by Marcie Wombold
When I walked into the doors of the training gym almost a decade ago, I didn’t know anything about martial arts. I knew I wanted to be stronger, maybe lose some weight, and be more active. I also knew that I struggled to be motivated to work out on my own. I didn’t yet understand the power of a community in helping all of us live healthy and dynamic lives. Nor could I have predicted how much training in martial arts would give me not only strength and weight loss and physical fitness, but a whole new relationship with my body and my mind.
If you’re reading this you may have some interest or history in martial arts training yourself. Wherever you are on this journey, I’m glad you’re here.
Escrima/Eskrima is the national martial art of the Philippines and is also known as Kali and/or Arnis. This artform highlights the use of weapons such as sticks and knives (not just for striking, but for grappling as well), and like others developed in cultural crossroads, it has a complex history. The variety of names Escrima is known by mirrors the multifaceted influences including Filipino, Malay, Chinese, Indian, and Arab roots.
How I got started
My introduction to Escrima came within my JKD training. JKD is short for Jeet Kune Do, a hybrid martial art created by Bruce Lee. Mr. Lee was himself a cultural crossroads, bridging influences from East and West as an athlete, martial artist, and actor. He combined the most practical aspects of different disciplines together, including those that were a part of the Escrima tradition.
Studying and practicing Escrima is very much like studying or practicing any other art or sport. We all must start with the basics, learning form and function, before we can ever hope to get to a place of power and interpretation.
That might sound fancy and philosophical, but I bet you know exactly what I mean.
Have you ever been learning something (maybe even a part of a game) and you weren’t really very good at it at all? We all know that if we stop there, we’ll never get better at it. We have to keep playing the game in order to get better. Same with anything else. We have to keep practicing, keep putting in the reps, keep doing the work, in order to get to the next level of proficiency.
The joyful part often comes after we have moved through a period of “just getting the reps in” to where the reps are easy, maybe even boring. At that point we start to “play” with them, adjusting angle, attack, intensity, balance, and so forth. And from play comes “joy!” It feels great to get to the point where we can see and feel a difference in ourselves and what we can accomplish as a result of our hard work. Can you see how this concept shows up all over our lives?
What I gained
Other than the joy inherent in mastering any art, what specifically does one gain from a study of Escrima?
Let me tell you:
Escrima practitioners most often use a weapon in each hand. It requires coordination and spatial awareness to target quickly and effectively while keeping yourself safe at the same time. You’ll also develop your balance and muscle tone to control the range of your weapons while entering the contact zone and getting back out quickly.
With so many moving parts, your body and mind are spending a lot of energy. The more you practice the more you’ll develop your ability to focus your attention, and the fortitude and resilience to stay in the fray a little longer each time.
Because training requires a healthy balance of cooperation and competitiveness, you’ll also learn how to center yourself, feel the energy of another, deal with “mistakes” with grace, and pick up the work where you left off.
In short, practicing Escrima means also practicing coordination, spatial awareness, balance, focus, fortitude, partnership, and peace of mind.
When I started training Escrima, I couldn’t have predicted how much I would love it or how much more in tune with my body I would become. But Escrima is dynamic and challenging, cooperative and playful. I was moving in ways that felt at times like a dance, and looking for friends to practice with which built my community. This meant that at some point I stopped practicing it in order to meet my goals (be stronger, lose weight, be active) and was practicing because it was fun!
If you have an opportunity to try Escrima, I highly recommend it! There are many practitioners in the area, including myself, who would love to support you.