Teacher keeps ancient Filipino marial art alive

Jing Gonzalez teaches a martial art used by warriors to defend the Philippines.

He stands in the middle of a training ring as his two students cross their bastons (sticks) ready to fight. Each warrior eyes his opponent through the grills of a helmet. On Gonzalez’s command, “Handa, laban,” the fight begins.

“‘Handa’ means ‘ready.’ Laban means ‘fight,’” he said. “I want all my students to excel in the art, in the sport.”

Jing Gonzalez teaches the art of Arnis. His gym, Rhonrose Martial Arts Arnis Manila, is located at Victoria Park and St. Clair.

Arnis is a Filipino warrior art. It focuses on using sticks and bladed weapons for self-defence. It has been practised for centuries in the Philippines. It was used to defend the Philippines against foreign warriors trying to invade the country.

Gonzalez learned Arnis in Manila. At the age of eight, he knew he wanted to do a martial art. When he attended an Arnis class with his older brother he was hooked.

“That’s how it all began. That’s how the fun began,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez teaches about 20 students every Friday. One of those students is C.J. Morta, who trained with Gonzalez for two years.

“These past two years have been fun and full of experiences,” Morta said. “I think it’s cool to do something not many people do.”

When C.J. Morta’s mother, Julita Morta, enrolled her children in Arnis, she hoped it would give them self-confidence and the skills of self-defence. Even more important, she wanted them to further their knowledge in their native art of Arnis.

“I use to watch Arnis on TV,” Julita Morta said. “So when I saw my kids fighting I got really nervous. But that’s what Arnis is.”

According to Gonzalez, Arnis is not very popular, even where it originated in the Philippines.

“Since it is a martial art and since it is a warrior art, it is … a  misunderstood art,” Gonzalez said.

Even so, Gonzalez and his Canadian team found out that Arnis is being practised in various parts of the world. Last summer, they flew to the World Eskrima Kali Arnis Federation (WEKAF) world tournament in Hungary, involving 27 countries. They also met a descendent of the person who inaugurated Arnis, Dionioso “Diony” Canete.

“Just to meet one of the family members of the founder of Arnis was an honour,” Morta said. “Money couldn’t buy the experience of meeting and getting to know him.”

Since joining Arnis, C.J. Morta and his fellow students keep reminding themselves what Gonzalez tells them: “W” means win and “L” means learn, not loss.

“Arnis is a beautiful art,” he said. “I hope the generations after me embrace and get to know  the art.”

Meanwhile, Gonzalez wants his students to become teachers, to pass along the art.

“Having a student open their own gym would be cloud-nine. Seeing a student grabbing the torch from the teacher … and starting their own gym,” Gonzalez said. “I know it’s bound to happen. It’s just when it’s going to happen that I can not answer.”

For the present, Gonzalez is still the teacher.

“For me Arnis is a lifestyle,” he said. “I will retire from my daily work, but not from teaching Arnis. I will bring Arnis to my grave.”