Eskrima” comes from the Spanish word for “skirmish” or “fencing”. It is one of the names in the Philippines for martial arts which use sticks and blades as the basis of their movement principles and training methods. Eskrima is also known as Arnis or Kali, although there are many other names for martial arts among the languages and dialects of the Philippines.
The martial traditions of other cultures often teach unarmed skills first, and then teach the students to regard a weapon as an extension of the empty hand. In FMA (Filipino Martial Arts), weapons are used from the earliest stages. This has the following advantages:
- It is found to be an efficient way of increasing concentration and coordination, and of reducing reaction time.
- It creates an awareness of using anything as a weapon wherever possible.
- The transference of movement principles from weapon to empty hand, or one weapon to another, becomes apparent from an early stage, increasing understanding and flexibility of response.
- A knowledge of how weapons can be used is the key to being able to defend against them.
There are systems which concentrate on the use of five angles of attack, on thrusting rather than slashing, or on figure-8 movements; those with an emphasis on single stick and empty hand; those who regard the foundation of their skills as stick-and-knife (in combination, i.e. the stick held in one hand, the knife in the other). Many systems do however cover a wide mixture of weaponry and types of skill, both with and without weapons. The Warriors system is among these.
Warriors Eskrima is a synthesis of various styles and systems studied by Grandmaster Abner G Pasa of Cebu City in the Philippines. GM Pasa is a gifted individual, with the spirit of a warrior and the unusually analytical intelligence of a philosopher. He had serious combative experience (as a police officer in Cebu, and in response to challengers). His system integrates intelligence, cunning and awareness with technical depth and range.
The students learn weapons, striking, kicking, joint locks, chokes, strangles, trapping and unbalancing, etc. – a full range of martial skills. Instruction generally takes the course of learning single stick first; then knife defences, and the basics of empty hand skills; then combination weapons (double stick, stick and knife, and sword and knife).
However, before going further into the practical details of training methods, it may be worth appreciating the historical background, and the over-riding principles which the practice of Warriors Eskrima aims to cultivate.
Chief Lapu-Lapu – Warrior and Hero of the Philippines
History and Background
For anyone knowledgeable about FMA, the technical pedigree of Warriors Eskrima is impressive.
Two of the famous names in the history of Filipino Martial Arts are Venancio “Anciong” Bacon, the founder of the Balintawak system, and the Canete family, famous practitioners and joint founders (with other instructors) of the Doce Pares Club in Cebu. Abner Pasa studied eskrima under one of the top students of Bacon – Liborio “Boring” Heyrosa, and under two of the Canete family.
GM Pasa learned knife skills, firstly defence, disarming and immobilisation techniques from Gerardo “Larry” Alcuizar of the Excalibur system, and later from Filemon ‘Momoy’ Canete, founder of the San Miguel Eskrima system. Momoy had studied under Jesus Cui, a leading knife practitioner of Cebu.
GM Pasa learned the long range stick of the Largo Mano system of Eulogio “Ingko Yoling” Canete of the Doce Pares Club and became the inheritor to that system.
Along the way, GM Pasa also studied other martial art systems, such as Pangamut (empty hands, incorporating Panantukan [Filipino Boxing] and Dumog [locking and unbalancing], Espada y Daga (Sword and Dagger), and Korean Tang Soo Do.
Ingko Yoling, when dying, asked Abner Pasa, as his senior student, to spread the art. GM Pasa founded the Institute of Filipino Martial Arts in 1991 to teach Warriors Eskrima.
The Institute offered the opportunity to train with other Grand Masters who had all influenced Warriors Eskrima – Liborio Heyrosa, Vicente “Inting” Carin, Fortunato “Atong” Garcia among others. The teaching curriculum reflects this rich technical background, incorporating staff (sibat) techniques from Atong Garcia’s system, olisi y baraw “captures” from Momoy Canete, Inting Carin’s – Ritirada, Herada, and Largada etc.
