by Pedro Reyes
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Rapid Journal Vol. 5, No. 1
Taichi Works Publications
458 Jaboneros St. Binondo, Manila 1006
Arnis in Education
by Pedro Reyes
I would like to make an essay in Montaigne's
sense of the term, an assay of the dream of many maestros to convince the
Department of Education to make
arnis into a compulsory subject in school. So I will look now here, now there, draw tentative conclusions and digress every now and then, all to spark discussion, of
which I have seen little.
My articles are beginnings, tentative
findings, not final, iron-cast, dogmatic conclusions, which I submit to
colleagues for further confirmation, extension or
challenge, and I am willing to change my mind should someone prove that I am wrong.
At one meeting, officials of the Department of Education asked the maestros three Questions:
1. How will you insure the safety of
2. Where are the qualified teachers?
3. What style shall the maestros teach?
Let me assay the topics in order and suggest improvements.
The Safety Air Baton
Actually arnis de mano is safer
than boxing, which sports officials consider harmless to include in the
Olympics. Arnisadores stop their blows short of
contact during practice. While in an actual fight they would hit the arms of their opponents, in sparring they hit the stick instead. They wer armor and use padded
sticks during tournaments. We could improve safety by making students always wear proectors to prevent injury to the eyes whenever they spar.
Second, we could replace the current
face guards with a full-face visor similar to those worn by motorcyclists.
The present design with metal bars will not
prevent pieces of a stick from going through to injure the face should the stick splinter.
Finally, I suggest that arnisadores
use the safety air baton when sparring. The present padded stick has a
solid core that can cause pain, bruises and cuts
should the padding compress to the limit of its elasticity. The safety air baton is a rubber tube stiffened with compressed air introduced through a tire valve. Hide the
valve by screwing on the handle and you are ready to spar. With the air baton you can spar even without body armor with the exception of an eye protector.
Children could use it with complete safety.
You would still have to practice
with the regular baton, though, because the air baton is lighter and has
a different heft and balance from the regular weapon
(but the same is true with the padded stick). Do not underestimate the power of the air baton. By filling it with water instead of air, an arnisador can knock out a man
with one wallop. A leather tube filled with water was one of the more exotic weapons of the ancient arnisadores.
We Need Teachers, Not Performers
It seems easy to answer the question
about where the teachers would come from. Let the various gymnasia arid
arnis associations send a list of their highest
ranking disciples to the Department of Education.
But to answer is not that easy.
Let us face it. Many a gymnasia would promote a student because the gymnasium
needs money, not because of the progress
of the student, a deplorable situation, but true.
More to the point, students generally
earn grades because of their athletic performances, not because of their
teaching abilities. And yet with rare exceptions
there seems to be an inverse relationship between athletic performance and the ability to teach. This is true in arnis and in other sports as well. Whoever heard of
Gus D'Amato as a boxer? And yet he is one of the all-time great boxing trainers. Baby Dalupan is one of the finest basketball coaches the Philippines has produced,
but he was a mediocre player. Conversely, Gran Maestro Antonio Ilustrisimo is perhaps the finest fighter in the history of arnis, yet he was a poor teacher.
The government should apply the
same principle it uses to give civil service examinations. The government
does not ask colleges to send a list of their
graduates and leave it at that. The government determines whom it will appoint by giving civil service examinations. It could constitute regional boards that would go
from province to province within each region to examine arnisadores who want to teach in the schools. Because there are no formal courses in arnis (none yet
anyway), the examinations should be open to all arnisadores who wish to try out.
Since arnis is a physical art,
the examiners should emphasize physical demonstration rather than pencil
and paper tests. The board could ask the candidate
to explain the nature of his style, to demonstrate a sample of his techniques, and to show how he would teach. The board should grade the candidate's ability to
teach regardless of his style. Judging a candidate's effectiveness in teaching while disregarding his style is not difficult. School supervisors routinely judge how well a
teacher instructs regardless of whether he is teaching mathematics, drawing or literature.
Encourage Many Styles, Not Just One
Man is an animal, so that he and
his institutions are subject to the laws of biological evolution. A hundred
years ago Charles Darwin discovered the key to
biological survival and development. It is biodiversity. Scientists guarding a seed bank of wild plants choose to starve rather than eat the seeds during a famine in
Russia to preserve the possibility of man's future survival should current cultivated plants become useless through unexpected diseases, changes in temperature or
alterations in the composition of the air.
That is why I oppose the idea that
arnisadores should get together to come up with a single standard style
to teach in the schools. Arnisadores who
advocate supporting a single style are unwittingly condemning arnis to be a museum piece, to a historical curiosity, to death.
Unfortunately, the wisdom of man is limited.
Mullah Nasrudin was on his hands and knees under a street light when a neighbor inquired, "What are you doing; Nasrudin?"
"I'm looking for my keys "
The neighbor also got down on his hands
and knees to help. After some time, the neighbor straightened up and said,
"They don't seem to be here.
Where did you lose them?"
"In my house. "
"Then why are you looking for them here ? "Because here, there's light. "
The light of the current wisdom does not always shine on the darkness where keys are found.
If wisdom is limited, then let
us not pick the best style by analysis, you say. Let us make the arnisadores
fight. But how do you isolate technical efficiency
from native athletic ability? From the influence of a coach? From bias in the rules and the blindness of judges? There are too many uncontrolled variables.
