While the title of the post is “What is Tapi Tapi?”, this post also addresses how those uninitiated in the Filipino Martial Arts can discern the quality of “tapi tapi” and make an informed assessment.

“Tapi tapi”, in the Modern Arnis lexicon, was Professor Remy A. Presas’ preferred term for “counter for counter” in the context of stick play. The roots of Professor’s tapi tapi came from Balintawak as well as years of experience. The basic concept is that for every move there is a counter and that there is a counter for every counter. The basics are taught first with an emphasis on body structure, intent, footwork, and correct execution of techniques. In Modern Arnis, there are two basic versions of tapi tapi that is taught. First is right vs. right tapi tapi where each player has a stick in their right hand. The second version is left vs. right tapi tapi where one player has the stick in the left hand and the other is the right handed player.

Now, when I watch YouTube videos of tapi tapi, I look for structure, intent, footwork, and clean crisp technique, regardless of style. Admittedly, I have watched a fair number of videos purporting to show tapi tapi and my reaction has ranged from being amused to being alarmed that this is being represented as the art that the late Professor Remy A. Presas spent a life time teaching.

First, let’s take a look at examples of high quality tapi tapi.

Using an “eyeball” test, one can tell that you are seeing amazing high-quality Filipino Martial Arts. GM Bobby Taboada is well known for his speed as can be seen in the first video. Master Chuck Gauss demonstrates tremendous versatility with both hands.  The video between Roger Solar and Oliver Garduce showcases nice flow and intent even while seated. “You know it when you see it.” Shelley Javier Millspaugh and Jhun Occidental provide a great example of the Kombatan version of tapi tapi. What are the tangibles though? They are as follows:

(1) Superb speed and timing.

(2) Footwork (yes, the next to last video is done with the two participants sitting but there is no doubt that they would be moving around if not seated.)

(3) All four videos displayed clean, crisp technique.

(4) All four displayed proper chambering of the cane.

(5) The driver in each of the videos displayed plenty of intent.

(6) None of the videos displayed sloppy technique.

These are some of the articulable tangibles to keep in mind when assessing an instructor’s tapi tapi skills. The above videos are a good guide in judging the quality of tapi tapi play.

For the sake of exercise, watch this video and go through the aforementioned checklist:

I do not personally know the two gentlemen in the video. I do not know how much training they received from the late Professor Remy A. Presas in regards to tapi tapi.  I feel confident in knowing what the late Professor’s thoughts on this video might have been. That said, let’s go through the check list as an exercise in breaking down and assessing the quality of a tapi tapi sequence.

(1) Speed and timing: To be fair to these two gentlemen (identified as Sinuhe Martinez and Jose Isidro in the video description), they may have intended only to do a demonstration type of video and without any intent to go full speed.

(2) Footwork: even allowing for this to be a demonstration, the footwork is less than optimal.

Screenshot 2015-05-19 at 10.16.37 PM

The left sweep stroke should be done with the left foot stepping in, as opposed to the right foot. See :21 of the video. Stepping in with the left foot increases the extension of the left arm, thus increasing the effectiveness of the left sweep stroke. As a result, the sweep stroke in the video falls far short of its target.

Screenshot 2015-05-12 at 2.42.47 PM

In contrast, when executing the left-hand sweep stroke, Master Chuck steps in with his left foot. The result is clear.

The right sweep stroke is similarly problematic.

Screenshot 2015-05-20 at 8.00.42 AM


There does not seem to be sufficient stepping in with the right foot to power the right sweep stroke.

(3) Proper chambering of the cane. This is incredibly important, especially in the context of the parry back fist sequence in the aforementioned video.  See below:

Screenshot 2015-05-19 at 10.22.49 PM


The driver’s left-hand cane is hanging out there while he is executing the parry back fist.  What if the defender jams that back fist? A good counter would be a #5 thrust. However, it would be difficult to pull off with the cane hanging out there. The cane should either be chambered by the left shoulder or at the hip with the tip pointed forward, in order to do a #5 thrust if need be. See :22 of the video.

(4) For the sake of this exercise, does the driver in this video (Mr. Isidro) meet the test of having clean, crisp technique?  This video does not demonstrate this element.