GM Pasa distinguishes traditional or combative Eskrima from competitive or sports Eskrima. Some practitioners of Warriors Eskrima take part in sporting competitions, but it has to be remembered that there are fundamental differences in the sporting approach: (a) It must put the emphasis on offence rather than defence, in order to score points; (b) A reliance on protective equipment to prevent injury could lead to carelessness about effective personal defence, potentially fatal in a real encounter. The sport should therefore be complemented by the art, rather than being seen as an alternative to it.
GM Pasa has made many efforts to have FMA incorporated into the educational system in the Philippines, as having a cultural and psychological value in addition to physical exercise.
His approach is to use the FMA to give value to the modern world. Otherwise, outsiders can easily under-appreciate what it has to offer, by perceiving it only as a battlefield relic of a pre-technological-weapons era.
Its original purpose remains – effective self-defence for personal survival – but in today’s society its practice is about personal cultivation through patience and respect, self-discipline and understanding, and about “self-defence” with a wider meaning.
Staying active and alert is a defence against ill health and dullness of mind; developing an attitude of maturity and confidence leads to the ability to “disarm” and “immobilize” the aggressive impulses in oneself as well as others.
A primary motivation then becomes to seek to achieve and to share excellence. If someone else improves in skill, it does not make you worse; in fact, if you are training with them, it can only help to make you better.
GM Pasa says that nothing is absolute. Everyone reaches their own kind of understanding through their own experiences and personal attributes. A technique which one person dismisses as ineffective can be made to work by a different person.
In developing into their own personal path on the martial arts, individual instructors are free to adapt or assimilate techniques from other arts in enhancing their own personal effectiveness. In the meantime, Warriors Eskrima has a technical syllabus of wide range and variety to pass on the art to others. The extent to which they develop their potential then depends on them rather than on the system.
In the UK and the rest of Europe, Warriors Eskrima is under the charge of the senior student of GM Pasa, Pangulong Guro Krishna Godhania.
Before considering what the student learns in the way of physical skills, it is worth realising that GM Pasa himself aims to reduce techniques to principles.
This procedure of distilling to the essence is GM Pasa’s contribution to the Warriors Eskrima System.
One may start by learning specific arm-locks or counter-strikes, for example, but the aim of this is to end with an awareness of what becomes possible as a result of the particular angle or configuration of an arm, or the opening or closing of a potential line of attack.
The relevant skills that are being developed are then not “technique number one” or “technique number two”, but the flexibility to be adaptable and to do what is appropriate for the position and situation. Using the “live hand”, i.e. the non-weapon-holding hand, is again not about any particular selected technique, but about learning to use it to control the opponent’s hand, to restrict or deliberately manipulate his options for lines of attack, to offset or mislead or even just to distract him.
Another important principle of Warriors Eskrima is universality – having enough understanding to see how principles learned in one aspect of the art are applied to other aspects, rather than being restricted to one separate area of application. This carries over into life: learning to relax and not to fight against the direction of someone else’s pressure, but to use it to your advantage, is clearly a concept transferable from physical encounters to social or professional ones.
Perhaps the ultimate principle of Warriors Eskrima is awareness. This starts with environmental awareness:
- Not being oblivious to potential dangers in the area
- Being generally alert, taking nothing for granted so that you cannot be caught off-guard.
- If a potentially dangerous encounter starts, what is the nature of the environment?
Do you have much room to move?
Is there a stable surface, or a wet or slippery one, and therefore what are the implications for balance – both yours and your attacker’s?
- Are you aware of escape routes?
- Are you sure there is only one attacker or could there be others?
If so, where?
Can you use one of them as a shield against the others?
Which direction or zone should you move towards or away from?
There are numerous aspects to the equally important weapons awareness:
- You may not have seen one yet, but is he going to pull a knife? (Always assume the answer is yes.)
- Is there anything on or near you which could be turned to use as a projectile?
- Think like a knife-fighter – if his limbs are offered (and/or if more serious targets are out of reach) they are legitimate targets for your elbows, knuckles, etc.
