‘Pang-ngawat’/’pagtanggap’: The value of ‘receiving’ in Filipino Martial Arts


This post is about the Ilokano and Tagalog ideas of ‘receiving’, or ‘pang-ngawat’ and ‘pagtanggap’, respectively. I start with a context in FMA training and conclude with possible applications in life. My point is that learning ‘pang-ngawat’ or ‘pagtanggap’ is vital to one’s development as an FMA practitioner, in particular, for it teaches the value of resilience, in general. ‘Pang-ngawat’ keeps the Ilokano grounded in reality and ‘pagtanggap’ keeps the Tagalog grounded in their own self-belief.

FMA context. There are two central training techniques in FMA: (1) copying a teacher’s moves and (2) training with a partner ‘to feed’ and ‘to receive’. Copying is the more elementary of the two for it involves no physical contact with another player. When we copy our teacher’s movements, we are at the very beginning stage of learning: we are passive consumers–neither expressing ourselves through our own natural movement, nor responding to an actual strike. While there is some degree of conceptual understanding to be achieved from copying, this training technique’s limitation is that the lesson cannot be felt, only imagined. It’s like learning a song, but singing it without feeling its full meaning.

Training against another player is more advanced. Your partner reacts and completes your movement with a counter-attack that you not only feel, but also anticipate sometimes with a healthy measure of fear and always with a dose of anxiety. In both training techniques, most students focus on learning proper offense–how to strike at every angle in the right form, right foot work, and with the right body mechanics–leading them to master how ‘to feed’.


‘To feed’ in FMA is to offer a strike at a specific angle in proper form in order to achieve two goals: to execute a strike being learned, and, more importantly, to help the recipient learn how to react to the strike. ‘To receive’ is to respond to an offensive strike: to block, to deflect, and to grab. In the continuum of feeding and receiving, most learn primarily how to be on the offensive. Most learn ‘to feed’ routinely as structured lessons; most learn ‘to receive’ via thematic seminars as advanced specialties.

Most practitioners, then, primarily learn how to be hard, dismissing the lesson in being soft as conditional (learn only ‘to receive’ once I’m good enough or advanced enough). Intuitively, we know that most things that are hard full-time ultimately break under repeated stress, and that most things that flex, that absorb, bounce back. This tells us that learning how ‘to receive’ is equally important in our development as FMA practitioners. Indeed, knowing how to block well, to deflect well, and to grab well positions oneself for an effective counter-attack by developing one’s ability to sense an opponent’s true intention from feeling the direction of his/her strike.


In addition, knowing how ‘to receive’ in FMA helps us conquer our own fear and anxiety, while simultaneously magnifying these in our opponent. When you can receive a blow, you strengthen yourself and demoralize your opponent by showing him that you will not break despite his repeated attacks. Counterintuitively, when you can expertly receive a strike you form a shield, thus, the common term used for it in FMA, ‘sangga’.

Application in life. In Ilokano and Tagalog, the words used to mean ‘to receive’ are ‘pang-ngawat’ (pang-nga-wut) and ‘pagtanggap’ (pug-tang-gup), respectively. Understanding the depth of both terms extracts the culture-bound insight within them. Both have two primary meanings. ‘Pang-ngawat’ means both to receive and to understand; ‘pagtanggap’ means both to receive and to accept.

The combination of receiving and understanding in ‘pang-ngawat’ teaches us that ‘to understand’ has an additional dimension of ‘to receive openly’. The nuance in ‘pang-ngawat’ reminds us to be present when we perceive in order that we see, feel, and hear fully. If we are to be adaptive–if our goal is to interpret our environment accurately and respond to our environment in a way that meets our personal needs optimally–we must allow as much input in. Receiving openly is key in the process of understanding. Often, because we do see the value of having good understanding, we take in such a small subset of info that it is impossible to guard against that which is incomplete or biased. One consequence is we consume only information that fits our own worldview, and we lose our natural defense against our own biases. Needless to say, if our goal is to understand, we must, therefore, remember to first ensure our perceptions reflect reality, especially in an age when our online activity enables marketers to profile us and, through our gadgets, inundate us with targeted info they think we want to consume. We must go back to the basics and take more proactive control of the data we consume and operate with so that unexamined inaccurate data do not take hold. Because we adapt to what we perceive as real, we should not construct a warped reality defined by our biases.

