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

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Kali From Kalis: The Martial Art

This golden statue unearthed in Agusan is just one of the Indian artifacts that support the idea that Hinduism was practiced in the Philippines before the Spanish colonization. The other famous gold find is the Garuda, the Hindu phoenix associated to Vishnu, a Hindu deity, excavated in Palawan.

This is the statue of Shakti known in India as the Mother Goddess or Amma-- Ama (father) and ima and later, ina (mother) must have come from that Sanskrit word. Filipinos long ago already had the habit of merging two elements into one-- Amma was both a mother and a father as a deity.

In the Philippines, the idol is called Golden Tara. Shakti also symbolizes divine power and assumes the role of Kali, the destroyer. I believe both Shakti and Kali were deities merged into one by the early Filipinos in the ancient region of Caraga.

Even the name Caraga is from Karaga, a festival of dance that is still celebrated today in honor of an Indian goddess in Southern India. Part of the celebration is the carrying of the deity. I suspect that even before the Spanish word carga reached the region, they already had karga-- meaning, to carry. Karaga, as an ancient place, appeared in the early maps and chronicles of the Spanish explorers and missionaries with capital C instead of K. It already existed in prehistoric times.

The image of Kali as a ferocious, scary goddess of death was rejected by the people, thus Kali, as a word, does not exist in Philippine languages and dialects today. Even an image of her is elusive. Her statues must have been destroyed or buried. Basically, Shakti was more acceptable than Kali. Her image was used instead of Kali's. Even in the ancient times, death was already a taboo among the Filipino natives and hysterical, crazy women in violent rage like Kali's image were not really socially acceptable.

Animism in the Philippines has lots of goddesses called 'diwata." They are all motherly and protective-- very opposite of what Kali is. Shakti is comparable to the Filipinos' Makiling, Sinukuan, Haliya, and Mayari who were revered as "ina" (mother). They are beautiful, helpful, and graciously divine.

Although Kali, as a word and a deity, ceased to exist a long time ago, the concept of kali still lives on. Asuwang or ongo, a humanoid monster; manananggal or wakwak, a winged, long-tongued blood sucker; and mantiyanak, a dead pregnant woman who comes to life to kill men, are some of the feared characters in the folk beliefs of the Filipinos.

If you analyze them, they exactly resemble to Kali-- dark, ugly, murderous, and vicious. Even her multiple limbs could be mistaken as wings and her hanging tongue as the long blood-sucker.

When the image of Kali was suppressed and rejected, people's familiarity of her did not totally vanish. Even Shakti, being related to Kali, was not spared. Her name evolved into sakti (hurt) and sakit (pain) and became words that still exist in Philippine languages and dialects. These words prove that the early Filipinos knew about Kali, the goddess of death and yes, pain and suffering.

In Bukidnon, Kaamulan (celebration) festival is held annually. Amul means precious or valuable in Hindi. It is related to celebration like the one for the birth of a son. In fact, Amul is a male Hindu name. This festival has an Indian origin. The headdresses of the lumads in the area, usually worn for Kaamulan and other festivities, also display Indian influences.

There is a place in Bukidnon called Kalilangan, from Kali and langan (pacify)-- it basically means "the place to pacify Kali." Naming a place after Kali is not rare in Southeast Asia. The traditional name for Borneo, for instance, is Kalimantan from Kali and mantan (commemoration)-- it is the malay for "the place to commemorate Kali."

There are also lumad words that are related to Kali being scary and terrifying-- such as
kalisang (terror or fear), kaligutgut (trouble or worry), and kalingog (noise or annoyance). Ka- or kali- are not prefixes in these local words. They are used as they are-- as nouns.

Now, where did kali, the one used in FMA, came from? I believe its concept came from Kali, the goddess, and its term, from kalis, the sword. Omission and addition of s in Philippine words are not rare. We see that in pareha-parehas, kata-katas, and sala-salas. I think this martial art was a dance-based ritual performance-- Kali dance is still performed in India.

It is possible that this blade fighting art is still being practiced in Caraga region although it is no longer called Kali. It might be a mix of Hindu and Muslim influences. The lumads of Bukidnon has a dance form called Mangalay, obviously, an influence of the Muslim Pangalay, a meditative dance resembling tai chi and kung fu. Kalis, the sword, must have also reached the area.

Kalilangan is famous for Pulahans (red warriors) and Itumans (black warriors) who are good in blade fighting and known for their anting-anting (amulet), oraciones (magic prayers), and other superstitious beliefs. They are sometimes called suicidal vigilantes.