- If a weapon is visible, how will its characteristics affect your strategy? Avoiding or countering a club or baseball bat is a different proposition from risking a thrust from, or cut-back from retraction of, a bladed weapon.
- You are almost never “unarmed”. What do you have, within easy reach, that can be adapted to use as a weapon (for striking or throwing) – umbrella, keys, pen, coins, rolled-up newspaper, briefcase, scarf, belt?
Finally, perhaps the most important form of awareness to try and develop is an honest judgement of your strengths and capabilities, and the avoidance of any complacency about the capabilities of your attacker or the danger you are in: such complacency could also be described as suicidally dangerous arrogance.
What you learn
There are five stages in the acquisition and practice of Warriors Eskrima, or indeed any martial art:
- Learn – the acquisition of fundamental motor skills.
- Practise – repetition, to integrate the skills into memory, muscle, balance and nervous system.
- Master – perform the movements and techniques with good form to maximise their effectiveness and minimise your vulnerability.
- Functionalise – learn to apply them in practice, with appropriate speed and intensity and against resistance or under pressure.
- Maintain – periodical review of the skills to ensure they remain functional.
Aspects of Training
The first area of practice is the single stick.
The system uses 12 angles of attack as a framework to learn evasive footwork, body angling, zoning (away from danger and towards safety), and co-ordination between weapon hand and live hand.
Techniques are practiced stick against stick, and empty hand against stick. The techniques start with counter-strikes, firstly single and double strikes, and then more involved combinations known as Largada (a four-count response) and Herada (a seven-count response).
The progression of techniques is then through disarming and locking techniques (all teaching leverage principles), to chokes and strangles, and throws and takedowns.
From straightforward slashes and thrusts, the student is introduced to more flexible and varied ways of using the stick, such as the arco (which uses a repeated line of attack, perhaps where the first one has failed or been deflected); the redondo (often, but not invariably, on a vertical and circular path); the abaniko (fan), using rapid wrist twists in a series of snapping strikes. These lead to the more deceptive and sophisticated use of feints and further snapping and curving strikes.
To increase hand speed, develop repertoire, and to acquire various series of rapid attack combinations to keep the pressure on against an opponent, the student learns ten amarra, solo weapon exercises. These can be used as counter-attacks in partner training, but the sequences are also designed to be practiced alone when no partner is available.
Unlike arts from other cultures, which sometimes use long sequences of prearranged movements as both training and teaching methods, the Filipino Martial Arts prefer flow drills. These are dynamic two-person training drills, initially developing the ability to flow smoothly between attack and defence. This method aids timing, reflexes, distance appreciation, and coordination.
Once the “shell”, the basic sequence, of a flow drill has been learned, variables can be introduced at different stages. The basic flow drill can then be seen as one end of a spectrum of activity, with a safe, predictable routine at one end, and free sparring at the other. The student gradually progresses through more variables and more pressure, then there is the introduction of feints to create openings and deceive the opponent, and so the drills can incorporate more and more unpredictability as skills improve.
The main flow drills of Warriors Eskrima are:
- the close range higot hubud (“to tie and untie”);
- the five-count medium-range Payong Sumbrada – “payong” meaning “roof”, the name of the overhead block, and “sumbrada” meaning “to shadow”, i.e. to follow your opponent;
- Punyo Sumbrada, which varies between medium range and close range (where it uses the “punyo” or butt of the stick);
- The five-count long-range Singko Singko (“five five”, from the Spanish cinco cinco), concentrating on thrusting and parrying skills with footwork at greater distance from the previous drills;
- * Pak Gang (“one for one”), which increases the pressure in order to improve both blocking and parrying skills, and can also be used to increase awareness of countering trapping. This drill then introduces variations, one using thrusts instead of slashes, and one using more deceptive curving strikes.
- Sunkite y Florete, this drill teaches defence on the high and low line and introduces the “half-beat” counter strikes.
