Sabre Fencing and Modern Arnis

Discussion in 'Modern Arnis' started by SAL, Oct 24, 2005.

  1. SAL

    SAL Junior Member

    During the past two years I have been involved in Sabre fencing. In the past year I have become much more familiar with the various sabre techniques and see so many similarities with my Modern Arnis. Many of the actions are the same except with fancy French names.
    There are also several techniques from Modern Arnis that I am using that are giving my training partners fits. They keep asking our teacher if they're legal. To their disappointment, they are.
    When I first signed up for class I informed my teacher of my Filipino martial arts background and she immediately said take up the sabre. The other two weapons in fencing are the foil and the epee. Both allow only pokes as legal scoring points while the sabre is allowed forehand and backhand strikes as well as pokes. So you can see this was a no brainer as to which weapon would be perfect for a Filipino martial artist.

    This brings me to question, how much of the European (Spanish / French) fencing techniques have influenced the Filipino sword and stick arts? And did the Spanish occupation change the Filipino arts for good?

  2. hardheadjarhead

    hardheadjarhead New Member

    I'd say yes, the Spanish occupation changed the Filipino arts for good...but to what degree is hard to say. One might consider that the Filipino arts also influenced the Spanish methodology to a degree.

    Its hard to determine the level of cross pollination.

    Wouldn't it be zippy, though, to be able to read Spanish from that era, and to go through surviving accounts by Spaniards who fought back then? I don't think anybody has done that...or if any exist. It might shed some light on the question.


  3. Christopher Umbs

    Christopher Umbs New Member

    Here's an article by European style martial artist and author, Chris Amberger.

    Also from an interview with my teacher, M. Martinez
    Since I have mentioned Filipino martial arts, there is something that needs to be made clear. The belief has long been held that FMA derives most of their technique and theory from Spanish rapier and dagger methods. This is not at all true. In fact, there is absolutely no solid historical evidence that this is the case. It is true that much of the terminology that is used is derived from the Spanish language, but then, the archipelago has had a long history of contact with Spanish culture.

    Magellan made the first contact with the Philippines when he landed in 1521. By 1565 a trading post was established, and by 1600 the city of Manila was founded and galleons regularly sailed from Acapulco to Manila. The Philippines were ruled by Spain from the end of the sixteenth century until the end of the Spanish American War in 1899, when they were acquired by the United States. The three hundred and sixty years of occupation and resulting cross culturalization clearly explains the use of the Spanish language within the native Filipino martial arts.

    Mark Wiley states on page 39 in his 1996 book Fillipino Martial Culture, "The Spanish methods of employing the rapier and dagger was taken into the Philippines in 1521 by way of the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, sailing under the flag of Spain…" This is impossible for a couple of reasons. First, the Spanish School (La Verdadera Destreza), was founded and created by Don Jeronimo De Carranza, who wrote his treatise in 1569. He was thirty-five years of age when he completed his text, placing his date of birth circa 1534. This leaves a discrepancy of 48 years from the time that Mr. Wiley asserts that Spanish rapier and dagger methods were introduced to the Philippines.

    Secondly, the type of weapon that would have been carried by Magellan and most of the other officers in such an expedition would have been a military sword with a wide, straight, double-edged blade, more than likely with a simple medieval-style cruciform hilt. This type of sword was capable of splitting a skull, taking off an arm, or severely wounding a leg. In fact, during this time the dagger as an auxiliary weapon would not have been commonly used in a military context.

    A rapier is a completely different weapon. There are several different theories of where the word "rapier" comes from but the strongest evidence indicates that it originates from the Spanish term espada ropera (dress or costume sword). The rapier is a totally civilian weapon, different from the military sword in that it generally has a long slender blade and an elaborate swept or cup-shaped hilt. The biggest misconception about the rapier is that the edges were dull and that one cannot cut with it. This is false. In the historical treatises that deal with rapier fencing the use of cuts was always covered as part of the repertoire of techniques. Although the rapier is used primarily for thrusting, it has always employed a variety of cutting techniques.

