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.