the end, one cannot exclusively refer to a martial art which has evolved over the centuries to any one specific country. Escrima is the name for the art of combat with weapons that are used worldwide. Escrima (as it is taught today) has, contrary to many views, a largely European origin. This is the true and hidden identity of this weapons combat art.

Sifu Klaus Brand

Director of the Int. Academy of WingChun