Although it isn't frequently acknowledged or recognized, the list of Filipino martial arts (FMA) like Arnis/Eskrima is said to have various rudiments of Spanish Renaissance Swordsmanship.
Often, when this is recognized, it is inappropriately carried out as followers of Filipino Martial Arts History tends to consider this influence as either irrelevant or inconsequential.
If there's any influence from such swordsmanship, it would probably be from sword thrusting kali martial arts techniques and military bladed weapons; not from civilian thrusting blades. Just what these methods are, how they're recognized to be of 16th-century Spanish origin (and not somewhat introduced in 19th-century epee fencing) would surely excite today's practitioners of the Renaissance martial arts to learn.
Filipino Martial Arts History
In a work published a few years back titled “Filipino Martial Arts,” which got mixed reviews among the FMA community. One very first is titled “Historical Background,” showed in its ultimate paragraphs regarding the typical misapprehensions concerning Renaissance swordsmanship as well as Western fighting arts.
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An author (in no way atypical) created the familiar facts about Filipino cultural pride, and reported that in 1521, Ferdinand Magellan, a great explorer, the first to travel around the world (nearly), passed away in a battle for a tiny island where he had been attacked so as to favor another local leader.
The Lapu-Lapu Controversy
In this legendary fight of Philippine history, Magellan's men with halberds, swords, pikes, very little armor and firearms, were attacked by Lapu-Lapu, the legendary warrior, together with a hundred fellow islanders. On the beach, Magellan's men were outnumbered by more than 20 to 1. So, he unsurprisingly died in the seas amid a storm of spears and arrows.
This author failed to mention something. Everyone knows the battle's result. Magellan's ship, in fact, escapes (certainly not the most significant success on the locals' part). Nevertheless, the book mentions this event of local historical pride to give emphasis to how difficult the fighting skills of the natives were.
But wait, the following statement specifies about how another Spanish voyager in 1571 who was under orders to take over, attacked a local force of Islanders on another aisle and encountered the even-more-daunting Kali fighters with their (and this isn't being falsified) fire-hardened rattan canes.
Which Spanish Sword Style Influenced Filipino Martial Arts History?
Moreover, it stated that the fighting skills of the native far topped those of the Spanish. Really? Certainly, this particular author then acknowledged that the Portuguese/Spanish went on to triumph in the battle, but suggested that this was due to their firearms.
On the other hand, a couple of light-caliber shipboard cannon, as well as inaccurate, slow-firing harquebuses in a hot climate were not set to win a fight over devastating chances (at the time, back in Europe, they had lots more weapons, and they still had to depend on massed cavalry and pikes).
Did you also notice how credit is not given to the Portuguese/Spanish's apparent military superiority in discipline, training, tactics, armaments, morale, organization, leadership, etc.?
The fact that they had carefully-tempered chest plates as well as high-carbon, steel-tipped halberds was in itself a huge factor, a highly formidable one (a generation earlier actually, buckler men and Spanish sword were trashing the publicized Swiss pikemen in all of Europe's Battlegrounds).
What's more extraordinary is how several hundred men and sailors (not even first-class Renaissance soldiers), thousands of kilometres from their families and homes, repeatedly outfought the allegedly “superior” fighters in an unfamiliar and hostile land.
The most astonishing thing in this revisionist perspective of military history depends on the ultimate paragraph of this particular work. Right after all these, it went on to state that after the Spanish downfall of the islands and after numerous fights with the “Spanish fencing exponents,” the fighting arts of the natives were discovered wanting.
Notice how these Spanish were not called “warriors” or even deemed as “swordsmen” (and not expert Masters of Arms), but simply “exponents” of “fencing.” It is as if these folks were just walking around on a lecture circuit proposing everyone to think about their opinions, instead of defeating native enemies outright.
Unsurprisingly, this is an excellent case of the outlook toward historical European martial principles that can be seen in many fields of the martial arts community of Asia today.
Questions Surrounding Spanish Influence on Filipino Martial Arts History
This work then went on to state that such Filipino martial arts history embraced many methods and discarded others.
Excuse me? Let us now ask then, if the fighting arts of the natives were so daunting and tough, and the Spanish succeeded in simply having guns, then why were their methods perceived as so practical and useful as to be included? What was allegedly deficient in native fighting skills (especially seeing as how advanced they were)? What precisely were these skills they were using? They definitely couldn't have had something to do with guns.
As with others similar to it, the book did not only miss all these, but it continued to make the imprecise and false report that the Spanish dagger and rapier fighting system has had a huge influence on FMA. Sorry, but that's wrong. The Spanish during that time and even later wouldn't have been battling with civilian rapiers.
The rapier was an extraordinary weapon of self-defence and not one for the battlefield. The Portuguese/Spanish soldiers and sailors would've been utilizing military cut-and-thrust swords as well as combat in the well-documented technique of the Italian Masters during that time like Manciolino, Altoni, Marozzo, Di Grassi, and Agrippa, and also the highly considered techniques of the Spanish Masters de Narvaez and Carranza.
