History of WEKAF

By SGM Diony Cañete

The date was August 11, 1989, and about 100 people were assembled in the convention hall at the Sacred Heart Center in Cebu City, Philippines.  About ¾ of this group were foreigners, coming from 10 different countries.  The main purpose of the gathering was to form an organization that would serve as the governing body in the promotion, practice and study of Filipino martial arts.  Lawyer Dionisio Cañete, who was chosen as the temporary chairman and presiding officer, steered the assembly to a smooth session that resulted in selection of the name of the organization: the World Eskrima Kali Arnis Federation, or WEKAF for short.  It was, however, the late Orlando C. Sanchez, sports editor of a leading Cebu newspaper, who first suggested this use of this name.

After a full day’s session, articles and by-laws were adopted by the assembly.  Among the salient features of which were that each member country be represented by at least one director in the board and that the officers who will supervise the day to day activities of the federation would be elected from among the members of the Board.  The body then agreed to elect 15 Directors with each member country assured of at least one each. During the elections, 35 candidates were nominated and the following names topped the field: Dionisio Cañete, Arnulfo Cuesta, Richard Bustillo, Fred Degerberg, Bobby Breen, Arif Shaikh, Sharon Burns, Nirio Pilla, Roland Krauer, Manuel Fragoso, Jorge Alcordo, Ted Javier, Andreas Becker, Anebro Pasay and Greg Henderson. Dionisio Cañete was subsequently elected as charter President with Richard Bustillo as Vice President.  Their term of office to last for two years, until the 2nd World Championships and Congress.

The history of WEKAF however retracts and dates as far back in 1975, when Dionisio Cañete, who was the first Arnis Instructor from the Philippines to conduct seminars in USA, met Dan Inosanto, Richard Bustillo and Fred Bandalan.  It was during this meeting that they reached an understanding to combine efforts in pushing and promoting the Filipino martial art. Thus, upon his return to the Philippines, Cañete took no time in convincing the top hierarchy of the famous Doce Pares Organization led by his father, Eulogio, as President, to consider the idea of taking an active role in the promotion of the art.

Incidentally, during this time, the Cebu Eskrima (Arnis) Club, which counted as members all the 14 arnis clubs in Cebu, had been formed with Dionisio Cañete as its President. With the general membership of both groups agreeing to the grandiose plan, Cañete proposed that formal tournaments should be organized, explaining that the best way to hasten the promotion of the art is to make it a popular spectator’s sporting event. Consequently, a committee was created to formulate the rules, which he also saw as a subtle way of ending the traditional full contact no-holds barred sparring (the so called “death matches”). Otherwise known as “juego todo”, the old type of sparring was conducted without any protective gear, normally lasting only few seconds and with either or both protagonists sustaining serious injuries.

After some months had elapsed with the committee unable to come up with any rules, Cañete volunteered to draft the rules, and a few weeks thereafter the tournament rules that are enforced in all WEKAF tournaments today had been adopted. To complement the rules, Cañete immediately designed and produced the protective equipment, including headgear, body protector and gloves, which are the very same equipment’s in use in all present competitions.

During the historic First National Arnis Championships held in Cebu City on March 24, 1979, the top leadership of the National Arnis Association (NARAPHIL), the Cebu Eskrima Association and all masters and grandmasters present were in agreement to launch a world wide promotion. This created the necessity for the formation of a world body which would be tasked with the job of promoting and supervising its affairs. But it took several years and great effort to export the idea of holding a full contact tournament to the USA and other countries, because all organizations and schools were unwilling to organize or sponsor such an event for fear of possible injuries to participants.

In the meantime, in August 1987, Dionisio Cañete invited top masters and instructors for a seminar workshop in Cebu City.  Seventeen people from USA, England, Australia, New Zealand, and Guam attended the 5-day affair, which was dubbed on the First World Instructors’ Arnis Seminar. It was in this gathering that the formation of a world federation was mulled as the group agreed to meet within two years to finalize and implement the plan. Electing Diony as chairman of a provisional organization called World Arnis Federation, he was given the responsibility of disseminating the idea and to contact as many interested parties as possible from the various countries and later on, to schedule the congress/ convention within the time frame set by the body

Fortunately, sometime in 1988, thanks to the combine efforts of Cañete, Fred Bandalan, and Arnulfo “Dong” Cuesta, the 1st USA National Eskrima Kali Arnis Championship was held in San Jose, California. That tourney, held on October 15, 1988, attracted more than one hundred competitors coming from various parts of the country. The event was made doubly significant as it was the first time in many years and perhaps the last, that the top three Grandmasters of the Filipino art in USA were in attendance together in one function. Grandmasters Ben Largusa, Leo Giron and Angel Caballes attended the tournament after strong urging by Cañete and Bandalan. The historic event firmed up the plan and finally paved the way for the holding of the first World Championships and Congress which subsequently gave birth to WEKAF, in August, 1989.