    The rapier was meant to be used for self-defense and dueling. It was the weapon of the upper classes. It is not the weapon of the lower classes. In both self-defense and in a street fight there are no rules. The only criteria is to dominate the adversary and survive by any means necessary, which is not so in a duel. A duel is a prearranged combat done in cold blood that is bound by a code of rules and etiquette. These dueling codes changed from century to century and varied from country to country.

    The rapier was a civilian weapon of the upper classes, and it would have been useless aboard ship when used on deck and upon landing when facing native weapons. Furthermore, if a secondary arm were used with the military sword in battle, it would have been a shield (targa) or a buckler (broquel). Also, the personnel under such a command would not have been comprised completely of Spaniards and certainly not of hidalgos, but of "volunteers" and mercenaries from various countries.

    Marcelin Defourneaux in his book 1966 Daily Life in Spain in the Golden Age (Translated by Newton Branch in 1970) states on pages 190-191; "However, not all of those who fought under the colours and for the cause of the Catholic king were Spaniards. A considerable proportion were foreign mercenaries (mostly German and Irish), who were engaged for a particular campaign, or subjects of the king of Spain from the Italian vice-royalties, which during the Golden Age had given some remarkable captains to the Spanish armies, such as Alexandre Farnese and Antonio Spinola, Spain provided only the nucleus of this military force, to which her soldiers gave the example of bravery, endurance, and especially arrogance.

    The old medieval principle by which a nobleman was obliged to serve the king by providing him with troops was still in force. Sometimes a noble on his own account would enlist as a private soldier. But, such cases were exceptional, and the nobility, now became courtiers, tended more and more to withdraw from military service. If we accept the penal impressments of convicts to row the galleys of the king, and in exceptional cases, the raising of troops imposed on the municipal authorities in the face of immediate danger to the nation, the Spanish army was made up of volunteers, who thus constituted a standing army endowed with all of the military virtues-and some of its vices."

    Likewise, David Howarth, on page 17 of his book The Voyage Of The Armada: The Spanish Story (1981) describes the personnel who comprised the Armada: "The majority of these people were Spaniards, but not by any means all, especially among the sailors. They were never listed by race, but probably there were around 400 Portuguese, Italians, Germans and Flemings, and there were certainly several hundred Irish and English."

    In Spain, when a gentleman trained with the rapier, he trained with two masters. One taught theory. The other was a combat master, who instructed in the application of the art. The practice was from one to two hours per day. The type of person that engaged in this type of training was very well off, and would hardly be the kind of man to set off on a discovery expedition as part of the crew. Given the evidence of who comprised the Spanish forces during the height of the empire's power, it is quite dubious that Spain would have risked its best personnel on the voyages of exploration. Conquistadors were not Spain's best swordsmen, and the methods that they employed would not have been as sophisticated as the rapier and dagger.

    Finally, it is unfair to Filipinos and their martial heritage to suggest that they had to "borrow" anything from Spanish methods of swordsmanship, because their indigenous martial arts were already very highly developed by the time that the Spanish arrived.

    Last edited: Oct 25, 2005
  4. SAL

    SAL Junior Member

    Thanks Chris
    After more research on my end and after reading you comments I see that this is the common opinion on the subject. Maybe the traits that I see as similar are just the nature of the sword itself and how it is used. My success using Filipino techniques in my sabre bouts may be due to some of the techniques being outside the realm of standard sabre fencing, and therefore frustrating to my opponents.
    I am certain though that my FMA training made the transition to sabre fencing an easy one. Right from the start I felt as though I'd been doing it a while. If or where the two arts intersect is an interesting subject. Even with all these facts to the contrary I still feel a strong connection between the two.

  5. Christopher Umbs

    Christopher Umbs New Member

    Oh, I completely agree. I’m coming at it from the other side. I’m entering FMA tournaments using FMA weapons after being trained in trad. (non-sport) fencing. Obviously, knife is knife and I’m using a Spanish navaja style for it. For sword and dagger though I’m using 19th c. French rapier and dagger instead of the 17th c. Spanish Destreza style of R&D since the Spanish style calls for a 40” blade for someone of my height while the French calls for a 35” blade and is therefore closer to the FMA weapon lengths.

