Over the years, I’ve heard a number of reasons calling into question the effectiveness of Filipino Martial Arts. Not surprisingly, the opinions often come from those who have not trained in Filipino Martial Arts and, consequently, are uninformed.

Those uninformed about Filipino Martial Arts often say the following:

(1) “All they do is twirl their canes.”

(2) “You’re not always going to have your cane with you. What happens when a fight breaks out?”

(3) “Your empty hands suck.”

Let’s take each of them in turn.

(1) “All they do is twirl their canes.”

Professor Remy Presas, circa 1975.

I once heard the above quote from a martial arts friend of mine.”They’re good at twirling and that’s about it.” He did not know that I practice and teach Modern Arnis. I have trained in other FMAs as well. Upon hearing this,  I said to myself “Oh, man, he has no idea.” He was so certain in his opinion that I decided that I wasn’t going to waste my energy in trying to change his mind. His opinion implied that Filipino Martial Arts was a useless martial art. Just take their sticks away and they have nothing. 

Right. He didn’t know any better.

Type in “machete attacks” on YouTube. Heck, there was a machete attack right here in Oshawa just a few weeks ago, right on the corner of Taunton and Harmony, just minutes from my house!  

Below is a video of a machete attack in Paterson, New Jersey.  See how many times the attacker attacks with angle 12?

If you are not able to view this video, click here.

Yes, most FMA systems include twirling as part of their solo training as well as in techniques. For example, the “double zero” strike, while a cool looking move, is a deadly technique. Go back to the video of Professor Presas and you’ll see that he executes the double zero several times. 

Naturally, those who focus on the twirling overlook what training in FMA offers. One of the greatest values in learning Filipino Martial Arts is learning the angles of attack and the corresponding defense against each angle. Many FMA systems practice this over and over until movement becomes instinctive.

In looking at the machete video, many FMA practitioners would instinctively identify the attack as a #12 angle attack and react accordingly. There is tremendous value in training against angles of attack.

Does this guarantee success? Of course, there is no guarantee when it comes to martial arts and self-defense. However, training in FMAs gives the student a better chance, provided he/she has a good instructor and has trained diligently.

As one can see, Filipino Martial Arts are much more than just twirling.

(2) “You’re not always going to have your cane with you. What happens when a fight breaks out?”

Well duh.

Of course, you’re not going to carry your rattan cane or bolo when out in public. 

I often tell potential students that they will likely not carry rattan canes or bolos onto the Go Train from Oshawa to downtown Toronto. That often gets a chuckle or two. Then I explain the practicality of FMAs to them.

I tell them that those who train in Filipino Martial Arts are adept at utilizing weapons of opportunity and adapting accordingly. For example, I can easily use a tote umbrella or a rolled up newspaper or magazine should the need arise. A knife or a travel wrench (courtesy of Datu Kelly Worden) can come into play as well. Through training in FMAs, you should be adept at using weapons of opportunity and defend accordingly.

Then there are the empty hand translations of stick movement. It’s somewhat controversial among some who do not believe in the empty hand translations of FMA. I think that it’s pretty self-evident that FMA techniques translate readily to empty hands. For example, there are multiple empty hand translations of the sinawali movements that can serve as effective self-defense techniques.

If you are not able to see Professor Presas’ sinawali applications, click here.  Professor was quite adept at translating the stick movements to empty hand movements and insisted that we learn how to translate the stick into empty hand self-defense. This philosophy was central to Professor’s beloved art of Modern Arnis.

(3) “Your empty hands suck.”


Training with swords and sticks help improve your reaction time tremendously. Being able to move defensively against weapons moving at a high speed and countering immeasurably improves your reaction speed.

In addition, training with weighted objects such as sticks or swords improves your hand speed immensely.

Paul Vunak was interviewed by Black Belt Magazine in April 2008 on the topic of “Defanging the Snake.” This article was done in an interview format and one section piqued my interest:

BB: Why should martial artists in the 21st century incorporate stick fighting into their training ?

PV: To answer that properly, I have to go back to Bruce Lee and Dan Inosanto in the 1960’s. Bruce was obviously an amazing person, an amazing martial artist, and an amazing athlete. For many years, he was the only person at that level Dan had ever seen. After meeting Bruce, Dan was introduced to some Filipino masters by Ed Parker. He noticed that these masters had the same attributes as Bruce: similar speed, similar sensitivity, similar body mechanics. Dan had been probably in 20 martial arts before, he’d never seen anyone move like Bruce and these guys were in their 60s. Those masters were able to move that way because of the weapons. When you move with weapons in your hand, it expedites the development of your natural attributes. Whether you’re talking about speed, power, coordination, timing, spatial relationships or footwork, you can quadruple it by working with weapons.