(5) Can the reader discern whether there was intent behind the technique? Let’s break it down. The single sinawali performance was decent in this video. However, when it came to the parry/back fist, there was a discernible lack of intent. There was hardly any forward motion.  The right hand parry back fist does not appear to have much intent behind it. See :22 of the video (the same portion of the video as the above photograph). For a more detailed discussion of the parry back fist sequence, see this video.

“Intent” was so important to the late Professor Remy A. Presas. He was always driving forward and made you respect both his check hand as well as his stick. In other words, he was coming after you and you had better be prepared for anything that came your way. I tell you, even with the basic left hand parry back fist sequence, he was coming after you.

The last element is the issue of sloppiness. The first four videos had a noticeable lack of sloppiness. In the video we are assessing, I leave to your judgment whether there is sloppiness displayed.

Going through the aforementioned checklist is a useful way to assess the quality and level of skill that is being displayed, whether it be Filipino Martial Arts, Chinese Martial Arts or any other art. Look for speed, timing, footwork, intent, proper chambering, and clean technique. From this checklist, one should be able to make their own conclusions.

My conclusion is that this video does not display the quality of Modern Arnis technique and tapi tapi that the late Professor Remy Presas strived to teach and demanded from his direct students.

Over to you, do you have a mental checklist when watching someone play or do you just eye ball it? What are your impressions of this video? Let’s hear it!




10 thoughts on “What is Tapi Tapi?

  • May 20, 2015 at 2:29 pm

    This is Master Jose Isidro, people like you don’t understand things. Master Sinuhe a kombatan. he never did papa modern arnis tapi tapi. we are doing slowly because of his not familiarty. so this video is what you have to say. yet you cannot show the one i am doing with my students. you know you don’t know anything and you are not even a direct modern arnis under the presas. have you train to the presas directly? i have for long time and under GM Dr. Remy Presas Jr. i have no comment and enjoy this one. https://www.facebook.com/jose.isidro1/videos/vb.1279927197/10201695731656622/?type=2&theater

    • May 21, 2015 at 9:09 am

      Thank you for stopping by. I would be happy to discuss the technical details of Modern Arnis as I, along with the Masters of Tapi Tapi, did with the late Professor Remy A. Presas. Do you have any comment on the technical aspects of the post that I discussed?

      Professor Presas talked about the same technical details at many camps and seminars I attended. He insisted that we practice all technical aspects of his beloved tapi tapi, both right handed and left handed. I was expressing what Professor taught us over many years, nothing more. Having many years of experience, I have a practiced eye and painstakingly teach all my students everything that I’ve learned from Professor and the Masters of Tapi Tapi.

      You should refer to Professor’s videos that he shot in Victoria in 1998. Among them are left vs. right tapi tapi videos.

  • May 21, 2015 at 1:15 pm

    Hello Brian Johns,

    I usually enjoy reading your thoughts on FMA and you come across as a passionate and really nice and down-to-earth guy in your videos. I find this article a bit irritating, though, and I’ll tell you why:
    1) Dissecting a martial arts demonstration video of somebody you don’t know is always tricky, especially if you start freezing single frames. I agree that an experienced practitioner can usually tell if the people on the video are experienced and have solid technique – however, that does not really hold true for internal martial arts, for example, and it also does not necessarily hold true for the dynamics and goals of various training drills, methods, and techniques, which oftentimes can hardly be seen or understood from video snippets. In a lot of cases we also don’t have the context in which the video was taken and why.
    2) The Balintawak drilling methods and Modern Arnis Tapi Tapi, while sharing some similarities and common history, if you will, are two very, very different things. A few examples: In proper Balintawak the live hand will not drop down to the side of the hips like you can constantly observe in many videos of Modern Arnis Tapi Tapi (just look at the videos you posted of GM Taboada and Master Gauss and compare). The stepping in Balintawak is different, a huge difference is in the way the knees and the hips are used for twisting, coiling and bambooing. Speaking of which, in Balintawak the strikes are accelerated by using the legs and the hips for speed and power, i. e. proper body mechanics are employed. Unfortunately, you will be hard pressed to find videos of Modern Arnis Tapi Tapi where this is actually demonstrated as opposed to striking mostly from the arm and wrist – which does not mean it does not exist, it’s just rare to find it in videos. Moreover, I find it interesting what you see as proper chambering of the stick. Again, look for more good Balintawak, you already know GM Taboada, look for others, too. Look for some good videos of Cabales Serrada Escrima, Lameco Eskrima, Kali Ilustrisimo to name just a few; and you will see some different tight and focused chambering of the stick, designed to prepare for the next move and for optimal speed, timing, and power generation.

