History of the Arnis stick
One of the first weapons used by ancient humans to protect themselves was the humble stick, cane, baton, baston, etc… Along with the rock, varying length sticks both blunt and pointed where the precursor to bladed weapons like the spear, sword, and dagger. The beauty of these primordial weapons is that they are not warrior specific. They are tools used for carrying water, playing music (flute, didgeridoo, etc…), paddling or steering your boat, and so on.
These simple striking implements evolved based on our need. Besides, the inability of ancient man to carry specific items for hunting and items for doing work. Our ancestors had to carry everything they owned. Therefore, they didn’t have room for anything that didn’t have multiple uses.
Martial traditions in every culture have continued practice with these deadly and unassuming weapons. Japan calls them tanbo, and they usually make them out of wood and approximately 28 inches. The Maori people called them patu, and usually gave them a more flattened shape made from wood or stone. The Irish call them Shillelagh, and they are typically made from hardened wood with one end balled for striking. The Philippine people call them baston, and they are mainly made from a grass called rattan and are dually wielded. These baston were typically 28 inches long and carried alongside their more sophisticated cousins (e.g. spear, dagger, sword, bolo, etc…).
Of all of the great martial cultures that have made use of the stick throughout history. However, there is no where that it holds as much reverence and power as in the Filipino martial arts. During Magellan’s Spanish invasion of the Philippines, the Moro people used spears, shields, and sticks to protect their villages and eventually to kill Magellan as the Spanish sailors fled for their lives.
For many of the more ancient martial traditions, the stick was considered sacred and would never be struck together in practice. Instead, Arnisadors would strike hands and arms in a tradition called de-fanging the snake. Obviously your martial art might struggle to flourish if new students keep having their fingers and hands broken by more experienced but not quite as masterful seniors.
Modern Arnis Stick
Master Remy Presas, like Jigoro Kano before him, looked on to his beloved ancestral arts dying out in place of foreign arts like Judo and Karate. In order to preserve his nation’s heritage, Master Presas reorganized a plethora of techniques and traditions from across the Philippines and beyond into a single art titled Modern Arnis.
One of the major upgrades in this modern training methodology was in the fact that it was no longer taboo to strike stick against stick while practicing. Modern Arnisadors use practice patterns like single and double sinwali. With it, two practitioners strike stick against stick in a repetitive smooth pattern of strikes.
The originators might not have recognized the training tools used by their modern counterparts.
Practitioners nowadays wrap their sticks in electrical tape. By this way, they prevent the Arnis sticks from disintegrating as a result of the repetitive striking of stick against stick. These types of precautions were unnecessary when the sacred sticks would never be struck together unless in battle.
Another reason, a large percentage of Modern Arnis practitioners are no longer in the Philippines since the art has spread across the world. Consequently a student in Minnesota can’t just go to the palm grove and cut down some rattan to replace his broken stick. Modern practitioners use wood, pvc, or whatever they can get their hands on.
Warming Up With Your Arnis Sticks
The real key to getting the most out of your training with arnis sticks is properly warming up your joints, muscles, and tendons. When you watch the Masters of the stick fighting arts, it is mind blowing how fast and fluid they are. You will start the process of conditioning your body to do that by properly warming your wrists up first. Grip the stick with both hands on both sides. Twist the stick through your hands like when you gave your brother/sister/cousin/friend an Indian burn. Move the stick forward for a 10 count and then reverse the motion for a 10 count.
The next exercise both warms up your wrists and helps you train a unique strike called the Abanico Corto (Fanning strike). While gripping the stick in one hand you are going to fan the stick from side to side. You should start slow to avoid doing damage to your wrists. Switch hands back and forth for a 10 count. You can see what the strike will look like in this striking pattern.
#2. Elbows and Shoulders
Finally you will want to warm up your elbows and shoulders. The modern Arnis twirling drills work the entire kinetic chain (wrists, elbow, and shoulders). Start with one stick in one hand, keep a good grip on the cane, and start twirling the stick on the outside of the arm. Do a 10 count up and a 10 count down. Again, you need to focus on slow smooth motions over fast and choppy. You can mix in switches and traps once you get the idea.
Once you have mastered these warm ups you can have your hands work independently by wielding dual Arnis sticks. Practice your fanning in multiple directions with both hands. You can practice twirling your canes up and down together, separately, and in opposite directions (one up and one down).
Get Some Extra Out of Training
Now a days we have some many unique opportunities that they never had in the 16th century during Magellan’s failed attempt to influence indigenous politics. One of the biggest problems practitioners have is the potential pain associated with attempting to use their new found skills in sparring. Now we have a plethora of options beyond wearing hockey pads and going full blown. We now have foam sticks, foam coverings for your rattan sticks, and even kydex armored suites that record force as you are struck so you can tell what would have happened to a human body experiencing the same thing.
Another great training option that we have now is different forms of weighted canes that allow martial artists to build strength, speed, and flow. You would be amazed at the workout you will get by resisting over swing against a few extra pounds at the extension of your arm. Different weight materials like water, sand, or a fully solid form will change the way you work with your cane.
Teaching, Friendly, Young, Passion. Always wanna go up & down. Hey, you gotta live, do you?
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Robert Sterling // Author
Sticks are too amazing, even after thousands of years. One of the stunning examples is the Arnis Stick. And now, here is its secret story …