LONDON - A film about Filipino martial arts, known internationally as kali, eskrima, or arnis, was seen in Britain for the first time in a charity screening at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).
"The Bladed Hand", directed and produced by filmmaker Jay Ignacio, charts the history of Filipino martial arts (FMA), from its roots at the time of national hero Lapu-Lapu, to the various modern styles of kali, arnis and eskrima.
"I saw it and I just thought it’s amazing. It’s so inspiring to have a documentary about martial arts as part of Filipino culture," said RJ Fernandez, a long-time arnis practitioner who organized the London screening.
"Arnis is one of our greatest cultural exports and we're not aware of it," she added. "It's all-encompassing and a sophisticated martial arts system. How we train here in UK is different from how we train in the Philippines where I learned it, so it's a great opportunity for me to show what it's really like back home."
Shamim Haque, a master of Kalis Ilustrisimo from one of the modern FMA clubs in London, was among the guests at the UK screening, alongside dozens of other martial arts enthusiasts from different backgrounds.
"I've been waiting for this documentary for quite sometime. A lot of masters I have not heard of so it's good to see them in the film," he told ABS-CBN Europe.
"Having studied it for quite awhile now," he continued, "it's quite a complete art. Like it said in the film: There's empty hands, weapons, grappling elements - it’s got something for everybody so it's a unique martial arts.'
The documentary, which was filmed for four years, features interviews with several FMA experts, including Diony Canete, Cacoy Canete, Ron Balicki, Nick Elizar, Ising Atillo, Christopher Ricketts, Remy Presas Jr, Monsour del Rosario and others, some of whom passed away during production due to natural causes.
The feature-length film highlights the global impact of FMA not only in martial arts, but also in military training and cinema: from the use of kali by special forces in Russia, to its appearances in blockbuster action films like “The Bourne Identity” with Matt Damon and “The Book of Eli” with Denzel Washington.
Most significantly, it recalls the style and popularity of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, who is believed to have trained in FMA alongside his Filipino friend Dan Inosanto, who also appears in the documentary.
"I thought it was really interesting because I didn't know much about arnis, eskrima or kali. It was good to just get stuck in to that world, and I think there should be greater awareness of it," Pio Abad, a Filipino artist in London, said.
"It speaks a lot about Filipino culture," he added. "We tend to do things guerrilla style. We insert ourselves in undiscovered ways or untold fashion, and it's maybe indicative of what needs to be done and what we've achieved as well. It goes with martial arts culture, art or whatever, and it's high time we stepped out of the guerrilla way of doing things. And it's happening."
"The Bladed Hand" spans across several locations with key connections to FMA, including Manila, Cebu, Batangas, Baguio, Bacolod, Hong Kong, Moscow, Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland and Honolulu.
Launched in 2012, it has previously been screened at its US premiere in Los Angeles, as well as the International Film Festival Manhattan in New York, followed by various screenings in Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, Minneapolis and Washington DC. It has also been shown in the Philippines.
The London screening at the Brunei Gallery in SOAS raised £240, or approximately P17,000, which will go towards Heroic Improv, a group using dramatic arts for disaster response training, including projects in the Philippines.