Thursday, July 17, 2008

Pamalo: Baston, Garote & Olisi

In FMA, arnis sticks are called with different names. Each language or dialect has its own word for it. It usually means "stick" or "something used like a stick." Baston is actually a cane, garote is a gallow, and olisi is a grade used to guage a rattan, but they are used as if they are synonymous to "stick". I have sensed that Visayans like to use Spanish words a lot. Olisi, at first hearing, sounds Spanish that could be mistaken as a derivative word from olisca (scent or smell), but it is not.

Bastons in the Philippines, generally, do not look like the usual arnis sticks. Their handles are bent to form letter "J." Baston is used to mean "stick" because canes are sometimes used like sticks by oldies to beat up mischievous kids.

Payong (umbrella)with letter J handle too was used by Filipino men like a cane in the old days, but it never entered the FMA lexicon. Men bringing umbrellas even during sunny days were common specially in Mindanao before the Spanish arrived. There are ancient Chinese texts that detail the pre-fifteenth century Moro lifestyle in Muslim Mindanao, where umbrellas were fashionably used the way the Hispanized Filipinos in Christianize areas used canes or bastons in colonial times.

Philippines, historically, has a bad memory about garote (gallow). Many of our heroes succumbed to such death machine. It is a chair-like instrument used to restrain and choke an innocent or guilty "criminal" sentenced to die. I had wondered for awhile why garote became "stick" specially in Visayas. I have read in some historical accounts showing that sticks were used to tighten the nooses or loops of garotes-- the barbaric machines brought to the Philippines by the Spanish.

Olisi is not a cebuano word for stick. It is a lumad word used to gauge the thickness and hardness of a rattan in the lumad areas like Davao Oriental, where rattan is a crop next to coconut and rice. Mandayas are known for their rattans. They usually ship and sell them to Cebu. I think that is how olisi reached Visayas-- through trade.

Round rod rattans are classified as
palasan, limuran, tumalim, olisi, sika and arorog respectively according to hardness and width starting from thick to thin. Olisi basically is medium in thickness and in hardness. It is just right for Arnis, Eskrima, and Kali, although it is not the hardest and the thickest. The thicker the rattan the harder it is. It means it has been in the open field for awhile and has been naturally treated by the sun.

I have been trying to research about olisi for years. I have only gotten one explanation. It is from the lumad word, hulisi-- meaning, turning a strip of intestine inside out using a stick for cleaning innards. Olisi is also the right stick, thickness-wise, to perform such task when pigs, cows, or carabaos are slaughtered. I usually hear that word, hulisi, when my folks prepare innards for dinuguan (blood stew), a Filipino delicacy.

Tagalogs too have their own linguistic way to gauge the thickness and length of a stick according to function-- from pangkalikol (stick for cleaning ears) to bulusan (stick used in spider-fighting) to taluko (stick used to crank the window open) to sanga (stick from a tree). Tagalog as a language is very particular and specific. Bulusan, for instance, is a stick but you cannot use it in stick fighting, unless you intend to poke someone's eyes. Cebuano, as a language, is also like that. Tukog is a stick but Cebuanos use it for barbecuing.

Even patpat or palatpat, the right Filipino word for stick, can be classified into several thicknesses and lengths:
tungkod, a stick used as a staff; tukod, a stick used to support a tent or a clothesline; talungkod, a stick used to carry stuff, and tayungkod, a stick used as a cane-- hence, it's root is tayo, meaning, to stand).

There are many words, traditional, foreign, and made-up, used in FMA to mean sticks. Even "istik" is commonly used. I think it is the most common word in the Philippines today that means stick used in fighting. I prefer to use pamalo-- it simply means "anything that can be used for striking".

Every FMA practitioner should know that anything can be used in stick fighting. I even tried rolling an entire newspaper tightly and used it to spar with my brother when we were kids. It worked and he won because he was the first one to get hold of the Sunday paper. Later, we moved on to hangers, plastic bottles we called litro, and bamboo strips before we were allowed to play rattan sticks.

Using olisi actually means the stick must be rattan. Garote is not a stick to me but a painful history. Baston is too colonial and snobbish an image for me since rich dons in haciendas (plantations)in old days used canes as part of their upper class signature together with their pipa (tobacco pipe) and perfect Spanish.

Pamalo is very generic and inclusive. It can be anything useful in striking and hitting. Yes, a payong (umbrella) can be a pamalo (hit/strike) and pantusok (thrust/stab) too like baston. Cebuano FMA practitioners should start using pamunal or pambunal-- it sounds beautiful and traditionally Filipino. Its meaning is the same as pamalo. Its root is bunal, meaning lash, strike, or hit. Belts, ropes, chains, sticks, and tails of stingrays (buntot-pagi) can be used as pamunal or pambunal-- in my dialect, we call them bubunal, and our name for stick fighting is binunalay.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Arabic On Moro Armor

One of the Moro armors that has really convinced me that the Ottoman Turks did reach the Philippines, particularly Sulu, is the armor above made of copper or brass plates (I am not sure what kind of metal chips they are). It almost looks like the buffalo horn armors-- in chip, button, chain, and okir designs. This armor, to me, is Turkish.

What has convinced me is the Arabic inscription, a Quranic passage, on the back of one of the chips. Unlike the Ottoman Turks, Mindanaoan Moros had no tradition of writing Islamic verses in Arabic on armors and weapons. The Moros did not speak or write in Arabic. They had their own malay-based dialects, and they too used Baybayin, the early Philippine writing system, before the Spanish came.

There are historical papers that show Moros wrote in baybayin, but I don't think there are evidence showing that the Moros used Arabic as a medium of communication before the Spanish colonization. Most Moros could not even write in sixteenth century. According to William Henry Scott, some datus could not even sign their names on affidavits, oaths, and land deeds. If the datus couldn't write, why could the warriors?

Arabic was not even used by the Moros when they first wrote Darangen, a Moro epic. It is just unthinkable that they would use it on armors. Nowadays, only few can speak and write Arabic in the Philippines. Its teaching began when the madrassa system of education was implemented by the Muslim priests and scholars in Mindanao. It is a twentieth-century literacy development among the Muslims in the Philippines.

I don't speak Arabic, but I have Arab friends who told me that these Arabic scripts are old. Most of them were not even familiar of the scripts on the metal Armor. They all said though that the writings were related to Quranic teachings since using Arabic in relation to objects used in war is an act of faith. Early Muslim warriors used the surah verses as amulets or protective prayers.

I am using the plural "scripts" because two kinds of Arabic writings were used. The first one is thuluth, and the one in the box is nastaliq. Both Arabic scripts were developed and used by the Ottomans. Thuluth is recognizable because of its downward slopes, while nastaliq uses many dots. A tentative translation of the passage supports my two-scripts theory.

The one written in thuluth uses the second person singular pronoun "you" while the one in nastaliq has the third person singular "he" as its masculine pronoun. There is a possibility that the the nastaliq passage was added later. The use of two scripts also suggests that the Turks indeed stayed for awhile in Malay archipelago, Sulu included. We can see the use of two scripts in transition.

