A People’s Martial Art: Filipino Martial Arts and Decolonial Praxis
Beginning in April of 2013 I began apprenticing and collecting ethnographic data about a topic of deep personal significance, the indigenous martial arts of the Philippines as practiced by Filipino Americans in Seattle. Filipino martial arts (FMA) are a collection of Indigenous martial arts that have existed in the Philippine archipelago since pre-European contact up to the present. Over the centuries, these arts have distilled into various systems, each with their own styles, rituals, ceremonies and codes, including my specific system, Balintawak Cuentada Eskrima. Because of the Spanish colonial outlawing of blades and swords, our ancestors transitioned to training with fire hardened rattan sticks in secrecy to preserve the art. My pivotal argument is that for people of Filipino descent, FMA goes beyond a pastime avocation, but is a cardinal component to decolonial praxis. I am utilizing literature and theory alongside interviews with practitioners to drive a discourse around the question, 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? My findings reveal a notion that FMA translates into a desire for an ancestral habitus that embodies a physical critique to domination. This desire to inhabit a cultural meaning that stems from a situation of colonial resistance I argue, inhabits a cultural meaning that offers a decolonial praxis. My ethnographic methods have been direct participant observation and performance, shadowing, interviewing, literature review, video recording, journaling and self-reflexive analysis. The base of my theoretical framework echoes Pierre Bourdieu’s habitus theory and Frantz Fanon’s philosophy on the use of violence. I am also utilizing numerous Indigenous, non- Indigenous and Filipino anthropologists, scholars and psychologists synthesized together to build a ground theory of ancestral habitus, blood memory and non-discursive sites of tacit knowledge transference. The findings uncovered thus far in the work reveal that in an attempt to reconnect with our ancestors, we found connections with one another that strengthen our community bonds.