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Essay: Arnis – a form of martial art developed in the Philippines

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  • Arnis - a form of martial art developed in the Philippines
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“Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinangaligan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan”

The quote means, “He who does not know how to look back at where he came from will never get to his destination” said by Jose Rizal, a known hero in the Philippines. Different sports developed in difference countries correlates to its nation’s history. The sport discussed in this paper is Arnis, a form of martial art that was developed in the Philippines and is currently being practiced around the world. The paper will begin by exploring the history of the nation, its cultural values and its history of sports. Furthermore, it will discuss the background, rules and training of Arnis. Lastly, the paper will talk about how Arnis and the cultural values of the nation correlates with each other. The purpose of this paper is to show how historical events influence sports in a given nation and how sports can showcase the cultural values of a nation that one individual or a community holds in their everyday lives.

National History

During the 15th century, competition for colonizing new territories around the world by different empires began. Among the list of colonized territory that the Spanish empire conquered was the Philippines. The Philippines was colonized by the Spanish empire for about 356 years, hence the named “Philippines”, after a Spaniard royal named, Prince Philip. For 356 years, the country suffered inequality and mistreatments by the Spaniards. The native people of the Philippines known as Filipinos, continuously fought for their independence from Spain but never succeeded due to their lack of army and resources. The Americans then entered a war against Spain and with the help from the leader of the Filipino rebellion group, Emilio Aguinaldo, the Americans won the war and the Philippines was ceded to the United States. Once again, the Philippines was controlled by another colony and was caught in between the war against the Japanese. The Japanese then invaded the Philippines, causing the Philippines to form an alliance with the United States to beat the Japanese. Finally, after the American-Japan war, the United States gave the Philippines their independence in 1946. After the continuous invasions which hindered the nation’s development. They struggled as a country to repair their nation and with endless corruptions in their government, their economic growth continues to be negatively impacted (“Philippine History”, 2018).

Geographically, the Philippines is a small country compared to others but because it contains about 7,107 islands and a population of more than 50 million, it has a tremendous amount of cultures, languages and variations within its culture (“Filipino Values and Culture”, 2005). Although it has many differences, the country shares similar cultural values such as family, community, discipline, strength and nationalism which was all greatly impacted from the colonization of Spain. Because the Filipinos fought for their independence for a long period of time, they became accustomed to relying on their families and communities as their support systems. They greatly value their relationships with their families, friends and community influencing their everyday lives.  Another cultural value that all the Filipinos share are strength and discipline. They value respect, whether it’s to each other, another race or the authority. When it comes to their livelihood, they share the same characteristics of strength, hard work, patience and determination. Lastly, nationalism is another important aspect of the Filipino culture and can be greatly seen through sports (Bernardo, Clemente & Liem, 2014).

Sports in the Philippines is a representation of all the values in a Filipino culture. Discipline and the characteristics of livelihood are seen through the athletes when training and competing. Due to their slow development in their economic growth, funding and implementing sport activities are difficult to achieve but through family and community, sports exist and are able to be played in some areas. The nation as a whole come together to support athletes to compete internationally and since 1920, the country has received at least 5 Olympic bronze medals in swimming, boxing and weightlifting. Popular sports in the Philippines includes badminton, boxing, soccer, tennis, volleyball and basketball (“Top Sports”).  In 2009, the Philippines declared Arnis as the Philippine National Martial Art and Sport.

Overview of Sport

The Philippine’s National Martial Art and Sport is Arnis (Yap, 2017). Arnis was strongly influenced by the Spaniards, its name coming from the Old Spanish for armor. It was originally named “Kali” and was developed by the native people of the Philippines during the era where they were under the Spanish rule. In the year 1764, Spain still having control of the Philippines, prohibited Arnis due to its fighting techniques. Nonetheless, Filipinos still secretly practiced it and continued to train to fight for their independence. After winning their independence from the Spain and the United States, they went through phases of building organizations and clubs of Arnis as a way to prepare them for future wars and invasions (Siguenza, 2013) Throughout the years, it became less of a combat training and more of an art that was passed down to future generations through rituals, dances and theater. Today, it is known as a sport, practiced and competed around the world.

Practicing Arnis begins with learning the basic twelve offensive strikes of the sport and deliberately practicing it over and over until it is learned. Then it advances to using weapons such as sticks, knives or swords, practicing with two weapons to one weapon eventually transitioning to no weapons and only using hands as the weapon. This sport greatly focuses on fluidity, rhythm and timing and is achieved through the act of discipline and self-control. After continuous practice and intensive training, the sport eventually becomes a flow of movement (“History of Filipino Martial Arts”).

