This article is not just for women but for all those people who have been made to believe that they are only as good as victims.
In Filipino martial culture, women with weapons are a rare phenomenon. While it is true that nowadays many Filipino women learn martial arts like karate, tae kwon do, kung fu and others, very few learn the higher art of sophisticated weaponry. Still fewer learn these skills not just for the sake of art or sports, but for real combat and street fighting.
If women with weapons are rare, what more women with knives.
Picture a scene with a woman and a knife in it… usually, the knife is pressing against her neck, she is about to be violated, or taken hostage, or suffer domestic abuse in the hands of husband or partner. Disturbing and unacceptable, but unfortunately not confronted enough, especially in societies where women are still regarded as the “weaker gender”.
Whenever people fail to speak out vehemently against such scenarios, there is implicit resignation that she will always be the victim. On the streets, in the supposed safety of her home, in films and books, women have always been the victims of knives. And they have always been regarded as EASY victims, because it is common perception that they cringe at the mere thought of being cut, and are even more terrified at the prospect of cutting another person.
I want to correct the above-mentioned picture. I want to place the knife in the woman’s hand. I want to see her able and capable of using it to protect herself and others. When I have a blade in my hand, whether I am playing with my “balisong” (Philippine butterfly knife), or dancing with my “itak” (Philippine machete), it sends a message to my heart and mind that I am not a victim. And that I won’t allow others to be one.
If a woman wants to learn self-defence, she must really learn to defend herself, to fight fiercely to save her life and limb. It is not pretty, what an assailant might want to do with a woman. Therefore, a woman must not think of pretty things if she is serious about getting away.
In this world, violence against women is a daily reality, and the violence is merciless and ugly. I have seen enough evidence of this during my days as a counsellor for abused women and children back in Chicago. Or simply read the tabloids and you’ll see what I mean. Whether she defends herself or not, she will be cut, most likely killed or decapitated. But if she fights, she has the chance to get away. And if she has been trained, both physically and mentally, then she can win and live to fight again.
Many women think that it could happen to other women but not to her. This is probably a form of mental defence because no woman likes to feel helpless. But learning to fight gives us true confidence, not an illusion of safety. And learning to handle the blade brings that confidence to the highest level.
When I started learning weapons many years ago, I learned that the knife can be a woman’s most useful and intimate friend. And if she can be freed from the notion that these are just tools for her subservience or potential victimization, and see them as projections of her superior skill and versatility, then she would reach the pinnacle of her liberation.
Teaching her students self-defense against knife
In Philippine history, women with bladed weapons are rare but not invisible. One example is Josefa Gabriela Silang. Sad to say, in contemporary times she has become but an icon for many. A symbol of women’s liberation, an icon for women’s self-fulfillment, and so on. The passage of time has dulled her image.
And by being idolized, hers has become an empty image of liberation. Not to mention all the others like her, but unknown. They are more than just icons. They are women from diverse backgrounds who painted our history with pride and honour, who learned to fight, who made freedom possible.
I enjoy contact bolo practice (live blade). Training with blades has cured many of my fears and opened my eyes to the beauty of the traditional Filipino weapon. Because of the blade, I have become a teacher not only of women but of every person who believes that freedom and security are worth fighting for.
Knife is now a major part of my Arnis curriculum in Zurich. My students and I train in a spirit of equality and consideration, respect and love for life. We are still awed by the sight and feel of the bladed weapon, hence we treat it with respect.
In 2004, I started learning tactical knife applications from a specialist, Grandmaster Bram Frank. I have his advice stamped in my heart. “Don’t let guy stuff get you down..you’re not a guy..but a strong woman. Women are faster, stronger and smarter than men. That freaks a lot of guys out.”
Here’s something important I learned from another honoured instructor, Master Diete Knüttel. And it’s for everyone out there, not just for women. The first thing to remember is: fighting is never the solution. However, should you find yourself in a serious conflict, you are not a victim but a serious opponent. Oftentimes, just by being able to project this, you have already won before any conflict had begun. The first lesson in learning to fight is how to avoid a fight. But if you have to fight, know how to do it, and know when to end the fight.
A woman who decides to take up the blade might find herself losing many friends and loved ones. This happened to me when people suddenly realized that I was not just playing but seriously wanting to learn it. But lost friends are easily replaced by new ones, enlightened partners in the belief that the right to self-defence and freedom is a worthy pursuit filled with beauty, grace and light.
Women with weapons are women with a cause. A woman holds the instrument in her hand as she holds the conviction in her heart. The cold steel sends shivers of defiance through her soul and tells her that she is a serious opponent, not a victim. Not only that, in Bram Frank’s words: “Women with blades are incredibly cool and sexy, and deadly.”
Edessa takes a break with her bolos during
blade seminar in Osterburg, Germany
First published by Rapid Journal in Manila in 2005