Brief Modern History of Eskrima

Arnis in the Central Philippines

In 1959, Gerardo “Larry” Alcuizar (a student of Fernando Candawan, who in turn was a student of Momoy Canete) founded the Durex Self Defense Club at the Cebu Institute of Technology, where in addition to eskrima, he offered instruction in combat judo and tang soo do.

During the sixties interest in the Filipino arts increased substantially as schools and styles opened themselves up to the public. In 1966, Florencio Roque founded the Tornado Garote Self Defense Club to promote the bahad or juego todo (no holds barred) style – which was made popular by Doring Saavedra.

The seventies proved yet another important decade in the growth and spread of martial arts in the Philippines. In 1972, Felimon Caburnay, a former sparring partner of Momoy Canete founded the Lapunti Self Defense Club. Lapunti being an acronym of three barrios in Cebu – Labangon, Punta, Tisa. This style know for its rapid abaniko strikes – was later known as lapunti arnis de abaniko.
Later in the same year Napolean Fernandez founded the art of Yaw Yan, a Filipino kicking style similar to Thailand’s Muay Thai.

In 1973, Magdeleno Nolasco founded the Black Cat Self Defense Club, where he taught Judo and Eskrido – the personal style of Cacoy Canete.
In 1975, Crispulo “Ising” Atillo formed the Philippine Arnis Confederation. Atillo who learnt the art from his father and Venancio Bacon, later participated in the infamous duel with Ciriaco Canete in 1983.
Also in 1975, Artemio Paez, Felipe Atillo and Carlos Navarro founded the Punta Princesa Eskrima Club.
In 1977, Florencio Lasola founded the Oolibama Arnis Club in the Talisay area of Cebu.

From the late seventies, onwards the sports eskrima/arnis grew in popularity (see other chapter) and organisations such as Naraphil and Arnis Philippines were formed, so as to keep the older traditional styles alive – Abner Pasa formed the Institute Of Filipino Martial Arts in the late eighties. The aim being to expose interested practitioners to teachers of the lesser known classical style’s of eskrima.

Although Cebu is known as the cradle of eskrima in the Philippines, there are some similarities and connections with the eskrima on the other visayan islands, particularly the island of Negros – which is located to the northwest of Cebu.

Negros

When the Sri Visayans came to the central Visayan Islands, some other Datus went to the island of Panay, where they taught and popularised the art. One famous eskrimador “Tatay” Isko, who was a member of the Pulahan Rebellion against the Spanish at the end of the last century, moved from Panay to Negros and is believed to have taught some of the better known Negros fighters. Iloilo City (Negros Oriental), at one point in time was a melting pot of Filipino teachers – many of these later relocated to either Bacolod City or Manila.

Bacolod City (Negros Occidental) also has a rich history of arnis. In 1932, Jose Vinas founded the Lapu Lapu Arnis Affeciandos, this makes his club along with Doce Pares – the oldest currently active club in the Philippines.

Sisoy Gyabros formed the Bacolod Arnis Club in 1956, Sisoy along with Mangkarpo was regarded as the top fighter of his time amongst the Negros Arnis Community.. This club only reamined active for only two years, but produced such notables as Juan Lawan, Frederico Serfino Snr, and Amador Chavez. Chavez later went onto establish his own group in 1959.

In 1960, Romeo Mamar founded the art of Tapado. This art which utilises a short staff is renowned for its power. The art in a basic sense uses only two movements, these are quite often simultaneous blocks and strikes. Mamar developed this style after an extensive study of other long stick styles such as Lagas, Uhido, Layaw, and Sinamak.

The present generations of these forefathers of the art continue to keep the art alive, and it can be said that both Cebu and Bacolod continue to be melting pots for the Eskrima/Arnis aficionados. If you visit the Philippines to study the arts– a visit to the Visayas is a must.

Cebu

There is no solid documentation regarding the history and development of eskrima in Cebu prior to 1900, only oral tradition. Records were only kept from 1920 – the year in which the Labangon Fencing Association (August 14) was organised. The association was formed by a group of eskrimadores who practiced different styles of eskrima, but recognised that they could benefit by sharing their knowledge.

The style of eskrima most commonly used at that time was still the blade-orientated style. The famous families of ekrimadors in Cebu at that time were the Saavedra, Romo and Ilustrisimo. Other lesser known fighters such as Pablo Alicante were also regarded as being amongst the best.

The Labangon Fencing Club had been formed with the aim of unifying eskrimadors into one group, but this proved to be difficult. The problem of personalities and whose personal style was the best forced the club into constant conflict. The club was sometimes referred to as the club of cats and dogs (“iro ug iring”), because as one practitioner was exhibiting his style, the others would be making fun and criticising him. When he finished, someone else would begin to suffer the same treatment.
The club was officially closed due to financial discrepancies by a vote in a board meeting – according to the late Eulogio Cañete who was the secretary of the club at that time. The Association officially ended on August 14th 1930 – it had survived for exactly a decade.

Two years later, the Doce Pares club was formed. The name of the club was chosen from a group of fighting men in France who were all expert swordsmen, during the reign of Charlemagne. The club was to have begun in December 1931, but it lacked the desired number of people to start and subsequently began on January 11, 1932. Many of the eskrimadors who had been in the Labangon Fencing Association continued their training by joining the new club.

The first Grandmaster of the club was Lorenzo Saavedra, whilst the top fighter of the club was his nephew -Teodoro “Doring” Saavedra. Other notables who were involved with the club were Islao Romo and the knife specialist Jesus Cui. The Saavedras taught and influenced future greats such as Venancio “Ansiong” Bacon, Filemon “Momoy” Canete and Eulogio “Yoling” Canete. Other teachers of the Canete’s were their father Gregorio and uncle Pedro. Eulogio also studied with Lieutenant Tinyente Piano Aranas – one of the best and most feared eskrimadors in San Fernando, Cebu. The other top fighters in the San Fernando area were Juanso Tekya, Andres Suarez, Tito de Gama and Cesario Aliason.

The Second World War took the lives of Doring and Lorenzo Saavedra, this left a void in the club – although it re-grouped with Ansiong Bacon as it’s top fighter. Unfortunately, personalities and politics soon divided the club. As a result, Ansiong Bacon left and founded the Balintawak Self Defence Club, he later went on to train such notables as Delfin Lopez, Teofilo Velez, and Jose Villasin.

Meanwhile, the Doce Pares club was kept alive by the Canete family, with Ciriaco “Cacoy” Canete and Vicente “Inting” Karin as it’s top fighters. Challenges were common and a strong rivalry ensued between these clubs for some years. These two fighters in mid August 1952 organised a self defense club known as the San Nicolas Mutual Security Association (SANIMUSA) – the name was later changed to CEMUSA.