I wish I had more time to interview PTK Manila Chief Instructor Buddy Acenas as his passion, love of country, and exceptional skills were on full display despite a very rainy Saturday afternoon in Makati.
Filipino Martial Arts: So much of what makes it one of the best fighting systems in the world from a foreign perspective has miserably failed to resonate with the very people it is supposed to be one with.
The same question has been on my mind ever since I saw the 1986 movie “Kamagong” which ignited my interest in FMA as a 9-year-old kid: “Why are we not interested in our own martial art and national sport?”
After 28 years, I finally got my answer in the form of this interview with Buddy Acenas, the Chief Instructor for Pekiti Tirsia Kali Manila, one of the most respected and well-known FMA schools in the country. For those of you who do not know him, he first studied the system in 2002 under Tuhon Rommel Tortal who was also teaching the Philippine Marines.
In 2007, Tuhon Tortal made him an instructor and asked him to take over the club. Fast forward to 2011 where he became the first Filipino to teach FMA in Turkey and in 2014 became the first Filipino to teach FMA in Latvia, which led to the founding of PTK clubs for both countries. PTK also has clubs in Quezon City, Makati, and Naga City.
So much of this interview was not just a personal need-to-know but more of a “need-to-be-aware” for everyone in the country who has had misinformed, preconceived notions about our own national sport; I hope this interview reaches the people mentioned.
How would you explain FMA to the average Filipino?
“Filipino Martial Arts is a really good term to describe a huge group of different fighting systems with different principles; there are many terms for it namely escrima, arnis, kali, and there are other sub-terms for other sub-systems, but FMA pretty much covers everything.
“The main commonality among these systems for it to be called FMA is 1) It is derived from a fighting system developed in the Philippines; 2) it has roots here; and 3) personally it can be empty-handed but it is primarily weapon-based as a vast majority of FMA systems are weapon-based.
“It is so difficult to have a definitive description for it because there are so many different systems and different approaches of teaching their material that it is impossible to define it further than what I just said.”
What do you think are the main concerns for us locally? Why do foreigners want to learn the discipline more than we do?
“I think the main concern for FMA is a lack of awareness among Filipinos about what it is and even if it exists or not. A lot of us have backward misconceptions regarding FMA.
“First of these is the thinking that it is only weapon-based and hitting sticks and it has no empty-hand application therefore it is not practical. This is the irony because the practicality of FMA is known worldwide. Filipinos do not see this but the very heart of the system is its practicality in everyday situations.
“The other issue is that FMA started at the grassroots level and it’s taught to the working class so it is seen as a blue collar martial art. It doesn’t have the same ‘sex appeal’ as other systems coming from abroad.
“Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against studying martial arts from other countries. But as a Filipino when you go abroad, a foreigner will ask you, ‘Do you know FMA?’ and if you don’t have a positive answer to that question it is very embarrassing for you as a Filipino to be asked that.
“Allow me to make a comparison. If a Japanese national went to another country and was asked the same question, that person would answer, ‘Yes, I learned Kendo in high school and I studied Judo in college.’
“At some point in their life, they have encountered their country’s martial art and they can tell you what it is. But you grab anybody off the street here in Manila and they cannot tell you what FMA is; they’ll tell you about Arnis and that it’s all sticks. I would like to think that things are starting to change because of the Internet and FMA being featured in Hollywood; but the rate we are coming around to it is slow. A lot of the old masters are passing away without having an heir to pass their knowledge to and I fear that FMA will only be practiced by a small group of people who are going to just maintain it and not even grow it.
“I think FMA should be grown and it is a matter of national concern. If Filipinos can go on Facebook and say they’re nationalistic by supporting Manny Pacquiao, that’s good. But more than that, we need to study FMA and be part of keeping a system alive the same way that we have kept adobo and the tinikling going.
“If you like being called a Filipino and being nationalistic, then do something about it. We can have a positive effect on a barely surviving cultural artifact that Filipinos have completely disregarded.”