BB: How does weapons training increase your speed?

PV: When you swing a stick, the tip of it moves about 150 miles per hour. No punch moves that fast. So when you’re used to seeing a stick swing that fast, punches seem like they are coming at you in slow motion. There are so many different angles and so many different weapons that when you make the transition to empty hand, it’s really easy”

The late Professor Remy A. Presas had phenomenal hand speed. Ditto for someone like Master of Tapi Tapi Chuck Gauss, my teacher. This is the result of years of training with sticks. I can tell you that I have benefitted tremendously in the same way. My speed, timing, rhythm, and reaction, offensively and defensively, are all the result of training with sticks.

Bottom line, training with sticks is tremendous for developing attributes.

Setting aside the attributes developed by weapons training, there are those who downplay the empty hand translations of FMAs. Often they come from those who have virtually no experience in FMAs. What they do not know is that, for example, there are tons of applications for various weapons training exercises such as the single sinawali, double sinawali, heaven sinawali, reverse sinawali, gunting, punyo strikes, and much more.

It is unfortunate some of these common knocks against Filipino Martial Arts persist. Nothing could be further from the truth and come from those who have little to no experience and are looking in from the outside. On the other hand, there is an increasing recognition of the practicality of Filipino Martial Arts and what it has to offer in terms of self-defense.

I believe that Filipino Martial Arts is beautiful, practical, and effective and can take one on an amazing martial journey filled with possibilities.

Bottom line, Filipino Martial Arts do not suck. 🙂

I personally believe that every art, whether it be judo, karate, jiu-jitsu, wrestling and other arts, has something to offer and there’s nothing to be gained by putting down another art, provided that it’s well taught, is functional, and has solid body mechanics.

Over to you, what other criticisms of Filipino Martial Arts have you heard over the years? Let’s hear them!


11 thoughts on “Three Reasons Why Filipino Martial Arts Suck

  • October 26, 2015 at 10:04 am

    Great article, looking forward to more.
    I’ve been studying Arnis for 18yrs. And will continue the rest of my life.

    • October 26, 2015 at 11:50 am

      Thanks for reading and commenting on that article! I’ll train for the rest of my life as well! 🙂

  • October 26, 2015 at 12:56 pm

    In most styles, the level of in house praise exceeds skill or practice. This leads people to have a false sense of confidence. Its the reason black belt doesn’t carry the weight it should. We’ve all met martial artists who can’t do what they say. That’s okay though! I’ll take all the doubt I can get. The answer is practice and honesty. I will tell my true friends if they need more practice and I expect the same from them. That’s why I call someone friend. Its an honored affinity, not a couch buddy. Thank you for letting me share. Before you knew the ionosphere was stopping the sun from killing you, it did it anyway. I only hope that when someone realizes the effectiveness of FMA, its not by my hands or feet ^_^

    • October 26, 2015 at 1:08 pm

      Thank you for reading, commenting and sharing this post! I like the way you think and agree with your philosophy and I like your last sentence. 🙂 Keep on training and I will do the same!

  • October 27, 2015 at 12:37 pm

    Will be 70 next year. Still doing the Anyos. It is an art you can do at any age. Hard to beat.

    • November 2, 2015 at 8:10 pm

      Hi Chris, thanks for reading the post and commenting. Absolutely, it’s an art that you can study at any age. I tell that to anyone I meet!

  • October 28, 2015 at 8:16 pm

    Great Guys….Maraming Salamat Po!

    • November 2, 2015 at 8:09 pm

      Thanks for reading this post and commenting on it! Keep training! 🙂

  • October 10, 2018 at 9:12 am

    I have a background in karate and kickboxing. I started training in Balintawak in January. I soon recognized its effectiveness in teaching the use of weapons. What I am noticing now though is my fight knowledge and sparring skills have improved. I have a deeper understanding of close-counter combat – how to receive an opponent’s attack – how to counter and attack while minimizing vulnerabilities. FMA offers some of the best systems that can complement other styles, in my opinion. I don’t know any FMA practitioners who aren’t versed in other arts. It’s for the more mature martial artists. Let the smug critics revel in their narrow-minded hubris. Adversity is like adding nitrus to a V8. We are faster and better with them than without.

  • October 10, 2018 at 7:24 pm

    “With Kali, you learn to use anything as a weapon”~Dogzilla

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