A third of every word in thuluth script is a downward slope. Thuluth means "third" in Arabic. It is clear that tulo and tatlo, meaning "three", in Philippine major languages came from the Ottoman's thuluth. Malay has tiga, Sanskrit, trayas, tisra, and tri, and Tamil, moondru. It is intriguing why Cebuanos have tulo and Tagalogs, tatlo. As I see it, it is also a linguistic evidence that the Ottomans did reach Mindanao bringing the thuluth script and driving their enemies.

Nastaliq or taliq is known for its clear and fluid writing. Taliq, which means separate, probably got its name from the qalam, a pen made out of reed, which has a nib split in the middle or from the clear, distinct separation, space-wise, in writing. Some Muslims say taliq to divorce from their spouse. Interestingly, in the Philippines, talik means union, closeness, and sex. I wonder if there is a connection between the two words.

There are a lot of Turkish words in Philippine languages. Most of them are obviously related to violence, raid, and war. Bisaya Dusmag (stab) is from dusmek (fall). Tagalog alab is from alev, and they both mean flame. Siga means physically powerful in Tagalog and Turkish. Iyo in Tagalog means yours while iye in Turkish means owner. Sabit for both means fixed or attached.

There is even a word related to tribute or taxation. Kain in the Philippines means food or eat while in Turkey, it means poultry or
stuff paid in kind by a tenant to his landlord. Turkish arak became alak in Tagalog. They are drinks. I am still trying to compile Turkish-loaned words in Philippine languages. So far, the ones I have gathered are mostly not nice words.

The Turkish words that entered the languages of the Filipinos are very telling of the violent activities and nature of the Ottomans. I have a feeling that they were not nice people when they were in the Islands. They must have raided, killed, and drove away the Hindus. Thus, only faint traces of Hinduism and Indic culture have survived in the Philippines. Yes, I believe it was the Ottoman Turks who caused the violent decline and demise of the Majapahit empire.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Armors in Malay Peninsula

The Ottoman Turks' supply of metal was abundant. They had complex metal arts and crafts. One should not wonder why there is no existing Turkish armors with plates or strips made from buffalo horns. Maybe early on they used buffalo horns but later changed to metals. Thus, there are no existing Ottoman non-metal armors-- so far.

The ottomans had a history of breeding, hunting, and domesticating buffaloes. The population of the Anatolian buffaloes could not be matched by the carabaos of the Philippines. The Ottomans used bull horns in their weaponry specially in making bows. According to some historical accounts, they even melted buffalo horns to be used as ornaments and weapons. They even carved them to make utensils, jewelry boxes, decors, buttons, etc.

When the Ottomans started using metals for their armors, they must have reused the chips and strips of buffalo horns from their old armors. That is a plausible reason why there are no existing Ottoman buffalo horn armors. Some people think that since there are Moro armors made of buffalo horns, the said armors are indeed of Mindanaon origin as if early water buffaloes or carabaos were of distinct Philippine or Mindanaoan breed.

Carabaos are not endemic to the Philippines. Genetically, they can be traced to the wild water buffaloes of India. The Madjapahit Hindus must have brought the cattle with them. Ibn Batuta, a 14th-century Moroccan explorer, wrote about the systematic transportation of cattle in Asia and India. Carabaos must have come directly from Java.

The only bovine that is endemic to the Philippines is the dwarf tamaraw. It can only be found in Mindoro, which is not in Mindanao. Besides, their horns are too small to be considered for armors. When the early Filipinos started domesticating carabaos, they were mainly for farming and milking. Until now, slaughtering a carabao is extremely rare in The Philippines.

The limited population of the domesticated Philippine carabaos also suggests that there is no way their horns could be used in armors that needed pairs and pairs of horns. It also shows that there was no systematic mass breeding or hunting then. If there was, there should have been a lot of wild and leashed carabaos in the Islands before the Spanish came. Historical accounts by Spanish chroniclers wrote about carabaos as farmers' "beasts of burden." They were already domesticated for farm work not for their horns.

Limited supply does not mean more demand. I don't wonder why I only see bull horns used as hilts or handles of bladed weapons by the lumads of Mindanao, Visayans, and Tagalogs. Carabaos are just useful in Philippine traditional economy when they are alive not dead. I don't think slaughtering them for their horns is a tradition among the people in rural Philippines.

The existing Moro armors made of buffalo horns are in good condition. Their gold okir designs are thick and complex. Even the chain linking was obviously not simple and old. They mean that the said armors are not as ancient as the metal armors of the Ottomans. I believe that those buffalo horn armors were from Borneo, which has a tradition of hunting and slaughtering buffaloes for meat, hide, and horns. They are definitely of Turkish influence, even though horns were used.

Until now, there are even water buffalo parade and racing in Malaysia and Indonesia. Some Bornean ethnolinguistic groups still use buffalo heads as economic status symbol. Unlike Borneo, Sulu has no carabao culture. It is not even known for rice farming where carabaos are useful. There is no specific breed of buffaloes in Sulu, and it is not known as the place for hunting wild buffaloes.

Philipine carabaos must have come directly from Madjapahit Java. They were transported by the Hindus to Caraga region, then to Visayas, and then Luzon, the rice granary of the Philippines, where the population of domesticated carabaos is a lot. Also, lumads of Mindanao, Visayans, and Tagalogs have folk tales involving carabao. I don't think Muslims of Mindanao have one. I am still researching. So far, I have found none.

After centuries of domestication and mutation, the horns of the Philippine carabaos changed. They are not as long and wide as the Malaysian buffaloes that still exist today. The horns of Bornean buffaloes
which are definitely enough to make armors also suggest that they were once wild, and being hunted and slaughtered for the use of their horns, besides meat and hide.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Moro Armor is Ottoman's

Another reason why Moro armors are not Mindanaoan is the chain linking design. Ottoman metal arts produced different kinds of complex chain designs. Such designs can be seen in Turkish dresses, jewelries, hats and helmets, weaving, decorative arts, drawing and painting, architecture, and even in geometric Arabic calligraphy. The Muslims of Mindanao have no tradition of chain mail and linking designs. Even their jewelries do not have complex designs like the ottomans'.

It would be easy to consider the armor above as Moro due to the inlaid okir leafy designs in gold on the chest part since okir is considered as the traditional art form of the Mindanaon Muslims, specially among the Maranaos. Actually okir is not traditionally unique to Mindanao. Indonesia and Malaysia also have ukir- an art form that uses the same floral and leafy designs found in Mindanaoan drawing, carving, dyeing, architecture, etc.

Okir or ukir is also a proof that supports the idea that the Ottoman Turks reached the Malay archipelago and Sulu. Okir designs are the same arabesque art symbols and images found in Islamic arts of Turkey that can be traced back to Persia. A sixteenth century Ottoman ax below shows leafy curlicues. Leaves and flowers were often used in early Turkish arts because images of humans and animals were forbidden in Islam.

