Saturday, April 15, 2017


By Michael Cruz

A colleague once approached me saying that he is interested to learn Kali as he learned that I am a practitioner. My mistake was I showed him my arms - there were fresh contusions that I received just the day before (it literally looks like that I have been hazed but it was the result of the weekly live stick sparring sessions in AK Mandaluyong and Pinaglabanan Abenir Eskrima) . His expression – initially of enthusiasm and interest turned to apprehension and possibly disgust. There was even a time that my manager told me that the our division head called our group head asking what happened to me as he had seen my swollen upper arms and forearms. Our group head had an idea of what I do during my “free time” so she told him that it is due to Arnis practice. During our AK demonstration at the SM Mall of Asia, Ka Richard Grimaldo and I fell on the mat and proceeded to some stick grappling. I received a knee in the left side of my face which was red after the demonstration. The next morning, I was standing in the office, when the same group head walked in looking straight and then gave me a second look. My manager also asked what happened so I told him that we had a demo yesterday. “Ibang klaseng demo yan. Demo pa lang yan (thats a different demo. Thats just for demo)" he said. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t openly show or brag about these”souvenirs.” In fact I do my best to hide them. However due to the humidity in the Philippines, it is not practical to always wear long sleeves or a coat (and definitely I can't report to the office wearing a balaclava after that knee to the face).

When I came to New Zealand, I had the privilege of practicing and having sparring sessions with AK New Zealand Guro - Ka Bradley Castle. After one of our sparring session, I took a bus in Botany. I tried hiding my arms in the bus as I’ve been getting a lot of stares from some of the passengers. When I reached Glen Ines, I decided to buy a bandage from a drug store to hide the marks.

I first heard about live stick sparring was when I initially joined an Arnis group in my hometown. I thought that it was foolish but I was also intrigued. Something in me wants to try the format someday but at the same time there is fear. I later learned that not all Arnis practitioners spar live stick. Or if they spar using live stick, they wear heavy pads and recklessly whip each other with no concern for defense and footwork. Well, they can be reckless all they want - thanks to those pads.  But if one tries to spar live stick without those pads, their movement would definitely change. They will be cautious. Defense and footwork would surely come into play. The first time I sparred live stick was during a session with Maestro Bong Abenir. It was a Friday night and I was the only student – which was the set up before. He handed me a live rattan stick and told me to spar. I even inquired if there were cases of broken bones after being hit. Possibly sensing my apprehension he replied smiling, "Wala pa naman (None so far)." Good enough! However, I find it unthinkable to hit someone-moreso my teacher with a live rattan stick. Unlike other FMA masters, Maestro Bong spars with his students. I was hesitant to proceed but I can't turn back now. "Kahiyaan na ito (it will be shameful)." I let lose of some (limp) strikes that failed to hit my intended target. Master Bong returns with a controlled but crisp hit on my right forearm. My senses awaken due to “the feel" is different from what I was accustomed to. Exercise continues, after 3 more hits I called for a time out. I found sparring with a weapon to be intriguing, exciting and most of all-realistic.

Is Filipino Martial Arts training painful? TRADITIONALLY-Yes, FMA training is painful. In fact there were innovations that aimed to address this issue as Filipinos are gearing towards foreign martial arts due to painful training. One of such innovation is Modern Arnis, the brainchild of Prof. Remy Presas. However, pain is a reality in any combat sport. I also have my fair share of injuries and hematoma in the other martial arts that I tried. There was a time when I was in highschool that I received a spinning back fist to the nose during sparring. When I got home, I immediately submerged my gi (uniform) in the washing machine to prevent it from being seen by my mother. However, my sisters noticed my nose and I came up with the excuse of epistaxis – a term I learned that week during Physical Education, Health and Music class. I even spar with fellow choir members who are practitioners of other arts prior Saturday choir practice. There was even a time that we were singing a hymn while all of us were nursing our sore arms, legs or chest. Not too long ago, we were young and admittedly foolish.
Don’t let sparring stop you from learning FMA. Sparring is part of training but it is not the entirety. You can tell your instructor if you are not up to it. FMA training is enjoyable. It builds coordination and is an effective self defense system. No one can force you to undergo live stick sparring or even sparring per se if you you don't want to. Your teacher can modify the material for you. In fact I have a friend in Karatedo class who never sparred in his life. He just loves doing forms, katas and taking the exams. Well, there are exams in Karatedo that require sparring and I never followed his progression after he earned his green belt. So I don't know if he eventually sparred (which I strongly doubt). As we are in an all-boys school, he’s got a lot of booes and teasing (including joking punches...he just punched back) intended to push him to spar. But he never relented or sparred in all four years that we trained. Or if you would like to spar but don’t want to go live stick, you can still use padded sticks and wear pads-nothing wrong with that.

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