These fierce warriors are also known as Tadtad gangs. They chop their victims or enemies into pieces with the belief that they will not become human again in their next life-- this is, to me, a Hindu concept of reincarnation. I think the Pulahans and the Itumans are the ones who still practice the ancient fighting art of Kali. Their names alone are obvious influences of Kali's gory red and dark aura.

To sum up, Kali as a word does not exist in Mindanao, but it might have existed before. As a concept, it existed, and it still exists. As a martial art, I think it still does with a different name or no name at all. Was it called Kali before? If it was called Kalis, it should still be called as such today. Since it's non-existent, its old name must be Kali, and it was not spared when the people of Caraga region in the ancient times rejected and destroyed Kali, the deity.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Kris, Keras, Keris, kilich & Kalis

The Indonesian or the Malaysian kris called keris like the ones in this photo is not really the same as the Mindanaoan kris called kalis. The difference is obvious mostly in the head and handle design. Kerises usually display Indo-Buddhist designs while kalises exhbit Turkish influences.

Keris came from the Malay word keras-- it means hard, sharp, strict, violent, and severe. Its meanings are obviously about the nature of the sword as a weapon for ritual, war, and punishment. Keris was Anglicized and became creese and later, kris. Merriam-Webster Dictionary listed 1580 as the year kris became a word in the English lexicon. It must be through the European explorations in Southeast Asia that time.

Keris as a word failed to reach Mindanao. I assume that the early Mindanaoans had a different name for their krises then. It must be kali since the sword was brought to the area by the Majapahit Hindus from Java together with the Hindu Statues. Between the two dieties, Shakti and kali, the latter is the one that wields a temple sword. Kali still has to be unearthed today.

Kalis, meaning proof, could not be the original name of the Mindanaoan kris because it was already an existing Malay word that time. Its meaning has no obvious relation/connection to a sword. Kali is more feasible than kalis. In etymology, you go for the nearest relationship, meaning, or concept.

Before the Islamic missionaries arrived in late 1300's, krises in Mindanao were the same as the ones in Java and Sumatra. They had Indo-Buddhist designs of Hindu phoenix and Buddhist dragon. When the Arabs came, the Mindanaoan kris began to evolve and used Islamic elements.

The spread of Islam that time was also the rise of the Turkish Ottomans, who were orthodox Sunni Muslims, the same kind of Islamic faith that can be found in Mindanao today. I believe that the Turkish Ottomans also reached Mindanao. They brought their yatagan swords that influenced the handle designs of krises in the area.

The clean sculptural head and handle of the yatagan was the earliest handle design of the Islamic kris of the Mindanaoan Muslims. The Indo-Buddhist handle was replaced by the Turkish one. In archeology, when it comes to tools, the evolution happened from simple to complex. Compare the yatagan's handle to the kris' of Mindanao.

The Ottomans reached India in late 1300's. It is possible that they reached Mindanao too, particularly sulu. Southern India and Mindanao had a long history of migration, trade, and cultural exchange. That time, the spread of Islam was congruent to the spread of the Ottoman empire in Asia and Europe.

Yatagan did help also in the change of name from kali to kalis. The Turkish word for sword is kilich. Filipinos have no ch sound. Its nearest equivalent is s sound. So, from kilich, the Turkish word became kilis, a local-sounding word.

Kilis would have been the word that would have the same linguistic form as keris. In some Philippine languages and dialects, letters r and l are interchangeably used-- example: dalawa (two) can be darawa and araw (sun) can be alaw. The evolution of the name for kris did not stop with kilis. Kali was incorporated. Thus, the Mindanaoan kris became kalis and has remained the same until today.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Kali to Kalis: Goddess to Sword

There are so many views explaining the origin of Kali as a Filipino martial art. Some say it came from Kali, the Indian goddess of death. Others believe that it is a derivative of Kalis (kris), a sword famous in Mindanao. The easiest explanation is that it is a combination of the first syllables of Ka-mot (hand) and Li-hok (move). The last one, although smart, is of course the modern derivation.

Before I proceed, let me explain first the proof that the influence of India did reach the Philippines in prehistoric times through the Majapahit Empire established in Java. These influences are found in our Philippine languages and cultural concepts.

In Tagalog, for instance, "diwata" (goddess) came from "devata" a Sanskrit word with the same meaning. "Dukha" (poor) came from "duhkha," "guro" from "guru," and a lot more. We have Sanskrit-sounding plants such as champaka, lagundi, narangha, etc. There are also many place names with obvious Indian etymology.