Even the word ukir or ukil is also a linguistic proof suggesting that indeed the Ottoman Turkish and the Madjapahit Hindu cultures met and mixed. There are historical accounts that suggest the participation of the Ottomans in the demise of the Majapahit empire in Java in 1500's. The Sultanate of Demak, the enemy of the Javanese Hindus, had ties with the ottomans.

Ukir or ukil is Tamil for fingernail or claw. No wonder okir floral and leafy designs are in curves, curls, and curlicues. In Mindanao, ukir became okir or okkir. This also proves that the Turkish influence and the people who originally made and wore the Moro armors did reach Sulu and the surrounding areas. Ok is turkish for arrow, tongue, pole, shank or quill. It denotes points, curves, and lines which are present in okir.

Basically, the Turkish ok linguistically changed the Tamil ukir, which resulted to the Mindanaon okir or okkir. The change of uk to ok is significant since in Malay and Philippine languages, the u sound is not changeable or replaceable. In early Cebuano or Visayan languages, o was not even a vowel. There were only three: a, i, and u. The use of o in okir or okkir shows a foreign influence-- in this case, Turkish.

Next: Similarities among armors of Sulawesi, Brunei, Mindanao, and Ottoman Turkey.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Moro Armor: Is it Moro?

A lot has been written about Moro armors. Some say they are Spanish in origin while others claim them to be Moro in every chain, chip, and detail. Moro is usually defined as the people of Mindanao although the people of Borneo were also called Moros by the European explorers in pre-twentieth century and by the Americans in 1900's.

If Moros traditionally made and wore armors a long time ago, Muslims of Mindanao would have a lot of armors in their closets as inherited items from their old folks. They must have also influenced the Lumads (non-Muslim natives) of Mindanao in making and wearing armors centuries ago. Unfortunately, those cases, at present, are non-existent.

Maybe only a dozen of armors exists today. That tells us that only a handful of Moro warriors wore armors. Maybe the leaders were the only ones who were protected. It also suggests that these armors are not actually Moro in origin. They were not made in Mindanao. A group of foreign warriors must have brought them there. I have a hunch that the Ottoman Turks brought those with them together with Sunni Islam, Arabic language, and their genes that reached Sulu. The available pieces of evidence- archaeological, linguistic, and genetic, say so.

When we talk about metal armors, the first thing that should come to mind is the image of warriors on horses. These armors are heavy so riding a horse is a great help. Exhaustion is the weakness of any warrior. I just don't think that a Moro warrior would wear a heavy metal armor and walk along the mountainous terrain of Mindanao under the tropical heat of the sun. It would also be a drag to wear one during wet season while marching on slippery, muddy fields. They would need horses for these armors to be helpful.

The Moros of Mindanao were not known traditionally as warriors on horses. They had no history of breeding horses, going to war on horses, and celebrating something related to horses. They were not comparable to Turks and Mongols with horses. Spanish and American accounts do not say anything about Moros riding horses, fighting with their krises and kampilans, and wearing metal armors.

Maybe a few leaders did, but wearing armor was not a cultural thing among the Moros. Even the Spanish Chroniclers who witnessed the death of Magellan did not write anything about Lapu-Lapu in armor. They wrote about the natives' spear, I don't think they would miss the shining metal armors of the early Filipinos if they had and wore them. Those early leaders in armors, I think, were influenced by the foreign warriors who visited them.

Even the Americans in their campaign against the moros in 1900's never encountered Moros in armors in many battles they waged. However, there are existing photos taken by the Americans during peace time where a handful of Moros donned and modeled armors. The way I look at them, they were prodded or forced to wear them for the camera. I think those armors were actually collections or inherited possessions by the high-ranked datus or even sultans not normal or usual protective wears traditionally used by just any Moro warriors.

Next: Turkish not Moro Armors

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Re-Sanskritized Kalis

After checking available archaeological evidence, linguistic proof, and historical accounts, I am confident to say that keris, the malaysian and Indonesian kris, is from the Turkish word, kilich (sword). Even the genetic map, made from several human genome projects, supports my contention that Turkish influences, including their genes and weaponry, reached Mindanao before the Spanish came to the Philippines in sixteenth century.

In Malay, ch usually becomes s and l replaces r (and vice-versa). Thus, from kilich, it evolved to kiris. I suspect that the Sanskrit kera (coconut) and ker (to cut) entered the malay lexicon and influenced the evolution of kiris to keris. Keris is not entirely a Sanskrit word. The suffix -is cannot be found in Indian languages. For this reason, the Turkish kilish makes sense.

There are malay words whose e was i originally. In visayan languages, for instance, e usually becomes i, whose sound is hard and stiff. That's why Visayans are known for their "hard tongue." In short i and e are interchangeable. However, Malay languages are sensitive when it comes to a vowel change. Once it is changed, its meaning or its being a part of speech is also affected.

In Philippine languages, ibon is not the same as ebon. The latter is egg and the former is bird. I suspect that kiris and keris have the same linguistic similarity-- kiris might have been the general word for sword with no specific meaning and later it became keris, a special sword with a particular meaning and use. Linguistically, the meaning of a word evolves from general to specific.

In Mindanao, keris is kalis, the word used by the Muslims for kris. Deep words in the Philippines have Malay origins, and some Malay words have Turkish Arabic beginnings, and most of them have Sanskrit etymologies. I have observed that foreign-influenced Malay words that entered the Philippine languages are re-Sanskritized. That it is also one of the evidence supporting the presence of Hinduism and early Indians in the Islands before the Spanish colonization.

Tagalog dalita (poor) is from derita (suffering), which is from dharta, the Sanskrit word for "restrained." Derita became dalita after early Filipinos re-Sanskritized derita by incorporating dal, the Sanskrit root word for "suppressed." It is the same linguistic explanation with salita (word) from the old Malay word serita and Sanskrit cerita. The Sanskrit word sali or salit, which means "including," obviously a function of a word that includes meanings, images, and sounds, became part of the re-Sanskritized Filipino salita.

Salamat (thanks) is from seramat or selamat (survive or safe), which is from the Sanskrit word, sala or salam, meaning, house or pavilion, which denotes safety. Seramat or selamat became salamat after the Sanskrit root word sal (sea) was incorporated. Early Filipinos in coastal areas were seafarers, and the sea surrounding them was the source of their worries and object of their prayers for safety. There are rituals that are still done or prepared to calm the sea in the Philippines.

I see the same pattern of linguistic evolution in berita to balita (news), aremat to alamat (legend), and berat to balat (skin, peel, or cover). It is also the same word change that happened to keris when it became kalis. Keris became kilis or kelis, and then the sanskrit kal or kali (dark) entered the equation. Thus, keris became kalis.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Uno-Dos-Tres Triangle Attack

Tres or three is synonymous to triangle in Filipino philosophy and traditional martial arts. Lethal and immobilizing points in the body are in the clusters of three and in the forms of triangle. There are wet triangles for weapons such as spear, knife,and sword and dry ones for impact strike from stick, kick or punch.

