Modern Arnis


Modern Arnis and creator Remy Presas

Modern Arnis is the system of Filipino martial arts founded by the late Remy Presas as a self-defense system.  His goal was to create an injury-free training method as well as an effective self-defense system in order to preserve the older Kali/Escrima/Arnis systems.  It is derived principally from the traditional Presas family style of the Bolo (machete) and the stick-dueling art of Balintawak Eskrima, with influences from other Filipino and Japanese martial arts.

It is said that, originally, the stick was considered sacred by practitioners, and therefore an arnis practitioner was expected to hit the hand or forearm of his sparring partner and not the stick.  While this worked well in combat, it discouraged many would-be practitioners who found this type of training too painful and produced too many injuries.  The result was that the Filipino martial arts became in danger of dying out in most areas of the Philippines.

Japanese martial arts such as Karate and Judo were much more popular than the indigenous martial arts systems and Remy Presas’ modernization of the training method was intended to help preserve the Filipino martial arts.  He taught the method of hitting cane-on-cane during practice, which attracted more newcomers to the art and allowed the art to be taught in the Philippine school systems.

The training covers empty-hand self-defense (striking, locking, throwing, etc.) as well as the trademark single and double stick techniques of the Filipino martial arts.  Other aspects of the art include Espada y Daga (sword and dagger fighting), Sinawali (double stick weaving patterns), and Tapi-Tapi (locking drills with the stick).

In addition to partner drills, Modern Arnis includes the use of Anyo (kata), solo forms training, very few FMA arts even have forms training of any type.

Emphasis is placed on fitting the art in with a student’s previous training (“the art within your art”), smoothly reacting to changing situations in the fight (“the flow”), and countering the opponent’s attempt to counter strikes directed at him (“tapi-tapi”).

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Remy Presas studied his family’s system from an early age and went on to study the Japanese systems of Shotokan Karate and Judo, as well as training in a variety of other Filipino systems, most notably Venancio Bacon’s Balintawak.

In 1974 Professor Presas moved the the USA where he met GM Wally Jay of Small Circle JuJitsu and added this system to Modern Arnis.

Professor Remy Presas passed away in 2001, but has hundreds of instructors and thousands of students to carry on his legacy.

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Balintawak Escrima

Venancio “Anciong” Bacon (1912-1981) stood at 5 feet, 2 inches tall, and was no more than 120 pounds, but was known as a fierce fighter.  He started his training in the 1920’s at the Labangon Fencing Club, learning the Corto Linear style from Lorenzo “Ensong” Saavedra, his only FMA teacher.

During his time with Saavedra, Bacon became steeped in the Corto Linear style while also studying boxing, Dumog (Filippino grappling) and Jiu Jitsu.  

The Corto Linear style that he learned from Lorenzo Saavedra suited him well, allowing him to close the distance and work on the inside of his opponent’s range. In numerous matches Bacon became known for his speed, precision, and ability to off balance his opponents, making it difficult to attack him.

During a match he would flow smoothly, striking a vital target and moving onto the next before his opponent had a chance to react. However, perhaps Bacon’s greatest trait was his desire to improve and his ability to learn from these matches to refine his art, stripping away anything that did not prove its worth in combat.

In 1932 the Doce Pares Club was established by the Saavedra’s and Canete’s. Anciong Bacon was one of the first twenty-four members. According to an interview in Bladed Hand, a Filipino documentary about Filipino martial arts, Grandmaster Ciriaco “Cacoy” Cañete said that Bacon was among the best fighters in the Doce Pares Club, second only to “Doring” Saavedra.

In 1952, Bacon along with Delfin López, Timoteo Maranga and others, left the Doce Pares Club, citing skepticism of the system’s combat effectiveness and established a new club.

The newly formed club began training in the backyard of a watch shop owned by one of Bacon’s students. The shop was located on a small side street in Colon, called Balintawak St., which eventually became the name of the style.

He was described as lightning fast and surgical with a stick. He had a rare talent to be able to employ varying force to his exact targets on his adversary’s body, and exploiting their balance and coordination.

During the 1950s and 1960s, eskrimadors from various camps, mainly Doce Pares and Balintawak, tested each other’s skills in all-out challenges, sometimes by arrangement and sometimes by ambush, often resulting in injuries and, more rarely, deaths.

In one such ambush, Venancio Bacon was caught in the dark while walking to his home in Labangon, and killed his assailant by snapping his spine.  Bacon was tried and imprisoned, with the judge ruling that Bacon’s martial arts skills could be considered a lethal weapon and should have been used with restraint.

While in prison, he recruited further students, including Bob Silver Tabimina who would regularly travel to the prison to train with Bacon. Upon his release on parole in the mid-1970s, Bacon returned to Cebu and Balintawak. He did not resume leadership, but did regularly attend training sessions conducted by José Villasin and Teofilo Velez until his death a few years later.

In Balintawak, the stick is only used to enhance and train the individual for bare hands fighting, and to achieve perfection in the art of speed, timing and reflexes necessary to acquire defensive posture and fluidity in movement.