Let’s talk about PTK: What makes it unique compared to the other FMA schools?
“PTK emphasizes a lot of footwork and movement; a lot of systems emphasize a specific range while PTK strives to be able to bridge 2 or 3 of these ranges.
“Second, PTK is edge weapon-based; while we also use other weapons the manner in which we strike them is more of a cutting action that would simulate an actual blade.
“Third, a lot of PTK drills are intended to target the person. It just so happens that your partner also happens to have a weapon too which causes the wrong impression that they’re just hitting with sticks. I’m actually targeting my opponent but I hit his weapon instead. In reality, I’m training to hit the person in certain areas of the body.
“Lastly, PTK is known for the use of knives because in other systems the blade is a secondary weapon, but in PTK the translation from long blade to short is seamless and is the same from knife to empty hand which simplifies things.”
What are the benefits of practicing FMA apart from the health-related ones?
“PTK gives the student an appreciation for weapons; a lot of statistics will show that a lot of lethal crimes in the city are performed by either stabbing or getting hit with a blunt object. Learning PTK gives you an appreciation of the kind of damage that a weapon can do to you and the kind of damage you can do with a weapon which doesn’t have to be specific and can be anything in your hand. If a PTK student enters a room, any object that student grabs automatically becomes a weapon. That is the self-defense benefit.
“Another benefit is the awareness of the kind of damage knives can do plus the knowledge of using an empty hand vs knife and knife vs knife scenarios. With the former, the odds are always stacked against you, but that doesn’t mean you do not try to defend yourself. The way we train against knives is that it is done at a realistic range. Compared to systems outside FMA, PTK addresses the knife attack in a very realistic manner.
“And as a Filipino, when you study PTK and you talk to a foreigner or you go abroad and meet a foreigner who studies FMA or even a fellow PTK student, there’s an immense amount of pride in being a Filipino who knows FMA. That feeling is with you because you are a Filipino. I have experienced it myself. Regardless of which system you study, the fact that you are a Filipino who knows FMA is something that can never be taken from you and it is something you take with you.
“It gives me a lot of pride to be able to teach this abroad because I see interest among foreigners and they appreciate Filipino culture, which is why I do not just see myself as a martial arts instructor but an ambassador of my own culture…like our food or dances, but in my case I am a Filipino showing FMA, which gives me immense pride.”
And lastly, a message for all the readers out there regarding FMA.
“I encourage all Filipinos to go out and find out what it truly is; the Internet is full of resources on FMA and if you google it you will find a school nearby and someone teaching it. Go and check it out.
“Do not be turned off by the fact that there are no fancy uniforms, or your instructor is not a foreigner. Go in and see it and open your eyes and take out all of your preconceived notions about what’s going to be taught to you.
“Look at it this way: Almost every authority or expert on martial arts considers FMA to be one of the most practical systems in the world. If you cannot see that, then you have to wonder why. Because if foreigners see it and you cannot, you have to answer that question for yourself and there’s no excuse anymore not to find a school nearby; you can always find someone to teach you.
“When you study it, it’s okay if you do not want to be an instructor; but just being a practitioner makes you add to a body of knowledge, keeping it alive and there’s a direct transfer of knowledge from the master to you. I’m not saying that it’s just me, it can be anyone else, but study under someone who’s willing to give you the time to learn and that time is valuable because when that day comes that your instructor is no longer around, you become the receptacle of that information. You may keep it to yourself or teach it, it doesn’t matter as long as it is kept alive and passed on to the next person.
“You can assist in a class, you can be partnered with somebody else, but just by having a new student makes you take part in that process of transferring the knowledge to another person. There are no books in FMA, there are books where you can read all about techniques but FMA is a direct transmission of information from one person to the next and that has to be done on a personal level which has been forgotten in other martial art systems.
“Other systems have loads and loads of books you can learn from, but in FMA you actually have to do it by finding someone to teach you and if that person gives his time and energy to you, then I think you have to take part in it and learn it to be part of the process.”
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