The Forgotten Side of the Filipino Fighting Arts

I was talking to my wife about a conversation I had with my mother concerning the martial arts and my family. I was about 16, and noticing that nearly everyone in my family had been trained in the martial arts. My mom, for example, was trained in stick and knife, and had learned enough empty hand that she was fighting as soon as she joined a Hapkido school in Taiwan. When I first expressed an interest in the arts, it was my mother who gave me my first lessons in Kuntaw and Eskrima. And when I decided that I wanted to learn another style, it was my mother who found Jow Ga. Anyway, my mom informed me that my grandfather did not give anyone the choice about learning. When I asked him, he said it was a man’s duty to teach his family to fight.

This was a lesson he often repeated to us–that a man’s duty to his family was to clothe them, feed them, educate them, protect them, and part of “protect” meant teaching them to protect themselves. He did not emphasize empty handed fighting with the females in our family as much as he did teaching weapons. Papa considered empty handed fighting a more advanced study, and weapons fighting a more basic art.

By the way, our “weapons” in our styles overlaps between our Eskrima and our Kuntaw. The Bolo, for example, was not a part of our Eskrima, but our Kuntaw. And Kuntaw had some knife techniques that were somewhat different from our Eskrima. They came from different sources, and they are taught to different types of students. And one of the “types” of students are the members of our own families. This “forgotten” side of the Filipino Martial Arts is the teaching of Eskrima–the most lethal parts of our Eskrima–to our own wives and children.

About 10 years ago, I had met and befriended a young Filipina who took an interest in my school and wanted to help me promote my school. At this time, I was teaching in the Veteran’s Hall in South Sacramento, and no one outside the Filipino community really knew of, or even cared about my classes. In three months my group had grown to almost 60 students, and we ended up opening our first commercial location downtown, becoming the only full-time Filipino martial arts school in town. This young lady, whom by this time had revealed herself to me as the daughter of an FMA grandmaster (who was a classmate of GM Dan Inosanto), took an interest in learning Eskrima. To my surprise, she informed me that she had never learned Eskrima! I was floored. As it turned out, I had met many–and I emphasize:  MANY–family members of FMA greats, who had not learned the arts. I don’t want to mention names out of shame, but some of these people appear regularly in martial arts magazines, almost monthly. I can’t imagine allowing one of my children to reach adulthood without studying the martial arts. I have been married 6 times and have helped to raise more than 20 children, and all of them have (and some are still studying) learned the martial arts from me. In my household, it is as normal as prayer and good character; martial arts study leads to a healthy life and fit body, good looks, and yields very strong and secure spirits and personalities.

Although this is considered the “manly” art of fighting, a man must protect his family. His children and spouse look to him to provide shelter, food, guidance and safety. How can they look to him, when all he can do is put a roof over their heads and nice car in the garage? When danger comes to the household, they will call out to him for safety. If he is not there, he’d better have a back-up plan. This is why a man must have three things to provide for safety and protection for his family:

  • martial arts training to defend his family and home, if necessary,
  • weapons to use in case the situation gets “thick”,
  • and training for family members in the event he is not home.

I remember my Grandmother telling me story about GIs coming to our home when my mother was little, and my Grandfather was away. The story she told me was more about her jumping the gun and thinking the soldiers were there to cause trouble. They weren’t, it was for something else, but something she said caught my attention;  she told me when the boys (my uncles) came in to warn her, she grabbed a homemade spear she kept over the door to confront them. The spear was a skill she learned from her father, and was the only thing she had learned from him, despite that he also knew how to use swords and sticks. My grandfather’s spear technique came from my maternal great grandfather, btw, through her.

My wife and I discussed my desire to keep a few firearms throughout the house besides our bedroom. I had wanted to teach my boys and my teenaged step daughter to use them, as my mother taught us to fire handguns and rifles when I was 11. We decided to use blades instead, so I have 4 machetes and several daggers. All of my children, including the five year olds, have learned the first 5 strikes in our Eskrima system. Tonight, we decided to put a razor-sharp blade in the teenager’s bedroom. I’d like to put a bolo, but we will probably go with a fixed-blade dagger. When I am done typing this article, I will give her the dagger.

Three days a week, my 9 and 10 year olds accompany me to my school for training. My 13 year old boy works out almost daily in our garage, where we have weapons, weights, and a punching bag. My wife and I spar and perform bag work as a couples’ activity. Twice a week, my 17 year old girl trains with my women at the school.

The point is that as martial artists, our families should be the wrong people to mess with. We should never allow them to walk around vulnerable. It is our responsibility as men to protect our women and children, as it is also our responsiblity to ensure that they are protected. In other words, teach them to protect themselves.

And when your kids fight (like mine do daily), pad them up, and let them workout their aggressions “constructively”… on each other.

You’ll be glad you did. They will be more fit, they will represent you well, and at least you will know that they are somewhat safe when you’re not around. On top of that, if anyone ever entered your home when illegally, you have equipped your family with the ability to take them down. All the way down.

Next time, we will talk about what your family should know–at a minimum.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Author: thekuntawman

full time martial arts teacher, full time martial arts philosopher, and full time martial arts critic

5 thoughts on “The Forgotten Side of the Filipino Fighting Arts”

  1. Fascinating reading.

    I agree whole-heartedly –if you teach anyone anything, it should be your family. I just had my daughter working out on the focus mitt yesterday.

    I’ve also heard of guys growing up not even knowing their dads knew any eskrima. It’s a shame. In fact, many Filipinos study Tae Kwon Do, Judo, Karate –everything but eskrima in the Philippines, and it’s not until they come to the US that they learn the FMA

  2. I’m curious as to where you and your family learned to do empty hand in the Philippines. Was it through Filipino martial arts? or was it through others like tkd, boxing, karate, judo etc.

    1. my grandfather learned kuntaw from my great grandfather. he never found anymore kuntaw after that, but did learn from silat, karate and judo players. he just called everything he did “kuntaw”, and sometimes referred to it as his karate as a generic term. i learned from him, then studied with bogs lao (kuntaw), ernesto presas, and trained with many teachers here in the US. my strongest experience here is kung fu and boxing, but I do not mix them into my kuntaw. but students who want to learn it can take that separately. i do encourage all of my students to learn to box at least. my interest is in fighting, not trying to fit the “exotic” image many people wan to have for FMA styles.

  3. I just want to commend you on the way you write about our beloved FMA. In your own excellent, candid, and nhb commentary, you could dissect the subject in an entertaining and informative way. I print all your blogs and share it with our fellow FMA brothers who do not have access to the web or email. For the most part, it had to be explained and translated in the vernacular (since I practice FMA with farmers, tricycle drivers, carpenters, guards, law enforcers, bodyguards, street sweepers, students, market vendors…. a pretty hefty group).

    Its more than a conversations piece in between and after practice, its an eye opener, a fresh set of eyes in looking at FMA.

    Thank you so much.

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