IS arnis on the mental landscape of the presidential candidates?
Is any one of them thinking of how our children and maybe every citizen should become practitioners of arnis? Why? Because education should include the effort to make every Filipino a universal man (or woman) who has a sport.
Then why arnis? Because on December 11 last year, the Arnis Bill authored by Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri was signed into law by President Gloria Arroyo.
The law declares arnis the Philippines’ national martial art and national sport. It also makes mandatory the teaching of arnis in all Philippine schools.
It was a sweet triumph long overdue for aficionados of the Filipino martial arts (FMA). But the euphoria was soon wet-blanketed by the realization of the gargantuan problems that still lie ahead.
In an exclusive interview with The Manila Times, Zubiri disclosed the series of actions that must be done to properly and fully implement the Arnis law.
Unifying the different styles
The first big task is to unify the different styles of arnis being practiced in the country. Zubiri explained that arnis not at all like Japanese karate or Korean tae kwon do as these are known today. They already have standardized techniques and forms.
But, “There are literally 120 to 150 different styles of arnis in the Philippines,” Zubiri said. “My plan is to create this coalition called the Alliance of Filipino Martial Artists [AFMA] where all these styles can unite.”
The senator wants all arnis styles to be represented in the AFMA including small groups not affiliated with the two biggest FMA organizations in the country, namely Arnis Philippines (ARPI) and the World Eskrima Kali Arnis Federation (WEKAF).
Once the AFMA is in place, Zubiri said, the next thing is to hold a congress. “There, we can have a meeting of minds to discuss and create one Bible of rules that every one must vow to respect,” he said.
This manual will contain the unified techniques, forms and competition rules of arnis.
Only when this is accomplished, he said, can arnis be taught correctly in the schools. And only then can properly organized arnis competitions be held.
Few realize that a prevalent problem in organizing arnis tournaments in the Philippines is the lack of unified rules and standards for the sport.
Zubiri cites these examples: WEKAF allows two-minute continuous hitting while other organizations, like Modern Arnis, follow a more traditional rule that requires the referee to separate the fighters after one of them scores a hit for which he is awarded a point.
As a solution, the senator suggests that both rules be used in all competitions sponsored by the AFMA, “In sparring, there will be an open category that uses the WEKAF rules and a traditional category,” Zubiri said.
He explained that this approach could also apply to anyo (forms) competition. Culling together elements from the different styles of arnis to create one unified style is a gargantuan task, Zubiri admits. What he thinks will be trickier is gathering all the masters to come together.
Zubiri said the problem stems from the fact that many of the old arnis masters harbor have animosities against each other.
He came up the idea of having a law as the unifier.
Realizing this early on, the senator realized that the law is a good unifying element, “It will get everybody involved,” he said.
Now Zubiri offers a challenge to all the arnis masters and organizations in the country to come a help advance the cause of a unified sport of arnis.
He calls on the different masters to stop insisting on having the best style and learn to respect other systems.
“We can start from there. This is the reason why I want an alliance first, an umbrella organization of all the different federations of arnis in the country,” Zubiri said.
“This alliance will be guided by one bible of rules, which will be recognized not only in the Philippines but by all arnis organizations worldwide.”
This is bigger than us
Zubiri said he is closely working with Chairman Harry Ang Ping of the Philippines Sports Commission (PSC) to accomplish the mission. The PSC is tasked to lead the implementation of the provisions of the new law on arnis as well as promulgate its rules and regulations.
The PSC will be supported in the task by the Department of Education and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.
Explaining the rationale behind the decision, Zubiri said that the PSC being a government organization, has a responsibility to its constituency the people. “If we don’t like what the PSC is doing, we can investigate and question it and the agency has no choice but to react,” he said.
Zubiri related the many problems besieging Arnis Philippines (ARPI), the National Sports Association (NSA) for arnis. “Not all grandmasters recognize ARPI.
If you talk to some grandmasters about ARPI, they will be turned off and they don’t want to deal with that organization.” He’ll try to sit down with ARPI and try to reformat, reinvigorate and reenergize it.
Zubiri declared that he wants ARPI to participate in the mission of unifying all the arnis styles in the country, which is a prerequisite to the creation of one rulebook of arnis.
Zubiri said he doesn’t to see in arnis and ARPI what has happened in other sports in the Philippines in the past, like in cycling and basketball.
Based on the new law, it is clear that ARPI is no longer the organization in charge of promoting arnis in the country. Section 3 to 5 of the Arnis Law reads, “[Sec. 3] Arnis is hereby declared as the Philippine National Martial Art and Sport.
The official adoption of arnis as the national martial art and sport shall be promulgated by inscribing the symbol of arnisin the official seal of the Philippine Sports Commission and by making it as the first sport competition to be played by participating teams on the first day in the annual Palarong Pambansa.
The Philippine Sports Commission shall be the lead agency to implement the provisions of this Act. [Sec. 4] The Department of Education, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, and the Philippine Sports Commission shall promulgate the necessary rules and regulations to carry out the provisions of this Act. [Sec. 5]
Any provision of law, decree, executive order, rule or regulation in conflict or inconsistent with the provisions and/or purposes of this Act is hereby repealed, amended or modified accordingly.”
Reiterating his desire for unity, Zubiri said, “What I want to do is to reach out to ARPI and say, ‘Hey, this is now bigger than us. For the next 30-years the law will still be here. This is now bigger than the organization. Let us try to unite for the law, for the art.”
Race against time
But it doesn’t look like between today and the opening of schools in mid June, the unified rules and the arnis manual would already by ready.
This means Physical Education classes won’t be able to teach arnis properly yet.
Still Zubiri hopes to hold a congress soon, “a national arnis congress wherein all the groups that we have had a dialogue with can meet as equals.”
Zubiri is hoping that in that meeting, the various groups and styles would elect their rightful representatives, “These representatives then will come out with a technical working group [TWG],” he explained.
The TWG according to Zubiri would be in charge of coming out with a coherent system of techniques, forms and competition rules for arnis.
After this is accomplished, it would then be the Education department’s role to ensure that arnis is taught as part of Physical Education courses all over the country.