History of Eskrima

(Excerpted from Eskrima Kali Arnis by Dionisio Cañete)

 Arnis, the only known traditional Filipino martial art, has its roots deep in the culture and history of the Filipino people.  The exact date of its origin, however, remains unclear.  Traces of historical evidence reveal that this manly art of self defense – involving the use a single stick, two sticks, a long and a short stick, a dagger, or some other blunt instrument had no doubt existed long before the arrival of the first Spanish colonizers in the country.

The first known Filipino hero, Lapulapu, was believed to be one of the foremost masters of arnis, which was known during that time in the native dialect as pangamut.  In fact, Lapulapu had vigorously trained and prepared his men for  “showdown” fights against his enemies long before his historic battle with Ferdinand Magellan on April 27, 1521, on Mactan Island.  It was no surprise then, that when the first circumnavigator of the world tried to subdue the recalcitrant Lapulapu, who refused to come meet him in Cebu, Magellan and his men were met not with a hail of bullets but with wooden instruments, spears, and bolos.  It was ironic that when the smoke of that epic battle cleared, the Spanish conquistadors more “modern” weapons were no match for the crude wooden arms of Lapulapu and his warriors.  Magellan lost his life in that battle.

In the book De Los Delitos, printed in 1800 by Don Baltazar Gonzales in Madrid, Spain, the author tells that it may have been Datu Mangal, the father of Lapulapu, who brought the art of stickfighting to Mactan Island, and Sri Batugong and his son Sri Bantug Lumay who brought the art to the neighboring island of Sugbu (Cebu).  Bantug Lumay was the father of Sri Humabon or Rajah Humabon.  Humabon was the chieftain of Sugbu at the time when Megellan arrived in 1521.

The tribes of Lapulapu and Humabon were part of the Sri Visayan Empire in the 14th century.  After the empire was defeated by the Maja Pahit Empire of ancient Sumatra and Borneo, the tribes became part of a group who eventually settled in the islands of the Visayas in the central Philippines.  Another group of those Sri Vasayans, which included the tribes of Datu Puti and Datu Sumakwel, went out and settled on Panay Island.

Lapulapu, even before his momentous meeting with Magellan, had been training his men because of his bitter rivalry with Rajah Humabon, whom he accused of having grabbed a portion of his father’s land, particularly the sea area between Mactan Island and Cebu.  The feud between these two local chieftains contributed significantly to the early development of the  “old” arnis.  Lapulapu and Humabon’s showdown clash, however, was never realized. Rather, it was in the battle of Mactan where the native martial art was put to a real test against the modern weapons of the foreign invaders.

Thus, when Miguel Lopez de Legaspi landed in the Philippines and established the first settlement in 1565, he and his men noted that the Filipinos were in a class by themselves in the arts of stickfighting and swordfighting.  Yet it was not until the 19th century that arnis gained popularity among the Filipino citizens.  The rapid growth was attributed largely to the rules imposed by the Spaniards prohibiting the display and carrying of bladed weapons.  As a result, the people concentrated on mastering arnis using rattan or a piece of hardwood known as bahi, kamagong, or oway.  Also, by disguising their training as stage plays, dances, or dance movements such as the moro-moro, the Filipinos were able to continue their training in arnis with the use of bladed weapons known as kali.  A kali is a type of broad sword still popular among the Filipinos today, particularly the Muslims.

Due to the Spanish influence this Filipino martial art came be known as arnis de mano, which derives from the Spanish word arnes, meaning “trappings”, or“defensive armor”.  It also acquired namesakes such as estokada, estoque, fraile, armas de mano, or simply arnis.  Among the Tagalogs, it is known as pananandata; to the Pangasinan natives, kalirongan ; to the Ilocanos, didya or kabaraon; to the Ibanag, pagkalikali; to  he Pampagenos, sinawali; and to the Visayans, kaliradman or pagaradman, or later, esgrima or eskrima.

The word eskrima is derived from the Spanish word esgrima which means a “game between two combatants with the use of blunt instruments”.  The name of the stick use in eskrima, made either of rattan or hardwood, is called either olisi, garote, or baston.

History of Doce Pares

In 1932, Doce Pares was organized in Cebu by most of the top masters of the art at that time.  Led by the brothers Eulogio and Felimon Cañete, as well as Lorenzo Saavedra and his nephew Teodoro Saavedra and many others, the organization set a standard in the practice and study of the art of eskrima.  Grandmaster Eulogio Cañete, who was elected as the group’s first president and reelected 56 times until his death in 1988, successfully steered the organization through the years despite the wide variety of styles and philosophies of each of the founding masters;  each was allowed to propagate his individual preferences.

Today, Doce Pares continues to teach and perpetuate the same combination of individual styles, blending them beautifully into its curriculum.  In addition, the more progressive and contemporary innovations developed over the last five decades by the second generation leaders have been incorporated as well.  Hence, one will find Larga Mano (long range), Media Largo (medium range), Corto (close range, from various styles), double stick, Espada y Daga, Dumog and Sumbag-Fatid or Mano-Mano (empty hands), Baraway (knife fighting), and Estokada (long blade fighting) begin given equal importance in the study of the Doce Pares system.  Even the Doce Pares Corto Orihinal, which the original masters created as a common basic style during the early years of the organization’s existence, is still taught as part of the five year program of instruction.