The typical method in martial arts is to teach unarmed techniques first and weaponry later. Filipino martial arts turns this around, beginning with weapons and then moving to empty hands. This develops attributes relevant to combat such as speed, timing, power, and control at a faster rate by engaging in a more intense experience. If you can successful manage sticks that routinely move at 60+ mph, then a punch coming towards you doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. The concepts and techniques that are developed with the stick in Balintawak work regardless of whether we are using a stick, a blade, or empty hands.

Some of Bacon’s successors soon began to systematize the Balintawak curriculum. José Villasin and Teofilo Velez began grouping the techniques in various categories such as punching, grabbing and thrusting so that the students could more easily master the techniques.  Teofilo Velez’s son’s are still teaching his version of Balintawak under the name (W.O.T.B.A.G.)

Today, there are a number of Balintawak groups teaching different versions of the system. Most instructors use the “grouping” method for teaching the techniques while others continue to teach in the traditional way, as Bacon used to teach.

Balintawak is built around 12 basic strikes which take into account any angle of attack that the human body is capable of. Each strike is paired with a defense and counter strike. Balintawak places a heavy emphasis on defense. Anyone can swing a stick but it takes skill to stop a stick moving at your head with intent. It doesn’t matter how powerful you are, if you don’t stop that strike you aren’t going to get a chance to launch your own.

Once proficiency is shown in the basic strikes and the defense and counters the student is taught the groupings. Each grouping consists of a small number of related movements that focus on a different attribute or concept of combat. Once these building blocks are assembled the student learns to improvise and develop their own personal style. This is the framework of Balintawak. If you have no prior martial training it provides a solid foundation on which to stand and it allows those with previous experience to integrate their other arts.

An important aspect in the development of the Balintawak practitioner is being able to teach. Balintawak is not meant to be taught in a group setting, by its very nature it is to be taught one on one.  One teacher, one student.  As the student progresses they are tasked with sharing their knowledge with newer students. This helps develop a deeper understanding of the concepts and techniques by forcing the practitioner to focus on every aspect of them. This is most prominent in the concept of “Agak”, their version of sparring.

While “Agak” does not have a direct English translation it can be taken roughly as “to lead or to guide”. A senior practitioner will feed strikes to a junior practitioner and correct their form as they defend and counter them. As the junior practitioner progresses the groupings are added. These exchanges are never scripted and are meant to test the reactions and defense of the junior practitioner while allowing the senior practitioner to train their offense.

This practice culminates at higher levels in a free flowing exchange between the two practitioners, each vying to “take the flow” and put the other on the defensive, ultimately rendering them unable to continue the flow either through a trap, a disarm, or some other technique.

The principles and concepts of Balintawak have, however, found their way into many different Filipino martial arts. Modern Arnis, founded by Remy Presas studied Balintawak under Arnulfo Mongcal, who also introduced him to Anciong Bacon as well as Liborio “Tiboring” Heyrosa founder of Heyrosa De Cuerdas Escrima, an unorthodox close range fighting system.

Tat Kun Tao which was created by Joe Go, one of Venancio Bacon’s earliest students is a unarmed form of Balintawak with influences from Chinese martial arts such as Tai Chi and Five Ancestors Boxing.

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Saavedra Escrima

Saavedra Escrima

The island of Cebu in the Central Visayan Islands of the Philippines is considered the home and motherland of the Filipino Martial Art of Escrima.  The most prominent and influential Escrimador in the history of Cebuano Escrima was the great, Lorenzo “Tatay Ensong” Saavedra (1852 – 1944).

The Saavedras are arguably are among the most famous practitioners of the arts in the last 100 years. However, they are not widely known outside of Cebu.

Lorenzo “Tatay Ensong” Saavedra was a Senior member of the Saavedra clan. Saavedra founded the Labangon Fencing Club in 1921 and taught his unique style of Escrima the “Corto Linear Style” to his nephew Teodoro “Doring” Saavedra (1911 – 1944) and Venancio “Anciong” Bacon (1912 – 1982).

Lorenzo Saavedra was an original member of the famed Doce Pares Club in 1932 and continued teaching his unique style of Escrima until WWII and the Japanese invasion of Cebu on April 10, 1942.

It was during this time that Teodoro “Doring” Saavedra rose through the ranks and became one of the most feared and respected Escrimadors in the Philippines.  His legendary exploits and hard-hitting and aggressive style of Escrima made him an icon and legend of Cebuano martial arts.

During the war in 1944, while serving alongside Doce Pares Club original students, Vicente “Inting” Atillo and Delfin Lopez, Doring Saavedra was captured and summarily executed by the Japanese.  Soon after, Lorenzo Saavedra died of natural causes at the age of 92.

After the war, many of the original Doce Pares Club members reunited and resumed training however the post-war club was shadowed by the deaths of Lorenzo Saavedra and Teodoro “Doring” Saavedra.

Venancio “Anciong” Bacon, a student of Lorenzo Saavedra and life-long family friend and training partner of Doring Saavedra prior to the war was becoming frustrated with the politics of the Doce Pares Club and eventually split off and started his own group in order to propagate the pure art of the Saavedra system and get back to the combative applications of Escrima.

