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.