The combination of receiving and accepting in ‘pagtanggap’ teaches us the value of finality, a necessary condition for moving on. The nuance in ‘pagtanggap’ reminds us to be accepting of what is. If we are to be adaptive, we must learn to accept the truth about the world and, more importantly, about ourselves. Accepting is a key dimension of receiving, philosophically and behaviorally. When we accept, we acknowledge what is real, what is true emotionally and cognitively, enabling us to respond to our environment in an adaptive way. ‘Pagtanggap’ is not associated with any one emotion: we are neither happy, nor sad; we just accept that it is what it is. When we deny what is real, we behave in a maladaptive way, and we don’t get our needs met because we act without acknowledging what our true needs are. We should be accepting of our true self–our weaknesses, our fears, our limitations–so that we can self-improve. Accepting oneself is key to building our own self-belief, to strengthening that which is weak, and to bettering ourselves.

The Ilokano and Tagalog are resilient people. One manifestation of their resilience is their spin on martial art, escrima and arnis. Because language and the vocabulary we create in it says a lot about how and what we think about the world, examining ‘pang-ngawat’ and ‘pagtanggap’ helps us benefit from the insight of the Ilokano and Tagalog. We learn, for example, that understanding and accepting are important dimensions of perceiving reality, or receiving it. These nuanced dimensions help us be more adaptive. In FMA, they show us the legitimate value of training ‘to receive’ not just ‘to feed’.

Photo credit: Sam Buot, Sr.  


Is there innovation in martial arts?: Training with Guro Bill Aranda


Reposting. Originally posted on January 22, 2013.

Dynamic systems theory says novelty, or innovation, is built into systems; it’s always there because solutions — some of which may need to be novel ideas — are always available to a system internally when that system goes off balance.

My evolving view of martial arts nowadays is that FMA is not a system; gung fu is not a system; karate is not a system. None of the specific martial arts is a system. They are subsets of a larger system: using human limbs in offense and defense. From this perspective, innovation is always there for it comes from human creativity, which has neither beginning, nor end. We can imagine a beginning and an end to human creativity, but that imagination arises precisely from the power of creativity.

Over time, fighting within the limits of two arms and two legs came to be formalized into and represented by the different fighting styles. I think this view is older than Bruce Lee, by the way. Humans have been fighting and adapting to each others’ fighting styles for as long as we learned the limits of talking and decided to develop effective ways to punch and kick, and throw a rock or a stick at each other.

The value of the question

If we resolve to answer the question for ourselves — is there innovation in martial arts? — we could guide our skill development. We can either focus on the medium (i.e., techniques, drills, style), or we can search for principles.

On one hand, if we focus on the medium we develop a skill within the limits of the medium; true enough, if you focus on stick-fighting exclusively, you will be really good in stick-fighting, but not necessarily empty-hand, if you don’t expand your training outside the limits of using sticks.

On the other hand, if we focus on learning principles behind the medium, we find more opportunities in offense and defense; true enough, if you learn the principle of ‘palm-up/palm-down’, for example, you can figure out the logic behind effective offense and defense more easily.

My teacher, Guro Bill Aranda, tells me that he teaches me what he learned, not what he was taught. To me that means the same thing that I’m now looking for: not a style but how to optimize how I naturally fight, i.e., uncover and hone how my body naturally moves. Why would one want this? So that you fight with more fluid movement without thinking; so that you fight according to the way your body naturally moves.

In this sense, all fighting is both unique and common. A #3 strike is either going to come from the center line, or outside it. Whatever unique path or extra steps we take to get to the target from inside and outside the center line is and can be unique to how we naturally move, but ultimately, the strike can only come from inside or outside the centerline, i.e., the expression may be unique, but the principle is the same.

So, is there innovation in martial arts? My personal take is yes and no. It is both/and, not either/or. Innovation is possible and not possible. I say this not to be philosophical, but to express a nuanced view of martial art innovation.