Once fundamental stick skills have been acquired, sparring is introduced and taught progressively. Padded sticks are used for safety, and initially the emphasis is on acquiring defensive skills, using both blocking and simple straight or circular evasive movements of the hand. The only permissible target in the early stages is the weapon hand of the opponent. This provides important experience in the difficulties of using the live hand, and making effective counters, against a non-cooperative training partner.
The progression is then through the addition of permissible targets: firstly the lead leg, then the other hand, then the body. The permissible strikes are also gradually increased – from slashes to abaniko, redondo and thrusts. This can be taken as far into sporting-type competition as the participants wish to take it; protective headgear makes head shots possible without danger to the fighters, and agreement can be reached on whether to add punches from the live hand, or even close-range punyo strikes, takedowns and ground submissions.
The highest level of stick sparring is the practice of palakaw (“to move freely”). This is not found in many eskrima systems, or not often seen. It requires the training and reflexes to use timing and reaction at close range and high speed. It requires a high degree of relaxed sensitivity (without which it simply will not work); greater subtlety of deceptiveness (set-ups or feints or indirect attacks); and high awareness of line familiarisation (with rapid opening and closing of potential lines of attack).
Palakaw further develops the use of the live hand and trapping skills. It also requires excellent control, as no protective armour is worn. When practising at this technical level, actual hits to the training partner are not necessary; the experienced practitioner will be quite capable of recognising whether a line of attack has been opened or closed or successfully penetrated, whether your own or your partner’s.
The purpose of the practise is not to damage a training partner; it is the development of the personal qualities of a sophisticated fighter, enabling the practitioner to deal with actual attack and defence at close range and high speed, without the sacrifice of sensitivity, relaxation, deceptiveness, or line awareness.
Even the fundamental levels of palakaw may be difficult to perform well, but palakaw also has a progressive structure, with the introduction at various stages of other variables such as punyo strikes, thrusts, left hand attacks, low line kicks, and so on.
The second area of practice is the knife.
A serious encounter with a knife would not last very long. Although fitness (cardiovascular endurance) may very well be important for other reasons, it does not tend to be one of the attributes required to deal with a knife attack. The training in this area therefore concentrates on developing appropriate reflexes, awareness and zoning skills.
Again the framework for basic learning uses a system of angles of attack, and starts with the fundamental types of attack – slash and thrust. The student is initially taught defensive movements, without which any counter would be ineffective.
It is necessary to have a safe training structure within which to overcome the natural reluctance to close with an armed attacker. The next important point is to instil the principle of obtaining control of the hand which is holding the knife (or of attempting to deal with the potential consequences where such control is not obtained).
The principles then are:
- To be aware of concealment positions, so that you can detect the potential for an opponent drawing a weapon. This may enable you to deal with the situation before a slash or thrust has been initiated.
- To be able to defend yourself and hit the attacker; to defend and disarm the knife; or if a disarm proves ineffective, to turn the attacker’s weapon away from you and back towards him.
- If you are grabbed or held with one hand while threatened with a knife in the other, how to use available possibilities of leverage and movement to defend yourself and disarm or counter-attack.
The techniques for use against a committed attack progress through locks and arm wrenches, chokes and strangles, to takedowns (through tripping or winding throws, after control of the knife hand has been obtained).
Where the pressure or direction of an opponent works against an intended counter, the emphasis is always on flexibility of response. This is to enable you to maintain your self-protection, but to use the energy you are given towards an alternative counter, rather than “fighting” to try and impose your previous intention through force.
The knife fighter with some training is the most dangerous opponent of all, as rather than providing a single committed attack he is far more likely to use feints and non-linear striking.
Apart from escape, all that can ever be done against such an opponent is to use an “equaliser” – a weapon or projectile of your own – or to increase the statistical chances of your successful opposition and survival through training in appropriate responses. Such training is most likely to be obtained from a knife-orientated martial art.
Training drills designed specifically to deal with the characteristics of a knife are used to install the appropriate skills. These drills include palasut (“passing”), which improves zoning and live hand checking; agak (“give and take”), which adds further trapping and recovery skills; and tapi tapi, to develop the sensitivity required for close range defence against a knife.