  6. Brian R. VanCise

    Brian R. VanCise Senior Member Supporting Member

    I am sure that their was some cross pollination of technique! Whenever
    two cultures come together they invariably share some of what they do.
    To what degree, we will probably never know. I also feel that some of the inherent similarities are just that, naturally used when dealing with the sword and dagger.

    Brian R. VanCise
  7. JPR

    JPR New Member


    I think a lot of the similarities between weapons arts is influenced by the fact that there are only so many ways to move the human body with or with out weapons. Also, of all the universe of possibilities on how to move a particular type of weapon, the more efficient movements would tend to be self-discovered and self-perpetuated. If we fight and your movements are more efficient than mine (discarding shear bad luck on your part), you will survive / I will not, you will go on to teach your motions / I will not.

    So if you start with roughly equivalent weapons (short blade chopping, long blade thrusting, spear, blunt impact, etc.), you discard the minutia (my high diagonal forehand comes in at a 45 degree angle yours at 39.5), and artificial rules (any rule beyond I do what I have to do to survive / win), similar motions will appear.

  8. Cruentus

    Cruentus Tactician

    I agree. Whenever cultures collide, cross influence of different combat methods is inevitable, even if it is only derrived from the need of new counter tactics. I am sure some cross-training probably occured as well. Now, as to whether or not traditional or sport fencing styles as we know them today were influenced by FMA or vice-versa, that is a different story. However, we do have one example of traditional fencing influencing FMA via Chris entering FMA tournaments using traditional European fencing methods. We also have another good example, as I am sure that Sal's rpevious training influences his Sabre fencing. So, you see, even in our civilized and more technological culture, different combat systems are influencing one another. Imagine if our lives depended on these fighting systems in the same way that they did Filipinos and Europeans of the past, where there was much more of a sense of urgency to understand the techniques and tactics of the opposition?

    As to fencing in general, I think it is a great attribute builder and fighting method. We have a fairly accomplished fencer in our group who always provides a unique perspective.

    Paul post didn't time out this time! ;) lol
  9. loki09789

    loki09789 -== Banned ==-

    The Savaadra's (sp?) had a family member that was in jail with a French trained fencer (I believe a Euro as well) according to legend. This man traded skills with the French trained fencer during his prison term. They exchanged training info to pass the time.

    The Savaadra's were either the founders or early plank holders in Doce Pares. According to Ising Atillo's internet info, the fencing influence was blended with the Savaadra's prior training in FMA.

    Doce Pares came first, then came Balintawak and then Modern Arnis. That is a simplified lineage of one one of the arts (Balintawak) that influenced GM RP's Modern Arnis.

    My personal opinion, though not necessarily popular, is that Doce Pares and Balintawak arts are PRIMARILY fencing influenced with boxing and some other less influencial FMA indiginous arts. RP brought more FMA indiginous arts to the table in MA because of his varied experience.

    If you notice the parallel between sabre fencing and the single stick or stick and dagger emphasis (and style of movement/footwork - or lack) in Balintawak, it is a very close stylist comparison. Anciong Bacon was a boxer as well, so that made its way into Balintawak as well. Early Modern Arnis, if you have copies of any of the vids/books looks very similar to Balintiwak in this way.

    As GM RP developed Modern Arnis, he had included influences of other fighting systems to round it out and beef up the empty hand portions. Wally Jay SJJ, Shotokan, Ocho Ocho, Kenpo...all were influencial when RP saw how it fit into the flow of MA.

    Don't get me wrong, I would still be willing to call Doce Pares and Balitawak FMA's because they put their fingerprint on what they learned. Much like "Thai cuisine" is close to Chinese or Japanese in some ways because of some common ingredients and cooking techniques but has a distinct "Thai" signature. I would NOT say that Doce Pares, Balintawak or to a degree Modern Arnis could be called indiginous or 'ancient' FMA's though. Some of the more tribal based arts, Silat influenced arts would be 'older' in that regard.