The later civilian rapier technique just hadn't evolved to the point where it's expected to have been widespread in the Philippines even during the late 16th century let alone earlier. Also, for the Portuguese/Spanish, the rapier was a weapon of the higher classes, not the ordinary sailors and men who would've been the huge majority of combatants the natives would've faced.
If you're interested in the impact of Spanish influence on Eskrima, read the history of one of Eskrima's most notable Grandmasters – The Legendary Grandmaster Anciong Bacon
Slash Cutting Blades Probably Influenced FMA
These men would've trusted the stronger, quick-slashing cut-and-thrust blades, which were far more superior and appropriate for shipboard combat than the light, thrusting rapier would've ever been. Furthermore, swords weren't the most conventional or favored weapon of these Renaissance warriors, that would've been left to halberds, spears, long-knives, and falchions (an exciting thought).
Apparently, though, instead of doing accurate research regarding European fighting arts and weaponry, the author depended on close observations and myth of unrelated foil and Epée fencing. Unfortunately, what numerous Asian martial-art artists seemingly know about the European swordsmanship looks invariably to originate from Hollywood films, Renaissance-fair stage shows, and contemporary sports fencing. So, you cannot entirely blame them.
Nevertheless, the material created the usual error that numerous followers of the sacred Filipino arts apparently do. It assumed it was the rapier, rather than the Renaissance cut-and-thrust sword, that had influenced their arts (without actually knowing accurately what both weapons are or how they were utilized).
Not just this, the distinct styles of such stick fighting carry out a little thrusting compared to the rapier, and instead depend mainly on shorter, close-range strikes. These are obviously techniques entirely unfitting for the extra-long, nearly edgeless rapier preferred by the Spanish.
Therefore, Filipino technologies and styles are not representative of the elegant and vicious European rapier, however, only possibly of the highly-effective and sophisticated Renaissance sword and dagger form. Whatever this influence may originate from, it has to be significantly documented or identified by anybody.
On the other hand, the fact was that there were prominent proponents of the Filipino arts during the early 20th century, who studied modern sports fencing. What an effect this art/sports exposure could've had on their teaching methods is another subject for speculation, however, certainly, it does not have any connection to Renaissance skills.
The Influence of Modern Fencing on Filipino Martial Arts History
Ultimately, modern sports fencing (saber, epee, foil) has been discounted from its origins in Renaissance swordplay, and for over 150 years hasn't been shown as a killing art or self-defence.
Anyhow, this is the type of historical ignorance and inaccuracy of the historical Western martial arts that infuses much of the preconception found in numerous martial arts practice in Asia today.
For several Filipinos, it has now turned out to be a subject of cultural pride to clarify the reason for their colonization, weapons taken away, as well as their native fighting abilities forced to conceal under the mask of seemingly harmless stick/cane dances (not that there is anything wrong or weird with that).
Westerners are just victims of our very own military feat. For it's the fantastic Asian traditional combat arts that have remained and thrived while we fight to reconstruct and understand what known information remains.
For many decades, some false assertions and assumptions reported by Asian styles promoters about Western martial culture have gone unconcealed. In the age of ethnic and cultural sensitivity, political correctness, and renewed ethnic pride, we should give credit to how it was done, as well as clear up errors when possible.
We should treat historical facts as facts and proofs even though they damage our pride or make us feel uncomfortable.
The Spanish principally conquered most of the Philippines systematically, and to a slight extent, culturally. They didn't do it using shady deals or corporately conquers of noble savages who were in some way their military superiors.
The reason today's FMA mainly utilize sticks/cane is essentially due to their ancestors' shortage of a typical advanced metallurgical equipment, as well as since their Spanish overlords (as a colonizing force) took their weapons away as victorious authorities were known to execute.
Also, it's just far more cunning to practice combat methods with sticks than with blades.
The Diversity of Filipino Martial Arts History Influence
The various Filipino Martial Arts History is very pragmatic and adaptive. They are believed to contain features of numerous cultures which influenced them over the years; Malay, Chinese, Indian, etc. So probably, there's also some European included in there.
However, if any influence that FMA elements owe to the Renaissance-Spanish sword styles will be acknowledged and determined, then it demands exactly what these Western weapons and forms were and what experts today are up to still.
For practitioners of Renaissance and Medieval fighting systems, today who are experienced and familiar with the martial art and technological importance of group and armored fighting, including shields, spears, bucklers, pikes, longbows, and bills, the naiveté of most interpretations about European arts is dumbfounding.
Additionally, if one would like to discuss the effectiveness or validity of modern Eskrima/Arnis (or whichever Asian sword art) against a weapon and buckler, or a dagger and rapier, then they should arrange several friendly fighting sessions and serious kali martial arts training with experienced proponents. Or else, everything else is a useless conjecture.
If you want a comprehensive view of Arnis History, you can refer to the post – A Brief Arnis History – A Bloody and Epic Story