Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Professor and Me

So this isn't actually the story of me and Professor Remy Presas, founder of Modern Arnis. I never had the chance to meet him; he died before I discovered the style in college. This is more the story of arnis and how it changed my training methodology, my survival preps, and my life in general.

Before Arnis I had dabbled in a few other styles, including that god awful Shaolin-Do nonsense (a sort of nonauthentic, japanese uniformed hybrid kung fu), judo at the boy's club, olympic style and freestyle wrestling, and even a little professional wrestling. I was into martial arts, as many nerds who are picked on quickly become, and I was a (and still am) a user, not a collector. I don't take nonsense ideas into the classroom with me, and I sure as hell never took them home. So I had a robust background in martial arts, minus the bird sweeps, and a bit of practical experience in street fighting to boot, by the time I left for college.

IU has a great martial arts department, and I had the chance to dabble in a lot of other styles there, but the one that really captivated me was Arnis, taught by Jason Gearheart in a once a week friday class. The first day there I told him I was going to cut the class because I didn't want it conflicting with another stick arts class I was taking. I ended up taking the class every semester for three fucking years-and rarely missing a day. Why? There are several reasons.

First, the techniques were right up my alley-they were simple, but with endless variations. A few basic principles for attack and defense, all of which can be applied universally and yet are infinitely tailorable to the exact situation at hand. It is amazing how you can apply every weapon and every technique to the same pattern of effective footwork. And of course, because the legacy of Arnis is ugly jungle guerrilla warfare, there were plenty of nasty tricks, cheap shots, deceptions and treacheries lurking there for the guy who cares to look. But it didn't require an insane level of athletic ability to pull off these techniques-or a high level of dexterity or speed. Because they are so quick, simple and dirty, you can pull them off in a wheelchair or even when you are 90 years old with your cane.

Second, and this is really more important, was the people. Arnisadors as a group are universally laid back; they don't do the stone faced, hands in front of you, pretend like you aren't having a single morsel of fun thing that some martial arts schools do. Everybody tells the story of Professor Presas walking up and down a row of students practicing with their canes, and he would stop the class and say "Look here, you are smiling..." and then let them dread the inevitable discipline before grinning that easy Filipino grin that they cultivate out there, and say "It's a good thing." And it is, because frankly, training you enjoy and go to every week is a lot more effective than training you hate and let go to rust. It is especially important for me because I can't hold back my constant stream of jackass commentary (that's why I have this blog) but in Arnis you don't have to; everybody cracks jokes and has a good time while they are training.

I have mentioned several times before that flow is a very important part of my life. Flow is an important concept in Arnis, both philosophical and practical, of moving around any blocking obstacle with constant aggressive motion. If an obstacle halts your path, you redirect your energy around it and continue toward your objective. The cadence of the canes, then, produced a steady backbeat that kept my life on track for those three years of failed college. It begins to affect your thinking in other ways-too much Arnis and you start thinking in triangles. It is a ruthless jungle trigonometry that rewards innovation and cleverness as much as following accepted technique-with a solid grasp of the fundamentals you can innovate endlessly, even from a rather intermediate level. You can apply these lessons to your life, if you choose. I have, and it has kept me going so far.

I am personally of the opinion that any martial art is better than no martial art-just as any plan is better than no plan. No plan, for the average mortal, usually equals Freeze in Place and Piss Quietly. But let me tell you, I've studied martial arts from every continent in my useless, college wastrel days, and I never found one that applies, both in fighting and in life, across the board so universally as Arnis.

And I'll cane any motherfucker that says otherwise.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, yes, Arnis. Sometimes the ONE class I'd have on Friday- and one I usually refused to skip.