Did the Spaniards Really Ban the Filipino Martial Arts (FMA)?

By | 2018-05-08T00:17:35+00:00 July 21st, 2009|FMA Corner|

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The years 1762 to 1764 are of primary interest to researchers and scholars of the Filipino martial arts (FMA) for it was during this period that the then Spanish governor general of the Philippines Simon de Anda y Salazar allegedly ordered the banning of the practice of the FMA.

In many articles and books on the Filipino Martial Arts, it was stated that Anda’s decree prompted the early Filipinos to practice their martial arts underground often under the guise of dances. Since the alleged ban encompassed the prohibition of the carrying of bladed weapons, it was said too, that FMA practitioners of that era have began using sticks instead of swords while practicing their martial arts under the cover of native dances.

If this was the case, then it can be presumed that Anda’s alleged ban affected the evolution of the FMA from an originally blade-oriented system to one that incorporates the stick as a primary weapon and training tool.

To the best of my knowledge, it was the FMA historian Dr. Ned Nepangue who first questioned the validity of this contention. Nepangue is the co-author of the book “Cebuano Eskrima: Beyond the Myth” (The other author is Celestino Macachor), which is continually reaping accolades from the global FMA community. I first heard Nepangue made comments on this subject in our personal conversations way back in 1998 when we were just starting to write for the Rapid Journal (the Philippines only martial arts magazine).

Even if Anda’s decree actually existed, he expressed serious doubts whether it was fully implemented given the geographical nature of the Philippines. In an article he later wrote for Rapid he said, “If Anda did ban the practice of kali, was he in control and was he able to enforce it? Did this declaration affect the 7,100 islands of the Philippine archipelago? Communication was one problem during that time.

There were few ships plying the seas in 1762. I even read in a journal that in a relatively smaller island of Cebu, in the year 1908, it took eight to nine days to travel a 128-kilometer distance from Cebu proper to Daanbantayan in the north. (Fallacies About the FMA, Rapid Journal Vol.6 No.1)”

Nepangue’s stand was further strengthened by the fact that the British invaded Manila on September 23, 1762. It would be impractical for Anda to impose a weapon ban on the natives since he would need all the help he could get to repel the invaders. The truth is the Spaniards did employ the help of Filipinos in fighting the British during this period as was written in the book “Manila.

My Manila” by National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin, it reads, “Archers from Pampanga, Bulacan and Laguna were let loose with bow-and-arrow on those residential labyrinths, to shoot down the invaders – but their was mostly a terror value. The Britishers feared those folk of the bow-and-arrow as jungle savages who would as soon cut off your head as shoot at it. Three columns of native soldiers marched on the churches of Malate, Ermita and Santiago but were driven back by the withering fire of the enemy.”

There are actually two versions on the supposed reasons why the Spaniards banned the practice of the FMA. The first version entails that the Spaniards were afraid that the deadly potential of the FMA would be used against them in a revolution.

The first book on arnis, “Mga Karunungan sa Larong Arnis [A Body of Knowledge in the Sport of Arnis]” by Placido Yambao and Buenaventura Mirafuente published by the University of the Philippines Press in 1957, however offers another version – it says that the primary reason was the decline in agricultural production because of the men’s preoccupation in the stage plays where their prowess in arnis was displayed.

A portion of the book translated by anthropologist and arnis expert Felipe Jocano Jr. reads, “Because of the passion of the indio citizens of the Archipelago as well as some of the Christians to the pastimes of moro-moro and duplo, they practically devoted all their time night and day, to the practice and teaching of the participants in the moro-moro and duplo such that the farmers were neglecting to plow their fields, consequently, the Spanish Government forbade any form of recreation (Arnis and the Work of History, Rapid Journal Vol.9 No.2).”

Yambao and Mirafuente’s “Mga Karunungan sa Larong Arnis” became the historical source of many books and articles on the FMA beyond 1957. But while the authors have presented an excellent manual on the technical aspects of arnis, they have failed to present a comprehensive bibliography that would aid researchers in validating the historical claims they have made in the book.

There is one credible historical work contradicting the statement that the early Filipinos practiced their martial arts under the guise of dances right under the nose of the Spaniards after the alleged ban by Anda took effect. Historian Rosario Mendoza Cortes citing the Spanish document “Recopilacion” as her source wrote the following comment in her book “Pangasinan 1572-1800:” “The elimination of dancing and drinking as ritual practices was facilitated not only by their dissociation from religious rites but also by the campaign made against them by the authorities.

Public dancing in any form for any occasion was prescribed by law and could not be held without securing a special license from the governor, while the entry to and sale of liquors in the villages was totally banned.” Based on the above statement, it is clear that the natives during colonial times could not have practiced their martial arts under the pretense of public performances because the Spanish government prohibited those.

While the Spaniards’ banning of the FMA is not a remote possibility, it is doubtful whether it was implemented in the entire Philippines given the archipelagic nature of the country. The colonial Filipinos’ preference for the stick as a weapon in my opinion could be attributed simply to the abundance of rattan (the most popular material used for escrima sticks) in the area and not because the Spanish government had banned the carrying of bladed weapons.