A People’s Martial Art
by Bo John McClung
ABSTRACT: Filipino martial arts (FMA) are a collection of indigenous martial arts that have existed in the Philippine archipelago since pre-European contact and through 377 years of Spanish colonization and subsequent colonizers up to the present. Over the centuries, these arts have distilled into various systems, each with their own styles, rituals, ceremonies and codes. I began this project not as an academic investigating a foreign subculture but as a first generation Filipino American who was curious and ignorant about my heritage. The fundamental question of this research is how do colonized peoples develop strategies of resistance to their colonial histories and how do Filipino practitioners see themselves both as Americans, and culturally maintain a practice that embodies an identity that is the outcome of the mixed blood of conquest? Data was collected though autoethnography, apprenticing in a system of FMA called Balintawak Cuentada Eskrima, direct participant observation and performance, shadowing the performance of practitioners, practitioner interviews, video recording, journaling and self-reflexive analysis. This work relies on numerous Indigenous, non-Indigenous and Filipino scholars to build a ground theory of non-discursive sites of tacit knowledge transference. My findings suggest that for people of Filipino descent, FMA goes beyond a pastime avocation and is a cardinal component of decolonial praxis and that for Filipino Americans, FMA transcends the self-defensive purposes of habituated combative movements. My work shows that the cultural practices of FMA communicate a desire for an ancestral habitus that embodies a physical critique of domination. The data conveys that in an attempt to reconnect with our ancestors, we find connections with one another that strengthen our community bonds.