Books About Filipino Martial Arts You Should Have In Your Library
By Jay de Leon
Originally published in WorldBlackBelt, 2005
Remarkably, at this point in its history, the definitive book about Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) has yet to be written. What we have is a smattering of books that fall into two categories, books written by founders or inheritors of FMA systems about their system, or a compendium of existing systems and their grandmasters.
Historical meeting between
and Filipino warriors
While these books are great historical and technical references, they give us no insight as to the cultural nuances, social values and historical background behind the formation of the FMA systems and the character and pathos of their founders. The history of FMA cannot be told without the rich panoply of Philippine history and the struggles and suffering, as well as the redemption and triumphs, of the Filipino people. It cannot be told without the backdrop of the Spanish colonization, World War II, the Japanese invasion and the American occupation, as well as the birth of Andres Bonifacio’s “Katipunan,” nascent nationalism, and the painful steps leading to national independence.
Philippine hero Andres Bonifacio,
founder of the Katipunan,
leads revolutionaries against Spain.
Ideally, writing such a tome would require the combined talents of noted Filipino authors like Quijano de Manila or Nick Joaquin, historians like Dr. Reynaldo Ileto and Dr. Marcelino Foronda, and FMA writers like Halford Jones, Reynaldo S. Galang, Steven Dowd or Amante “Mat” Marinas. Let’s hope somebody takes up the challenge.
While we are waiting for this masterpiece, I suggest building up your FMA library. Here is a list of books I recommend, including their authors, a brief description of the contents of the book, and the historical or technical relevance of the book. They range from rare, out of print books originally printed in the Philippines, to recent releases available at your local bookstore or online.
“Mga Karunungan sa Larong Arnis,” by Placido Yambao
Copyright 1957, University of the Philippines
Mga Karunungan Sa Larong Arnis
Translated as “A Body of Knowledge in the Sport of Arnis,” it was written in archaic Tagalog, and was the first widely released documentation on FMA. It was also the first publication to mention the word kali.; My friend Felipe “Bot” Jocano pointed out to me that it was not even Placido Yambao, but his editor, Buenaventura Mirafuente, who wrote the short section on the history of arnis, who actually made the controversial assertion that kali was the original name of arnis at the time the Spaniards came. Unless you are a Tagalog scholar and historian, do not bother to get a copy; instead, go to the next book by Reynaldo S. Galang.
“Classic Arnis: The Legacy of Placido Yambao” by Reynaldo S. Galang
Copyright 1992, Published by Arjee Enterprises, New Jersey, USA
Reynaldo S. Galang is a senior instructor of Kali Ilustrisimo by Grandmaster Antonio “Tatang” Ilustrisimo, and is co-founder of Bakbakan International and its International Director based in New Jersey, USA. On a basic level, you can look at this book as a literal translation of Yambao’s book. For the benefit of Tagalog–speaking historians or practitioners, Rey retains the original name of the technique as a reference point. This book has over 500 pictures, many exclusive supplementary materials, and does deliver on its promises to unveil the secrets of Placido Yambao’s legacy.
“The Filipino Martial Arts” as taught by Dan Inosanto, compiled by Dan Inosanto, Gilbert L. Johnson and George Foon
Copyright 1980, Published by Know How Publishing Company, Los Angeles, CA, USA
In addition to being a superb all-around martial artist, Dan Inosanto is also acknowledged as one of the leading authorities, a professor emeritus so to speak, of FMA history. This book, published in 1980, is considered the first book to give Americans a glimpse of the FMA, containing a biography of Dan Inosanto, a history of the Philippines, a list of FMA styles, pictures and short biographical sketches of FMA masters and other martial arts celebrities Dan trained, and an exposition of the Inosanto system. This book also contained controversial comments that have been the fodder of much discussion and debate among FMA practitioners in the U.S. and the Philippines, in print and in chat rooms.
“Masters of Arnis, Kali & Eskrima” and “The Secrets of Arnis” by Edgar Sulite
The Secrets of Arnis
Copyright 1994, Socorro Publications, San Juan, Philippine
Edgar Sulite founded Lameco Eskrima and was a well-liked and talented eskrimador who unfortunately died too soon at the young age of thirty-nine. The first book was one of the ways he acknowledged the many masters of FMA who helped him become the superb eskrimador that he was. Some find his other book, “The Secrets of Arnis,” an even more interesting read than the “Masters” book. “The Secrets of Arnis” includes sections on improvised weapons (umbrella, key holder, tennis racquet), and on the use of the balisong. His instructor in the balisong was Master Nilo Limpin of Modern Arnis.
“Modern Arnis: Philippine Martial Art, Stick Fighting” by Remy Amador Presas, Founder of Modern Arnis
Copyright 1974, Published by Modern Arnis Publishing Co., Quiapo, Manila, Philippines
From the author’s collection.
This is a photograph of the
author’s actual book,
autographed inside by Prof. Remy Presas.
