Of the many foreign forces who have invaded the Philippines, the Spaniards were the only ones that made a tangible influence on the Filipino martial arts (FMA). The concept of espada y daga (sword and dagger) for instance was borrowed from Spanish swordplay. Even today, a lot of FMA terminologies are still in Spanish. 

The influence of Spanish swordsmanship may have entered the FMA after intermarriages occurred between Spaniards and Filipinos and on instances where the Spanish government had to train the natives as an auxiliary fighting force against invaders.

On the latter, the Spanish clergy may have possibly played an extensive role. On the extent of the authority of Spanish friars, the historian Rosario Mendoza Cortes wrote, “As the only Spaniard in town and for many miles around, he became not only the spiritual caretaker of the area but the representative of the government as well. He became part of the administrative machinery of the colony,” (Pangasinan, 1572 to 1800, New Day Publisher, 1974). So great was the involvement of these priests in their communities that some of them even took up arms in the event of a foreign invasion.

On the participation of the Spanish friars in the British invasion, National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin in his book “Manila, My Manila, wrote, “Also heroes of the British war were a host of anonymous friars who left their convents, took arms, and led the resistance in Cavite, Laguna, Bulacan and Pampanga. The Franciscans of Laguna held off the British while treasure smuggled out of hiding was conveyed to Anda in Pampanga. When Chinese rebels armed by the British attacked Pasig, they were driven back by an impromptu army captained by a Franciscan friar. The fiercest fighters were the Augustinians, whom the British abhorred as mortal antagonists. Ten Augustinians died in action and nineteen were captured in battle. An Augustian friar led the guerilla band that ambushed British troops in Bulacan. It is said that several of the friar guerrilleros became so fond of fighting they did not return to their convents at the end of the war but continued operating in the boondocks, this time as bandit leaders.”

Another book that mentions the Spanish clergy’s valor in combat is “Swish of the Kris” by Victor Hurley, a part of it reads. “Indeed, matters reached such a state that before the end of the year warships were ordered out for another attack on Jolo. Four regiments of infantry and a corps of artillery aided the gunboats. Included was a battalion of Cebuanoes (sic) who sought revenge for the Moro raids. The wives of the Cebuanoes (sic) emulated Lysistrata in reverse. Every wife took an oath before Father Ibanez to deny forever their husbands all of their favors if the Cebuano men turned their backs to the Moros. In the battle of Jolo, Father Ibanez lost his life in the assault on a Moro cotta. The good Father tucked his cassock about his waist and plunged into the thickest of the battle. The Cebuanoes (sic) performed prodigies of valor and Jolo fell again. The seat of the Sultanate was removed across the island to Maybun, and the Moros paid regular visits to Jolo to slaughter the Spanish garrison, which remained.”

A painting by National Artist Carlos “Botong” Francisco depicting Limahong’s invasion of the Philippines

Besides the Spaniards, there are other foreign forces that could have made an influence on the FMA.

Though the Chinese preceded the Spaniards in the Philippines, their influence came in a bit late. Joaquin commented that while the Filipinos were in constant contact with the Chinese primarily because of trade for 10,000 years, so little of Chinese civilization reached the Philippines. Again, in “Manila, My Manila,” he wrote, “The Chinito look would come (along with pancit and lugaw) only after 1565, when the Chinese began to migrate here in droves. In the history of Chinese-Philippine relations, therefore, those ten thousand years of supposed past together have little or no importance. The impact of Chinese culture on us begins only in 1565.”

If official documentation was to be the sole basis, the Chinese martial arts only influenced the FMA during the last century. It happened when Grandmaster Johnny Chiuten got involved in the development of Lapunti Arnis De Abaniko of Grandmaster Filemon Caburnay. A student of the legendary Lao Kim, Chiuten infused elements of his Dragon-Tiger Kung Fu to Lapunti Arnis De Abaniko.

But there may be earlier instances where the Chinese martial arts may have blended with the FMA. One of them may have happened after the attack of the Chinese pirate Limahong on the Philippines in November 1574. On the Chinese corsair’s invasion Joaquin wrote, “Some 600 of the pirates fell in battle, including poor Lieutenant Sioco. Killed were around 50 of the defenders. Limahong lost no time decamping from the bay. He sailed to Pangasinan and there tried to establish a colony but was driven from there by his nemesis Juan de Salcedo. Some of his men escaped to Igorot country, where they sired a mestizo breed among the highlanders.”

Known for their fearsome prowess in combat, it is highly probable that these Chinese pirates may have had shared their fighting skills with the Philippine highland tribes where they found refuge. It is interesting to note that the Chinese pirate Koxinga taught combat to the natives of Taiwan when he came to the territory. In an article titled “The Sung Chiang Battle Array – Taiwanese Martial Arts Show,” Bernado Tuso wrote, “Taiwan was a sparsely populated, practically virgin island when Koxinga and his people arrived. To aid in the development of the island’s economy and protect it against possible invasion by the Manchus and the Dutch, Koxinga trained and armed the peasants. Many of the weapons used in the Sung Chiang battle array are actually the farm tools–rakes, sickles, hooks, umbrellas – used by the early peasantry.”

The Japanese may have also imparted influence on the FMA long before their conquest of the Philippines during the Second World War. Another part of Joaquin’s “Manila, My Manila,” reads, “Dilao, a village occupying the present location of City Hall and the San Marcelino area, included a Japanese quarter on the banks of the Estero Tripa de Gallina [where Hotel Mirador and the Tabacalera now stand]. The site has been a Japanese ghetto since pre-Hispanic times. When the Spanish took Manila, they found twenty Japanese living there, one of whom was a Christian.”

Joaquin told that most of the Japanese in Dilao (literally means “yellow” in Tagalog) were displaced Samurai warriors or ronins. Hence the friars decided that it was appropriate to set up a new parish in the area in honor of a soldier saint. So was created the San Miguel parish in Manila.

The ronins of Manila remained adherents of Bushido or “The Way of the Warrior.” Though the Lieutenant-Governor Antonio de Morga commended them as “honest and law-abiding,” they remained fighters. In fact, 500 Japanese mercenaries from Dilao participated in Governor Juan de Silva’s conquest of the Moluccas in 1615 and Spain’s battle against the Dutch in Malacca in 1616. These displaced Samurai warriors were said to be hired “at high pay,” a testament to their formidable fighting prowess.

Joaquin said in his book that the San Miguel Parish did not remained exclusively Japanese but became “mixed” in character by the 1640s, “A community of Japanese and Filipinos,” he explained. Given the tremendous spiritual and nationalistic characteristic the Japanese attached to the sword, it was doubtful if they ever taught kenjutsu (skill with sword) to a foreigner at that time. There’s a remote possibility though that they may have imparted some of their jujitsu (empty hand fighting skills) to Filipinos.

When the Americans came to the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century, they introduced Filipinos to their brand of combat sports like western boxing and wrestling. While there are interesting historical materials presented indicating that FMA concepts did influenced western boxing, I believe it was not one-sided and an exchange took place. Elements of western boxing made it to the FMA too particularly the use of modern equipments like the heavy bag and the speed bag as well as numerous combat conditioning methods. I have also known players of dumog (the indigenous wrestling of Panay) who have incorporated western wrestling techniques into their native grappling arts.