This Article first appeared in John Russell’s old Visayan Martial Arts site in 1999 (www.visayanmartialarts.com) and was republished in Rapid Journal within the Philippines in 2004.
Understanding The Filipino Double Sticks or Double Weapons
OR Understanding Ammara and Sinawali
The vast majority of styles or schools of the Filipino Martial Arts of Arnis have in their training regime some type of instruction in the use of a double stick or a double weapon system. Whichever term or terms they use, the double sticks are an often used and emphasized aspect of Arnis training but unfortunately are often misunderstood. What the general public and other Martial Artists most often see are rows and rows of Arnis students click clicking sticks together and then state “I’m never going to use a stick to defend myself ” or “I’m not going to have a weapon at hand all the time so why should I take up Arnis.” The point must be made that Arnis is foremost an emptyhand art and that the sticks are to be considered simple training tools. Some older Filipino Arnisadors consider the rattan sticks as cheap punching bags and view the movements performed by the Escrimador as simple punching combinations.
Think of the Sinawali’s as teaching combination punching strikes. Firstly starting off with a simple two strike routine and then moving on to three and four strike combinations as the students proficiency increases. The Sinawalis use the front and back of the fists and later elbows can be incorporated in the combinations. Of course the movements can be translated and used as stick, sword, and knife slashing motions but these are just variations of a primary principle of Arnis/Escrima. Other emptyhand translations can be: chopping strikes, eagle and tiger claw strikes or even ridge hand strikes. All use the same delivery movements but have a different weapon delivered. However, the exercises are often mistakenly regarded as solely stick or sword work. Many practitioners never see or are told to imagine the exercises in an emptyhand aspect. The student of Arnis must be shown from an early point in their training, that the movements can be just simply translated, to whether they may have or may not have a weapon. If a person has a single weapon they still have two hands, if a person has two weapons they still use two hands or their two empty hands can be used by simply employing the same movements. This is what many Arnis exponents have been stating for years but still people from the general public and instructors from emptyhand styles are not recognizing the interchangeable movements.
Some instructors of Arnis are unfortunately helping with this misunderstanding. An aspect of where the Sinawalis are often misused, is when the elementary combinations of drills, routines or exercises are further combined in such a way, so that as many strikes as possible are crammed into the one routine. In one example, fourteen different strikes or more will be combined together. So instead of concentrating on the basic low number simple combinations such as the old 1,2 or 1,2,3 you’ve knocked him out, you will be continually concentrating on intricate routines and trying to remember if whether or not your next strike is the correct one. This could be considered an overkill. The tendency to combine as many strikes as possible turns simple punching techniques into complex memory exercises. This does not mean that we should be against memory exercises. Memory exercises are good for training the mind but what should be emphasised foremost in Arnis double stick drills is the simple self defence training, combined with the empty hand (barehanded) principles behind the movements that should be in itself enough of a memory exercise. After all, simple self defence should be the main issue. Moreover many practitioners tend to ‘abanico’ or fan their sticks excessively using their wrists when executing the exercises and do not pull their sticks back to their body when powering up for another strike.
A student of Arnis, training in Ammara and Sinawali, is practising basic punches and the hands/arms must be pulled back to power up for the next strike just like the simple basic horse stance punches of Karate, Kung Fu, Tae Kwon Do or Hap Ki Do which are pulled back to the hips and body during training. This is not to say that the abanicos are incorrect Arnis, it is just that they should be considered simple variations using the stick.
One must consider and understand that Arnis is a complete empty hand system and that when observing or executing the double stick Sinawali exercises, to remember that the sticks are to be treated just like punching bags.