While the stick and the blade are the most popular weapons of the Filipino martial arts (FMA), the truth is it also includes training in projectile and flexible weapons. This article will focus on Filipino flexible weapons.
Though flexible weapons can be wielded using the basic angles of attacks of the stick and blade, they have distinct characteristics from other type of weapons. In terms of advantage, a flexible weapon can bend over a block and therefore can still hit the defender.
Its ability to loop around a limb or weapon could be utilized to immobilize an opponent or to destroy his balance. The greatest disadvantage of a flexible weapon compared to a rigid weapon is that every hit requires full commitment. Also, it cannot be used in delivering rapid retracting strikes.
Only a few systems of FMA teach flexible weapons, which makes authentic instruction on the subject really hard to find.
The most popular flexible weapon associated with the FMA is the latigo or bullwhip. A renowned master of the latigo is the late Eustaquio “Snookie” Sanchez of Waipahu, Hawaii. Sanchez’s prowess with the latigo involved extinguishing several candles with his whip while blindfolded. Some of the well-known FMA systems that include latigo training are Pananandata, Pambuan Arnis, Sayoc Kali and Dekiti Tirsia.
A variation of the latigo though rarely seen outside of the Philippines is the buntot page or stingray tail. The buntot page is a vicious weapon and Filipinos believe that the wound inflicted by it is very hard to heal. Such belief may be medically valid because the tail of a live stingray possesses two venom-containing grooves that could inject a protein-based toxin on a wound. Another Filipino belief about the buntot page is that it is an effective weapon against the aswang – a creature of the night that feeds on human flesh particularly unborn babies.
Another flexible weapon that Filipinos use is the simple chain. Calling the weapon “De Cadena,” Dan Inosanto posed with a chain in his classic book “The Filipino Martial Arts.” Unlike the whip, snapping strikes are not possible with the chain because of its weight. While it is only a later addition to the array of FMA weapons, the tabak toyok or nunchaku is now adapted in some FMA systems.
The inclusion of tabak toyok (simply known as “tsako” in the Philippines) among FMA weapons happened through the influence of Inosanto. It is now a well-known fact that he introduced the nunchaku to the legendary Bruce Lee who popularized its use in his movies.
One system of FMA offering a rich curriculum on the combative use of the rope is Dugukan. Ned Nepangue, in his article “The Dugukan System of Martial Arts (Rapid Journal Vo. 9 No.2) explained that “dugukan” is a Cebuano term for skeleton or framework. On the kind of weapons used in the system, he wrote, “The armed training includes the use of the olisi sticks, the alho pestles, daggers, pinuti blades, wasay axes, and the use of pisi or rope.”
Nepangue narrated that Dugukan was taught by David Gaverola a.k.a. Gabino Gaverola of Candabong, Argao, Cebu. “Tatay [father] David was considered a master of indigenous Cebuano martial arts, healing arts and esoteric arts. He studied under Maximino Pedro, who was known in his skill in using the ax and ground fighting. Maximino Pedro in turn was a student of General Adriano de la Concepcion,” he wrote.
The use of the sarong, a piece of cloth wrapped around the waist and handkerchief as weapons are taught in some FMA systems. These two common objects can be utilized to distract, immobilize or strangle an opponent. The use of the sarong is found in FMA systems with strong silat influence. The late Lameco founder Edgar Sulite taught the extensive use of the handkerchief as a self-defense tool.
The yo-yo in the old Philippines was employed as weapon though such skill is now long lost. The Philippines’ National Hero Dr. Jose Rizal was a skilled practitioner of the yo-yo as a weapon. In their book “Jose Rizal: Life Works and Writings of a Genius, Writer, Scientist, and National Hero,” Gerogorio F. Zaide and Sonia M. Zaide wrote of how Rizal demonstrated his skill with the yo-yo aboard a ship during his trans-Atlantic voyage from New York to Liverpool, it reads, “Rizal entertained the American and European passengers with his marvelous skill with the yo-yo as an offensive weapon. The yo-yo is a small wooden disc attached to a string from the finger.
It is used by Filipino children as a toy. But Rizal manipulated it as a weapon of offense, to the great amazement of the foreigners.”
The Filipinos’ use of the yo-yo as a weapon was also mentioned in Mary Bellis’ article “The History of the Yo-Yo,” she wrote, “In the Philippines, the yoyo was used as a weapon for over 400 hundred years. Their version was large with sharp edges and studs and attached to thick twenty-foot ropes for flinging at enemies or prey.”