Arnis is a safe sport and although it involves fighting, violence is not permitted in competitions and can lead to disqualifications of competitors. Violence that can result in disqualification includes disrespecting any of the referee, judge or opponent, attacking with great amount of force, continuous attack after opponent drops his/her weapon and using kicking, punching and takedowns techniques. General rules in the competitions includes bringing your own stick to competitions as well as safety equipments. The competitor automatically loses if he/she drops his/her stick three times in one round and loses one point if disarmed at any time in the round. Like previously mentioned there are no punching, kicking or takedowns allowed, especially any contact to the back. The fighting is continuous, but the referee stops and restarts the fight if and when a competitor falls to the ground or drops his/her weapon. Each fight consists of three rounds of 60 seconds each and 30 second break in between rounds. Each competitor can be scored up to 10 points by the judges and the person with the most points or closest or has 10 points win. Finally, the fight begins and ends with competitors saluting to judges and their opponent (“Arnis Stick Fighting, 2016).

Expression of Cultural Values

As previously mentioned Arnis was developed by the native people as a tool for combat against foreign enemies. Today, Arnis in the Philippines serves as a reminder of the struggles and hardships that the Philippines faced during the time where they were colonized by Spain. Though Arnis is played throughout several countries, Arnis in the Philippines is considered most authentic because it is practiced with pride and dignity. Arnis is comprised of several self-made or natural objects that also incorporate cultural values (“History of Arnis”).

The sport originally started off not requiring a field or a ring, it only required an open space for practice and as for the equipments it was practiced with hands or sticks. This allowed those on the lower economic status to participate easily and allowing the sport to be developed. Though Arnis has been around for centuries and it wasn’t until it was declared the Philippine National Sport that women were encouraged to participate. In 2016, the Philippine Sport Commission hosted the 3rd Women’s Martial Arts Festival, which was an all-female national competition (“3rd Women’s National Martial”, 2016).

Values of Arnis consist of discipline, strength, agility, accuracy and coordination. Arnis requires one to be quick and accurate to be most effective. The coordination of the individual allows them to make decisions without thinking making it instinctual. The individual that participates in Arnis also values foresight and must visualize movements ahead of time to out strike their opponent. Furthermore, the individual who lacks the courage to act often fail to dictate their opponents. In Arnis, it is important for those to better analyze the style of their opponent and formulate a defensive plan of attack to be the successors in the competition. The competitor who takes the most advantage of their opponent’s lack of judgment will win the match. Therefore, self-confidence is key in Arnis and can successfully predict when and when not to act having a direct impact on the outcome of the dual (“Values”, 2018).

Relationship to Personal Values

After learning that Arnis serves as a symbol and representation for the Filipino culture, I now understand why the Philippines choose it as their national sport. Arnis incorporates all the important cultural and historical values that Filipinos continue to carry and use in their everyday lives. The most important cultural value that my family and I share with Arnis is strength. The strength that we as a family hold comes from the hardships that we overcame in the Philippines and in the new country. I was lucky enough that someone in my family, my grandpa, somehow, through his hard work, managed to migrate to the United States for better opportunities. Back in the Philippines, my mom was an underpaid nurse and my dad only had side jobs and both was only making enough money for our basic necessities. Without the support from my grandpa, my family and I would be living uncomfortably and with the fear of not being able to eat or having money for medical treatments in case of accidents or diseases. Living in the Philippines as I remember was a continuous struggle for many people such as my neighbors. Their number one priority of every day was to earn enough money for food. Knowing how hard life is in the Philippines gave us courage and strength to better our situations. Although Arnis involves fighting, Filipinos are not participating for the violence aspect of Arnis, instead they are participating for encouragement, strength and support to fight their everyday battles.


As mentioned, Arnis is not only a sport but a significant symbol in the Filipino culture. Just like every other country, historical events can greatly impact one’s nation through its culture, economy and government. In this case, the Philippines culture was influenced by the Spaniards. The Filipinos were under the Spanish rule which allowed the creation of martial arts known today as Arnis. Arnis was created for the use of self-defense and combat to protect themselves due to the lack of resources and weaponry. Through the years, Arnis became less of a combat tool but as a developing sport practiced around the world. Although Arnis consists of violence, it is still considered a safe sport when competing due to safety equipments and regulations that must be followed when fighting.

As a sport, Arnis being created in the Philippines, could be given more attention to spread the Filipino cultures that it contains. Studies show, that although Arnis has been implemented in the physical education courses, it has not been correctly regulated or fully implemented by the instructors or the school itself (Batara & Flora, 2017). If Arnis was fully developed, it could potentially compete with other types martial arts and can gain more popularity around the world.

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