Filipinos have a concept of "chakra"-- in my dialect it is called "suuk." Among Cebuanos "gaba" is the same as "karma." The use of sarong (skirt) or putong (turban) is also an Indian influence. Even the folk literature of the Philippines have similarities with the Hindu literature such as Mahabharatha and Ramayana.

With all these influences, I wonder why Hinduism never took root in the Philippines. I know no traditional devotion to Goddess Kali by local Filipinos. Even as a Filipinized Indian word, meaning dark, "kali" does not exist. Where did Kali, the martial art, come from then?

To answer that, we need to trace the etymology of kalis or kris, the sword. The origin of kalis can be traced back to Southern India, where the devotion to Shakti and Kali is strong. There is a golden statue of Shakti, an Indian deity, found in Agusan (Caraga region), which is currently on display in a Chicago museum.

If the devotion of Shakti reached Mindanao in prehistoric times, there is a great possibility that Kali too was venerated in the Caraga region. In Hindu religion, Shakti, as the divine force, also assumes the role of Kali. To simplify, Shakti is Kali and Kali is Shakti.

There are temples dedicated to Shakti in Tamil Nadu-- on the Asian map, it is the nearest Indian state to Mindanao. She is called Amma (mother) by the South Indians. I believe shakti and Amma became sakti (hurt), sakit (pain), ama (father), and ima (mother) in Philippine languages and in some lumad dialects particularly in the Caraga region.

Kalis, the sword, came from Java, the seat of Majapahit, a Hindu empire. It reached the Philippines together with Kali, the goddess. That kalis is a ceremonial sword also supports the argument that there is a Hindu element in its design and usage. All Kali statues wield curve blades. The origin of kalis can be traced back to her temple sword.

This is the nair malabar, a south Indian blade and the earliest Hindu temple sword with crude curve and handle designs. This is usually the sword associated with Kali.

After many changes, nair malabar evolved into kora of northern India, where Buddhism began. If you check the sword below you can see a Hindu deity and a Buddhist mandala (circle). Clearly, the sword is the proof of the transition from being a Hindu blade to becoming a Buddhist one.

Kora then became thinner and simpler with less curve and added piece to the handle.

After some time, kora became tulwar, another North Indian blade-- thinner and still curvy, but the handle remained the same.

Later it evolved into naga snake sword, but retained the handle.

This sword then evolved into a snakier one without losing the jagged edges and the handle design changed a little bit.

It was refined into a kris-like sword and its handle was simplified.

later, its handle changed but the blade remained the same. It became the naga snake sword below with a new handle. I believe this is what the earliest kris looked like.

When it reached Mindanao, the Buddhist naga snake sword already became what it is now. The handle changed incorporating Malay and Islamic designs. The handle was influenced by the Turk's yatagan and Javanese and Balinese decorative arts. Below is the Islamic yatagan:

A Hindu element was also included. Its "katik," the metal perpendicular to the handle and parallel to the head, was used again. It came from the earliest temple sword, nair malabar. Therefore, the current kalis or kris is the result of four influences: Malay, Islamic, Buddhist, and Hindu.

I would argue that kalis or kris, orginally, was a Buddhist sword, brought to or made by the Buddhists in Sumatra, the seat of Srivijayan empire that lasted until 1300. The earliest image of Kris on a stone relief can be found in the Buddhistic Borobudur Temple of Java built in 825 CE-- this date alone proves that kris was a Buddhist blade.

When the Majapahit Kingdom was established after the fall of Srivijaya, kris remained with the Hindus in Java. As a matter of fact, there is an image of kris on a stone relief in the Hindu temple of Prambanan built in 850 CE. Kris replaced nair malabar as the temple sword for Kali. After the passage of time, Hinduism with kali as the goddess and kalis as her sword reached the prehistoric islands of the Philippines.

The references I used were Philippine history books and online materials on Buddhism and Hinduism and Indian and Southeast Asian blades. I love to put footnotes and citations but I feel it would be too academic. My next post will examine if Kali, the martial art, really came from Mindanao.

Comment: the swords I used here, authentic or not and old or recent, are for pure representation so people will know what these swords look like. I am not a clairvoyant. I just cannot date and authenticate something without seeing and touching it. What is important is that you know what I was talking about.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Is Balagtas' Arnes Stickfighting?

We need to settle this issue once and for all-- arnes is not arnis. Most FMA practitioners quote Francisco Baltazar (Balagtas), the William Shakespeare of the 18th-century Philippine Literature, to prove that arnis, as what it is today, already existed during the time of the poet. They conveniently cut and paste to spread their illogical misinterpretation.

