Controversial Arnis Frequently Asked Questions


Beck Martial Arts - Controversial Arnis Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What makes you think *you* know the answers?

It's difficult to know what the actual facts are -- even when there are written records, sometimes the writers are biased. Although I've used books, web sites, mailing lists, questions to my teachers, etc, I am not a trained historian, and I don't claim that these answers are the be all end answers to these questions. But they are MY answers to these questions based on what I've experienced, seen, and heard from multiple sources in nearly three decades of studying martial arts. If something I say makes you mad, I'm easy to find. :)

Most of these questions involve differing views of history. To me this is all pretty unimportant. One, Arnis is a martial art that has changed and continues to change with the times; with different training methods, influences from other martial arts, and influences from non-Filipino cultures too. Two, the term 'art' in martial art implies creativity and individual expression. Every instructor teaches a little bit differently, and every student will find certain techniques just work better for them than others, so every martial art becomes an individual martial art. What works well for my teacher may not work as well for me, and what works well for me may not work well for you. I can teach you my interpretation of Arnis, but I encourage you to use that as a base and eventually develop your own interpretation. What matters is that you train to meet your goals, not who created that particular method of training or what organization you're in.

For what it's worth, my background in Filipino Martial Arts is: 4 summer camps with Professor Remy Presas in 1993-6. Over 20 years now of ongoing study with Grandmaster Anding de Leon, since 1993. Direct seminars and training with GM Ernesto Presas, Datu Tim Hartman, and Guro Dan Inosanto. Indirect DVD/video/books influences from the Dog Brothers, Angel Cabales, and Mike Inay.    My complete martial arts background

David N. Beck, Richardson Texas

Q. What's the difference between arnis, kali, escrima, eskrima, and FMA?

They are almost entirely the same; all referring to Filipino martial arts that share many many characteristics. All train with stick, knife, double sticks, stick and dagger, and empty hand. All have central ideas of using triangular footwork, continuous flow of movement, the same base movements translating between empty hand and any weapon, and of grouping attacks into angles. The differences are minor, more dependent on the teacher than anything else. For instance, Professor Presas used 12 striking angles, his brother Ernesto used 14. They are often combining things from other martial arts, ie Escrido and v-jitsu combine arnis and jujitsu. Some people like the term 'kali' best because the term 'eskrima' came from Spanish for skimish and 'arnis' came from Spanish 'arnes de mano'.

Q. But isn't kali the 'mother art'?

How far back do you want to go? Some trace the history of FMA back to LapuLapu, who was a hero to the Filipinos because he led the group that killed Magellen. Some go back to silat, which was created as a compilation of martial arts from 6 of Alexander the Great's bodyguards from different backgrounds. Some go on back to Daruma/Boditharma, the founder of Buddism, who brought training techniques from India to the Shaolin Temple in China. Truth is people have ALWAYS fought each other, some have always been better at it than others, and some were able to systemize and teach it. Every system then has had other influences and changed many times over the years. Every individual teacher changes things in some way; even if you're trying to teach exactly the same; you will teach what you personally like to do differently than you'll teach stuff you don't like. And show two different people the same technique and they'll interpret and perform it differently.

Q. What about northern, central, and southern Phillipines using the names kali, eskrima, and arnis respectively?

The Phillipines consists of over 7000 islands, with MANY different languages and dialects used; therefore there are many names for the same things. Arnis is probably the most widely used term because of the standardization of Modern Arnis and it being used as physical education through school.

Q. What's the history of the name 'arnis'?

The Filipinos always had impressive stick and knife skill; using what they had available. When the Spanish occupied the Phillipines, the training the locals were doing went underground. They started putting training and techniques into the 'moro moro' plays; where the Spanish characters wore leather armor. Arnes de mano means 'harness of the hand', referring to the leather worn on the wrist and forearms of the Spanish characters. The Filipinos were impressed with the techniques the Spanish were doing with sword and dagger, and folded them in to their existing techniques. Eventually this term became 'arnis'.

