This article is not meant to deride the newly organized PEKAF’s (Philippine Eskrima Arnis Kali Federation) ambition for arnis /eskrima to become a recognized Olympic sport. This is a reality check, an attempt to lay out to the current leadership many of the nagging issues that hound arnis as our national sport and martial arts and its chances for approval as an official Olympic sport. Getting into the Olympics is a Quixotic undertaking bordering on the delusional. The odds of a sport like arnis that has failed miserably to attract critical mass even in its mother country is like a barangay league basketball MVP aspiring for NBA draft.
Other successful sports federations some awash with cash like the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) with more than 200 member countries have been lobbying for Olympic recognition. The IPSC whose U.S. members are also affiliated with one of the richest lobby group the National Rifle Association have in fact attempted to negotiate with the IOC for the inclusion of practical shooting as an exhibition sport in the last Athens Olympics. To appease the IOC officials that are uneasy with the combative applications of the sport, they replaced with a pentagonal configuration the previous humanoid shaped target. Despite their almost unlimited budget to lobby for practical shooting, IPSC’s bid was mothballed by the IOC. With this setbacks the chances for arnis getting the IOC nod is practically zero.
The other hairline horror story in the Olympics is the status of Greco Roman wrestling that for a brief period precariously hung on a thither. One of the most ancient and original Olympic sports almost got scrapped by some profit hungry IOC officials primarily on the issue of spectator attendance. Fortunately, it was saved for sentimental reasons.
What are the issues that need to be addressed by the new NSA?
1.) Foremost are the prevailing competition rules that have failed miserably for many years to draw sizeable spectators, a huge crowd that is close or equal to the numbers of boxing and MMA fans. One international arnis competition held at the Ayala mall failed to attract the uninitiated, and those who saw arnis competition for the first time condescendingly made fun of it with comments like: “is that a drum competition?” The mallers ignored the arnis tournament, like it didn’t exist. Another admission free arnis tournament held at the Cebu Coliseum filled out the bleachers with a thin crowd consisting of parents, friends, relatives, yayas, girlfriends, and vendors.
2.) While many arnis self-styled grandmasters wallow over the so-called “popularity” of arnis /eskrima overseas, they did not benchmark their numbers with other combative arts like BJJ, MMA and Muay Thai that has grown exponentially due to the increasing popularity of mixed martial arts competitions like UFC, Belator and One Championship recently acquired by Sen. Manny Pacquiao.
3.) The must point scoring system adopted by one of the biggest arnis federations is flawed mainly due to the absence of the pain factor. Without a knock out, like boxing and MMA, the must point system is a dumb scoring system. The absence of a pain due to heavy armor does not provide the incentive to defend and fight with a clever strategy and game plan. This type of competition is a mindless, clumsy banging of sticks with no clear decisive winners.
4.) Scoring integrity. Practically almost all arnis tournaments are marred by protests and judging controversy, thus resulting in further disenfranchisement of smaller organizations.
What Needs to be Done?
1.) Overhaul the competition rules, replace with new set of rules that should be reviewed not only by the arnis / eskrima community but by other combat sports such as boxing officials, BJJ, Muay Thais, Tae Kwon do personalities with known probity and credibility.
2.) Set strict timelines for the draft of competition rules.
3.) Include thrusts, take downs, punching to make the competition more inclusive especially for those systems that have always complained their “art is so deadly, it is illegal in competition”.
4.) Enabling Technology – Practically all arnis eskrima organizations worldwide claim that arnis eskrima is a BLADE BASED martial arts. How can we be true to that claim if we don’t include thrusts in competition? What differentiates us from monkeys then if our repertoire of strikes is limited to angular cave man strikes? The most common issue as far as thrusting is concerned is the danger to the neck and jugular. These are valid safety concerns; however, there are no safety issues that technology cannot provide with a solution such as super strong, lightweight composite materials. We should get out of our comfort zone and phase out the current backyard DIY technology of arnis armor and gear if we are SERIOUS in our Olympic aspirations.
5.) Competition should be visually appealing and a crowd drawing spectacle. Fight apparel, armor should be trendy and “cool”. With the millenials and the next generation as the target demographics, arnis / eskrima should be competiting for “coolness” vis a vis tae kwon do, BJJ and boxing.
6.) Scrap kata or sayaw competition that is a copycat of Wushu and karate. These are not faithful representations of the cultural aspect of arnis eskrima.
7.) To fast track the development of fight gear and apparel, the NSA should sponsor a nationwide design competition of all technical / engineering colleges nationwide with attractive prizes.
The end state of this proposal for the complete revision of the competition format is to elevate arnis / eskrima as the most desirable martial arts and sports for the youth. Get the youth engaged and we old farts step aside because we are partly to blame for the present mess in Arnis. The youth hold the key to future of the art.