By Robert Markovich, 8th Dan Isshinryu, 2nd Degree Black Belt in Modern Arnis
I am undertaking the writing of this article because I feel that the art of Modern Arnis is beginning to decline in Canada since the death of its originator, Grandmaster Remy Presas. I was very fortunate to have known him. I had the honour and the privilege of training with him for a number of years. I think of him now in the same way as we think of our own late Grandmaster Shimabuku Tatsuo. I believe that they were both visionaries whose main concern was the perfecting and the spreading of their art. They attempted to make it as acceptable and practical to a large number of people in the Orient as well as in the West. As a result, both were criticized to some extent because they were diverging from traditional methods. I think they were misunderstood, by their critics who failed to understand that by diverging to some extent both made it possible to expand their systems.
I was introduced to the art of Modern Arnis sometime in the mid 1980’s by Don Shapland who was one of my original instructors back in 1967 or 1968. I invited Don to come to Windsor to do a seminar for my club and during that time he introduced us to some ‘sinawali’ techniques. We were all fascinated with this and began to practice. A short time later I learned that a woman by the name of Jaye Spiro was teaching this system in Detroit, Michigan and I made a point of meeting her and training with her. Jaye encouraged me to attend several three-day summer camps in Lansing, Michigan where Grandmaster Presas, known as the ‘Professor’, came to teach and test students.
Jaye and I became friends and began to invite the Professor to the Windsor/Detroit area on a fairly regular basis. The Professor would spend two or three days at Jaye’s club and the same at my club and we would share the expenses. As a result of these seminars as well as some private sessions I was able to earn a probationary black belt by 1991 and have been teaching Modern Arnis ever since. I now hold the rank of 2nd Degree Black Belt in Modern Arnis and have been able to develop and promote two black belts under me. The professor called Modern Arnis “the art within your art”. People who trained under him came from many other styles and we have all benefited. He suggested to all of us to take whatever we felt was valuable to us and add it to our own training. His system was particularly useful to everyone because of the many grappling techniques as well as the use of the short stick (‘tambo’ on Okinawa). The system is particularly useful to people in security and police work as it is very adaptable to the baton or the night stick.
Modern Arnis goes beyond some of the stick systems employed by traditional Filipino practitioners. Traditional styles blocked and countered to the hand causing injuries. This problem discouraged students from training and the art went into a decline. The professor introduced stick-on-stick techniques which eliminated injuries. He went beyond that and decided to develop a system that was more well-rounded and proficient in stick use as well as in kicking, punching, and grappling. He was also a practitioner of Shoto Kan and therefore, interested in having his students able to kick and punch. He traveled with Grandmaster Wally Jay and as a result became very proficient in Jiu Jitsu, especially in small circles which he added to Modern Arnis.
In order to become proficient in Modern Arnis and to acquire black belt ranking one must develop a sense of ‘flow’. That is, one must be able to relax and execute movements which are smooth and fluid in whatever one does. It would be difficult to describe Modern Arnis in this article completely, but I can outline the main parts.
Below is a list of some of the major items which are a part of Modern Arnis.
1. The system involves the use of one stick as well as two.
2. The basis of Modern Arnis are the 12 strikes with blocks, counters and disarms. In addition to these there are counters to the disarms and counters to the counters.
3. There are other stick-on-stick drills called ‘tapi tapi’ where there are numerous disarms and submission techniques. This specifically relates to the stick-on-stick exercises which originate with the single sinawali and flow into semi-sparing routines.
4. Sinawalis – are another stick drill which is done with single and double sticks. These are continuous strikes and counters designed to attack the head and the legs. These must be seen to be appreciated.
5. Empty hand drills or ‘trapping hands’ is another feature of the system which teaches students to strike, block and grapple with an opponent. Grappling employs small circles and usually employs wrist and fingerlocks, although arm bars, hammer locks and leg locks as well as throws must also be learned. In addition, emphasis is placed on empty hand techniques against an opponent who is using sticks, knives, swords and daggers.
6. Finally, there are forms to be learned as well. The system teaches four single-stick forms (katas) and eight hand forms where kicks and punches are important along with submissions and throws. I have taken the liberty of developing a two-stick form which has been well received.
These six items are the main points although not the only items one can pick up during training. As in Karate, it takes three to four years to reach the level needed for a black belt promotion. The testing for a black belt is intensive and requires about two and a half hours to complete.
My goal is to inform people about the beauty and the usefulness of Modern Arnis and I am prepared to visit any of our Isshinryu clubs and introduce them to many of the techniques that I find useful in my Karate training. Professor Presas opened my eyes to many of the things that I was ignorant about, even as recently as 1985. One of the most important aspects that I found useful to me was the ability to relax and move smoothly. Prior to that I was a bit stiff. The Professor encouraged me to learn from other styles and I have continued to attend seminars in Jiu Jitsu, Kobudo, Aikido, etc. and have always been able to come away with some little gem of knowledge that I didn’t have before.
Should anyone be interested in finding out more about Modern Arnis I can be reached through Mike Fenton and the newsletter.
There is so much more that I could say about Modern Arnis and Professor Presas that it would require a book to do so. Professor Presas had written books prior to his untimely death. These books are still available. Suffice to say that he was head and shoulders above most of us and a real gentleman. He is missed by all of us who knew him.