A strike on a wet triangle usually targets veins, blood vessels, or arteries. On a dry one focuses the impact towards internal organs such as heart, lungs, kidney, liver, etc. Attacking dry triangles is usually done first to immobilize an opponent. That is the rule, so that one has time to think if he wants to finish his opponent off by using weapons to thrust, cut, or slash his opponent who is down and in pain. His opponent can also rethink if he needs to continue fighting.

People who go directly with the lethal wet points usually regret after killing their opponents. They forget the rule of killing, which is to think twice before doing it. A good martial artist should know how to control his rage. If anything can control him like fear, rage, and vengeance, then he is weak, coward, and dumb.

Those who are controlled by their feelings usually end up in hospital, cemetery, or jail. Fighting also belongs to the realm of the mind. One should think before he hurts someone. That's why there are mapped out lethal points in the human body, so accident can be avoided and dumb killing won't happen. Killing should be done when one really knows what he is doing and if he really thinks about the consequences. Blaming adrenaline rush and psychological blackout is a weak reason. A real martial artist knows how to control his feelings because he uses his mind.

Even the triangles of death have points that are semi-lethal or not lethal at all. Their role is for warning. If continued, stabs, slashes or cuts to other adjoining points would result to death. A good example is the belly-femoral triangle. Stabbing the belly area is not always deadly. The adipose tissues or fats in that area are thick and slippery. That belly point serves a good warning though to a fallen opponent that his attacker can still continue and complete the triangle by doing the same thing to both femoral veins.

Uno, dos, tres attack is basically a controlled way to kill. Uno is a warning, dos is to kill, and tres is to overkill. Counting uno, dos, tres in relation to trouble, fight, or fisticuff is common in Philippine culture. We count one, two, three to warn bullies, calm down our obnoxious brothers, and give our enemies time to shut up, leave us alone or run as fast as they can. Intelligent killing requires time for both individuals in a fight to really make sure that one is ready to kill and the other to be killed.

Had that Filipino guy who killed a club bouncer in New York learned Uno-dos-tres attack, dry and wet triangles, and warning and killing points, he would not have been in jail full of regrets and suicidal thoughts. If you look at it deeper, Filipino martial art is not senselessly savage. It warns and gives time to someone to stop the fight, run, and go to the nearest emergency room. Uno as an expression in Philippine languages is synonymous to warning. Yes, a Filipino warns before he unlocks, flips, and thrusts his balisong.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Guhit: Life Versus Death

Guhit, a Filipino word for line, is always the target of the triangle force in serious fighting for offense when one attacks and for defense when one protects. A line can be a force or a target of force. Blade weapons, for instance, are symbolized by a line. Arms, legs, and even the entire body is a line. They are strong forces.

There is a line in the human body that is weak and vulnerable to attack. That imaginary line is from the throat to the groin, and solar plexus and navel in between. Those for points within that line if hit by a punch, a kick, or a stick will definitely make a person curl down or even drop facing down.

Getting kicked in the groin or punched in the stomach does not necessarily kill but it would make someone drop on his knees and remain defenseless and immobile. The throat area and the solar plexus are the lethal ones. They are the dead points in the body line. Every fighter should protect that line from his opponent's strike, kick, punch, hit, or thrust. He should always be aware about that line when he is in a fight.

There are also lethal points in the head, but the latter can move, avoid, skip, bow down or lean back. The four points in the body line, lalamunan (throat), sikmura (solar plexus), pusod (navel), and harapan (groin) cannot do what the head and neck can, so arms, hands, legs, and feet are used to protect them. The forces that protect that line are triangles-- the weak is shielded by the strong.

For the throat and solar plexus, arms and hands are used respectively while with navel and groin, feet and knee are put into use. Of course, this is not a rule. A hand can be used too to protect the navel and the groin, but one needs to rely on a habit to protect himself during adrenaline rush. Quick thinking is important in a tight situation.

When cornered and punched on the solar plexus or throat, for example, hands cannot really strongly cover the vital point but arms can. Using hands has only two mini-shields while using arms have six-- upper arms, lower arms, and hands. The same story when it comes to groin and navel with feet, lower legs and thighs.

To avoid confusion, using triangular connection of points in defense is a good thing. The groin is best protected with knees and the solar plexus with hands. There is a reason why a fighting stance is usually in a side body position with one foot forward. The groin is protected by the leg and the solar plexus by the arm that way.

Even the feet on the ground is in a triangular position for force, weight, and balance to counter the line separating two fighters. In any aspect of martial arts, even in grappling and stickfighting, the play of force between a triangle and a line is always present and obvious. Even when someone falls after getting punched, he can use his arms or hands on the ground for leaning to regain balance and to avoid a total knockout. That in itself is a triangle avoiding a line.

If triangle is life, line is death.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Learning FMA By Thinking

I wonder if these kids really knew why they raised their legs. I don't think they were about to kick. Their other legs on the floor were just weak. I don't also think that they were about to jump. Their upper body positions were not meant for forward move. I wonder why they vulnerably extended their arms like that. I guess they just raised their legs for a show ala Karate Kid and their arms for "wax on, wax off." If that was the case, then they were forgivable since they were not adults.

I was their age when I first owned a pair of kamagong Sticks. I knew they were mine because of the large-sized, sand-papered marbles we call holen or kurindo I half-buried in the carved out tips of my sticks using rugby so they would stick and lining them with alkitran, a black glue-like substance used to seal metals, stones, wood, etc, so they would not slip or come out.
They all wondered about my innovation. They thought I was just playing. In reality, I was thinking.

I told my dad that my kamagong sticks were too heavy, and they hurt when I dropped them hitting my feet. My grandpa smiled in admiration. He knew where my story was going. I actually made my sticks bounce on the asphalt streets and cement floors. Vertically dropping and catching them was easy. I also liked how they made my brothers' and cousins' foreheads swell. Their bukol (swelling) looked like sungay (horns). I got hit too, but usually they looked like flat welts or linear swells about to become cuts. A large-sized Band-Aid was usually enough to cover my flat bukol.

It's true that what goes in must come out, a different kind of physics. Two marbles got broken while the rest loosened and came out. That was after a couple of months. I accepted the fate of my kamagong sticks as they were not really meant to bounce. They were not also meant to slip off my hands. I did not stop there though. I had four small Mandaya knives attached on the ends of the sticks using black goma (rubber band). They looked good and lethal. I had never used those sticks again. I was never a dangerous troublemaker. They were in my grandpa's baul (chest) also made of kamagong collecting dusts.

That was my first lesson in FMA-- all about concepts and innovation. I was not really told what to do, nor was I forced to follow. I watched the adults spar or stick fight while I keenly observed their movements, strikes, thrusts, parries, covers, etc, then I asked my grandpa, my uncles, and my dad why they moved that way, why their feet were confusing, and why they looked like they were dancing violently. I asked many why's before I proceeded to asking how. My Training was not really a dojo style or a cookie cutter method. I was taught according to what I needed, what I could do, and what I was interested in-- self-defense.

