For the first time in the Southeast Asian Games, the Filipino martial art of arnis will be a medal sport outside of the country in the 32nd edition of the regional sportsfest to be held from May 5 to 16, 2023, in the Phnom Penh, Cambodia and the northwestern Cambodian city of Siem Reap.
Arnis was included in the calendar 49 sports and 608 events that the Philippine Olympic Committee announced Sunday, a milestone that Senate President Miguel Zubiri, who is the Philippine Eskrima Kali Arnis Federation president and chairman, acknowledged.
“We in Philippine Eskrima Kali Arnis Federation (PEKAF) are very proud and very excited that we are finally seeing arnis on a SEA Games stage beyond our shores,” Zubiri said in a statement.
“We of course thank and appreciate the efforts of the Philippine Olympic Committee under the leadership of former Congressman and now Mayor Abraham Tolentino for the inclusion of arnis in the 32nd SEA Games, as well as the support of the Philippine Sports Commission under the new leadership of chairman Noli Eala.”
With 20 golds up for grabs, the discipline was a major contributor to the country’s overall success in the Philippine SEA Games in 2019, delivering 14 gold, four silver and two bronze medals at the Angeles University Foundation Sports and Cultural Center in Angeles city, Pampanga.
Vietnam took runner-up with a 4-10-8 medal tally, Myanmar was third (1-4-16) while Cambodia was fourth and last in the competition (1-2-17).
“We have long been promoting arnis on the international stage, and working for it to be included as a regular sport in the SEA Games slate,” Zubiri noted. “And with the spectacular arnis tournament in the 30th SEA Games, I think our Southeast Asian neighbors had a great chance to gain a deeper respect for and appreciation of the sport.
“And now, we are finally getting to showcase and celebrate this great sport outside our own country.”
Arnis made its debut as a demonstration sport in the regional meet in the 1991 Manila SEA Games with the hosts dominating it as expected in bagging 10 golds, three silvers and one bronze; while it gained regular medal status in the 2005 Philippine Games.
The hosts and the Vietnamese shared overall honors with 3 gold and 3 silvers apiece, Timor Leste and Cambodia were third and fourth with 3 and 2 bronzes, respectively.
An arnis enthusiast himself, Zubiri said that ‘the inclusion of arnis in the upcoming SEA Games is not just about having a chance to score more medals. It is also really a significant move that gives us a platform to showcase arnis as part of our culture.
“It establishes arnis as an indispensable part of the Southeast Asian martial arts movement,” Zubiri added.
The country’s top Senate officials was grateful to “the Cambodia National Olympic Committee and the SEA Games Federation for recognizing the importance of arnis, and carving out space it in their sporting program.”
Based on the data he gathered, Zubiri said that there will be 12 arnis events – 6 for men and 6 for women – in the 32nd Cambodia SEA Games.
This are two each in the individual and team anyo (forms) events for men and women’s division, while in the sparring, live stick combat for the men’s and women’s bantamweight and lightweight divisions, and padded stick play also in both bantamweight and lightweight classes.
The PEKAF national screening team, which will most likely include the Senate President, will have to be discerning in the events the PH arnis bets will play since the Cambodian hosts decided to limit the field of other SEAG countries to 70 percent of the total events in combat sports.
With the Cambodian SEA Games barely seven months away, Zubiri said that PEKAF will conduct national team qualifiers in the National Capital Region, Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao in November and December.
“The winners in these qualifying tournaments will go on to compete against one another and the current national team in the PEKAF National Battle of Champions in early 2023. The Battle of Champions winners will then be drafted into the national arnis team for the SEA Games,” he said.
“We are looking forward to discovering new players in the qualifiers, who will bring their fire and energy into the national team.,” Zubiri pointed out “We need a good mix of young blood and veterans to take us to the top once again, and prove to the world that arnis deserves a permanent spot in international sporting competitions.
“We will definitely send a full and formidable team, formed from the qualifiers and the Battle of Champions.”
Zubiri recalled that the national squad emerged as the overall champion among the 11 countries and 400 entries who saw action in the World Arnis Championships organized by the World Eskrima Kali Arnis Federation held last July in Mandaue, Cebu.
The hometown bets dominated the meet with a whopping tally of 141 gold, 139 silver and 138 bronze medals, he said, with the US a distant second (21-21-47) and South Korea third (3-3-9).