Q. What's the differences between BMA Arnis, Modern Arnis, and Arnis de Leon?

Arnis de Leon is 95% or so the same as the Modern Arnis Professor taught in the Phillipines before tweaking things to appeal to the short attention spans of seminar training in the US. GM deLeon had a much more structured Modern Arnis curriculum than what the Professor taught in the seminar settings, and GM deLeon has changed some drills and stressed some different things in creating Arnis de Leon. Similarly, in BMA Arnis my curriculum is 90-95% the same material as in Arnis de Leon, but I am teaching in a more conceptual manner. I have taken out the empty hand forms, preferring to do the applications with partners; have added certain drills from other sources, and am focusing more on empty hand locks from multiple places than GM deLeon does. My arnis is certainly based on what I learned directly from Grandmaster de Leon and from Professor Presas, but has also had influence from Dan Inosanto, the Dog Brothers, GM Ernesto Presas, Mike Inay, and others. And it is of course influenced also by my background in Hapkido and Taekwondo. It is not a mixture of arts however, they are separate arts with different approaches and cultural flavors, and I teach them that way. There are many positives to cross-training and mixing arts; but all techniques must fit into the structure and approach of the style if you are calling it by the style's name. In my case the Arnis I teach definately has the ideas of flow and translation between empty hands and weapons true to any FMA style. I believe it to be true to Professor Presas' approach and to GM deLeon's approach.

Q. Why don't you like the Modern Arnis/Arnis de Leon empty hand forms?

Actually I *DO* like forms, and I like much that is in the Modern Arnis empty hand forms. But they always seemed to me to be added in so that Modern Arnis people could also compete in forms at open karate tournaments. They're certainly not worthless; practically all the applications out of the forms are things that I teach included in empty hand defense versus punches, kicks, grabs, etc. But IMO as a way to remember techniques they are too repetitive and not comprehensive enough. Nor is there a progression of skill building as you go through them. They are just not that good a teaching tool.

Q. What about the Modern Arnis/Arnis de Leon weapon forms?

A valid question, because the same complaints can apply to the stick forms of being too repetitive and not comprehensive enough to serve as a catalog of technique. The other stick form sets I've seen, for example Dos Pares, are not really any better, tending to too much impractical twirling. Maybe someday I'll come up with my own set that I like better, but at this point I'm staying with them. The Modern Arnis set using singlestick, doublestick, knife, and espada y daga does give a good idea of a student's level of power, balance, flow, weapon control, and live hand skills.

Q. Why do many FMA people look down on Modern Arnis?

Nobody who ever saw the Professor in person would ever denigrate his skill or his art. But after he left the Phillipines, Professor Presas traveled around the world doing 1-day and 3-4 day seminars hosted by instructors of other martial arts, and did rank tests at those seminars. So you have a lot of people whose base is something else that obtained rank pretty easily in Modern Arnis. Seminar training in itself is fine; much can be taught and learned in them. But for anything physical, repetition enough to acquire muscle memory is absolutely essential. If the material shown at a seminar is not practiced enough over time, it is lost. Ongoing regular practice with a good instructor will correct mistakes in your practice and stop bad habits from being ingrained. Nor is there time enough in seminars to go through all the variants of a concept or technique. A seminar will give you a decent idea of the material, but rank tests during them tends to promote memorization of the particular technique examples just taught. People often come out with rank without necessarily understanding of the principles behind the techniques or being able to apply them to different situations. In my case I thought that what the Professor taught in the summer camps was great, but was uncomfortable with after my second one being graded to a brown belt level. So I did not test in the 3rd and 4th camps I did with him (1995-6) where others were promoted to black belt levels and I went back through everything step by step with GM de Leon, testing for black belt with GM de Leon years later in 1999.

Q. What does 'Master of Tapi-Tapi' mean?

The last couple of years before the Professor died, he was modifying things in his seminars to basically put EVERYTHING into a mock sparring format called tapi-tapi, meaning counter for counter. Masters of Tapi-Tapi is referring to people that learned this set of drills. Historically, the basic idea is simply locking the opponent up using his own arms and/or stick and countering what he's likely to do. From an old guard Modern Arnis point of view, they learned an earlier version and it is to them like saying 'Master of Hubad', or 'Master of Sinawali'; it's just one of MANY drills. So some have the attitude of 'that's all you know'? The new guys say everything is there within it and it's a great way to learn flow. I saw some of it in my final summer camp with the Professor and now have trained with it in a couple seminars. My opinion is that it is a very useful drill, but you still need to train substantially with a lot of other drills. It's very challenging mentally with the use of the live hand and needs a LOT of muscle memory repetition to get. It really seems designed for defeating the skilled fighter, as opposed to the typical self-defense 90% situations. The more I see and do of it the more I like it, but it is HARD to do! I'm not yet to the point of putting it into my syllabus; I don't know it well enough yet plus it looks very difficult for beginners to pick up; hard to see how it works in a curriculum. My opinion may change as I get better and train more with it; that's happened before with other things.