This is the original publication of Prof. Presas’s first book printed in the Philippines, considered the first English language arnis book, sometimes referred to as “the pink book” because of the background color of its cover. My copy, (serial #367) autographed by Remy during one of his seminars years after I bought it, is starting to get unglued.& Eventually, Remy produced a U.S. version (Copyright 1983, Ohara Publications, Santa Clarita, CA, USA), with the Los Angeles crew that I trained with in the late 70’s—Michael Replogle and Dan DiVito of Choi Martial Arts Institute. Yes, I have an autographed copy of this version as well.
U.S. version of the “Modern
Arnis” book by Prof. Remy Presas.
“Filipino Martial Culture” and “Filipino Fighting Arts” by Mark V. Wiley
Copyright 1997, Published by Charles E. Tuttle Company, Rutland, Vermont, USA.
Mark V. Wiley was a senior student of the late Angel Cabales, and has written several well-received books in FMA in addition to the aforementioned books, including “Arnis” and “Filipino Martial Arts : Cabales Serrada Escrima,” “Filipino Martial Culture” represents a serious scholarly attempt to examine FMA in the context of Philippine history and culture, including the Filipino warrior ideology, tribal lore, spiritual beliefs and unique weaponry. “Filipino Fighting Arts” picks up where “Filipino Martial Culture” left off and examines twenty five different fighting systems in the Philippines, examining their diversity as well as common bonds against the backdrop of Philippine history.
“Pananandata Arnis: Dalawang Yantok (Double Sticks Fighting)” by Amante P. Marinas
Copyright 1987, Published by Socorro Publications, San Juan, Philippines
From the author’s library. This book
is the Philippine edition, bought
during a trip to the Philippines.
Amante “Mat” P. Marinas, Sr. is the founder of the Pananandata system, one of the most well-respected senior FMA masters in the U.S., and one of the most prolific writers in FMA. The aforementioned book is part of a series of books printed in the Philippines, including “Yantok at Daga,”( Stick and Knife), “Knife Fighting,” and “Rope Fighting; Filipino Choking and Binding Techniques.”. Paladin Press publishes a similar series in the U.S. In addition to this series, Mat Marinas has more recent books on sport blowguns and knife throwing.
“Harimaw Buno” by Gat Puno Abon Baet
Gat Puno Abon “Garimot” Baet is the inheritor of his family system called Garimot Arnis from the province of Laguna, in Luzon, Philippines. In addition to the regular curriculum of FMA, he also teaches the rare art of Filipino wrestling called Harimaw Buno, as well as the healing arts, called Hilot. The book “Harimaw Buno” is the first book to document this art as learned and experienced by the author. Harimaw Buno employs standing throws, control locks, joint manipulation, striking and ground wrestling techniques. An interesting section includes some extremely strenuous training methods including mud training, canoe training, tamaraw (water buffalo) wrestling, log training and tree climbing. You have to read the book to learn what these unique drills are.
“Arnis: Filipino Art of Self Defense,” by Benjamin Luna Lema
Copyright 1989, Published by Integrated Publishing House, Metro Manila, Philippines
From the author’s library. This book is
the Philippine edition, bought during a trip
to the Philippines.
This is one of the FMA books I bought during one of my trips to the Philippines, and I do not know if there is a U.S. version. Grandmaster Benjamin Luna Lema was the founder of Lightning Scientific Arnis, as the name implies, a fast, hard-hitting, effective system.& This is one of my favorite systems. Unfortunately, both “Mang Ben” and his senior student, Master Elmer Ybanez, passed away recently a year from each other. It will be a while before we hear from any inheritor of this system, so this book has a historical and sentimental value to me.
“The Secrets of Kalis Ilustrisimo” by Antonio Diego & Christopher Ricketts
Published by Tuttle Martial Arts
Antonio “Tony” Diego and Christopher “Topher” Ricketts are senior master students of Antonio “Tatang” Ilustrisimo, founder of Kalis Ilustrisimo. This book covers the history, structure, practice fundamentals, movements and applications, and training techniques of the system, with hundreds of photographs.
From the author’s collection.
“Eskrido” by Ciriaco “Cacoy” Canete
Published by Doce Pares Publication
Ciriaco “Cacoy” Canete is one of the living legends of FMA, a second generation grandmaster from the historical Doce Pares Eskrima Club of Cebu, Philippines. Recently I published a review of this book. It is a great technical, how-to book for anybody that wants to learn this art and incorporate it in their system.
Advanced Balisong Manual” by Jeff Imada, and “Balisong – The Lethal Art of Filipino Knife Fighting” by Sid Campbell, Gary Cagaanan, & Sonny Umpad.
There are numerous books out there that are basically manuals for a specific FMA system or style, written by the founder or inheritor, such as Ernesto Presas, Steven Dowd, and others . By all means, these are great references if you are a student or admirer of their style.
So whether you are an aspiring writer, martial arts historian, a serious student of the Filipino martial arts or just a book lover, consider this your starter list of books to include in your library.