Published: April 27, 2009
When the situation puts you into a fight, face the enemy and never run away. This philosophy momentarily describes the life well lived by a dignified warrior—Grandmaster Vicente Sanchez, founder of Kali Arnis International.
GM, as his apprentices politely address him, is not just an ordinary arnisador or arnis player. He is widely known for his craft not only in the Philippines, but also in the international sports scene. He has been teaching arnis to hundreds of Filipino and foreign (commonly American, Australian and Korean) students for 48 years now. And at the prime age of 75, retirement is still and will remain quite far from his mind.
Every story has its own beginning, and nothing is more encouraging than one’s chronicle of success. GM started on with his athletic profession when he was about 15 or 16 years old. He would always go home with a bruise, black eye or cut until his father, a fine player of dumog, a form of Filipino wrestling, made him learn self-defense from an arnis master. “My father wasn’t able to teach me dumog because he was assigned in Manila for work while I stayed behind in Mindanao. Pero talagang arnis ang gusto ng tatay sa akin noon pa,” shares GM.
The history and discipline of arnis
According to GM, arnis is an ancestral heritage born during the Spanish Colonization Period. Natives like Lapu-lapu were essentially used to itak, kris and bolo. When the Spaniards realized it, they banned the sharp weapons and replaced them with yantok. “Kaya sa pagtuturo ng arnis, ang palo pataga. May paraan para salagin ang blade nang hindi nasusugatan, dahil ang kamay natin may mga weak points. So, I always say that we practice arnis to learn the blade.”
Arnis is an extension of the arm. Without arnis, you can use your hands using the same principle—mano-mano. Its original name is arnis de mano, and it has several techniques from distant fighting to ground fighting. “‘Pag arnisador ka, marunong kang pumalo, marunong kang sumanggi ng pamalo at ng panaksak. Now, arnis is one of the most famous (forms of) martial art that even foreigners are very much interested to learn it,” he states.
Just like other sports, one must avoid vices (drinking, smoking, etc.), eat right, and practice regularly. “Practice every other day or at least three times a week for three to four hours a day. If you can do it every day, that’s better,” advises the grandmaster saying that practicing only once a week will slow down the learning process.
On mastering the finest techniques
GM initially learned the dominant style of Cinco Terros (five strikes: four cuts and one thrust) from his very first grandmaster-trainer, Antonio Javier. Then, he learned Kasilagan (crown strike) from Jhony Panuringan who was teaching such style of arnis in Pangasinan. His journey to the arnis world continued on as he became a stuntman and choreographer of fight scenes in local movies. “Ang grupo namin ng mga stuntman ay may kanya-kanyang specialty. ‘Yung iba magaling sa suntukan, sa karate, sa kung fu. Pero kapag arnis na ang kailangan sa pelikula, ako na ang tinatawag ng mga direktor,” he says proudly.
It was in the movie industry that GM met then popular action star Roland Dantes who later became his close friend and kumpadre. Dantes introduced him to founder and Grandmaster of Modern Arnis (a self-defense system composed of injury-free training methods and developed to preserve older Arnis systems), Remy Presas, the leading arnis instructor who propagated the martial art outside the country and to Grandmaster Ben Luna Lema of Lightning Scientific Arnis International who knew Tersia Serada, Cadenilla y Espada y Daga (bolo fighting and dagger fighting). The two grandmasters taught him their respective arnis styles.
“I learned four techniques. Iba-iba sila, pero pare-parehong maganda. I started at 16, and I became a teacher when I reached 20. Until now, I still teach.”
On becoming a grandmaster and further
GM relates that all arnisadors start as a black belter. He (Lakan) or she (Dayang) will have to take ten levels before turning into a red belter. When an arnisador has been teaching for fifteen years, he or she will be promoted to the position of a master. And in order to be a grandmaster, he or she must continue to propagate the way of arnis for another fifteen years. Upon reaching the 30th year, an arnisador will be automatically promoted to the highest possible rank, which is the grandmaster level.
“(Sad to say), the government has no program for us. I will only stop if I cannot move anymore. I may not have the same energy (just like before), but at 75, I can still move as much as anyone can. But I feel like I’m getting stronger every time. Retirement is very far from my vocabulary. We keep on going. Sometimes, we call ourselves the unsung heroes because we are propagating arnis not just in the Philippines but throughout the world,” concludes GM.