Arnis as national sport should gain international status, players say

August 12, 2012

Baguio City's campaign in the 2nd World Arnis Tournament in Bacolod City got a further boost with the University of the Cordilleras (UC) stick fighters contributing to the medal haul with three gold and three silver medals.

But the biggest beneficiary is arnis itself, the Filipino martial art of stick fighting, because of initiatives to bring the local sport to the international arena. UC Criminology student Manly Bayona who faced a Russian opponent in the semifinals of the 80 kg weight class said the tournament brought the best stick fighters from the United States, Hongkong, China, Russia and Canada.

UC graduate school alumnus Jayson Vicente, coach of the Philippine Military Academy arnis team said players take the cudgels in bringing arnis to international recognition by competing in various international invitationals. "Foreigners flock to these tournaments to show their support for the art and share the sentiment of every Filipino who dreams to be in the grandest stage of sports competitions," Vicente said on July 27.

While the recent Bacolod arnis tourney proved that the indigenous Filipino martial art could indeed attract foreign participants, the Filipinos' lean Southeast Asian frame might yet be the factor that keeps them from crossing over to a weight class that would enable them to face bulkier and heftier North American and European opponents.

Silver medalist Alvin Abalos, Hotel and Tourism Management student at UC, said his 60 kg frame is still the category where most arnis players compete. "Rookies mostly fall in this category and majority of them are Filipinos," he said.

Bayona who is, however, heftier than most Filipinos his age was able to weigh in at 80 kg, including Christopher Manuel de Leon (UC Political Science), who is comparably leaner than Bayona but towers at nearly six feet. Both were able to face foreign opponents whose skills, they said, were comparable to the Filipinos because they, too, have Filipino coaches.

De Leon brought home a gold medal in the sparring (labanan) category of his weight class.

The lone female UC delegate, Cindy Abegail Monte, brought home most of the medals from the tournament - one gold and two silvers. Monte won the gold competing in the creative form (anyo) category and silver in the dance aspect of the anyo. She also sparred in the 50 kg weight class and won the silver medal.

Monte who is currently a UC freshman taking up Bachelor of Science in Education on a university scholarship hails from the municipality of Jaro in the province of Iloilo. At 16 she has a blackbelt in arnis saying she earned this while she was in third year at the Iloilo National High School.

During her exploratory phase, she said arnis did not occupy a spot of interest since she was into singing. An older sister, however, prevailed upon her to try arnis. She trained under a local coach. When she won a gold medal in an event called "Dinagyang Bastonero," her interest in arnis was riveted.

Arnis also introduced her to a network of practitioners including top Baguio City arnisadores who invited her to participate in this year's Flower Festival tournament. At that time, Monte said she was in the process of researching universities because she was graduating from high school.

Between Manila and Baguio City, Monte said she chose the latter because of the city's hometown ambience. A budding writer, she wrote in an article "Chasing my Dreams" last June 29 that she "met the coaches of the Baguio Arnis All Stars and they have offered to help me enter in one of the universities in Baguio City as an athletic scholar."

At UC, Monte hopes to fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher in Music, Arts, Physical Education and Health (MAPEH). She said she looked up to a teacher back in Iloilo who also taught MAPEH, and wants to be like her one day.

"Also I want to continue to promote arnis as a national sport," Monte who taught arnis to Iloilo schoolchildren said. "Many are not yet aware that sipa is no longer our national sport - it's arnis," she emphasized.

Monte, sixth of seven siblings, lost her mother when she was in Grade four. She says that makes her quite fond of her father that the "idea of studying in Baguio City seems so hard to swallow for (him)."

Thus, her insistence to study far from her family is part of her training to become independent that started when she took up arnis. "The sport taught me not to be a crybaby," she said. "In high school I was active in school activities and have become confident enough to interact with people." Before coming to UC, Monte was chair of the Sangguniang Kabataan in their barangay.

Monte does not see her participation in a male-dominated sport as a problem. "There is no difference in the deployment of skills whether by a male or female. Besides as a female my knowledge of self-defense has a practical advantage," she said.

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