Controversies, Misconceptions, Misinformation and Myths About Styles and Masters

As with every art, information tend to get misrepresented when passed from person to person, or from region to region, or even at different periods of certain individual's life. Arnis is no exception. Below are some very widespread misinformation and myths which Guro John Chow feel need clarification and resolution for the sake of fairness and honesty.

Myth: Arnis is "Filipino fighting with rattan sticks"
Rebuttal: Arnis is definitely not "Filipino fighting with rattan sticks".  Arnis is a complete system of fighting that includes barehands as well as an assortment of weapons.

Myth: All Filipino martial arts use stick fighting
Rebutal: Some Filipino arts are exclusively empty hand arts.  eg Dumog/Buno is Filipino wrestling.  Sikaran is Filipino foot fighting.  Traditional Arnis is actually based on the blade and sticks are only a training device.

Myth: Some masters frequently go round challenging other fighters and killing them without legal repercussions.
Rebuttal: You have to go to jail if you kill someone in the Philippines just like anywhere in the world, sometimes even if in self defence!  Philippines is not such a very backward place where there is no such thing as law and order.  Grandmaster Illutrisimo was arrested at least 17 times.   Many other masters also got arrested for killing in self defence, some were jailed.  It takes some time before innocence can be proven and the process of the law is very slow and bureaucratic in under-developed countries.
Morale: Beware of stories told by masters who claim frequent killing in duels if there is no admission or proof of arrest.

Myth: 'Master So-and-so' is the undefeated champion of the Philippines.
Rebuttal: This is a myth.  One may claim to be champion at a particular fiesta on a particular year.  One may claim to be champion at a fiesta at a particular barrio for a number of years.  One may claim to be champion of a particular tournament for a number of years.  One may even claim to be the undisputed champion of a particular region for a number of years.  One may also claim to be undefeated.  But to claim to be undefeated champion of the Philippines is either plain lies or boasting.  Even for a particular region or tournament, one can not remain undefeated indefinitely because one has to grow old (or do masters never age and die?) and there are always younger fighters who will one day overcome an old man.  This is logistically impossible.  Think it over!

Those who remain undefeated the whole of their lives must have retired from active fighting at some time, and fought only when the odds are very much in their favour, or out of necessity (and fortunately, won).

If not, just ask yourself - why are there so many undefeated champions of the Philippines?   Almost every old master claims to be the undefeated champion of the Philippines.  There can not be more than 1 undefeated champion at any one time and place!

It is very amusing to hear so and so is the undefeated champion of such and such a region whereas there is another person(s) living in the same region and in the same period claiming the same thing!   From examining the situation, it may be true that both were undefeated but then they have not fought each other for a variety of reason like:-
* They were not present at the same fiestas where the matches were held.
* They couldn't be bothered challenging each other (but claimed to have challenged all and       sundry.................)
* They somehow avoided challenging each other - probably they understand both are very good and have valid claims to be masters.
* Their students and supporters never got into each others toes and therefore never got their masters into conflict.
* They were at the same fiestas, but one of them was not in good shape at that time................
* They were at the same fiestas, but not drunk enough to make a challenge.
* They were at the same fiestas, but not brave enough to make a challenge.
* A challenge was made, but not accepted.  So, the one who declined the challenge, possibly because he would lose, still remains undefeated.
* The challenge was accepted, but they could not agree on the rules.
* The challenge was accepted but one party was imposing too many rules (most probably fearing of defeat - a subtle escape clause).
* The match was stopped by the Police - one side could have chickened out and doped in the Police.
* The match was arranged, but one fighter failed to turn up!   Then both fighters are correct to claim they were undefeated.

Morale: Beware of claims of being undefeated champion of Philippines. Ask for specifics - year, occasion, city, tournament. Vagueness is a tell-tale sign.

Myth: Some masters travel around the whole of Philippines, relentlessly challenging any fighters they hear of.
Rebuttal: There were a few masters who were supposed to have travelled the length and breath of the whole of Philippines, mercilessly and relentlessly seeking out just any fighter and issuing challenges.  Surely they would have heard of each other and have crossed each other's paths many times.  Why have they never fought with each other?  And if they did, at least one of them would have come off second best - in other words, defeated.

We already know some famous and well known Arnis families like the Illustisimos, Saavedras, Canettes, Romos. And some other famous individuals like Jose Cabalero, Jesus Abella.  These people are well known and very easy to find.  Why did those masters fail to find them and challenge them?

Dionisio Canete told me his father remembered a master whose student is very well known in the USA sometimes attending the Doce Pares meetings, but just standing aside as an observer and never dared to fight.  Challenge?
That would be out of question.  The famous fighters were very easy to find, but is one good enough to challenge them?
This master's student in USA even claimed that this master was the leader of the Doce Pares at one time.  This claim has been effectively rebutted by the Doce Pares.  This master had the fortune to have a fight arranged with Lopez Delphin and Cacoy Canette at a later period, but failed to turn up (the next time they heard about him was that he was in Manila!).
Maybe it is easier to challenge 2nd and 3rd rate fighters.......................

Morale: Beware of such stories. Masters do not do that sort of thing, they don't need to, and they have other better things to do.

Myth: Until recently, many masters engaged in 'death matches' .
Rebutal: This is a myth.  Masters do not go around looking for death matches to participate in. Death matches are rare.

First of all, most challenges to fighters stipulate terms for victory and defeat.  Death is seldom stipulated.  An opponent is usually defeated :-
* unable to continue the fight.
* defeat is admitted.
* death occurs.

Secondly, killing is killing and is punishable as a crime.  Whatever the reason or dispute is, killing someone is a criminal offense.  The winner has to go to jail.  Any master who claims to have participated (survival means the opponent had died!) in a death match should not be believed in unless evidence of imprisonment is produced or imprisonment is admitted to.