It is possible  when you focus on the medium, or the martial art style, or physical expression. It is possible if you think in terms of ‘hardware’. For example, there are multiple great leaps of innovation from propelling an arrow to sending a bullet downrange. The hardware is  unique in each lethal expression. Soon, I am sure we will be shooting laser beams, not bullets, at each other; once that day comes, we will have made another major leap in innovation in terms of the medium.

It is not possible when you think of ‘software’ – the underlying principle or meaning behind the use of an arrow or a bullet, for example. It is clear that the principle behind both is that of sending a projectile at high speed to penetrate a target. When you see that there are key principles at work, and that these principles are fundamentally the same, it is not possible to innovate. There is one underlying principle behind any punch, or kick, or arrow, or bullet: thrust forward toward the center of the enemy. Principles are limited and immutable.

In many ways, this ‘both/and’ perspective is what FMA and ‘gung fu’ teaches us: there is innovation between the blade and empty-hand, between the stick and the blade. At the same time, the underlying principles behind strikes are the same throughout time.

Life application

In life, we have it within us to help ourselves, because novelty — new ideas, innovation, solutions — are baked into each of us. We use innovation to problem-solve, to adapt, to overcome. But it is also true that nothing is entirely new under the sun. There is no new principle of being within our shared human experience that is completely brand new. Because we live in closed system, planet Earth, with the pretty much the same environmental stimuli over time, there are no new principles of being human under the sun. What is only ever changing is our engagement with others for each of us are inherently, boundlessly creative.

Through our engagement with others, we see our strengths and our weaknesses, and our interrelatedness to everything. Alone with our thoughts, in our inner world, we can find ways to best adapt and survive. But we are flawed; as a result and necessarily, some of our ideas, no matter how clearly we think we understand, will invariably be flawed in some way, as well. It is only also through our engagement with others in our environment and in the quality of our relationships with those we engage that we find what is true, the right path, the meaning behind personhood, behind community. Engaging the world is key to being more fully effective and human in the world.

A student learning to fight has it in him to sort out how to use his limbs efficiently and effectively, and how to use tools as extensions of his limbs, if need be. But it is also true that he only learns to fight because his neighbors provoke him, or his teacher shows him principles and teaches him which techniques will work or not work in a fight.

Pacquiao puts his life on the line in upcoming fight against De la Hoya

Pacquiao: For this fight, my life on the line

abs-cbnNEWS.com | 10/07/2008 12:53 AM

The stakes have gone even higher two months before the epic welterweight super bout dubbed “The Dream Match” between Filipino boxing icon Manny Pacquiao and 10-time world champion Oscar de la Hoya.

At least for Pacquiao, the reigning World Boxing Council lightweight champ, the December 6 megabuck fight is enough reason for him to put his life on the line for his country’s honor.

“Asahan ninyo na sa akin, kahit buhay ko, itataya ko para sa karangalan ng ating bansa,” Pacquiao told a crowd of Filipinos, Americans and Mexicans gathered at the Golden Gate Park’s Chrissy Field in San Francisco, California, on Saturday.

Pacquiao has described the battle against de la Hoya as the “biggest” fight of his life. He said that the training being done for the bout is extremely different and relatively more painful compared to others in the past.

“This is my greatest challenge,” said Pacquiao of the super bout, amid reports that he may end up losing the fight since de la Hoya is taller, heavier and has a longer reach compared to him.

De la Hoya, meanwhile, told Pacquiao to be “ready” for battle.

“I want to look into your eye, on December 6, I want you to be ready like you always are. I want you to fight hard,” the Golden Boy said.

‘Hindi ako susuko’

The press conference in San Francisco was part of the six-city US tour for the Pacquiao-de la Hoya battle in Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena.

During the launch in New York’s Liberty Island on October 1, Pacquiao said he will give his “100 percent” for the epic battle.

“I promise I will fight with all of my heart and that I will give everything I have,” he said.

Ever the patriot, Pacquiao the Army reservist, said he dedicates the fight to the people of the Philippines.

“When I take that walk to the ring to fight Oscar, I will carry all the people of The Philippines — the entire country — on my shoulders,” he said.

De la Hoya has said that he expects the December 6 clash with Pacquiao to be “long and fun.”

“Be ready for a long, fun fight… I say fun because with Manny Pacquiao, there is no boring fight and that’s what I’m looking forward to,” de la Hoya said last week.