These drills often have variations in their structure. Tapi tapi – which is just an onomatopoeic name, from the sound of the hand “tapping” on the forearm – can be taught with increasing levels of difficulty, introducing further less predictable movements by the knife holder – double clearing of defences before repeating an attack, live hand attacks, strikes which change their angle or direction, low-level attacks, hand exchanges, and so on.
Despite the horror and tragedy of the meaning of a real-life knife attack, students often find knife drills a highly enjoyable activity; they combine high-speed reactions and survival skills, deceptiveness and body movement, with the potential danger of a knife but the actuality of a safe training dagger.
The third area of practice is Pangamut (“empty hands”)
This incorporates both Panantukan, which is Filipino boxing – striking skills for combative fighting rather than sport, including elbows and kicks – and Dumog, which is the locking and unbalancing skills.
The close range training drill of higot hubud, as mentioned above under stick training, is also introduced as an unarmed drill at an early stage. This initially encourages close range contact, teaches blocking and parrying, and starts developing sensitivity to the pressure and direction of an opponent’s energy.
The introduction of switching to the other hand, and zoning to inside or outside an attack, increases coordination and movement skills.
Hubud can then be used as a framework for introducing, and practising repetitions of, a variety of unarmed skills, such as limb destructions, trapping, and unbalancing and locking. The imagination of the practitioner can take it into other areas and techniques (such as strangles and throws).
The principle of “limb destructions” comes from knife fighting; if no knife is available, because of the principle of universality you can still transfer the concept of cutting or damaging the limbs of the attacker.
By using your elbows or knuckles as a substitute for a knife, you reduce or remove his ability to use his limbs against you. The principle of “trapping”, immobilizing his limb(s) and/or closing off a line of attack he could otherwise use, is used to restrict the options open to your attacker, again reducing or removing his ability to attack you or to counter your
Basic footwork utilises simple triangles and the principles of zoning to favourable or less potentially dangerous positions relative to the attacker(s). A sense of judging distance, and the use of body mechanics to increase striking power, should already have been developed through training with the stick, and is now adapted to the unarmed skills.
Striking pads or focus mitts are used from an early stage. When used intelligently, rather than just as physical targets for a work-out, their uses include ensuring improvement of form and reflexes, and efficiency of striking power when combined with footwork; and to check commitment and recovery. Once the student can use combinations of hand movements effectively, they are added to kicks, evasive body movements, and elbow and knee strikes.
Unarmed responses will then progress towards the inclusion of all other options, such as arm locks and wrenches, the use of foot sectors for off-balancing or taking down an opponent, and fighting on the ground if necessary.
The practice of Dumog is aimed at combative “standing grappling”, locking the opponent, unbalancing him, or countering his attempts at locks, rather than “fighting” with him on the ground (more appropriate to a sport wrestling situation).
It is preferred if grappling with an opponent on the ground can be avoided, especially where there needs to be an awareness of multiple attackers; being locked up with one of them on the ground puts the rest of them in an extremely favourable position for inflicting serious injury on you. The presence of a knife will also significantly change the character or danger of ground grappling positions.
Empty hand sparring can again be taught progressively, e.g. initially restricted to the use of one hand each; then to both hands; fighting with kicks only, or one hand and one foot permitted; through to the addition of elbow strikes and takedowns. Further variety, and strategic awareness, is introduced by attempting empty hand sparring against an opponent armed with a stick or a training knife (or even both), or against two or more unarmed opponents, or one armed and one unarmed, etc.
The final area of training could be described as combination weapons. This is actually more than one type of training, as the use of double sticks, stick and knife, or sword and knife, each have their own strategies and characteristics.
Having a weapon in both hands will of course improve coordination and help to prevent the development of a “one sided fighter”. Training starts with slashing attacks with double sticks, with thrusts being introduced once familiarity has been obtained with blocking, parrying, and the fundamental coordination exercises.