    I too saw the fencing similarities from my (brief) saber training years ago, whether the current similarities are systemic or just physiological limits on how much variety there can be in swinging a stick/sword I don't know. But there is some decent anecdotal evidence to show that fencing played a part to some degree both ancient and modern.
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2005
  10. SAL

    SAL Junior Member

    Whether its stick fighting or fencing, and two opponents are evenly matched or close to it, any tactical advantage would make a difference. Taking a technique from a different culture or style and effectively applying it would tip the scales. It would be hard to believe that the Spanish or Filipino fighters would not take advantage of this. An example would be an Arnis abanico strike applied to saber fencing. It’s timing is slightly faster and much more difficult to block therefore giving the advantage to the user. An example on the other side would be applying more fencing pokes as a response after blocking a stick or bolo.

  11. loki09789

    loki09789 -== Banned ==-

    Remember too that not every technical exchange was by choice. The Spanish, English, Dutch...anyone sailing and trading in that area would have been engaging in 'corporate raiding' (read Piracy and Privateering) and would probably impressed (read "Shanghai'd) PI indiginous people to round out ship rosters at times. PI people could have been merc'ed out to Spanish occupiers as local security forces and trained in Euro fencing. Outright slavery would have happened at times as well. Not to mention the "go along to get along" response by some Phillipino people that would have started adopting all things Spanish/European to win favor with the new conquerors.

    There are many reasons why and how Spanish/Euro fencing could have influenced FMA's historically that might not be as simple as battefield exposure or martial arts/combative strategic choices.
  12. SAL

    SAL Junior Member

    How true. I guess when people are thrown together for any extended period of time, they will share many things. Why not just make the best of your situation.

  13. Cruentus

    Cruentus Tactician

    As I mentioned in a different thread but of a similar topic; there is "could have" and then there is credable evidence. Lots of things could have happened, and it is fun to think about the possibilities. However, without evidence, it's about like reading a fantasy novel. Interesting to think about the possibilities, but if you start believing it is true, then well....

  14. G22

    G22 -== Banned ==-

  15. loki09789

    loki09789 -== Banned ==-

    I'll have to see if I can find my copies of "Under the Black Flag" that outlines accounts of piracy and such all over the globe, to include the Indonesian/Asian portion of the world. There are many accounts of melting pot crews on pirate ships and privateering ventures.

    Not fantasy novels, but documented cases of impressment, privateering, ship records and such.
  16. arnisador

    arnisador Active Member

    I think Savate benefited from such rogue activities--sailors traveling the world brought kicking techniques back to France.

    Similar questions have been asked about the influence of Spanish fencing on Venezuelan Garrote Larense and other Garrote stick-fencing systems.
  17. loki09789

    loki09789 -== Banned ==-

    Considering the melting pot of the PI and Indonesian region during the big sailing/trade battles between Euro nations, I wonder what seeds of influence the Indian arts may have left. We know that Islamic culture/faith left a strong mark on the PI arts.
  18. loki09789

    loki09789 -== Banned ==-

    Survival can take many forms. Some people will focus in the 'little picture' of taking care of their family, extending life, change from the order to survive.

    Not every PI national, French citizen during Nazi Occupation, name it, was willing to grab a weapon and engage in open resistance. True now, too in Iraq or Afg. People are diverse in response and values.
  19. Batang Sugbu

    Batang Sugbu New Member

    No connection with silat

    There is no connection between silat and modern day eskrima. No less than GM O'ong Maryono a prominent silat guro based in the Philippines is skeptical about this, here's what he has to say about it another forum:

    There are more compelling evidence to support a more profound Spanish influence on the FMA on this link:

  20. loki09789

    loki09789 -== Banned ==-

    Good stuff. I made a clumsy attempt to distinguish between 'urban' arts that would have more 'modern' western influences and 'indiginous' arts that would have more tribal/asian origins and influences but I think this is far clearer.

    This part in particular interests me and supports my earlier statement about some specific ways that Spanish/FMA interaction would occur.

    2.) Spanish recruitment of Cebuano, Boholano, Macabebe conscripts in the pacification of Sulu and Mindanao. Don Sebastian Hurtado de Corcuera’s administration was credited in the history books as having successfully pacified Sulu with his policy of recruiting the best native Christian warriors.

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