Include all known techniques in one huge, clumsy, contradictory style? That will not do. No one would ever master the whole style in reasonable time.
Then there are the egos of the
maestros to consider. Each maestro seems to think that his style is the
best and should be the standard. I understand that two
maestros yelled challenges at one another and almost came to blows at a formal meeting with the chairman of the Philippine Sports Commission. The chairman was
so disgusted that he told some of the maestros, "Don't return until you've learned to be more civil to one another."
One day a miser decided to ask his village
elder for spiritual advice. The elder walked him to a window and help up
a clear pane of glass in .front
of the miser's race.
"What do you see? , the elder asked
He next held up a mirror in front of the miser; "What do you see? " "Myself, elder. "
“You know, both panes are made of glass. But one is clear while the other has a silver coating behind it”
I dearly want to be corrected, but my
impression is that many maestros are like the miser, looking at a mirror
with a silver backing and seeing only
Single Succession vs. Multi-Succession
In India, China and Japan disciples
expect that before their master dies he would appoint his successor to
whom they would bow. Usually the successor
would be a close relative of the master. As I have explained in a previous article (Rapid Journal Vol. 4 No. I), that tradition is absent in classical arnis. But some
maestros who teach commercially and have had experience with styles from Mainland Asia would like to adopt the same tradition so there would be only one
dominant official head of a style.
Jerson Tortal and Leo Gaje practice
the same style of Piquete Tercia. By the way that should be its proper
spelling as it is straight Spanish for One-third
(Tercia) Thrust (Piquete), an apt name for this close-quarters style, but because people from the Visayas frequently interchange "i" and "e," they spell the name of the
style as Pekiti Tercia to distinguish himself from Gaje. Tortal has changed the name of his style to Dikite Tercia, from the vernacular "dikit," meaning "close."
Again, the disciple of the late Edgar Sulite are in disarray because his widow has named a successor whom some seniors cannot accept.
Look. Classical arnis flourished
for centuries without a tradition of succession. True, a classical master
may have had a favorite student, but that did not
mean that the favorite was a successor. Assume arnisadores adopt the tradition of appointing successors. Do each maestro have to appoint only one successor? Not
so. Multi-succession is an alternative to single succession.
I will have to cull my example
of multi-succession from abroad, since no arnis maestro who wholeheartedly
supports multi-succession comes immediately to
my mind. By making every student eligible for tenth dan, the highest grade in Judo, Jigoro Kano implemented multi-succession. The result? Kodokan Judo is one of
the most successful organizations in the history of martial arts. Other styles that adopted the same concept have also flourished. The reason? Multi-succession
encourages diversity, as Darwin said, the key to survival.
By adopting multiple succession, Jigoro Kano made Kodokan Judo one of the most successful organizations in the martial arts, and Judo a popular sport.
Where is the Next Bhagavad Gita?
The martial arts classics, like
the Book of Five Rings, the Tai Chi Chuan Classics and the Bhagavad Gita,
are classics because they embed the martial arts in
the civilizations of their times.
Unfortunately the civilizations
these classics describe are already dead. For every great civilization
is the working out of a principal idea, and when that idea
is exhausted the civilization dies. The grand idea behind the civilizations that the classics describe is totalitarian control, the pruning away of differences. History
proves that dogmatic totalitarianism blocks progress because it cannot cope with complex changes. So we have seen in succession the decline of absolute
monarchies, of the Papacy and of communism. The dominant world civilization today is the Euro-American civilization that came from Western Europe. Nations east
and west, north and south, are hastily trying it out to see if it will also work better for them.
The seminal idea behind Euro-American
civilization is that diversity is necessary to progress. Totalitarian dogma
is out. Scientists formulate hypotheses, not
dogma, and freely discuss and revise them. Politicians debate without jailing, exiling or shooting their opponents.
Artists, writers and musicians
give free rein to their creativity, resisting; blind censorship. The result
is that the Euro-American has made more progress in
knowledge, wealth and compassion in the past three hundred years than totalitarian man has made in the previous three thousand years.
Unfortunately the news has not
yet reached the ears of martial arts masters. Reactionaries, they act like
petty Poi Pots in their gyms. What we need in the
martial arts is a new Bhagavad Gita that would explain the value of diversity with the same eloquence as the old Gita explained totalitarianism.
In the absence of a new Gita, what
do I recommend the martial artist to read? Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn. The
book exposes in exquisite detail the central
idea at the heart of contemporary world civilization: the value of diversity. It includes the stunning possibility that by encouraging diversity, man may help a species
more fit than himself to emerge.
Ishmael makes me both glad and
sad because when the implications of the seminal idea behind a civilization
can be spelled out in detail, that civilization is
about to enter its full flowering and subsequent decline. When Aristotle could expose the detailed implications of the idea behind Greek civilization, the civilization
was in full bloom and ready to decline. So with St. Thomas Aquinas, whose Summas presaged the death of the civilization of Medieval Europe. The same with Chu
Hsi; his synthesis marked the beginning of the end of classical Chinese civilization.
But do not worry. It takes centuries
for a civilization to die. And no civilization completely dies. Man preserves
what is, useful in the old, shining now in
another context. Filipino parents circumcise their male children for hygienic reasons unaware that in ancient times circumcision was an initiation into the mysteries of
the snake that attains immortality by shedding its skin.