Thursday, May 25, 2006

The sad truth about FMA in the Philippines

I’m a member of several martial arts message boards and it’s heartwarming to see foreigners so interested in FMA. So many practice the martila art and a lot are obsessed with it, seeking out the nearest FMA teacher or traveling miles from home just to practice.

Unfortunately there’s a sad reality to FMA in the Philippines. Most foreigner FMA students think that traveling to the Philippines is the equivalent to going to the Shaolin Temple for kung fu, that there’s an FMA school at every street in Manila. But the truth is that FMA is not popular in the Philippines. Other martial arts are far more popular. Judging by the number of foreign FMA practioners at martial arts forums, they apparently appreciate FMA more than Filipino themselves.

It’s painful to hear and truly shocking to realize but it’s quite true. Mention “martial arts” in Manila and anywhere else in the country and people think you mean Tae Kwon Do, Karate, MMA (mixed martial arts), Jujitsu, Aikido, etc. Hardly anyone will assume that you mean FMA.

That’s how screwed FMA is in the country. The Filipino FMA community is truly a subculture, kept alive by a handful of great instructors and loyal students. But it certainly does not have the same popularity of other martial arts.

One can write a book on the dwindling support for FMA in the country. There are societal, cultural and certainly economic aspects which account for the exodus of FMA’s best teachers to other countries and its current status vis-à-vis other martial arts in the country.

But don’t get me wrong. FMA is not dead in the Philippines. It’ just not as common as one might think and finding the schools and clubs requires one to delve into the subculture and ask the right people. It’s far easier to find a Tae Kwon Do dojang (training hall) in Manila than a good arnis club. All you need is to open a telephone directory. Nevertheless FMA is alive and kicking, but it’s definitely below the radar.

Before I’m misunderstood, I’m certainly not bashing other martial arts for easing out FMA. That’s not the case at all. Nor am I bashing other martial arts to promote FMA. I have an extensive aikido background and I was already interested in FMA and studying an obscure form of it even when I was heavily into the Japanese style. I just couldn’t find the right teacher or club. Ironically I found my Pekiti Tirsia Kali teacher, Rommel, on the internet; I just happen to chat with some of his students and I soon found myself swimming in FMA heaven.

But how many Filipino students of other martial arts are like me, interested in learning their own country’s deadly systems? And if they are looking for FMA, do they know where to look? Personally I don’t think many young Filipinos are interested in FMA at all, or even any physical activity for that matter. Many are deep into serious internet gaming and video game addictions and won’t contemplate doing anything remotely physical. Those who want to study martial arts are or are urged to do so by their parents are going to be more exposed to what’s available closer to home or more conveniently available as an after-work activity, and that will be either be tae kwon do or anything else except FMA. After all it’s a free world and anyone should study what they find interesting. Those who do want FMA will not be able to find it as readily as the other styles.

FMA is taught in schools but this isn’t going to reverse the trend. Students will be exposed to it and probably in a negative manner, since it’s become a requirement. The last thing that will be on their minds is to study FMA more deeply, to go beyond the sticks and simple drills, to the very heart of the style. To the average student, FMA is all about just swinging sticks, which is just the tip of the iceberg with FMA. The average Filipino is probably quite ignorant of FMA’s lethal effectiveness, which is ironic considering its reputation in martial arts circles.

I feel very strongly that every Filipino who studies a foreign martial art must have some exposure to FMA. It’s tempting for me to state some practical reason for doing so, such as creating an economic climate that will keep the best teachers from emigrating.

But by far the best reason for studying FMA is to help revive the arts as part of our cultural heritage. You can move to any country and learn their language but deep inside you're still a Filipino and our ancestors were warriors. We were and still are a blade culture. Our grandfathers were cutting Japanese troops into fist-sized chunks in jungle ambushes. We are the reason why Marines are called leathernecks. Magellan and his men were slaughtered on our shores. The Colt . 45 pistol was invented to stop us. That’s a wonderful martial heritage that needs to be remembered and cherished.


dave said...

to Island_man,

Hi my name is Dave, Id like to know where I could find a school that teaches FMA in Manila as i'm interested in learning to fight with a knife any help would be much appreciated. thank you

Marcos Souza said...

I can understand precisely what you mean. I am Brazilian and, while Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is very big here, the same cannot be said about Capoeira, the real ancient martial art of Brazil.
It is still practiced, but the foreign martial arts are much more popular. I am one of those who study the foreign anyway (the FMA).

Anonymous said...

What you have said I have heard from many of my wife's family members. I have found many great Filipino FMA teachers here in So.California.

Karl E. Fiesta said...

I agree with your post kapatid. I for one am a living example of that. I lived in the Philippines for 21 years ever since I was a baby and I was exposed to only the foreign martial arts. I have learned Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Aikido and Muay Thai. I never knew what they call FMA/Kali here in the states or what I call Eskrima/Arnis back there in the Philippines. The first time I heard about our own martial arts was when my friend told me that they were taking Arnis as their Physical Education class in the University of Santo Tomas. If I knew back then that FMA was a very beautiful martial art then I would have tried it. Sayang talaga. FMA schools are very hard to find. I saw one school while passing in the balintawak area. Old gritty gym but I'm sure they have world class fighters.

I do hope that the Filipino Martial Arts will grow and spread. Salamat sa magandang blog. :)

island_man said...

Your insight isn't an isolated one, Karl. I have several friends who have also spent more time studying other martial arts and not regret that they didn't appreciate FMA. They've emigrated to other countries and being Filipinos, people always ask them about FMA. They're embarrassed to reply that they don't know their own martial culture. We all have the right to study what we want, but as Filipinos we must know something about our own martial arts even if we want to study something else. If we don't value our own martial arts, we may end up losing this vital element of our culture.