The training I grew up doing was through sparring not through following or performing. Of course, I was told first about the reasons why the sticks should be held this way, why I had to thrust that way, and why I should not twirl or toss my sticks. "Only twirler ladies do that during parades," my dad used to say, and my grandpa would iterject, "Hinaya patuyuka. Basin alipugngan. Mudagan sang kamut mu"-- translation: "Stop twirling. They might get dizzy. They will run off your hands."

My grandpa was not joking. He really thought kamagong, balete, and rattan sticks had souls. When he kept dropping them, it was time to rest. He usually said he was not tired but the sticks were. Our culture is like that-- so many spirits. Even stones and rocks have spirits too. We call them anito. Weapons too have spirits. I understood pretty well when the old folks said not to desecrate the sticks. I did never find my grandpa's folktales and mythical stories strange. They are part of our culture-- our oral literature. They were my first lessons in FMA.

I grew up learning stick fighting by thinking first before doing it. I even asked them why the sticks were called arnis and the moves eskrima and the blade techniques kali. The Ilonggo master, who was the school principal in our town then, would just say, "that's what I learned in Visayas." I would just stop pressing the issue right there. He knew too many secrets. I thought someday I would knew them. My grandpa or my dad would reveal them to me even if just in tidbits.

My grandpa and my dad were not really high up on terms but on concepts. My dad even call sticks as bubunal (hitter) until now and he is allergic to using spanish words like abanico, corto, cadena, etc. Yes, words are not that important to him, but the histories behind those words are. For him, cultural pride is also a concept. When a practitioner has that sense, he will love whatever he does-- even if he gets hit by a stick everyday. That was my first lesson about concepts in FMA-- cultural pride.

With my sticks, I should not move like a kung fu master, I should not raise my legs like a Thai kickboxer, I should not kick like a Tae Kwon Do jin, and I should not grapple like a judo expert. I should learn my own art and present it as it is. FMA is FMA. If in the future, I mix it with something, Tai Chi or Tang Soo Do, I should make it sure that what I am doing is half FMA and Half Tai Chi or Tang Soo Do. A good system is an honest system that knows where its concepts come from.

I asked my grandpa if I desecrated my weapons since I put marbles and later Mandaya knives as extensions. He told me I did not. First, I gave them eyes, then later, sharp claws. He admonished me though not to call them as just kamagong sticks. Saying "improvised" or "improved" kamagong sticks was better. I asked why. He simply said that like sticks, marbles and knives had spirits too, and that they should be recognized.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

KAMUT: Triangles of the Hands

Kamut (hand) is not the same as kamot (scratch), and it does not also share the same meaning with kumot, a blanket for Tagalogs and for Cebuanos, a scratch or a fight between women that involves face-scratching and hair-pulling. In Philippine languages, a change in a vowel sound or a stress results to a different meaning. Cebuano, if you observe its sound, pronunciation, and stress, has only three vowel sounds: a, i, and u. I am not really sure how Sugbu became Subu, and then Cebu.

Hands too have triangles of forces, although they are mostly light or subtle. To understand triangles in fighting, one should know the interplay between two kinds of triangles: humpak (loose) and tumpak (solid). Toes, fingers and, insteps are loose triangles, while the heels, sides of the feet, and heels of the palms are solid triangles. Humpak triangles produce light forces, and their functions is to complement and protect the strong force. Tumpak triangles also do the same thing-- to complement and protect the weak one.

Basically, fingers are used to pull (hila) or push (tulak), and the heels of the palm also called sakong hit or strike. In my dialect, we call that heel under the wrist pad from Cebuano's palad-- meaning, palm. We also have a name for a palm heel strike-- lusngo. I don't wonder why we have a word for it. Traditional grapplers and wrestlers use such technique, a combination of gouging and hitting. And we call pushing someone to hit the ground tukmod and when he hits the ground, we also have a name for it-- sukamod. Only a fighting culture could have such specific names for fighting movements and flow.

Thumbs are interesting. They have triangles of their own, and they are some of the pulses in the human body. They could be week or strong. A thumb's function is for grabbing and picking like other fingers, but it is also used to press soft tissues or hit eyes. I saw a street fight once where a Bisaya, who knew pangamut-- way of the hands-- used the heel of his right palm to strike the face of his opponent and thumb to hit his eye-- it was a two-in-one technique, and there was an obvious flow in his moves.

Hands are used often to parry-- this move is called tapi or tapik. Some call is sagang (intecept), sabat (counteract), salo (catch), etc. Some martial art systems think of parrying as just pushing away or deflecting punches, hits, and strikes. There are FMA practitioners who parry and at the same time grab, pull, throw, and push in a continuous flow. The use of kalasag (shield) has the same series of moves-- it parries, deflects, pushes, pulls, grabs, throws, and even hits. In some cultures, a shield is seen as an extension of a hand and arm that also attacks and protects.

The commonly used hand triangle is the one located from the side base of the little finger to the two points of the side wrist. Yes, it's a triangle. It is as hard as a palm heel. Show offs use it for breaking things. Its most effective use is for striking a sensitive part of the neck in a chopping, hacking, thrusting, or slashing position.

If one is in a tight situation where a hacker is about to strike him with a bolo and he has nothing to protect himself and no time to disarm his attacker, and he wants to extend his life so he can still fight and hopefully disarm him, he should use that side of his hand, but when he parries, he has to make it sure to place his hand near its handle. The damage is lesser that way-- the blade just below the handle, oftentimes, is not sharp and the force of the weapon is lesser in that area.

Even if that side of his hand is hacked, he still has more time to live and fight since hemorrhage is not that quick with a hand that is mostly fleshy and bony and has no major muscle or artery. As long as he still has a thumb, a finger or two, and a palm heel, he can still make a fist, grab, pull, push, and throw. He can still disarm his attacker. Oftentimes, arms are used by desperate victims to protect themselves from a bolo strike, but it does not really help. Arms have lots of muscles and arteries that control the movement, strength, and life of the hands. Besides, a broken arm means one has a useless hand.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

TIIL: Triangles of the Feet

I used to train a lot in a martial art system where kicking was one of its specialties. We were taught how to really kick good as high as we could go and as straight as we could do-- almost six o'clock up in the air. I don't think it has a purpose but for a show. A foot can only deliver a real knock out force if the legs are pretty relaxed and not overstretched or strained. So, eleven thirty is within the effortless range.

One thing I noticed then was that every time my feet landed on the floor, even if matted, or ground, sandy, loamy or clayish, when I kicked, I felt pain. It felt as if my heel and ankle bone was pushed up. Even when I kicked someone, I noticed the same pain too. I would even feel it on my tail bone (coccyx). We were taught how to kick but we were never taught how to manage injuries and what part of the feet that should not be used for kicking or hitting. I did not even know the different functions of the different parts of the feet then. They were not taught in the system.

