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Siniwali - sticks from heaven

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Learning Curves Part - 13
STICKS FROM HEAVEN

By Lakhvinder S. Madahar


Introduction

In the early part of the 1970’s a generation of martial arts enthusiasts got their introduction to the Filipino martial arts across the entire world as if the rays of the sun spread its energy over the morning dawn.

In the West the fighting arts from the exotic islands of the Philippines’s are commonly known as Kali, Eskrima and Arnis de-mano.

As mentioned in an earlier article; the term Kali (Ka – li) is an abbreviation term from the words Kamot Lihok meaning body motion or hand motion. Eskrima is a Spanish term meaning to fence (sword fighting) and Arnis de-mano is also a Spanish term meaning harness/protection of the hand. 

The Filipino fighting arts are known by many other names in its native country, due to the different tribal dialects and thousands of islands that make up the country. It is impossible to know of all the other names, as the actual number probably is as vast as the dialects and its islands. I found a sort list in one of my favourite books ‘Asian Fighting Arts’ by Don Dragger.  It is as follows Ibanag tribe – Pagkalikali style, Tagalog tribe – Panandata style, Visayan tribe – Kiliradman, Ilongo tribe – Pagaradman, Ilocano tribe – Kabaron, Pangasinense tribe – Kalirongan style, Pampangueno or Pampanga tribe – Sinawali style, etc.     

We’re all aware of the martial arts cult movie; “Enter the Dragon” it introduced Chinese Gung Fu to the Western World. It had also introduced the Filipino martial arts of Kali and even the MMA (mixed martial arts) to a point as the movies own introductory fight scene had a kickboxing / grappling format. In the movie Bruce Lee dealt with Han’s moderate army, while doing so he gave a superb demonstration of unarmed martial arts techniques from various arts and equally impressive weapons display of the staff, double sticks and nunchakus. The weapons were his back-up, whenever the odds got a bit too much for him.  His achievement both on and off the screen has never been surpassed in over four decades, than again I don’t think anyone needs me to tell them. His achievements speak for themselves!  

Naturally, at the time the general public were ignorant on the subject of martial arts. At the time they were simply divided into hard styles and soft styles and anyone seen lifting their foot above the knee level was considered an expert in the deadly art of Kung Fu.

The weapons displayed in the movie were mistaken as part of Chinese Kung Fu at the time, which is understandable since it was a Kung Fu movie. I don’t think the audience cared as the martial arts in the movie were over shadowed by the highly energetic performance of the star himself. His athleticism and muscular physique helped popularise Gung Fu (Kung Fu) and also created health and fitness awareness generally that made the Body – Builders of the day to take notice.   

Many sources have credited Bruce Lee as the ‘Father of MMA’ (Mixed Martial Arts) and Kickboxing. Whatever titles the media place on him; he is still the face of the martial arts all over the world and one of the most recognizable faces on the plant.

Going back to the Filipino martial arts, is he also the father of the Filipino martial arts?  I can’t speak for everyone but from a personal perspective, it was the weapons display in ‘Enter The Dragon’ that inspired me to research the fighting arts from the Philippines. Prior to this I had never heard of the country, then again; I’m speaking as a failed geography student.

The double sticks (Sinawali) method and the nunchakus (Tabak Toyak), was my introduction to the Filipino Martial arts.

Further research showed some fascinating facts. Just as in the movie, the sticks in the hands of an expert can reach speed in excess of one hundred miles per hour. The coordination of a Kali expert gives them the skill to execute six strikes per second with bone shattering power. The attributes developed through the practice of these fighting arts are renowned and give rise to quotes as “Every Three Sounds, One Man is Down”. 

Sinawali literally translates to: woven. A fighting system known for its sophisticated double – weapon system but not limited by it as there is single sticks, knives and long staff, practiced by the tribes from Pampanga.

The highly advanced method of double-weapon fighting unique to this area has been variously attributed to Malay, Chinese, Japanese, and Muslim influences. Historically, any or all of the sources mentioned could be traced, studied, and verified. One thing, however, remains unique, and it is that a double-weapon system of training and fighting has never been developed elsewhere to the degree of sophistication and structure as found in the art of Sinawali.

In the earlier years (1974 – 1981), we watched every Kung Fu movie that played in the cinemas around Coventry. Our enthusiasm and energy levels were charged to the max and we would start doing the Kung Fu kicks as soon as we got out of the cinema. I was training in Shotokan Karate and Shaolin Mak Gar Kung Fu at the time and throughout the week we would put some serious sweat into our training. Outside of our class training time we would learn and practice things from the movies we had watched over the weekend, books, magazines and cine movies. We tried to figure out the trapping from Wing Chun/Jeet Kune Do books and stick drills from the Kali books and so forth. The books are great for learning about the historical tradition of the arts and I feel is an essential part of understanding your craft. 

