How has the COVID epidemic impacted Arnis training? Has the number of people training in Arnis decreased? A census has not yet been completed, so this is a challenging question. Arnis only became an official sport on December 11, 2009, when the Republic of the Philippines decreed that Arnis was the national martial art of the Philippines. But Arnis has a history of surviving infamous global events. In the Philippines, Arnis was secretly practiced under 500 years of Spanish colonialism, Japanese invasion in World War II, and even through US imperialism. And now, under COVID, its practitioners are being tested again, and it appears that people continue to practice and in some cases increased the number of hours training in the martial art of Arnis.
Jose, who wished to remain anonymous, has been practicing Kali (Arnis) in Northern California for years under the instruction of Bay Area Professors and Guros. COVID induced stay-at-home mandates and forced him to temporarily cease his in-person training. But he reported that he had actually increased the total number of hours he trains per week. Unfortunately, the mandates forced him to give up his passions that involved group gatherings and has had to work remote. Therefore he spends more time training. Now, he stated that his Arnis training routine plays a critical role in his physical and mental health. Recently, group training with Professors and Guro’s has started again. As the US improves against COVID, Jose has found that his instructors have implemented new training protocols. Training occurs outdoors in public parks with a strong emphasis on social distancing. Masks and occasional temperature checks are required. Individual hand to hand greetings have been replaced by group salutes and close quarters sparring is generally avoided and training equipment is wiped down with disinfectant tissues. And, occasionally, Zoom training sessions are conducted.
Similarly, Aubrey Manahan, has had to stop in-person training because of similar mandates in Los Angeles County. In early 2021, Los Angeles had the highest number of COVID cases in the United States. At the start of the epidemic, Manahan, who is an instructor at Los Angeles Doce Pares Arnis school, attempted teaching outdoors while maintaining physical distance with mandatory masks and copious amounts of hand sanitizer. When LA County mandated a shelter-in place curfew, they moved to online instruction using Zoom, but found it challenging trying to view each student’s form through a computer screen.
Another instructor, based in New Orleans, who wanted to be referred to as Dave Wilson, continues to offer Kali (Arnis) training sessions behind closed doors. He has had students that tested positive for COVID but were asymptomatic. Based on his own research and his self-awareness of his own body he made a judgement to continue training. He believes that people should conduct their own research and understand their individual risk which includes physical, mental, and financial risk. According to Wilson, a true warrior should seek the truth. So Wilson saw this epidemic as a mechanism to test himself and his students’ warrior’s spirit. Although he continues to instruct, he chooses not to teach new students and only teaches one or two people at a time. This is partly to reduce exposure and government backlash, but also because he serves a niche market of professional fighters and those that meet his high standards.
There has been a wide spectrum of responses by Arnis schools and their gurus (i.e. instructors) to the COVID epidemic. An informal survey of instructors throughout the US, have reported that they continue to train, but implemented safety recommendations from their local governments. A few instructors temporarily ceased in-person training sessions. And another set of instructors continued their normal routine.
Throughout 2020, as the shelter-in-place mandates took effect, Arnis Authority reported a spike in demand for Arnis and training equipment. It was apparent that instructors and students of Arnis continued to forge their training routine as the world crossed into 2021, celebrating its one-year anniversary under the epidemic.
Never stop (safely) training.