It was after a tournament one summer when I realized that something did not make sense-- a complete martial art should have its own system for managing injuries and setting bones. All I heard was to put ice on it. I won my match but I held onto metal crutches for three days. That was the time I first began soul-searching about FMA. I did not think early warriors would suffer the same fate as I did. They were careful when it came to injuries. There are folk tales that say so. They even knew what kind of cold leaves to pound and put on bone injuries as substitute for ice. There was no ice then, and Philippines is tropical.

Skeptic, I went to see a manghihilot (bone-setter). He was an albularyo (medicine man) too. He picked sappy klabo (mint) leaves, lightly pounded them with the head of his bolo, and wrapped them around my right foot with young, yellowish banana leaves. They felt cold and wet and smelled like tinola (spiced stew) or kakanin (Filipino snack). After a day, I could miraculously walk. It defied my orthopedic doctor's advice that I should stay home for a week, so I would not make it worse. There was something the albularyo and manghihilot said that caught my attention. He said, "Wa man gud mo kabalo mogamit sa inyong mga tiil"-- "You just don't know how to use your feet."

It surprised me. I won the match, yet this old man told me I knew nothing about using my feet. That was my first idea that there must be a Filipino martial art system, a complete one from start to finish. After a couple of days, I paid him a visit bringing with me a gift-- it's a tradition to give gifts to folk healers. I asked him what he knew about "using feet" and managing foot injuries. He advised me to see a mananggiti (coconut wine collector) first then I could come back and ask for more. It was summer, so I went back to the province where our coconut farm was.

I observed and asked all the mananggitis I met about their techniques in climbing tall coconut trees without using body straps or foot spikes. I learned that for trees without tangga-- horizontal ears or side chops-- used as a mini-ladder of sort, they used their toes to push themselves up as if their feet had springs. Yes, they literally walked and hopped on those trees. They also used the soft insteps of their feet to stick onto a tree like suctions-- instep soles are the only parts of the feet that contract and expand again so they will fit in those narrow side ears. They indeed knew how to use their feet effectively.

I watched them come down too. They continuously slid down using their relaxed instep soles with minimal friction. They called it sirit (going without stopping) or more appropriately, hawos, a controlled free-fall, which I don't think has an English equivalent. The mananggitis did not know physics but they sure practiced it. They usually jumped down while still a meter away. I learned from them not to use heels to land on the ground. They used their toes again like springs to bounce. I asked for an explanation. They all told me, "Mainano kaw"-- "You will turn into a midget." I just smiled as I dismissed their answer as superstitious or uneducated supposition.

While driving back to the city, I realized that the "midget" thing made sense. A strong upward impact around the heel can cause backbone problems and spinal disc dislocation, which, if not treated professionally, will cause scoliosis or back deformation we call in the Philippines kuba (hunchback). I went straight to the albularyo and manghihilot. He asked me to take off my shoes and started drawing imaginary triangles on my feet with his forefinger. He was sure of his knowledge. He told me that he learned it from his kaumpuan (ancestors), the word we usually use to mean ancient times. It was obvious to me that such knowledge was passed down to him maybe by his father and he would surely pass it to his son, who was his dutiful assistant.

I learned that the parts of the feet covered by red triangles, the toes and the insteps, should not be used to hit hard surfaces, bony tissues, and compact ground. They are for soft moves like sliding, sticking, pushing, and bouncing. The black triangles are the ones with strong forces that can be used to deliver strong impact and to really hurt someone. To avoid hurting one's self, the red triangles are used with precision and with appropriate functions. They have light forces. An instep sole, for instance, can be used to choke an opponent on the ground or onto the wall not because of its force but it fits perfectly around the neck area. It is just versatile.

I wonder if tiil (feel) has something to do with siil-- to choke or to make one suffer. S and T are interchangeably used in some dialects. One thing the manghihilot/albularyo told me with certainty that a sole is caled pala-pala for something. In Philippine languages, pala is spade, a multipurpose tool for digging, chopping, scooping, leveling, compacting, smoothing, etc. Like a foot of many triangles, each part of a spade has its own specific function and kind of force.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Dagmay: People's History

It is tough to reconstruct history from symbols and tougher to base facts from abstract meanings. History should not only focus itself in scavenging and underlining texts and written accounts but also analyzing non-textual cultural artifacts. There are people in the Philippines who have no system of writing but their uses of symbols and meanings are very advanced and functional. Even before the Spanish arrived, the lumads (natives) of Mindanao already had a system of meanings, an array of symbols, and an idea about semiotics.

This dagmay, a piece of woven abaca fiber, for instance, would look nothing but a square of fiber to untrained eyes or to those who have no knowledge about Mandaya culture. The truth is that it is a copy or record of a chanted poetry called dawot about a warrior and his shield and the spirit of the turtle that guides him. It is also a how-to manual for combat and warfare-- "a shield protects the man, and leave the rest to the spirit." Turtle symbolizes protection. Crocodile is also used to mean enemy or bad spirit. Triangular designs stand for weapons-- such as sugob (spear) pana (bow and arrow), sumpitan (blowgun), and sundang (sword).

Filipino philosophy is a knowledge not based on texts or written discourses. It is the reason why some people deny its existence. Some think that analyzing symbols is overdoing and understanding meanings, overextending. I, too, thought the same way when I heard a foremost structuralist and semiologist in my university explaining Filipino personality using a clay jar. I thought a highly-respected anthropologist like him should not engage in interpreting metaphors. When I visited different lumad communities, I realized that my professor was indeed right-- although Filipino philosophy is not in the book, it exists in the people's consciousness.

When I am talking about Filipino triangles being images of force, you cannot find any written materials about them but you will see them in the material culture of the Philippines that includes architecture, weaponry, arts, and other tangible and visible objects. It is my hope that my work will turn those symbols hiding meanings into readable texts so people coming from different backgrounds and perspectives will not dismiss Philippine culture, which is rich of symbols and abundant of meanings, as a heritage without philosophy and concepts about ideas, ideologies, and lines of thoughts.

The history of the Filipino People did not start when the Spanish came. They named us "Filipino," but the essence of being one was already there centuries before the early Europeans even knew the existence of the "uncivilized" people they called Indios. We cannot truly understand the people's history of the Philippines if we do not use the same mode of communication and understand the traditional way of recording employed by those natives who have no writing system but a highly developed system of conveying thoughts through symbols and meanings.

If you ask me, to gauge a society's civilization, the way people use and develop graphics and images should also be considered. We see that in the hieroglyphics of Egypt, in the precolombian graphic writing in Mesoamerica, and in the emoticons and avatars of the internet era.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

SAKONG: Triangles of the Heel

A foot is the most common body part that succumbs to martial arts-related injury. It should not have been the case since the strongest part of the body is part of the foot-- its heel.

