On The Practice of Arnis and Art of Breathing Through Another Gruelling Minute

By Lia Moran : Learning to fight the big guys; sparring session in Toronto (Photo credit: JB Ramos)


I have held wooden sticks before.  A stick to aerate the soil, a stick to pierce pieces of meat, a stick to stabilize my footing on uneven terrain.  Now I am learning to hold sticks for a different purpose.


About 2 years ago I began to study the martial art of using sticks (and daggers and open hands) to parry blows and strike effectively on sensitive parts of the human body, to be very specific the head, hands, upper thighs, and any part below the knees.  The martial art of Arnis / Eskrima / Kali originated from the Philippines and it has contributed to both the history and diversity of the country. As the Philippines was colonized by the Spaniards and the Americans and, for a brief period was occupied by the Japanese during World War II, there arose a compelling need for self-defense.


I see the study and practice of Arnis as a way to stay connected to the colours, flavour and intensity of the culture of the land of my birth.


Add to the fact that trying to evade a windmill of sticks coming at you is heaps of fun.


Debrecen, Hungary was the host city of the 2014 World Eskrima Kali Arnis Federation (WEKAF) International Tournament.  There were 17 countries competing with over 200 fighters. 15 of those fighters represented Team Canada all of whom were determined to do their best and represent their schools and their country with pride and integrity.  I was one of the fighters.


From the time of the country qualifying tournament in March 2014 to the competition in Debrecen I had 18 weeks to transform myself into the best (slip in an “a” in the middle of that word and it could a different story all together) that I could be.  In preparing to be the fighter I wanted to be, I knew my road was going to be filled with numerous sparring rounds, heart stopping sprints up and down Broadview Hills, cascading sweat under the body armor until it soaks and softens to my shape, and being comfortable with a whirl of sticks hitting me relentlessly.

  • Text Hover
  • Text Hover

Practice sparring for the 2014 WEKAF International Tournament in Debrecen, Hungary. From left to right: Nadia Bruno, Lia Moran and Coach JB Ramos (Photo credit: Eileen Dalusong)   Each fight has 3 rounds of 1 minute each with 30 seconds rest in between.  In each of those rounds, I tried to remember the important parts of my training, – the combinations I practiced, my coach’s notes to breathe and move out of my opponent’s range; and the reminder to run my own play and not just react to my opponent’s hits.  And for that one full minute, 30 seconds will seem very long, even 3 seconds will feel like a stretch of time.  In that one minute, one will try to perform as many effective strikes as one can and hopefully dance away from the opponent’s striking range. Sometimes one is  able to move away, sometimes it just seems like your feet are stuck in a bin of freshly poured cement.


Here’s my experience of a countdown to a fight:


First, the gear:  One needs to be fully protected as possible – knee pads, arm guards, neck guard, gloves,  body armour and helmet .  You don’t want to willingly come out from a sparring session all purply and swollen looking like the youngest member of the eggplant family.  


Second, the fight rounds: As your name and weight category is announced, your hearts starts to thud, first slowly and rhythmically. Then as you step into the ring it starts to accelerate to a fury of syncopated beats.  


Third, the call to start: One bows to the referee, to the tournament officials and time keeper, and finally to your opponent and cross each other’s sticks.   And when the referee blows the whistle to start or shouts “Handa, Laban!” (Filipino for “ready, fight”), all your blood cells go “this is it!”


During one of my fights in Debrecen, it sometimes felt like the minute never ends and I had nothing left to give. But the round finally comes to an end and I was allowed 30 seconds to rest, reflect and recuperate. In that 30 second rest, when I had my head down, my coach punched her fingers into my face grill and asked the big question “can you do one more for me?” for half a beat I thought “Coach, you must be crazy!” but it was just what I needed to hear and with her one question I knew she meant “can you push yourself to do one more strike? To do one more move that’s faster than before? Can you move out of your limiting self and allow your potential to soar? My most important learning from this competition was that to be recognized as one of the best, I needed to think outside of myself and do my best for others.