The practice of the art of eskrima is intended to develop a set of reflexes and skills to enable the student to fight with his or her chosen weapon. Not only must proper skill be developed, but also, it must be trained until it is instinctive. There is no time for conscious thought in the art of eskrima. Recognition of an opponent’s oncoming blow or the chance to land a blow of one’s own must occur instantly without contemplation.
Think for example of a car trip. The vehicle is made ready, packed, and a route selected. These plans are needed before the trip can begin. Such preparations are similar to the long period of training. Suppose during our automobile trip a dog darts out in front of our car. We instantly apply the brakes or swerve to miss the animal. A second later, we realize that the dog was in danger of being struck – after we have already reacted.
This instant action without conscious thought is made possible by the formation of a simple reflex arc. When one touches a hot stove, one pulls his or her hand away instantly, later realizing that the stove was hot. The body reacts to the heat stimulus at the level of the spinal cord, because that is faster than the thought going all the way to the cerebral cortex before the necessary execution of swift action. The action occurs at the sub-cortical level because extreme speed is required for survival.
Eskrima is an art of nuanced subtleties shrouded in layers of meaning, as compelling and rewarding as any other great learning experience. True understanding of the art of eskrima requires years of committed study, practice and research. Courage and a keen desire to improve must be present in the prospective student. Proper instruction must be obtained or failure is certain. Trust must be maintained between instructor and student at all times. This art is both difficult and rewarding to teach.
As techniques are mastered and reflexes developed, the practitioner’s ability to apply their training in drills begins to surface. These controlled application drills form a safe way for the student to test skills. These drills are gratifying to the practitioner as one begins to experience the give and take of “flow” – an uninterrupted exchange of offensive and defensive techniques. This flowing exchange of techniques is common to other arts, but is given greater emphasis in eskrima than in some other arts.
Mastery only comes from years of correct practice of the fundamentals. Once learned, these are applied in drills until one has the ability to respond without conscious thought. The confidence to trust in one’s mastery of the fundamentals must be developed before one can act without thought. This mind set cannot simply be achieved without the requisite work and study.
Part of the enjoyment of the Filipino martial arts comes from the speed at which they can be practiced with reasonable safety. In due time, a practitioner will be able to block and counter with lightning speed. Of course, this speed must be properly applied to be effective. Much of a spectator’s enjoyment of an eskrima demonstration comes from this impressive display of speed, control and accuracy as exhibited by seasoned exponents of the arts of arnis, eskrima and kali.
Eskrima is a living art. It is based on the life saving techniques passed on to us by the old masters. These battle-tested techniques and tactics must not be discarded, and form the basis for our own research and development. The art continues to grow through our own contributions and insights as the art proceeds to evolve. Those entrusted with the art of eskrima must vow to simultaneously preserve the old and incorporate their own innovations to keep the art vibrant.