    None of this is intended to put down Modern Arnis, Remy Presas was a formidable fighter and teacher, there is no doubt about that and he has trained many great fighters and teachers in turn, no doubt about that either. He has also helped to inspire many people to get to know the FMA, to train and to teach themselves, to popularize the FMA, and that alone is a huge achievement that cannot be praised highly enough. What I am trying to say is: What you say in your article and what can be seen in a great many Modern Arnis Tapi Tapi videos just does not equate IN MY OPINION (that’s all it is, my opinion), and I have tried to give you some examples. Again, it doesn’t mean people don’t train it, it’s just hard to find in most videos online.

    I hope you understand what I mean and that it is not meant in a derogatory way, it is often difficult to convey the tone of a message in just written text. I write this message to you in the spirit of exchanging ideas and productive discourse, as well as brotherhood in FMA.

    After all, the FMA are just a tiny part of the larger martial arts world, and we should all work together to do them justice and do our teachers and their teachers before them proud.

    Be well and all the best for your training!

    • May 21, 2015 at 5:35 pm

      Hi Fabian

      Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post and offering your comments.

      The purpose of the post was to analyze Master Isidro’s video and it was not my intention to get into a debate of the merits of Balintawak vs. Modern Arnis. There are good apples and bad apples in every art. I am fortunate to have trained with incredibly talented Modern Arnis players such as Master Chuck Gauss and Master Ken Smith over the years. These guys are top notch. Are there Modern Arnis players that make us cringe? Absolutely. As I said, there are good players and bad players in every art.

      Master Isidro was doing a common Modern Arnis left hand technique that is referred to as “check hand parry backfist.” I teach this template to my beginner students and stress every point that I made in the blog post. This sequence is akin to Group 1 in Balintawak. There is a certain prescribed way of executing Group 1, both from the driver and the defender’s perspective. After last year’s joint seminar with Master Chuck Gauss, GM Bobby Taboada stayed in Toronto for a couple of days. We reviewed the Groupings with him. He was quite particular in how they were to be executed. Very detailed and exacting.

      I don’t think that you or he would be happy if there was a video of someone claiming to be a Balintawak Master who exhibits serious deficiencies in the execution of Group 1. Again, the technique displayed in the video was a basic left hand technique. I should note that I undertook only to point out the technical deficiencies in that video with attention to detail. The character of these gentlemen or their passion for Filipino Martial Arts was not called into question nor should it be.

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

      • May 22, 2015 at 9:37 pm

        Hi Brian,

        thank you for taking the time to reply. Let me first state that English is not my mother tongue, so it’s sometimes difficult to convey more complex thoughts in English as a second language, and I hope this is not a cause of a misunderstanding.

        It was not my intention to compare arts in terms of better or worse; I may have drifted off into what comes off as a comparison because I was trying to give you examples of differences between Modern Arnis Tapi Tapi and Balintawak drilling methods that I observe all the time when teaching Balintawak to my Modern Arnis friends and also when watching videos. You posted a video of Teovel Balintawak as an example of good Tapi Tapi. It is not Modern Arnis Tapi Tapi, not by any stretch of the imagination. If anything, Modern Arnis Tapi Tapi can be a good example of some aspects of Balintawak as well as other arts, and original ideas. You might call this nitpicking, then again,you did the same thing 😉

        As far as critisizing videographed demonstrations, training, etc.: I was not merely commenting on what you said about the video you discussed in the article – I noticed that you were rather careful in choosing your words in order to not insult the people in that video. I was trying to make some general points about the problem with dissecting video, especially using freeze frames. I have watched several of your own videos over the past and I can pretty confidently tell you that I could dissect many of your videos, freeze frames, and point out shortcomings, even according to the standard you set in your own article. That is NOT because you are not a skilled martial artist, but simply because nobody is perfect, let alone all the time. I sometimes film my own teaching and training because I KNOW for a fact that I make mistakes, the video then helps me to filter them out and correct them.