The coordination drills include drills common to other FMA styles, such as kob kob and sinawalli. Kob kob is practised in “open position”, with one stick on each side of the body, but sinawalli (“weaving”) uses the more complex over-and-under crossovers of the weapons from “closed position”. Sinawalli has many variations and is usually practised in 6-count drills.
Slightly different types of coordination are developed with 5-count drills, and the development of coordination is further refined through the mixture of high and low lines of attack, reverse grips on one or more sticks, or variations such as “parallel position” drills (which can share characteristics of both open and closed position drills).
Progress is then made to the main double stick flow drills, which are payong sumbrada and pak gang. These drills were both mentioned under single stick training previously, but as there is now a stick in each hand, they require greater coordination and introduce the possibility of a “mirror image” variant.
Double weapon techniques can also be taught in isolation, outside the framework of a drill. They are important for their ability to increase awareness of open lines of attack, and to translate both this awareness and the movement principles to empty hand fighting.
Assuming you have detected the imminence of, or have survived and are conscious after, an initial attack, then once an opponent is forced on to the defensive for even one movement, then the trained practitioner will inevitably have a line of counter-attack available. It can become extremely difficult for the attacker to recover any initiative.
This awareness of line familiarisation is further refined through training with stick and knife (with the stick usually in the right hand and the knife in the left – but not necessarily or invariably). The characteristics of the knife change the nature of both offensive and defensive movements.
An aspect of this area of training is the use of “captures” or “tie-ups”. These further refine line familiarisation by combining it, firstly with trapping (restricting the opponent’s limbs) and “drawing” (i.e. deliberately encouraging the opponent’s attack by leaving a particular line open, but of course having a strategy prepared for dealing with it).
Secondly, these positions can be trained with a flexible variety of countering techniques. As these take place at close proximity with four weapons (two each), it can be seen why this practice requires a considerable degree of coordination and awareness.
There are FMA systems which refer to all stick & knife techniques by the original Spanish name of Espada y Daga (sword and dagger), but this is technically incorrect. For example, a “capture” may involve “snaking” the defender’s arm around the attacker’s stick (whether to restrict its movement or as a prelude to a disarming technique). This would clearly be inappropriate if the long weapon were a sword rather than a stick, as the defender would be risking cutting off his own arm.
In fact, sword-and-knife techniques are older than stick-and-knife. It is easy to understand, historically, how the first step would have been the use of a stick as a safe substitute for training sword techniques. At a later stage, it was appreciated that the characteristics of the stick, and the use of snapping and curving strikes which were unlike what would be applied with a sword, meant that “stick and knife” could be an aspect of training with its own distinct character and techniques.
Warriors Eskrima therefore distinguishes the older practice of sword and knife (Espada y Daga) from stick and knife (also called olisi y baraw, olisi being a type of rattan used for sticks, and baraw meaning knife).
Sword and knife again uses a system of attacking angles, with the principle of drawing secondary attacks to high or low lines. However, the counters use the cutting and thrusting characteristics of a sword rather than the striking impact of a stick.
The defensive combinations can then be varied by altering lines of both attack and defence, depending on the chambering position of each weapon. Again, this practice will assist with line familiarisation and the transfer of movement principles from armed to unarmed situations.
Each of the types and areas of training can be applied to multiple attacker situations, whether with one person against two or three, or using team scenarios. All of this adds to the variety of training and to the development of important attributes such as footwork (zoning to maximum safety) and awareness (attempting to deal with threat while not being caught by surprise from another person or angle).
Further areas of training, not covered above, include the staff, flexible weapons and projectiles, and the tabak toyok (more commonly known as the nunchaku).
Warriors Eskrima, as can be seen, has a wide variety of training methods aimed at developing well-rounded practitioners. Ultimately, combative effectiveness is obtained through a combination of simplicity and directness with the subtlety of deceptiveness and, as in all martial arts, the appropriate mental attitude.
In pursuit of elusive expertise, enough of which remains always beyond our grasp, its practitioners are always discovering something new, and finding its technical variety an endless source of fascination and enjoyment.