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20th-Century Arnis

The Reemergence of a Warrior's Art

By Mark V. Wiley

Filipino martial arts have existed, been suppressed, and reemerged as a subculture within Philippine society for centuries. For over three hundred years, practice of the arts was outlawed by the Spanish colonizers. However, the popularity of the arts of arnis and eskrima began to resurface on the island of Cebu during the 1920s, whereon a number of martial art practitioners began to openly teach their arts.

In 1920 the late Venancio "Anciong" Bacon, the founder of Balintawak arnis, opened the Labangon Fencing Club-the first commercial arnis club in Cebu. Following Bacon's, lead Johnny Chiuten,Balintakaw arnis founder, Venancio "Anciong" Bacon, with Master Johnny Chiuten Pedring Romo, and the famous Cañete brothers also began openly teaching their respective styles of stickfighting. The 1920s also found the Philippine Olympic Stadium promoting full-contact arnis tournaments. Placido Yambao reigned as champion in a number of matches held in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Yambao was then to go on and write the first book on arnis thirty years later. It was also during this decade that the United States was given its first glimpse of these fascinating arts. From 1920 to 1929, Ramiro A. Estalilla, Sr. taught Rigonan-Estalilla kabaroan at the Minneapolis Athletic Club in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

It wasn't until the 1930s, however, that the various masters in Cebu and the neighboring islands came together in the interest of perpetuating the Filipino martial arts. As a result the famed Doce Pares Association was organized in 1932. The Doce Pares Association is the oldest and longest standing martial arts organization in the Philippines and was a driving force behind the reemergence of Filipino martial arts into Filipino society.

In 1939, Doce Pares was joined by the six Cañete brothers. With differences in political view, Bacon left and founded the Balintawak Self-Defense Club.

Eulogio "Yoling" Canete, former president of the

Eulogio "Yoling" Cañete became the new Doce Pares president.

In 1937, Benjamin Luna Lema founded the Lightning Arnis Club in Mambusao, Capiz.

Ten years later, in 1947, he was requested by the United States Air Force to relocate to Agana, Guam, to instruct their enlisted men in hand-to-hand combat and arnis. The 1940s also saw the development of the infamous Filipino butterfly knife known as the balisong. In a town in Batangas now known as Barrio Balisong, Perfecto de Leon is credited with developing and manufacturing the first balisong knife. Since that time the balisong has become perhaps the most infamous Filipino weapon.

Meliton Geronimo, grandmaster of sikaranAfter being founded in the 1920s, sikaran, the Filipino art of foot fighting received recognition and acceptance in the 1950s from such countries as Japan and Korea. The fifties also found arnis becoming popular in Negros Occidental. From 1956-58 the Bacolod Arnis Club existed under the direction of its founder, Narciso "Sisoy" Gyabros, who taught twelve methods of arnis and in turn had twelve disciples.

Amador "Mading" Chavez was one disciple who was fortunate to have learned all of the twelve styles. After the Bacolod Arnis Club dissolved, Chavez founded the Chavez Arnis Group in 1959. 1957 saw the publication of Placido Yambao's book, Mga Karunungan sa Larung Arnis (Knowledge in the Art of Arnis).

The First book on arnis, written in 1957 by Placido Yambao.This book caused quite a stir among Filipino martial arts practitioners, as they still regarded the art as an artifact oftheir unconquerable history. However, Yambao's work did much to promote the art of arnis. In 1959, Gerardo Alcuzar founded the Durex Self-Defense Club in the Cebu Institute of Technology, where in addition to eskrima, he offered instruction in combat judo and karate.

During the decade of the 1960s Filipino martial arts again felt a resurgence of interest with schools and styles opening themselves up to the public. In Manila this revival was initiated by an organization called Samahan sa Arnis ng Pilipinas (Association of Arnis in the Philippines). In his speech during the launching of the revival of arnis in Manila, Former Secretary of Philippine Education, Alejandro Roces praised members of the Association, stating:

"A neglected aspect of our cultural history as a people, arnis is as old as the Philippines. It is germane to the Filipino, his culture and temperament. During the prehistoric times, it was indulged in as a form of recreation. Filipinos learned it together with reading, writing, religion, incantation, and Sanskrit. It was not, at that time, merely fencing, as we now regard that term. It had its variations in the form of dance and combative arts known as sayaw or sinulog, which was both artistic and entertaining."


To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

Filipino martial arts, Arnis, eskrima, Filipino martial arts, Venancio "Anciong" Bacon, Johnny Chiuten, Pedring Romo, Ca?ete brothers, Placido Yambao, Ramiro A. Estalilla, Sr., Rigonan-Estalilla kabaroan, Doce Pares Association, Ca?ete brothers,Benjamin Luna Lema,Perfecto de Leon, Narciso "Sisoy" Gyabros,Amador "Mading" Chavez, Mga Karunungan sa Larung Arnis, Gerardo Alcuzar, Samahan sa Arnis ng Pilipinas, Association of Arnis in the Philippines


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