The first double stick drill we learnt was the Vilibralie ten count from Guro Dan Inosanto’s book the ‘Filipino Martial Arts’, followed by the heaven six, earth Six and Redondo from Remy Peares book ‘Modern Arnis’.  We had a lot of fun practicing these drills over the years, although it’s just a couple of weeks work training with a qualified instructor. We practiced the same drills until we got something new to work on. There were always these little gems in the martial arts magazines and books that made us feel we were progressing.   

About 30 years ago Guro Dan Inosanto held his first weekend seminar in London hosted by Bob Breen. It was just what every eclectic martial artist needed, a direction and to fill in any deficiency in their martial knowledge.

According to my memory, guro Dan allocated about 20 - 30 minutes to the double stick (Siniwali) method.  This was almost a magical moment as we were learning about the actual stick method Bruce Lee used in ‘Enter the Dragon’ - a scene that still holds its audience in a trance!

The most common Sinawali drill has to be the ‘Heaven (high) Six’, the Inward, Backhand, Backhand sequence. At times the same drill is also known as the ‘Heaven three’, referring to three strikes on the right and three on the left. The sticks point towards the heavens when performing this drill, hence the name ‘Heaven Six’ is given and the ‘Earth (low) Six’ or ‘Earth three’ to its sister drill again hence the sticks pointing towards the earth. 

As a conclusion there is the Heaven Six Count and the Earth Six Count

The two basic drills (heaven and earth) create a complete set of eight matching variables and these are as follow.


  • High, High, High – High, High, High
  • High, High, Low – High, High, Low
  • High, Low, High – High, Low, High
  • High, Low, Low – High. Low, Low
  • Low, Low, Low – Low. Low, Low
  • Low, High, High – Low, High, High
  • Low, Low, High – Low, Low, High
  • Low, High, Low – Low, High, Low


Now, that we have eight matching pairs. These variables are then arranged to pair up with each other, for example HHH – HLH or LHL – HLL or LHL to HLH, etc. This is to be continued until a complete set of 64 variables is created as 8X8 is 64.

After Guro Dan’s seminar, back in 1983, training in these drills kept me occupied for the next couple of years. The remarkable thing about the seminar was that it was only about half hour of the seminar. In the same 30 minutes; about a dozen footwork patterns were also shown. From this snapshot of the seminar you can only imagine what a mind blowing event this was.

Also in the mid 1980’s, Chris Kent was in Birmingham on a book signing tour for his first book and I had made my way to purchase a copy. Then for his photo shot for Combat magazine he did the umbrella six count drill, that alone was worth the trip for me. Adding the umbrella to the variables gave me another 64 drills. Then as I trained the 64 variables of the umbrella six counts, I also figured out the 64 drills of the reverse umbrella set. This continued until I had all 512 drills.

Once the 64 variables are worked out and trained, then the next 512 heaven/earth drills are created by the following as 64 x 8 is 512


  • Inward, Backhand, Backhand – Inward, Backhand, Backhand
  • Backhand, Inward, Backhand – Backhand, Inward, Backhand
  • Backhand, Inward, Inward – Backhand, Inward, Inward
  • Inward, Inward, Inward – Inward, Inward, Inward
  • Inward, Backhand, Inward – Inward, Backhand, Inward
  • Backhand, Backhand, Inward – Backhand, Backhand, Inward
  • Inward, Inward, Backhand – Inward, Inward, Backhand
  • Backhand, Backhand, Backhand – Backhand, Backhand, Backhand


At first there seems to be too many drills and it’s too complex and too much knowledge, how is anyone going to remember all this. Let alone applying it in actual combat, basically all the usual arguments.

It’s only an hour workout if each variable is practiced for a one minute round, a couple of times per week!

Heaven/Earth six is a basic six count prearranged drill and some may even call it an exercise. It is practiced with or without a partner; it’s also practiced on various pieces of equipment i.e. punch bag, tyres, tree branch, etc.

 Although the six count is probably the most popular of all the sinawali (double stick) drills but there is also the two counts, three counts, four counts, five counts, six counts, seven counts, eight count & so on. As mentioned earlier the very first double stick drill I learnt was a ten count, for no other reason than that was the only one available at the time.

Heaven/earth six Sinawali drills are from second category of Kali. The first being the single stick and the third being the long/short. The categories continue into the single dagger, double daggers, flexible weapons and so forth.  There are twelve categories all in all; including a full range of empty – hand skills from the Filipino Boxing, grappling and kicking arts, they will be the subjects of articles for the months to come. 

Sinawali develops coordination like no other training method.

- Body motion – Kamot Lihok – Kali – The Filipino Martial Arts -

Until next month – God Bless!

About the Columnist: Lakhvinder S. Madahar has 42 years’ experience in the Martial Arts and is the founder/owner of Coventry’s Total Martial Arts Academy. He is an inductee into the Martial Arts Illustrated Hall of Fame 2012 (Top Instructors and School owners) and also into the Combat & Fighters Hall of Fame 2011 (Commitment & Devotion to The Development of Martial Arts in the United Kingdom and around the World).

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