Understanding the Filipino double sticks.

What's wrong with Arnis/Escrima?

Why use Tagalog?

Understanding the Filipino double sticks.         Back to top

1995 John Russell

The vast majority of styles or schools of the Filipino Martial Arts of Arnis/Escrima have in their training regime some type of instruction in the use of a double stick system. Whether you use the Filipino terms and call your double stick exercises 'Ammara', 'Sinawali', 'Pingki-Pingki' or 'Redonda' *, the double sticks are an often used and emphasised aspect of Arnis/Escrima training but are unfortunately usually misunderstood by most people.

What the general public and other Martial Artists most often see when sinawali exercises are in progress are rows and rows of Arnis students click-clicking sticks together with a training partner and these people then unfortunately state "I'm never going to use a stick to defend myself" or "I'm not going to have a weapon at hand all the time so why should I take up Arnis."

The point must be made that Arnis/Escrima is foremost an empty hand art and that the sticks are to be considered simple training tools. Some older Filipino Arnisadors/Escrimadors consider the rattan sticks as cheap punching bags and view the movements performed by the Escrimador in sinawali training as simple punching combinations.

Think to yourself of the Sinawalis as teaching combination punching strikes. Firstly starting off with a simple two strike routine and then moving on to three and four strike combinations as the students proficiency increases. The Sinawalis use the front and back of the fists and later elbows can be incorporated in the combinations. Of course the movements can be translated and used as stick, sword, and knife slashing motions but these are just variations of the principle of;

'weapon/s interchangeability and strikes using the same arm movements'.

Some people however misunderstand and consider the exercises as only stick and sword work. They never see or are told to imagine the exercises in an empty hand aspect. The student of Arnis must be shown from an early point in their training, that the movements can be naturally translated or naturally changed to whether you may have or may not have a weapon. i.e. If you have a single weapon you still have two hands, if you have two weapons you still use two hands or your two empty hands can be used by simply using the same movements.

This is what many Arnis exponents have been stating for years but still people from the general public and instructors from empty hand styles are still not recognising the interchangeable movements.

Some instructors of Arnis are unfortunately helping with this misunderstanding.

An aspect of where the Sinawalis are often misused, is when the elementary combinations of drills, routines or exercises are further combined in such a way, so that as many strikes as possible are crammed into the one routine. For an example fourteen different strikes or more will be combined together. So instead of concentrating on the basic low number simple combinations such as the old 1,2 or 1,2,3 you've knocked him out, you will be continually concentrating on intricate routines and trying to remember if whether your next strike is the correct one, in what could be considered an overkill. This tendency to combine as many strikes as possible turns simple punching techniques into complex memory exercises.

This does not mean that I am against memory exercises. Memory exercises are good for training the mind but what I believe should be emphasised foremost in Arnis double stick drills is the simple self defence training, combined with the empty hand principles behind the movements that should be in itself enough of a memory exercise. After all simple self defence should be the main issue.

Moreover some people tend to abanico or fan their sticks excessively using their wrists when executing the exercises and do not pull their sticks back to their body when powering up for another strike. Remember you are doing basic punches and that the hands/arms must be pulled back to power up for the next strike just like the simple basic horse stance punches of Karate, Kung Fu, Tae Kwon Do or Hap Ki Do which are pulled back to the hips and body during training. This is not to say that the abanicos are incorrect Arnis, but they should just be considered simple variations using the stick.

To all the readers out there please consider and understand that Arnis is a complete empty hand system and that when observing or executing the double stick Sinawali exercises to remember that the sticks are to be treated just like punching bags.

*Sinawali comes from the word sawalis. Sawalis refers to the weaving of palm leaf walls and floors common in the Philippines and South East Asia.The movements of the arms while practicing the martial Sinawali are said to imitate this weaving.
Ammara means to play with or to use two sticks.
Pingki-Pingki or Pinki-Pinki translates to touching-touching, which is taken from the striking or hitting of the two sticks together with a partner.
Redonda or Redondo are Spanish terms meaning round, which describes a circular style of double stick striking that is noticeably different from the majority of linear styled movements.

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What's wrong with Arnis/Escrima?                              Back to top

1997 John Russell

The major drawback of Arnis/Escrima is that people often identify Escrima as only stickfighting because of the integral use of wooden instruments in the practice of the art. Through its image of it being solely a stick or weapon system and although many articles have been written on the most famous indigenous Filipino Martial Arts styles, stating the versatility of it's empty hand aspects, many people are still under the misconception that Arnis/Escrima has to be an add on or extension to other empty hand styles as it has no empty hand value.

This misconception is due to several reasons.

One is largely to the number of people that have promoted the impression that Escrima is the fashionable weapon or exotic weapon style of Martial Art to learn. So instructors from empty hand systems that have little or no weapon training have seized on this impression and learnt small amounts of Escrima and then have incorporated their limited knowledge into their schools as simply stickfighting or no style Escrima. When asked about the style you are told "we teach Escrima basics" or "no style, but a combination of styles which we have incorporated as now being our style". Also the immense publicity given to the Batangas or Balisong (the Filipino fan or butterfly knife) being promoted as the trendy weapon, has also led to numerous Karate and Kung Fu schools adding Escrima and Batangas* knife training as a weapon style and merely an extension to their training regimes. The even worse scenario is when instructors from empty hand styles such as Karate/Kung Fu, replace Filipino techniques with foreign techniques, such as with footwork or stances, with Karate/Kung Fu footwork/stances and then purport these training methods as traditional Filipino or better than traditional Filipino.

