Arnis stick-fighting: Enhancing the empty hand

Stick training in arnis really teaches adaptability and creativity when it comes to personal protection

Stick training in arnis really teaches adaptability and creativity when it comes to persona-protection

Stick training in arnis really teaches adaptability and creativity when it comes to persona-protection

Joel Huncar

One of the questions I get asked the most about arnis is a simple one; “why do you train in stick fighting?”

The reason many people ask about this is that there are many misconceptions about arnis and the use of the stick in the Filipino Martial Arts. Most people see it as simply a stick fighting art that practices a weapon system that has little or nothing to do with modern self-protection. This literal idea that training with the stick is the same as fighting with the stick is simply not true.

While I won’t deny that most Arnisadors are fantastic stick fighting; however the stick training in arnis goes much deeper than simply fighting with a stick.

In arnis and eskrima the stick is the first phase of training. Fighters learn the stick, the knife, paired weapons; some styles teach long weapons and all systems teach devastating empty hand techniques.

The reason for this learning model was simple; arnis is a system of self-protection, not a sport art or spiritual system, as such the weapons fighting was taught first. After all, you don’t go into battle unarmed when it comes to defending your family against bandits and raiders.

Most battlefield arts teach weapons first and empty hand last, simply because empty hand fighting is a last resort in a real life and death struggle.

Unfortunately in the days of seminar instruction a lot of the basics of arnis was taught to the public but many only scratched the surface and began teaching “arnis sticks” as an add on to their base martial arts. The sticks were simply another weapon like the staff, the sword or the nunchaku. These practitioners did not feel the need to learn deeper because in their minds they already had all the empty hand skills they needed. But most understood that the use of the stick was enhancing the empty hand skills they already had. Arnis stick training develops much more in an arnisador than simple stick fighting skills.

One of the other amazing gifts this art gives is the ability to use improvised weapons. Understanding how to generate power, angles of attack and how to move with a weapon can make many everyday objects into tools for self-preservation.

The stick training in arnis really teaches adaptability and creativity when it comes to persona-protection and paves the way for other weapons use such as the sword or the knife.

The training in stick fighting really does a lot for a martial artist speed and coordination. Paired weapons help other martial artist use both hands independently as does the integration of the empty hand in single stick practices. Stick training hardwires reactions to angles of attacks as opposed to learning specific techniques to defend against specific attacks.

Basic arnis training was key to becoming a freer and creative fighter for many martial artists deeply entrenched in other traditions. However, few of these martial arts cross trainers ever delved deeply into the empty hand or edged weapon training of arnis, satisfied as they were for having their base arts enhanced by some basic stick training.

What many of them were missing out on was some of the most effective and unique empty hand training taught in modern martial arts. To see the cinematic versions of these brutal arts you simply have to watch any of the Bourne movies, the last few Denzel Washington action movies, or any of the Taken series. The flow and brutality of Filipino empty hand training definitely looks great on the screen but is even better suited for surviving real world violence. Many military knife systems are based on arnis principals and even Israeli krav maga knife training is based on Filipino knife training.

The empty hand arnis skills are designed to cause pain and damage with every move. Moves with the blade become destructive counter attacks with the elbow. Arnis empty hands techniques are designed to immobilize, control, trap and destroy another human being. There is no sport applications to these moves — after all, things like eye gouging and digit breaking is banned in even the most extreme sport fighting, for obvious reasons. However, these moves are part of the basic tactics of arnis self-defence training.

These techniques used in action movies look deadly, but the real mano-a- mano skills are much more effective and less flashy than those favoured in entertainment. These skills teach the ability to be destructive and flow from weapons to empty hands, striking to trapping and clinching; arnis is one of the broadest skillsets you will find being taught in traditional martial arts. The fluidity and brutality of arnis mano mano is a lot of fun to train and very empowering to have in your back pocket if you ever find yourself in a bad situation.

Your stick may not be with you at the time but your skills always are as long as you work at keeping them sharp.

Joel Huncar teaches Arnis/Eskrima, Muay Thai and children’s programs at Huncar’s Warrior Arts out of the Rocky Mountain Martial Arts Family Centre

Just Posted

The City of Cranbrook and the Ktunaxa Nation raised the flag of the Ktunaxa Nation at the arches entrance into the city’s downtown core during a ceremony on Monday, June 21. Photo courtesy City of Cranbrook.
Ktunaxa Nation flag raised at downtown arches entrance

The Ktunaxa Nation flag was raised at the Cranbrook arches — the… Continue reading

Kimberley Search and Rescue were able to quickly respond to a call for service and transport an injured mountain biker to East Kootenay Regional Hospital over the weekend. Kimberley SAR file photo.
Kimberley Search and Rescue respond to injured mountain biker on Bootleg Mountain

Kimberley Search and Rescue responded to a call for service this past… Continue reading

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

City of Cranbrook, Ktunaxa Nation to host flag ceremony on National Indigenous Peoples Day. (Corey Bullock file)
City of Cranbrook, Ktunaxa Nation hosting flag ceremony on National Indigenous Peoples Day

A temporary road closure and speed limit reduction will be in effect during the ceremony

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Over 5K jabbed at Interior Health mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics

The clinics have made stops in more than 40 communities since launching last week

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Chilliwack secondary school’s principal is apologizing after a quote equating graduation with the end of slavery in the U.S. was included in the 2020-2021 yearbook. (Screenshot from submitted SnapChat)
B.C. student’s yearbook quote equates grad to end of slavery; principal cites editing error

Black former student ‘disgusted’ as CSS principal apologizes for what is called an editing error

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross. (Photo by Peter Versteege)
BC Liberal leadership candidate condemns ‘senseless violence’ of Okanagan church fires

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross says reconciliation isn’t about revenge for past tragedies

A coroner’s inquest will be taking place at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni for the next week. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Teen B.C. mom who died following police custody recalled as ‘friend to many’

Police sent Jocelyn George to hospital after intoxication had gone ‘beyond the realm’ of normal detox

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

A blood drive in support of 1-year-old Rielynn Gormley of Agassiz is scheduled for Monday, June 28 at Tzeachten First Nation Community Hall in Chilliwack. Rielynn lives with type 3 von Willebrand disease, which makes it difficult for her to stop bleeding. (Screenshot/Canadian Blood Services)
Upcoming blood drive in honour of Fraser Valley toddler with rare blood condition

The Gormley family has organized a blood drive in Chilliwack on June 28

Most Read