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.