We call it sakong in the Philippines. Others call it takong. For Cebuanos, it is tikod. We use the same words for a shoe's heel. Every woman knows that it is the first thing that gets ruined in a shoe when used daily because it carries the entire body weight.
A heel of a human is like that-- strong, forceful, and powerful.

It is interesting that sakong is related to sakang (step). It is the same case with takang and tikad or sikad which also mean step or sometimes, stamp or kick. I wonder why there are words for the posterior sole of the foot but not the anterior (front) part. Maybe it was treated as special because it is the first one that lands when we make a step. Words could evolve that way-- from the order of movements.

Even with a footprint in the sand, the most pronounced is the heel. A set of heels, indeed, is where all the forces in the body rush to produce balance.
Because of heels, a human being is able to walk. Bipedalism was achieved because early humans or hominids mastered the use of their heels in relation to body weight, equilibrium, and movement.

The kick of a heel is stronger than the punch of a fist if executed right. Legs are longer than arms, and that length difference, if related to space and distance, results to differences in force exerted and produced. The bones and muscles of lower limbs are also more developed and well-stretched because they are often used for walking.

There are four triangles around the heel area- labas (outside), loob (inside), likod (back), at ilalim (below). A heel can do more combat techniques or fighting moves than a fist. It can kick using its four different parts. It can also break legs, hit the groin, target the solar plexus, hit the face, etc.

The best way to use one's heels is to stamp on an opponent's right foot and use the other heel to break his right knee, and if the opponent in pain drops forward, he can then knee his opponent's face. I know it's brutal, but that's how I was taught to fight with someone taller and bigger than me when diplomacy fails.

As triangles are sources of force, they are also targets of force. A fist, hitting those triangles, can definitely neutralize them. A kick to a kick works but my favorite defense-offense move is to parry and catch my opponent's feet and punch one of the triangles around his heel. The pain is temporary, and it won't last long, but he will definitely crawl or bow down in pain, and that's when I can hit his head.

Try flicking the back triangle of your heel, you will feel a static as if you are electrocuted-- we call that sensation bikog. Imagine if that flick is a punch, I don't think anyone can stand straight and maintain his balance-- maybe after a couple of minutes. In a fight, in a street or in a ring, a second makes a huge difference.

However, with a well-trained kickboxer, who includes climbing the tall coconut tree by walking as part of his training regimen, I don't think a punch or a kick on his feet or heel will work-- if that's the case, go for other body parts.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

KAMAO: Triangles of the Fist

Yes, anything-- a weapon, a human body, or an environment -- can be reduced to or mapped out with points. Since points are the smallest units that can be applied to a space, a body part, and a weapon, triangles are used. In a quick, fast combat or fight, points are hard to see unless one is a master and has a "martial eye"-- an ability to see an opponent as a whole, inside-out, and vice-versa.

In the Philippines, we call such ability as karunungan for Tagalog, kamauhan for Cebuano and Bisaya, for my dialect, katigaman. It is basically knowledge. Kamao for instance in Cebuano means knowledgeable but in Tagalog it is a fist. Marunong in Tagalog is bright or smart, but in my dialect, it means cunning, crafty, and astute. These Filipino words show that traditionally the way of fighting has always been viewed and practiced as knowledge by Filipinos.

Some might argue that my analysis is just a mere linguistic coincidence and has no relationship at all. In Philippine languages, words that sound or spell almost the same are related-- example, ibon (bird) and ebon (egg), baha (flood) and bahas (dry), suba (lake) and subo (boil), and many more. Linguistics and etymology are some of the effective ways of studying culture and tradition.

For a fist, it is definitely tough to see it as a mass of points specially if it is moving and swinging. Connecting three points as a triangle is a way of magnifying a target. Instead of hitting three points, one can hit the entire triangle. A fist has two important triangles and a special one- small, medium, and big. They are all targets and sources of force.

The small one is composed of two forefinger knuckles and a thumb knuckle. It is the force that keeps a fist solid and strong. Even an Okinawan fist does not entirely curl a forefinger and force is emphasized in that triangular part. A good fist is a tight one-- when you really see a triangle.

The big triangle, composed of a little finger knuckle, a forefinger knuckle, and a wrist bone, is the force that controls an entire hand. If that triangle is weak, its fist is weak, and one is prone to bone injuries. Drills with sticks are good for strengthening that triangle.

There is a medium triangle but it is not used often but only for soft tissues like areas around the eyes, both hollow sides of the nape, and fleshy part of the neck where lymph nodes are usually felt. This force is from a secondary knuckle of a protruding middle finger, a forefinger knuckle, and a little finger knuckle.

I have tried researching about this strange-looking fist. So far, I have found no specific name for it but Filipinos know and use it. In my dialect, we call it with a generic word
lupot or lisit-- meaning stuck out. Personally, I want to call it banoy (eagle or eagle's beak)-- the Filipino version of phoenix eye fist.

In suntukan (fistfighting), the best way to intercept a fist is with a fist but with a technique. Fist-to-fist or knuckles-to-knuckles banging works but if one has weak hands, bones, and muscles, most likely he will break his hands. The best way is to attack or punch a triangle of a fist, the origin or reservoir of force. If the punch is straight, hit the big triangle from the side, and if he swings, target the small triangle.

To counter a force, one has to use a force. To know and neutralize an opponent's force, one has to learn how to reduce him to triangles, and later if he masters the concept, he can see points or matrices while fighting.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Tatsulok: The Filipino Triangle

Triangle is commonly associated to Filipino martial arts. Surely, it has traditional roots in Philippine language and culture. It is also the most visible imaginary symbol. It sounds oxymoronic, but Filipino philosophy is like that--metaphorical, deep, and abstract, but it totally makes sense.

Tatsulok is the Filipino word for triangle. It came from tatlong sulok (three corners). A corner can be a line or an angle. In fighting with a kickboxer or a grappler, an angular space is avoided due to its limited space, unless if one has a short weapon. A balisong is good for a limited space or close quarter-- a triangular corner not a square.

Basically, triangular fighting means that if you are in a triangular space like half of the kickboxing ring, staying along one of the two sides or along the third imaginary diagonal which is the center is better than being cornered within any of the three angles. In fighting, space also means comfortable movement and, subsequently, power.

I know this concept is basic, but dividing a space into triangles is not. In FMA, my eyes were trained too to spot lines and angles. With just one look, I can tell which part of the street with trees, parked cars, and fences would give me an advantage in fighting. Like a human body, any environment can be reduced to points. As my teacher said, the smallest unit of space is a point.

The environment of the Philippines, being an archipelago, is the great source of folk concepts and traditional philosophy. Our ancestors got their ideas about shapes and symbols through their environments. A moon and a horizon for instance influenced their ideas about tuldok (dot) and guhit (line). Even without knowing about geometry then, they knew that a dot above or below a line always made a triangle.

Besides cone-shaped mountains and volcanoes, there are no other sceneries that have triangular forms. Triangle is the hardest shape to find in nature. It is tough to connect the stars to make a triangle because there are a lot of them. Astronomers and astrologers ignore or include other stars just to make one even though a triangle should only have three endpoints.