Also, one main reason I believe that Escrima is represented as an add on or extension, and Escrima empty hand is not taught or in some cases not even learnt properly by these instructors, is because the empty hand aspects of Escrima would conflict with their already established empty hand styles.

Ask yourself a question. When did you last learn the translated emptyhand moves and motions of the stick work at your school? Or did you simply move onto a form of Kickboxing or Karate?

The stick is simply a training tool for the empty hand. They are a type of punching bag and each strike can be punch, chop, tiger claw, etc with your empty hand. For weapon work, safety is an important factor, so Escrima is initially taught to beginners only with a stick or sticks but each strike can be interpreted as either a slash, butt or thrust with a blunt club or with a bladed weapon.

In the weapon training aspects, the stick is only to be considered an image or representation of various weapons and also simply an extension of the hand. The movements of the Escrimador can be with slight variations, transferred from single stick or double stick, to single or double knife, to single or double sword, or even back to double handed movements. If the student understands the system well enough they should be able to move from baton, knife, sword or empty hand with minor variations without hesitation. When training with the stick, hand eye co-ordination and speed in delivery of strikes can be improved. This is mainly due to the fact when using the stick it generally travels in an arc which means the end of the stick is moving much quicker than the hand. Quicker speed in delivery of techniques in either attack or defence is a natural progression which in turn helps the speed of the empty hand as they learn to move faster when their timing and fitness improves.

There has been something wrong with Arnis/Escrima for many years. It has been misconceived, misinterpreted and misidentified for too long by the general public and sometimes by even the people that teach it.

*Batangas is the more recognisable word, that the majority of Filipino's in the Philippines call the fan knife. Balisong while used in the west to describe the knife, is simply taken from one of the many Barrios or Baranguays of the Province of Batangas, in the lower part of the island of Luzon, where the knives are produced and have originated.

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Why use Tagalog?                                                                        Back to top

1998 John Russell

There have been an interesting set of questions circulating lately, especially among the younger Filipino Martial Artists in the Visayas and Mindinao, the accumulation of which would be:

"Why are Tagalog words and terms being used in a blanket approach to refer, demonstrate and most importantly being written in books to describe many of the Filipino Martial Arts, especially Arnis/Escrima styles that originate in areas other than the Tagalog speaking areas of Luzon?"

This blanket approach does annoy and sometimes offends people from other parts of the Philippines. With what I and my friends (both Filipino and from other countries) have heard, seen and read in our travels around The Philippines, Tagalog may well be the National Language NOW in the Philippines but to the Visay's, Ilocano's, Waray's, Ilongo's and other groups, it is sometimes considered a politically enforced language, that is in as much the same way that Serbian was forced on the Croatians, Bosnians, and Macedonians etc in the former Yugoslavia.

Think of the many styles that are taught, especially your style and where does it come from? Most I have observed, trained in and read about, originated from places other than Luzon.

So what are the reasons why Tagalog terms are being used to standardise the Filipino Martial Arts?

Is it because Tagalog was made a mandatory subject in the schools that it is now widely UNDERSTOOD, but it is still not spoken extensively by the majority of people outside Manila or Luzon. I was told that people in Manila used to laugh at Filipino's that would use their native dialect (or so called 'inferior language') there and call them uneducated. It has been argued, that some authors and translators may be ashamed of their provincial heritage so they don't use their local language. In Cebu there are people that have migrated from Luzon and lived there for up to thirty or forty years and have not bothered to learn Cebuano/Visayan. They speak only Tagalog thinking they are showing off their education. Before the sixties, Visayan was spoken more diversely than Tagalog in the Philippines. Tagalog was a politically enforced decision of the Manila elite.

Of course some will say that, because Tagalog is now widely understood in The Philippines, this is the reason why Tagalog terms are used. If the book is totally written in Tagalog for a Filipino audience that is OK, as most Filipino's will understand and to print in the many different languages would be a nightmare and cost prohibitive. But what some are saying is, that it's not OK for books to be written for an audience with English and then Tagalog descriptions of movements etc are used as the representation of non Tagalog styles.


Many of these people that have been discussing these issues know that using the Tagalog terms to describe a Visayan or other ethnic groups art, (To paraphrase an article commenting on the subject) "may not detract from the essential information and material in the book". We agree, but it sure does help with the 'ethnic cleansing' (read 'cultural destruction of minorities') of the Philippines. This is only a continuation of the Spanish and generally western arrogant mind set of destroying or simply ignoring another civilisations right to be represented or even remembered properly. One Filipino that had returned from the U.S. remarked, "That if you think about it, it could be comparable with an author that was writing or describing Apache native American art in the Cherokee Iroquoian language. Don't you think the Apaches would be pissed off?"

I wonder what the native Americans would say if an author really did this. But oh, that's right, they're only provincial Filipino's sensitivities that are being dealt with here, so who cares. Who in Manila or the western world worries about offending them.

People in Manila don't laugh much anymore if a provincial language is spoken. More and more Filipino's are questioning the blanket approach used by their Government and in this case questioning some authors of the Filipino Martial Arts. The people that are using this approach in the Filipino Martial Arts should re-evaluate their reasons for using Tagalog and basically give their actions more thought.

On a fun matter of language in the Philippines, I just hope that my 'Waray' friend's whimsical thoughts on the issue of the National Language would come true. He hopes Imelda Marcos is one day elected to the Presidency. She will make 'WARAY' the National language and everyone will have to go back to school and learn it.

Ha ha! I love Filipino jokes.

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