Espada y Daga: Western Fencing’s Foremost Influence on the FMA

By | 2018-05-08T00:18:30+00:00 June 16th, 2009|FMA Corner|

Issue Number: #

Pragmatism is one of the foremost tenets of the Filipino Martial Arts (FMA). A common supposition espoused by many masters is that once the practitioner grasped the fundamental concepts of the FMA, he can pick up any impact or bladed weapon, regardless of its shape and use it effectively.

While the variety of bladed weapons native to the Philippines is immense, FMA practitioners seem to take pleasures in experimenting with foreign weapons. The classic book The Filipino Martial Arts by Dan Inosanto shows an old photo of the young Floro Villabrille holding a dagger and a Western saber. Villabrille is the undisputed champion of escrima death matches in the Philippines and Hawaii.

John Clements, an expert practitioner-researcher of Renaissance martial arts opined that the sword and dagger method of Western swordsmanship could not have influenced the FMA during the time of Ferdinand Magellan’s arrival in the Philippines.

In an article entitled “The Influence of Spanish Renaissance Swordsmanship on Filipino Martial arts (Rapid Journal Vol.6 No.1),” he wrote, “The Spanish during the time of Magellan and even later, would not have been fighting with rapiers. The rapier as we know is a personal weapon of urban self-defense, not battlefield one.

The Spanish sailors and soldiers would have been using cut and thrust swords and fighting in the well documented style of the Spanish and Italian masters of the time such as Manciolino, di Lucca, Marozzo, Agrippa and Altori.

The later rapier style of the Spanish masters such as Carranza and Narvaez, simply had not progressed to the point yet where it would likely have been common in the Philippine Islands even during the 1570s let alone earlier.”

There were however historical documents proving that aristocratic Filipino youths were exposed to systematic tuition in European fencing in the early 18th century. One of these is the Real Cedula por la qual su magestad funda un colegio de nobles Americanos en la diudad de Granada, a decree by King Carlos IV of Spain, telling of a creation of a college in Granada for educating American and Philippine youth of noble birth. Fencing is part of the curriculum that was taught in the said institution.

If the espada y daga influence occurred during this period, then the source would most probably be the rapier and dagger methods of the West.

In his article, Clements argued that this possibility is remote because unlike rapier fencing, arnis-escrima utilizes very little thrusting techniques. But in the case of espada y daga, the Filipinos of yore most probably just borrowed the concept of fighting with a long and short weapons but not the exactly the way Westeners were practicing it.

So, while espada y daga is a borrowed concept from Western fencing, the temperament by which it is executed is still very Filipino in character.

But some commonality still exists. In both Filipino espada y daga and Western rapier and dagger methods, the sword is considered the major weapon while the dagger just play a supporting role. “You must know that the unaccompanied sword is the queen and foundation of all other weapons, yea, that to delight therein is as, and more useful than, to do so in the others,” wrote fencing master Capo Ferro in his 1610 masterpiece Gran Simulacro.

Under the rule of Spain for 330 years it is certain that native martial arts of the Philippines have absorbed some of the elements of Western swordsmanship. For one, the National Hero of the Philippines Dr. Jose Rizal was both adept in arnis and Western fencing. Much of the terminologies of many styles of arnis-escrima to this day are still in Spanish.

The creativity of individual practitioners in playing with a combative concept has a lot to do with the continuous creation and evolution of espada y daga techniques. Author Mark Wiley, in his book Filipino Martial Culture wrote of how United States-based FMA master Amante Mariñas arrived at his own version of espada y daga, “Mariñas’ yantok at daga style was greatly influenced by Placido Yambao’s system, which he studied by way of the latter’s book for more than twenty-five years.”

Wiley got a quote from Mariñas that says, “Yantok at daga teaches you distancing because you cannot really use the daga on an opponent until you get close. You have to lean back and lean forward. If you look at the yantok at daga from the south and my yantok at daga they are totally different. People from the south tend to tie up their opponent, I don’t do that. I stay away because I love my skin too much.”

Espada y daga, which is basically a method of fighting with two unevenly sized weapons, is one of the most challenging modality of the FMA (the other prominent two are the solo baston and the doble baston or sinawali).

Among the benefits of espada y daga training are the increased coordination between the left and right hands as well as timing and distancing. The last two mentioned components are very important in being able to insert the cuts and thrusts of the dagger in between the large movements of the sword.