Influence of European Martial Arts on Filipino Martial Arts
So just how much of an influence does European, specifically Spanish Martial Arts have upon Filipino martial arts?
This is a complicated question which at times becomes more convoluted due to misunderstanding and nationalism.
To start, one of the key characteristics of Indo-Malay martial culture, is the ability of synthesis, the ability to adapt (indigenize) foreign fighting systems to fit local needs. Spanish martial arts are heavily blade influenced, as firearms came late to the Iberian Peninsula, and when the Spanish arrived in the Philippines it could be described as a collision of blade cultures.
At this time period, Spanish and European martial arts were undergoing an evolution from cut and thrust sword play, to the thrust and cut usage of the rapier. However, most scholars of the sword cannot tell you exactly what constitutes a rapier, or exactly when this transition happened. Nevertheless, Spanish fencing (esgrima) began to evolve toward the usage of this weapon.
By the time of the early colonial adventure of the Spanish absorbing the Philippines into empire, the method of Rapier fencing had been distilled into the method called La Verdadera Destreza, or the “True Art of Dexterity.” This was a comprehensive martial arts system that required proof of proficiency in a wide variety of weapon types and combinations. These included, single sword, sword and dagger, sword and shield, two-handed sword, and pole-arms such as the halberd.
In many ways Destreza, though primarily revolved around the sword; in intent, it was supposed to be a universal conceptual method for usage of any weapon. Evidence though limited, does suggest there is a minor bit of influence in FMA Stemming from Destreza. The number one thing being the use of the knife (dagger) in the left hand, in Espada Y Daga systems.
The other bit of evidence comes from a unique weapon grip called the pistol grip (please see photo). When using a rapier in Destreza, one pinches the blade between the forefinger and the thumb, between the quillions while holding the sword in point. However, the Filipino Balaraw dagger (see photo) was also supposed to have been held in a similar manor.
As time passed, European martial arts continued to evolve. By the 18th century Esgrima Militar (Military fencing), revolved around two sword types. The officers carried the “small-sword” which is primarily a dueling and ceremonial weapon - the fencing foil (florette in Spanish) being the training tool for it; later, it would evolve into the sport we know today. The other being the heavy cut and thrust swords of the day, sometimes called hangers or sabers; this type of cut and thrust sword play, reminds me of FMA today.
As the Spanish empire shrank, it would not be unusual for Filipino axillary, Spanish colonial units, to be taught this type of sword play. Evidence for this type of sword play can be seen in both terminology and in the saber grip (please see photo) of the weapon mostly used in thrusting in FMA. Also, the late Grandmaster Floro Villabrille said there were two types of Escrima, one being on the table, which was demonstrational and the other, being anything goes, ostensibly a duel. These terms relate to the small sword and the fencing foil as sports fencers of the foil, fight on the piste (a table) or if the gentlemen was challenged to a duel it could be to first blood, to the death, or until honor was satisfied.
Nevertheless, there is much more research to be done be for reaching definitive conclusions.
The following photos we have included: plates from Petter and Hooghe for an unarmed man to deal with a dagger attack. The other, Mendoza y Quixada demonstrates everything for the Spanish swordsman needs to know on a single page – ENJOY!