This is a question that seems to reappear every once in a while… but can an art be truly or purely a “Filipino” art?
This is like calling an ethnicity or race a “truly American” race; you really can’t define some things in the culture as being purely Filipino. Everyone knows that the Filipino culture and history has been infused so much with foreign cultures and influence, we really cannot denote something “pure” or originally Filipino. There are many things that are uniquely Filipino, but more than often, they are just combinations of other cultures that spell F-I-L-I-P-I-N-O. Like Filipino food, a combination of Malay, middle eastern (yes, middle eastern), Chinese, and Spanish tastes. Together, those flavors are distinctly Filipino–like the combination of sour and peppery or salty and sweet–but their origin came from some place else.
Have you ever heard a native Indonesian “sfeek inglis”? Day sound barry motts like a peenoy win day sfik inglis. Becows ob dare ak-scent. Eats barry close to ours.
But the Filipin0 martial arts have some things that really spell Filipino well. Like the absence of forms in our arts. Or the tendency to want to show off or best the next guy. The emphasis on the application of the art, rather than the demonstration of it. Or the preference to keep things simple… but then we have many things that are very flashy! As uniquely Filipino as our arts may be, there are some things that we own that actually came from some place else. For example, check out how Filipino karateka perform kata. I can always look at a kata from a distance, and tell if the performer is Filipino trained or not. I really can’t describe it; but you can tell if you know your Filipinos. Regardless of whether he is demoing a Japanese, Korean or Okinawan form, there is a certain look.
Filipino styles often have Karate, Judo/Jujitsu, Aikido or Tae Kwon Do blended in. And they don’t always tell you that they’ve added foreign elements to the styles. I’ve seen so much of it, I am skeptical when someone tells me that they have not added anything in, or that they’ve learned the art “from their Lolo”. I learned from my Lolo, and his art is very simple, as is most grandpa arts I have seen. So when these Lolo arts (LOL) have “pormas” that look like Shotokan kata… 😉
So to answer the question I think there are several things that would make an art “Filipino”:
- if the art was compiled or developed in the Philippines
- if the art built its reputation in the Philippines
- if the art contains FMA
- if the art was created by a Filipino and used some Arnis/Eskrima techniques
- if the art is using FMA philosophy
- if the art was created by a non-Filipino, but the developer calls it “Filipino MA”
Wait, did I just say “created by a non-Filipino, but the developer calls it ‘Filipino MA’?”
Yes, I did.
If some guy wants to give credit to the Philippines, then I say, more power to you. Just don’t give it a fake history and don’t “steal” ideas from another teacher. That means a Filipino who has never been to the Philippines can create an FMA. That also means a White guy who’s dating a Filipina and has never been to the Philippines (and doesn’t eat balut) can create an FMA from seminars/video tape learning. The only thing that matters, is does your art work, and if you are called to the carpet–will you show up or make excuses? This is a free world, and who are we to say what is or isn’t Filipino? Hell, most of don’t even know our history that well to even judge. I mean, how many people really believed that there was a Filipino Muslim art called Kali that was the Mother of the FMAs? I know I was one of them!
I don’t have energy for arguing origin or names. But I will argue telling the truth all day long. There is a difference. In the Philippines, we have unique Filipino Kung Fu styles which have no Arnis, just like we have Filipino Aikido. But some guy here in the US can’t call his new Arnis/Eskrima/Jujitsu blend “Filipino” because he doesn’t speak Tagalog? Really, some of us should get a grip and get a life.
In a future article, I’d like to discuss some of these non-Filipino foreign arts. In the next decade, I’d like to import an art to the “Fphilippeens” (lol) that is not an FMA, but will be when I get there. I’m pretty excited about it too. But in the meantime…
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