Seen in Hollywood action movies, Filipino martial arts arnis pursues official recognition in Canada

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      Tom Cruise and Keri Russell each wielded two fighting sticks for a scene in Mission: Impossible III.

      Matt Damon used open-hand strikes and various objects to subdue foes in his Bourne series.

      And in his classic Enter the Dragon movie, Bruce Lee employed a couple of batons against multiple opponents.

      Many movie viewers may not know that the fighting techniques in these and other Hollywood action movies is a form of Filipino martial arts called arnis.

      Also known as kali or eskrima, arnis is the national martial art and sport in the Philippines.

      Although there are many Filipino and non-Filipino practitioners of arnis in Canada, it does not enjoy official recognition as a sport in the country.

      This is something that Allan “Shishir” Inocalla hopes to change.

      The Vancouver-based arnis master is in the forefront of a campaign to get national and provincial recognition of arnis.

      “We’re applying for recognition here in Canada to be accepted, just like tae kwon do or karate or judo,” Inocalla told the Straight in a phone interview.

      Inocalla leads Arnis B.C. and Arnis Canada, groups that are in active discussions with government sports bodies.

      One of these is viaSport B.C., a legacy organization of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

      This nonprofit is tasked as the province’s lead agency in promoting and developing amateur sport in B.C.

      “We want to have our own place in Canada to practice our sport and culture,” Inocalla said.

      Arnis is deeply rooted in the history of Filipinos.

      Based on accounts, the martial art predated Spanish colonization in the 16th century.

      Arnis employs canes, bladed weapons, and hand strikes in what Holywood actor Matt Damon described as “bad ass” fighting.

      “It looked exactly like what we wanted, which was really destructive, really close but economic—it was everything we wanted in his style. It was just bad ass,” Damon said in a media report about the martial art that he used for his Jason Bourne character.

      Inocalla related that when Spanish colonizers imposed their rule on the islands that would later become the Philippines, the conquistadores banned arnis.

      However, the natives kept the art alive by hiding its moves through different folk dances.

      Inocalla cited the tinikling as one example.

      Representing the national dance in the Philippines, the tinikling mimics the movements of the tikling or the Barred Rail bird. It also uses some of the foot movements in arnis drills.

      Inocalla also mentioned the sakuting, a playful dance with participants holding a stick on each hand like what arnis practitioners do in what is known as sinawali.

      Sakuting is actually like sinawali drills, but done in non-combative way,” he explained.

      Arnis is one of the sports that athletes compete for medals in the Southeast Asian Games.

      Juan Miguel Zubiri, a former arnis champion and currently a senator, leads the Philippine Eskrima Kali Arnis Federation.

      A documentary titled Rebirth of the Rebellion Sport looks into past and future of arnis in the Philippines.

      In the film, Zubiri said that arnis was used by Filipinos in their revolution for national independence from Spain during the 19th century, and in the ensuing Philippine-American war.

      “It has so much historical significance for the Filipino people, that’s why we’re trying to put that in the consciousness and awareness of every Filipino, that arnis is not just a sport, but it’s practically in our history,” Zubiri said. “It’s in our blood.”

      Treenee Lopez is a local Filipino community leader. She chairs the group Global Pinoy Diaspora Canada.

      On Saturday (June 26), Lopez’s group is hosting a free public event at the Lafarge Lake Park in Coquitlam for a talk about and demonstration of arnis by Inocalla and his fellow arnisadores.

      The event, which forms part of this year’s celebration of Filipino Heritage Month in Canada, will also feature dances by cultural group Kathara. The performances will reveal how arnis was kept alive through dances.

      Arnis is part of our culture and we are proud to share this heritage,” Lopez told the Straight by phone.

      The June 26 arnis event starts at 3 p.m. at Coquitlam’s Lafarge Lake Park (1251-1263 Pinetree Way).