Q. What are the various certifications, ranks, and titles?

For instructor certification in Modern Arnis, Professor Presas would do a basic instructor certificate for people at the end of a single summer camp; an advanced instructor certificate after two. But he also did belt rank tests did at the seminars; typically testing people after one camp to a green belt level, after two to a brown belt level, and after three to black belt. Note that Lakan (black belt) is a separate rank than Lakan Isa (first degree black belt). Arnis de Leon has the same approach of basic and advanced instructor certification; but more time training and teaching is required than the Professor had; and you need at least brown belt rank before you can obtain the advanced instructor certification. For titles, in Arnis de Leon, the term 'Guro' just means teacher, anyone teaching arnis can assume that title. The term 'Punong Guro' means lead teacher, head instructor, or school owner. The term 'Tuhon' is the closest equivalent to Grandmaster or Founder, meaning the leader of a system or organization; in the Phillipines that's what the students referred to Professor Presas as before he took the title Professor. Some organizations tie particular amounts of experience and rank to these titles, for instance Pekita Tirsia has very specific requirements. Another title you hear sometimes in Arnis circles for leaders of organizations is 'Datu', which a few top students of the Professor use; this means 'chief' or that there is no one of higher rank. This term ties back to Filipino history where 10 datus came from Borneo and settled in the Phillipines bringing in some major cultural influence.

Q. What arnis organizations are there and what do you know about them?

It's not as bad as Ed Parker's Kenpo or Taekwondo, but since Professor Presas's death his organization splintered and there are a number of groups out there for Modern Arnis. The two that came directly out of the Professor's International Modern Arnis Federation after his death are headed by GM Jeff Delaney (Dripping Springs, Texas,, and Master Randi Schea (Houston, Texas, Schea is no longer involved; the organization is led by a commmittee of students of the Professor from his later years, including Masters Chuck Gauss, Ken Smith, and Earl Tullis. Other major groups that were formed prior to the Professor's death are headed by Datu Tim Hartman (New York,, Datu Dieter Knuttel (Germany,, and Professor Dan Anderson ( There's also a group run by Remy P. Presas, one of the Professor's sons ( I've met and trained before in seminars with GM Delaney, Datu Hartman, Master Gauss, Master Tullis, and seen video of Datu Knuttel, GM Anderson, and GM Remy P. Presas. All of them are greatly skilled with a lot to share; realistically I don't think it matters much what organization you join; to me the differences are minor. In my case GM deLeon is local to me and I am proud to be associated with his organization, the International Arnis de Leon Federation.

Q. Do you train knifefighters?

If you WANT to be a knifefighter you're an idiot. Realistically, if you are deliberately facing off with someone where both of you are armed with knives, you're both idiots. Both of you WILL be cut unless there is a HUGE difference in skill, probably at least one of you will be maimed, and there's a good chance of one or both of you dying. I train people to deal with emptyhand, stick, and knife attacks; and have knowledge of how those weapons can be used enough to have a better chance at self-defense.

Q. Do you train stickfighters?

We do a lot of stick versus stick training in arnis for skill development, but we are not training for competition. The usual competitions have so much padding that a lot of practical techniques are lost; and if you go without pads there are really high risks. Stick fighting is DANGEROUS! I train people to deal with emptyhand, stick, and knife attacks; and have knowledge of how those weapons can be used enough to have a better chance at self-defense. Sticks are HUGELY practical weapons; the first weapon cave-man picked up was probably a stick.

Q. What do you think of the Dog Brothers?

I like a lot of what they do, but I think they're kind of nuts! I appreciate what they've done in finding out what really does and doesn't work in realistic conditions, but I wouldn't want to risk myself that way! They've had a major influence on me teaching the mechanics of power to beginners right away and putting heavy stress on it. But to actually fight like they do is too risky for more than very very few people -- almost everyone has to go to work the next day.