The truth is that Balagtas wrote the following in his "Florante at Laura" in early 1800's in Hispanized Tagalog (with my English translation):

"Minulán ang galí sa pagsasayauan

(Ecstasy in dancing started)
ayon sa música,t, auit na saliuan,

(to the music and rhythmic song,)
laróng bunó,t, arnés na quinaquitaan

(wrestling and sword fighting showing)
nang cani-caniyang licsi,t, carunungan.

(each and every one's deftness and agility.)

Sacâ ilinabás namin ang tragedia

(Then we put out the tragedy)
nang dalauang apó nang túnay na iná,

(of the two grandsons of the real mother)
at man~ga capatid nang nag-iuing amáng

(and sisters of the returning father)
anác at esposo nang Reina Yocasta.

(son and spouse of Queen Jocasta.)

Papel ni Eteocles ang naguíng tungcól co,
(I played the role of Eteocles,)
at si Polinice nama,i, cay Adolfo,
(and Polynice's belonged to Adolfo,)
isang ca-escuela,i, siyang nag Adrasto,
(a classmate played Adrastus)
at ang nag Yocasta,i, bunying si Minandro.
(and playing Jocasta was cute Minandro.)

Ano,i, nang mumulán ang unang batalia,
(When the first battalion came,)
ay ang aming papel ang magca-cabaca,

(our act was to worry in chaos,)
nang dapat sabihing aco,i, comilala,t,

(to mean that I knew)
siya,i, capatid cong cay Edipong bún~ga.
(he was my brother from Oedipus' seed.)

Balagtas did not write about Philippine games or Filipino martial arts. He wrote about a play written by Sophocles, a greek tragedy playwright, entitled, "Oedipus at Colonus." If you read the play, you will immediately feel the Greek setting of ritual and combat.

If you analyze it, it is not a happy one where the characters lightly wrestle and play sticks. It is peppered with violent overtures and fighting for power. When Greeks went to war in the ancient times, they did not mean sticks.

Yes, Balagtas' arnes is sword fighting. "Arnes" is the old spanish word for combat armor and harness. Greek sword fighters wore body armors, and wrestling was a combat sport popular among Greek soldiers. To put the play in historical context, it was written during the warring years of Athenian Greece against Sparta.

Below is the definition from

arnés sm
1 (Mil, Hist) armour, armor (EEUU)
2 (en montañismo, paracaidismo) harness
arnés de seguridad safety harness
3 arneses (=arreos) harness sing , trappings
gear sing , tackle sing

If you check the parenthetical note before the first definition, you will see "Mil" for military and "Hist" for history. Therefore arnes is historically related to Spanish military history.

Another one from


nombre masculino

Armadura (de un guerrero): relucir de espadas y arneses.
Correaje resistente que se ajusta al tronco y las piernas de una persona y que, ligado a algo (un paracaídas, una cuerda, etc.) sirve como mecanismo de seguridad en deportes como el parapente, el montañismo o el ala delta.
nombre masculino plural Conjunto de correas y otros objetos que se ponen a las caballerías para montarlas, cargarlas o engancharlas al carro. arneses
Conjunto de utensilios y enseres que se emplean en un oficio o una actividad: lleva todos los arneses para la caza. arneses

Check the first definition. It says "de un guerrero," meaning "of a warrior." It even gives a phrase as an example-- "relucir de espadas y arneses" means "shining of swords and armors."

"Armadura" is the widely used Spanish translation/equivalent of "armor" as what is shown in If you compare the first definitions of arnes and armadura, they are exactly the same. Therefore, arnes is armadura.

armadura sf
1 (Mil, Hist) armour, armor (EEUU)
2 (Téc) (=armazón) framework , (en hormigón) reinforcing bars
[+de gafas]
frame, (Anat) skeleton, (Elec) armature
armadura de la cama bedstead
3 (Mús) key signature

This is what armadura blanca or arnes looks like:

go to the site and scroll down to see the armor.

There is no way that Balagtas would use "arnes" to mean "harness" or "trapping." His writing was not about gliding, parachuting, mountain-climbing, roping or weaving where harnesses are used for support but about a Greek play with a tragic story.

Even if Balagtas meant harness or trappings, it would still be about a body armor, since to make one those days, belts, straps, gears, bands, bolts, and frames were needed. I hope those who misunderstood Balagtas will now leave him alone to rest in peace.