Pacquiao, for his part, said, “”Tatayo ako hangga’t may hininga, hindi susuko.” With reports from Dyan Castillejo, ABS-CBN News

Update on De la Hoya v. Pacquiao fight

(Update) Pacquiao shows no fear of De la Hoya

abs-cbnNEWS.com | 10/01/2008 9:00 PM


Filipino boxing idol Manny Pacquiao maintained his fearless stance against six-division world champion Oscar de la Hoya as he remained unfazed by his opponent’s decision to hire renowned trainer Ignacio “Nacho” Beristain. 


In an interview at New York City’s Park Meridien Hotel, Pacquiao told ABS-CBN News that De la Hoya’s latest move to hire Beristain won’t affect his upcoming fight.


Beristain also trained Pacquaio’s old nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez, who lost his WBC super featherweight title to the Filipino in a controversial match in Las Vegas last March.


“I think that’s good for me because never naman nanalo sa akin si Marquez. Siguro kinuha niya (De la Hoya) ang trainer ni Marquez para matalo din siya,” joked Pacquiao.


The Filipino, however, said his training against the Mexican-American star is serious business. He has been training harder to match De la Hoya’s heavier weight and longer reach.


“Kakaiba ang sakit ng katawan ko, kakaiba ang training na ginagawa ko ngayon, talagang pampalakas at saka pampatibay,” he said.


Pacquiao and his crew went to New York from Los Angeles for the joint formal announcement Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) of his December 6 non-title fight against De la Hoya.


The fight, dubbed “The Dream Match”, will be held in Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena on December 6.


Meanwhile, Pacquiao and his team celebrated assistant coach and childhood friend Buboy Fernandez’s birthday at the New York hotel.


During the party, Pacquiao ate a lot, including steak and eggs, because he has to gain weight.

The WBC lighweight champion has to reach the 147-pound limit for his fight against De la Hoya. His previous fight was at the 135-pound division. — report from DYAN CASTILLEJO, ABS-CBN News

Latest on Pacquiao v dela Hoya fight, Dec 6

Arum: Left-handed Pacquiao to pose problems for de la Hoya


By DENNIS GASGONIA, abs-cbnNEWS.com | 09/10/2008 12:01 AM


Manny Pacquiao’s fighting stance will pose a “very big problem” for international boxing superstar Oscar de la Hoya when they meet inside the ring in Las Vegas, Nevada come December 6.

Top Rank executive promoter Bob Arum, who used to promote de la Hoya’s fights before the boxer eventually decided to become a matchmaker himself, said the Mexican-American has difficulties in handling southpaws.


“Oscar as I said time and time again, always has problems with left handers. His entire career he’s only fought two southpaws. One was [Hector] Camacho … and [Pernell] Whitaker,” Arum told dzSR Sports Radio during an interview Tuesday.


Arum said though de la Hoya managed to win over the two boxers, the six-division champ had trouble dominating them and to think that he was still at his peak when he fought Camacho and Whitaker.


“So I’m very confident with Manny’s chances…  the way he throws his punches, he’s faster than Oscar, he’s elusive,” said Arum.


The Top Rank head honcho added that he will be providing Pacquaio’s trainer Freddie Roach copies of de la Hoya’s fights against Camacho and Whitaker. This way, he said, they will see de la Hoya’s disadvantages against southpaws.


Mexicans love Manny

Meanwhile, Arum echoed Roach’s claim that Pacquiao is more popular among Mexicans compared to de la Hoya.


“Manny has endeared himself to Mexicans because he’s conducted himself as a gentleman and he fights like a Mexican. Manny has tremendous fans among the Mexicans,” he said.


Roach earlier said that de la Hoya has never been accepted by the true Mexican fans from Mexico.


“Mexican-Americans yes, but not Mexicans,” said the hall-of-fame trainer.


“I think to some extend he may have more fans than Oscar does among Mexicans,” said Arum.


The 12-rounder non-title match between Pacquiao and de la Hoya was dubbed as “The Dream Match”.

It is slated to take place at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on December 6.


“It started out as a fantasy, Larry Merchant suggested it and then ESPN ran with it and it was a dream nobody though it would happen and now it‘s a reality. Everybody liked that title,” said Arum.