The only death match in which the survivor does not go to jail is one that has the official sanction of a powerful politician of government official, like the Mayor or a General.  In this case, all necessary legal papers would have been signed.  Failure to produce evidence of such official government support indictes a lie had been told.  In any case, such a type of duel is rare. In fact, it is not even legal now.

There is another type of duel that are mistakenly called 'Death Duels'.  These are disputes and bad blood amongst the parties who came to fight it out.  Where it happens, wounding may occur, but death did not result.  Death is still a punishable crime, so anybody who claims to have deliberately met for a fight and killed the opponent will definitely go to prison as there is no case for self defense.  Therefore, if no evidence of imprisonment is produced, a lie could have been told.

Myth: The Tunnel of Death
This is pure fairy tale myth. This tunnel is supposed to be more than 100 metres long, the inside of which is total pitch darkness - nothing can be seen inside.   Almost every inch of the way inside the tunnel are innumerable devices such as blades, rattan, spears, projectiles etc which are set off at the mere slightest touch. The Arnis master is supposed to venture into this pitch darkessness, and using his skill in evasion, avoid the weapons, and come out alive at the other end.  One version of the this tunnel is that the 1st half is full of poisonos and deadly snakes, reptiles and insect which bite and sting the fighter to death, and the 2nd half is full of those sharp weapons as mentioned.

Such a myth is similar to the old 'true' story of how graduates from the Shaolin Monastery in China have to cross the Hall of the 108 Bronze Dummies' before they can get out of the monastery. Aparently, there is only one entrance to the monastery and only one exit, and this is the exit. The Shaolin Monastery is open to visitors now, and any body who visits will appreciate what a silly old fairy tale this was that so many Kung Fu masters believed even as recent as 20 years ago. Needless to say, this is admitted as a romantic story only.

To date, despite much enquiry, no one has any idea where this 'Tunnel of Death is!  No one has ever seen it!  No one could prove that anybody has ever passed through this 'mysterious' tunnel.  The unambigious opinion of the old masters is that it is only a story.  Even the close friends of the master whose student in USA claimed had passed through this tunnel ridiculed the claim.  This master was supposed to be the only person to have passed the test in the 20th Century.

The technology that is required to build this tunnel is just too sophisticated for its time (1910s/1920s).  Who would want to build such a tunnel anyway?  And if going into the tunnel is so dangerous, who are going to re-set it each time a master went through?  Won't they get killed 1 foot into the tunnel?  If they can enter the dangerous tunnel and re-set the traps, they must be very skillful.  They are in fact very much more skillful than the very few masters who passed the test.

Guro John Chow does not wish to engage in a quarrel with anybody who thinks otherwise, but is interested in genuine proof: of the existence and location of the tunnel.  Instead of being offended, please be courageous and civilised enough to enlighten us by  bringing a party of observers to that spot for verification!  Otherwise, this story should be viewed as a myth.

Morale: Do not believe such incredible stories unless you have seen solid proof of it.

Myth: Traditional Title conferals in FMA
There has been claims that certain people from the West have been conferred certain titles by Arnis masters in the Phillipines.  Such titles have similar themes as titles which South East Asian communities regard with respect to their nation and national communities,  which were traditionally conferred only by the traditional rulers (the rajahs, Sultans and high Datus or council of Datus).  These are traditional national titles.  Since the rulers are now democratically elected governments,  the current protocol is for the governments of South East Asian nations to confer such titles.

Thus,  the understanding of South East Asians is that the conferal of title is not something that a martial arts guro does.  Titles are confered by a ruler of the region.  For example,  the titles "Datu/Dato/Datuk/Datok",  "Tan Sri",  "Tun"  etc were traditionally conferred by rulers in South East Asian,  and are now are officially conferred by modern day governments.  A "Pengulu" is a village chief or headman,  possibly similar to a "Panglima".  Such titles are recognised by the government and the society,  and are relevant in the daily socio-mechanism of the society.  Nobody,  however well regarded a martial artist,  is entitled to confer such titles.  It is not their right,  neither their authority to do so.  South East Asian society disapproves of such presumptousness.

Please note that the "Datu" of Modern Arnis is not refering to a title,  and specifically not a community title,  as explained by many in the organisation.  It is a designation and ranking issue within the Modern Arnis organisation.  The late Professor Remy Presas was attempting to confer a designation/rank upon distinguished and emminent instructors.  It is not a conferal of title.  Viewed in this angle,  it is a legitimate use.  Whether is is prudent to use a title that may land you in jail if you promote it too outlandishly in Malaysia is a totally separate issue,  but I am sure the holders of such titles in Modern Arnis are prudish enough when living in such countries.  ie.  use it for internal communication within the organisation and not to the community at large and the government.

We should not confused nicknames which we sometimes give,  sometimes in jest,  to friends, associates and students.   For example,   "Invincible Tiger"   "King of the Sword"   "Sword Deity".  Somebody may be nicknamed as "Little Chilly" due to the person's hot furious actions and small size.  Sometimes nicknenames are given in earnest.  Quite often,  they are given in jest,  and as sarcasm.  Thus,  a nickname like "Big Stick",  although may actually refer, in a small part,  to the big stick and the heavy strokes of the eskrimador,   but subtly refer to the slowness of movement, heaviness in motion and stupidity of the gorilla dinosaur who is the subject of a cruel joke.  The nickname "Big Boss"  may refer to somebody who is a manager in his office,  or somebody who commands a group of students or followers,  but may actually subtly mean he is an egoistic small guy trying to fit into shoes that are bigger than he actually is.  The old folks frequently use "double-meanings".  Watch out!

For a more detailed exposition on this,  please refer to article on our website.

Return to Arnis main page