During this time Vicente Atillo, a lifelong friend and student of both Saavedra and Bacon, taught the hard-hitting Saavedra Style of Escrima to his son Crispulo “Ising” Atillo. In addition to his father, Crispulo Atillo spent his youth learning from many of the original founding masters of Balintawak Escrima to include Venancio “Anciong” Bacon and the notorious and feared Escrimador, Delfin Lopez.

The original Saavedra system is now taught under the names “Atillo Balintawak World Arnis – Escrima Original Saavedra Style” and “Applied Escrima.”

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Doce Pares (12 Pairs)

“Doce Pares” is an Eskrima/Arnis Martial Arts Club that was founded in Cebu City in January 12, 1932. Originally it was a breakaway group of students and instructors from the ‘Labangon Fencing Club’ of the 1920’s which was influenced heavily by the Saavedra and Cañete families.

The original instructors of the Doce Pares taught their own particular family, island or region styles of Eskrima.

Lorenzo Saavedra, who was recognized as the foremost eskrimador in Cebu City founded Doce Pares along with his nephews Teodoro and Federico Saavedra,  and Eulogio and Filemon Cañete.

Eulogio Cañete, Filemon’s older brother, was elected first president of Doce Pares and remained in that position until his death in 1988. A younger Cañete brother, Ciriaco “Cacoy” Cañete, concentrated on boxing but later became an eskrimador while also training in Judo and other arts which he incorporated into his system, one component of which is called “Eskrido”.

Teodoro ‘Doring’ Saavedra rose to prominence as the best fighter in the Doce Pares society. Saavedra, an active guerrilla fighter, was captured and killed by the occupying Japanese forces in World War II.

Venancio Bacon was also among the first members in the club, but after a short time he left due to disagreements over the effectiveness of the Doce Pares system and founded Balintawak Eskrima.

Doce Pares is a form of Arnis, Kali and Eskrima, or a Filipino martial art that focuses primarily on stick fighting, knife fighting and hand-to-hand combat but also covers grappling and other weapons as well.

In reality, the stick is merely considered an extension of the hand, and is meant to represent almost any weapon, from sticks to swords to knives to anything else you can place in your hand and use as a weapon in the modern context.

Doce Pares was brought to prominence in the international scene during the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s by the Cañete family, especially Ciriaco ‘Cacoy’ Cañete.

Following the death of Ciriaco Canete in February 2016 there are only two surviving Doce Pares Supreme Grandmasters, Dionisio Canete and Danny Guba.

Doce Pares means “twelve pairs” in Spanish, the name was meant to honor the twelve people who originally planned to form the organization.

There are seven (7) main components of the Doce Pares multi-style system:
Single Stick Eskrima (Solo Olisi)
Double Stick Eskrima (Doble Olisi)
Long Stick Fighting (Bangkaw)
Long and Short Weapon Fighting (Espada y Daga)
Knife Fighting (Baraw)
Long Blade / Sword Fighting (Estokada / Sundang)
Empty Hand (Mano-Mano)

The three (3) ranges of Mano-Mano are:
Corto – Close Range
Media Largo – Medium Range
Larga Mano – Long Range

Also within the Mano-Mano section is:
Sumbag-Patid – Punching and Kicking
Lubag-Torsi – Locks and Immobilizing
Layog-Dumog – Takedowns and Grappling

Specialized Subjects:
Sinawali – to Weave
Tapi-Tapi – Alive Hand (a method of moving and flowing)
Sayaw/Karanza – Kata or Forms

All the above subjects are incorporated under the comprehensive 5-year training curriculum of the Doce Pares “Multi-Style” system.

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What is Kali-Escrima?

The Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) are commonly referred to as Kali, Arnis and Escrima or Eskrima. Obviously this can be confusing to a lot of people. The truth is that they are basically different words for the same art.

The Philippines are made up of over 7,000 islands and divided into 3 regions, the North, Central and Southern regions.

Arnis, is a Spanish term derived from ‘ Arnes de mano’ which translated to ‘armor of the hands’ referring to the warrior’s ability to protect themselves with their weapon. It typically shortened to Arnis. The term Arnis is used in the northern parts of the Philippines.

Escrima/ Eskrima, is from a Spanish term which means ‘fencing’. The term Escrima/Eskrima is typically used in the central or Visayan region of the Philippines.

The word Kali has multiple theories as to it’s origin:
Some say that it comes from the word Tjakalele which is a style of stick fencing from Indonesia.
Others claim that the name was coined by Dan Inosanto in the 1970’s
Most likely it comes from the Filipino term for blade which is Calis.

Regardless of the true origin the easy way to remember the three terms is Arnis in the north, Escrima in the central region and Kali in the south.

Kali is the term most commonly used for Filipino Martial Arts especially in the USA.

When many people think of FMA they envision ‘That Stick Fighting’ art, but the Filipino arts are much, much more and are world renowned for their ‘blade culture’. Even though most styles use sticks for safety reasons, the techniques are actually based on the sword.

FMA also includes punching, kicking, joint locks, grappling and weapon disarming techniques. The techniques are the same whether it is empty hand, stick or knife. They are considered ‘extensions’ of the hands which is why weapons are taught from the very beginning.

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