Gregory Manalo was in the midst of a personal renaissance in the late 1990s when he discovered Filipino Martial Arts (FMA).

“I couldn’t find an eskrima,” he told NBC Asian America, referring to a Filipino style of martial arts. “Eskrima found me.”

For Manalo, who has been training with the FMA for about 25 years and teaching it in the San Francisco Bay Area, the FMA has been an entry point to learn more about his identity as a Filipino American, this which allowed him to draw on his culture and his ancestors. He said performing movements made him feel meditative and empowered.

“As we train, we evoke and connect with our ancestors who go back centuries,” said Manalo. “And just knowing that I can be directly exploited by doing these movements is really meaningful to me.”

Filipino martial arts are not as well known as other Asian martial arts such as karate and kung fu, but they have been practiced in the United States for decades. Yet even with less visibility than other martial arts, some practitioners say they see signs of the FMA’s growing popularity and hope that it will continue to be more widely known.

The FMA instructors who spoke with NBC Asian America all pointed out that the martial art can be seen in Hollywood movies, including Bourne’s films, “The Book of Eli,” “Daredevil,” “Dune,” and the Star series. Wars “The Mandalorian”.

“I think over the past 10 to 20 years we’ve come to realize that for the Filipino martial arts to develop and multiply, we all need to work together, learn from each other and share our arts,” Mel said. Orpilla, historian and martial artist who has practiced FMA for more than two decades.

Joseph Bautista, a Filipino martial arts instructor at Eskabo Daan in San Francisco and practicing for over 30 years, said the changes he has seen in FMA over the past 20 years, including more instructors ready to teach it more broadly, make him optimistic about his future. Orpilla said the presentation of FMA in Hollywood, the ability to share it more widely via social media, and the increase in FMA seminars and tournaments in Northern California have also been helpful.

Orpilla said Filipino-American martial artist Dan Inosanto, known to be one of Bruce Lee’s training partners, is a critical figure in the FMA. He added that Inosanto taught Lee the FMA used in a dungeon scene from the 1974 movie “Enter the Dragon”.

“The methodology of teaching Filipino martial arts is the basis for teaching choreography when it comes to weapons or punches and standing kicks,” said Elrik Jundis, who trained in FMA for over 30 years and has done extensive research on it. “It’s the bread and butter of all Hollywood action movies.”

There are three main styles of FMA: eskrima, arnis and kali. While there are nuances between the three, they are often used interchangeably, said Elrik Jundis, who has trained in FMA for over 30 years and has done extensive research on it. It is a unique martial art compared to others because training begins immediately with weapons, while others like karate and taekwondo start empty-handed, Orpilla said.

“[A] The main objective of a Filipino martial artist in a fight is to end it as quickly and efficiently as possible using offensive, defensive and counterattack movements depending on the weapons used and their combat distance ”, did he declare.

Despite its presence in Hollywood, FMA is not better known for a number of reasons. Orpilla said that the practice of martial art was banned in the Philippines during Spanish colonial rule from 1521 to 1898 because they did not want Filipinos to use it to revolt.

Jundis also noted that the most popular Asian martial arts have roots in countries that have long held national identities.

Meanwhile, the concept of what it means to be Filipino is still forming, he said. The Philippines has been an independent country for less than a century. It gained independence in 1946 after nearly 400 years of colonial rule under Spain and the United States.

Bautista said the Philippine Islands functioned separately rather than as a single country before Spanish colonization. Orpilla said the islands were vulnerable to invasions from other countries and had to fight to protect themselves, their tribes and their families.

Jundis added that the FMA is not as important an organized sport as martial arts like taekwondo and judo, both of which are categories at the Olympics.

He also said details about the history and origins of the FMA vary depending on who is interviewed due to a lack of documentation.

The popularity of the FMA has occurred in the United States rather than the Philippines, practitioners and historians told NBC Asian America. It’s unclear exactly where or when it started in the United States, but they said its presence in the United States was linked to the immigration of Filipino plantation workers in the early part of the 20th century. They also said FMA was first taught publicly in Stockton, a town in the central valley of California, which gave birth to a number of great martial art masters, including Inosanto.

Orpilla said another reason FMA knowledge is not so widespread is that it has historically been kept within families and people don’t want to teach it to others.

“I don’t know about Filipino martial arts in the mainstream of my life, but [there’s] been a good push into Filipino martial arts, ”said Bautista.

FMA is also gaining ground beyond the United States. Manalo said one of his instructors had held seminars on this in Europe, where he said it was well received.

For Manalo, FMA has not only been a way to protect himself, but a fulfilling practice and a source of pride for his culture.

“Knowing that we have something and to say it was ours made me proud because a lot of people around the world at this point valued Filipino martial arts, especially knife fighting and sword fighting. “, did he declare. “It’s something people recognize in a world where people don’t even know who Filipinos are. It was a good entry point to really dive into history, culture, arts and practice.

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