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.
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.
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.
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:
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!