Filipino martial arts isn’t as widely known, but that could be changing

Gregory Manalo was experiencing a personal revival in the late 1990s, when he discovered Filipino Martial Arts (FMA).
He said that he didn't find eskrima. This was a Filipino style of martial arts. Eskrima found me.

Manalo has been practicing FMA for 25 years. He teaches it in San Francisco Bay Area. FMA allowed Manalo to learn more about his Filipino heritage and culture. He says that performing moves makes him feel more meditative, and empowered.

Manalo stated that training helped us to connect with our ancestral roots, which dates back hundreds of years. It is very meaningful to me that these movements can help me tap in.

Although Filipino martial arts may not be as well-known as other Asian martial art like karate or kung fu they have been practiced for decades in the United States. However, practitioners of FMA say that they are seeing signs of it growing in popularity.

FMA instructors spoke to NBC Asian America and all mentioned that martial arts can be seen in Hollywood films like The Book of Eli, Daredevil and Dune, as well as the Star Wars series The Mandalorian.

Mel Orpilla, who is a historian and martial artist and has been practicing FMA for over two decades, stated that we have all realized in the past 10 to 20 years that Filipino martial arts must grow and proliferate.

Joseph Bautista is a Filipino martial art instructor at Eskabo Dan in San Francisco. He has been a practitioner for over 30 years and says that the improvements in FMA in the past 20 years, such as more instructors who are willing to teach it, make him optimistic about the future. Orpilla stated that FMA has been featured in Hollywood and made easier to share via social media. He also mentioned the increased number of FMA tournaments and seminars in Northern California.

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Orpilla stated that Dan Inosanto (a Filipino American martial artist) is an important figure in FMA. He is best known as Bruce Lee's training partner. He said that Lee was taught FMA by Inosanto in a scene from Enter the Dragon.

Elrik Jundis, a Filipino martial artist who has been training for over 30 years, says that the teaching method of FMA is the best for teaching choreography with weapons or stand-up punching and kicking. He has also done extensive research into it. This is the foundation of all action movies in Hollywood.

FMA can be divided into three styles: eskrima (arnis), kali (kali). Although there are differences between the styles, they can often be used interchangeably. Elrik Jundis has been training in FMA for over 30 years and has done extensive research. Orpilla stated that FMA is a unique martial art because it begins with weapons and not other forms like karate or taekwondo.

He said that the main purpose of Filipino martial artists is to end a fight as efficiently and quickly as possible. This depends on their weapons and fighting distances.

FMA is not more well-known than it is in Hollywood. Orpilla stated that martial arts were banned in the Philippines under Spanish colonial rule, which ran from 1521 to 1898. They didn't want Filipinos to rebel against them.

Jundis noted that popular Asian martial arts are more common in countries with a strong national identity.

He said that the idea of Filipino identity is still being formed. The Philippines has been independent for less than 100 years. After nearly 400 years under colonial rule by the United States and Spain, it gained independence in 1946.

Bautista stated that the Philippine islands functioned independently of Spain and were not a single country before Spanish colonization. Orpilla stated that the islands were susceptible to invasion from other nations and needed to defend themselves, their families and tribes.

Jundis said that FMA isn't as well-known an organized sport as martial arts such taekwondo or judo, which are both categories at the Olympics.

He said that FMA's history and origins depend on the person who asks because there isn't enough documentation.

According to historians and practitioners, FMA was popularized in the United States instead of in the Philippines. Although it is not known where FMA originated in the United States, they believe that its popularity in the U.S. can be attributed to the arrival of Filipino plantation workers in America in the early 20th Century. FMA was also taught in Stockton in California's Central Valley. This city is home to many grandmasters of the martial arts, including Inosanto.

Orpilla stated that FMA knowledge is not as widespread because it is kept in families and people don't want to share it with others.

Bautista stated that although I don't know much about Filipino martial art in mainstream culture, there has been a lot of interest in Filipino martial arts.

FMA is also growing in popularity outside the United States. Manalo stated that one of his instructors had held seminars about FMA in Europe. He said it was well received.

FMA was not only a means to protect Manalo but also a satisfying practice and source of pride for Manalo's culture.

He said that it was a great feeling to know we had something and to say it was ours. In a world that doesn't even know Filipinos, it was something people could recognize. It was an excellent starting point for deeper explorations of history, culture, and arts.