        I agree that whenever somebody publishes a video of their teaching and training, they have to be aware that it can be seen, shared, commented on, critisized, taken apart, distorted, mistinterpreted, etc. by everybody and their dog. Then again, I think that you represent yourself and, to a certain extent, your teacher. That’s about as far as it usually goes. Yes, we are part of the legacy of our teacher’s teachers, but we can hardly be considered representations of what they did, since everybody is different, every teacher makes adjustments, even if they really try hard to transmit exactly what their own teacher did. I hope it’s clear what I mean by that. Again, that’s only my opinion. Then you also have to consider that some people have had very limited exposure to world-class instruction, if any. Should they be prohibited from putting videos online? I don’t think so. Should you be allowed to critisize their video? Of course.
        The notion of myself or others not being happy when someone exhibits what could be seen as, for example, poor Balintawak skills is a bit off, though, because these arts are out there. They are not family systems, at least not anymore, that are passed down from one generation to the next and kept secret from everybody else (of course, when teachers hold back instruction from their students for no other reason than to keep it secret, that is their choice, but then they should not complain about limited or outright poor skills being exhibited). If you wanted to correct every mistake that has been made during training, filmed, and put on Youtube and other video platforms, that would be a full time job. If, in addition to that, it would make you sad every time, you’d have some difficulties to ever have a good time again, I guess. I think I understand what you mean, and of course it would be nice if every presentation of our preferred arts was superb,but at the same time, no single person is responsible for for sub-par presentations. Like I said, everybody is different, sometimes people love an art but just don’t get it for the first ten years of their learning. Sometimes that’s down to the teacher, sometimes it’s down to prior training, sometimes just confusion or misunderstanding. And many, many times, things are not quite what they seem: Believe none of what you hear, and only half of what you see. Our responsibility as teachers is to teach to the best of our knowledge and ability, and by that, we can do right by our own teachers. That is why I think patronizing forms of critisism that often carry sarcastic connotations are not the way to fix bad form in people. What you are aspiring to do with your fix it friday video series is a much better way to tackle it, in my opinion.

        Be well and keep teaching and training! Best regards.

  • May 21, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    One small addition to my previous comment: When closely observing videos of GM Remy Presas doing Tapi Tapi with his students, even his very advanced students, one can clearly see a huge difference in the way he did it, and the way it is mostly played today. He was light years ahead of most of the stuff you see most people train today, which is somewhat understandable since he put the whole Modern Arnis Tapi Tapi together from his Balintawak training and other ideas, experiences and training, but it is still sad to see that this level of Tapi Tapi seems to be rather few and far between the vast majority of the, admittedly, rather large group of Modern Arnis practitioners and enthusiasts. Again, this only goes as far as what can be seen online and what I have personally experienced with friends who practice Modern Arnis.

  • May 21, 2015 at 11:49 pm

    I like how the article shows powerful insights in practicing/applying FMA philosophies. This really is encouraging. Can’t help but appreciate how Masters challenge their own styles, like the ones seated. (and I just saw another video of them kneeling) https://www.facebook.com/ogarduce/videos/t.1462222481/716528571728529/?type=2&theater

    Regarding the particular practitioner/master in question, I hope the insight regarding him would help FMA’ers who would want to share video instructions online be aware of the way they present themselves(plain and simple). The tangible factors were clearly pointed out and explained by the article’s author for all of us to take note of.

    I will definitely save and share this article.

    I do hope that more articles of this nature will come.


    • May 22, 2015 at 9:38 am

      Hi Noel,

      Thank you for stopping by and offering your incisive comments on my post. You’ve got a great point in that anything that we post on the internet is subject to constructive criticism. I realize that anytime I post a video or a blog. Thank you for sharing the article and have a great day!

  • May 22, 2015 at 1:03 am

    And whether the Practitioner in question is good or not, he has a responsibility to deliver the video instruction or demo in good form and function. One must be true to his stature if he is indeed a Martial Arts Practitioner. Not to mention a Master.

    Your social image is your responsibility, don’t blame us netizens for the insights that come out due to what was “visually” delivered. This is where “self-evaluation” comes in. It requires experience and wisdom though.


    • May 22, 2015 at 9:40 am

      You make an excellent point about the “social image.” I could not have said it any better. Again, anything we post on the internet is subject to criticism, fair or not. It’s part of the social contract of being on the internet.

      Thank you again sir for stopping by and commenting!


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