In my culture, for instance, far from any geological formation, the natural sources of triangular shapes are beaks of birds, pointy ends of leaves, and sharp edges of rocks. It seems to me that wherever there is an endpoint, there is a triangle. Point is always the start of reference in direction called sugod (origin or beginning). From there, a line is mentally drawn vertically, horizontally, or diagonally.

Filipinos also have a sense of imaginary space. People in the streets for instance have preconceived notions about places that are dangerous to wander around even though they have not been there. For example, Tondo, a rough place, iskwater, a slum, and breakwater, a shore or port are not talked about without considering safety and security. In short, Filipinos always think of environment or space at their advantage. We call people like that segurista-- meaning, one is dead sure or always thinking what is right and good for him. It is hard to translate it with just a word.

In the Philippines, we do not use compass directions with north as the point of reference. Everywhere is based on where one stands and what he sees along the way. If you ask someone where the church is, getting an answer, for example, that it is near this building or beside that store by the mango tree in front of the basketball court is very common. For some cultural reasons, such kind of giving a direction really works.

My very idea of a triangle was from my brother's sling shot,
pintikay or tirador-- meaning, hitter or shooter. The frame from the branch of a tree known for its hard wood was triangular, and when I pulled the two bands of rubber attached to both ends of a piece of leather, where a river stone or a pebble lead called tingga was placed as a projectile called bato (stone) or bala (bullet), the sling rubber bands made a stretched triangle.

Through that sling shot, I also got my first literal grasp of triangle being force. My brother hit many rice birds that afternoon. He protected our rice farm and brought something for my mom to turn into adobo. That's how it is in the Philippines. Work is play and vice-versa. For me, playing was learning too.

Later, I heard deep explanations and abstract symbolisms about triangle from my grandfather and from other old learned men. My father even used it often as a diagram to educate us about values, philosophy, and anything that had to be dissected, simplified, and explained.

Anywhere you go in the Philippines, triangle is visible and the concept of it is known. It can be seen in church symbols, thatched roofs of nipa huts, wooden boats, blade weapons, etc. I wonder why early Filipinos did not think of making a pyramid. I guess we did not really have slaves to work such great task then.

Triangle in Roman Catholicism, the religion of most Filipinos, is abundant of religious symbols and concepts about triangle. The holy trinity, the heaven-purgatory-hell destination for souls in afterlife, and the image of Jesus (Santo Nino) folding two fingers and showing three fingers are some of the catholic teachings that have taken root in Filipino folk spirituality.

Islam too has something triangular in its teachings like the connection of man to Shaitan (Satan) and Tawhid (God), and it also has a different interpretation of the Holy Trinity-- God, Jesus, and Mary (Qur'an 4:171). Even the Islamic star symbol behind the crescent moon is triangular-- there are eight triangles in a five-pointed star.

Triangle as a symbol of earth-man-heaven relationship is of Indo-Buddhist influence. In Hinduism, a triangle called trikona symbolizes shakti (power or force). Hindus also have a concept of trinity-- Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Trishul, a three-toothed trident, is also a symbol of power. I believe the Majapahit Hindus from Java were the first ones who introduced the concept of spiritual triangle and triangle as a symbol of force to the early Filipinos.

In Buddhism, the concept of triangle I like most is the three methods of meditation: samatha (concentration), vipassana (insight), and metta (kindness). Besides that, there is also the triple gem of Buddhism composed of Buddha (the enlightened one), Dharma (his teachings), and Sangha (the faithful)-- it is the Buddhist version of trinity.

The use of triangle as a symbol for spirituality seems universal. Filipinos go beyond symbolism. They have applied it to understand abstract concepts and apply it in their daily living. For instance in my culture, we believe that the human body is controlled by suuk (solar plexus), the source of life; kasing-kasing (heart), the source of feelings, and uwu (head), the source of thoughts. Solar plexus in Tagalog is sikmura-- it also has many deep meanings like chakra.

If you go deeper, it suggests that knowledge, emotion, and strength are the three forces that dominate humans. To control such forces, triangles are used again to understand the nature of man.


The mind is neutralized by what one hears (ear) and speaks (mouth). There are lots of Filipino folk sayings, called salawikain, which expound the relationship of the three actions-- hearing, talking, and thinking. They basically say that one should not open his mouth without thinking and hearing about something first.

Early Filipinos already had an idea about effective communication then. Watching old men before take their turns to do their balak or balagtasan (poetry/debate), I was convinced that early Filipinos were masters of philosophy, language, and rhetorics. They had style, ideas, and passion. They talked just about anything, and it made sense-- even when it was about the duel between an ant and an elephant or a verbal tussle why a pen is mightier than a sword.

heart-right hand-left hand

Emotions too are related to what one does, and doing is attributed to hands.
When angry or in rage, palm or fist is used to slap(a female) or to punch (a male). We have expressions such as "buhat ng kamay" (raise of a hand), which actually means hurting someone, female in particular, and "maayo ang kamot" (good hand), a Cebuano way of saying that one is a skilled boxer or fighter.

Filipinos are very touchy indeed. There are even boys and girls who hold hands while walking in the streets. It is their way of expressing comfort, friendship, and protection. There are also men who walk around with their arms on each other's shoulder-- it is called kambubay. In the West, they may find such physical display of closeness gay or strange, but in Philippine culture, it is deep friendship or loyalty to friends.

solar plexus-right foot-left foot

Suuk (solar plexus) being the source of life is related to living-- the will to live is strength. It is mostly about moving and being alive. Feet symbolize such force. I usually hear old folks say, "ayawg lihok para wa kay kaunon" (don't move, then you'll have nothing to eat). Others are blatant to say, "para kang patay na hindi kumikibo," (you are like a dead person who does not move).

It is also a cultural habit in the Philippines to bite someone's big toe if he collapses or has a seizure. I don't think there is a Western medical explanation about it. I asked an albularyo (folk medicine man) once why Filipinos bite big toes. He told me that big toes are signs if one is dead or still alive-- their color, wrinkle, hardness, stiffness, etc will say so.

During a bad nightmare, when one gasps for air and in a temporary paralysis, all he should do is move his big toes to survive-- I actually experienced that and it worked.
It is a common belief among Filipinos that the cause of "sleep death" or bangungot is overeating-- death, again, is connected to suuk or sikmura (stomach area).

Filipinos understand the sudden death during sleep using a triangle to connect the tummy part to both feet. I wonder if Japanese and Thai have the same explanations and diagrams about
hukuri and lai tai, which are bangungot to Filipinos.

I have also understood, through using a triangle, why so many Filipinos want to leave the country. It is because of their desire to live, to eat, and to have a comfortable life that they want to go somewhere. As my tula (poem) goes, "Sa aking paggagala, nagkalaman ang sikmura"-- translation: "In my journey, I have become full." Lines like that have multiple meanings. Sikmura is not just a tummy to be filled.

Next: Triangle in Filipino martial Arts