‘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.

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

Local view of emergent Filipino boxing heroes

To me what the string of victories mean is that Filipino boxing should recognize the role and pay its respects to Filipino martial arts so that all can honor the source… He refers below to a recent tournament pitting international boxing champions against Filipino boxers.



What the invasion meant



Source: ABS-CBN News http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryId=114240

April 9, 2008

Invasion: Philippines vs the World set some new parameters for professional boxing, and sent a good signal to the international boxing community. Of course, the sweep of Filipino boxers (even the non-televised swing bouts against a Thai and Indonesian were won by Filipinos Michael Domingo and Bert Batawang by knockout), left a lasting impression of Filipino dominance.

There were many proud statements made of the Philippines by the event, staged by Golden Boy Promotions and ALA Promotions, and the excellent television coverage by ABS-CBN also cemented great impressions of the Philippines.

First of all, the card established the Philippines as a boxing destination. It had been a long time since world title fights had been a staple in the country, and Invasion made the trip here not only palatable, but attractive. For a while, the logistics and cost of staging a world title fight in the Philippines made little economic sense. But, with the rise in pay-per-view in the United States (the Oscar dela Hoya-Floyd Mayweather clash earned 2.5 million buys), the economies now are very enticing to promoters. Add to this the growing wealth of overseas Filipinos, and you have a ready market.

Secondly, there is an abundance of Filipino talent. Both the World Boxing Organization and Golden Boy acknowledge the tremendous talent of Filipino fighters. They are tough, exciting to watch, and extremely marketable, with no language barrier to the US. And the Philippines has never had five world champions at the same time. So there is more to the country now that Manny Pacquiao has become an ambassador of the sport.

Third, there are promoters and managers here who take care of their boxers. ALA Prmotions has to get a lot of credit for paving the way for great things to come for Philippine boxing. The Aldeguer family has brought up new boxers who are well-trained, well-managed and provide a lot of excitement to boxing fans. It’s about time Fiipinos are recognized as world-class businessmen outside the ring, as well.

Fourth, TV coverage can bring the excitement anywhere. With the reach of a broadcast giant like ABS-CBN, sporting events on a world stage can pull in a big market even when held in the Philippines. The sports entertainment market is growing, and ABS-CBN is at the forefront of it, if not outright pushing the envelope itself. Invasion was a calculated gamble that will pay off long-term, and ABS-CBN knows it. Cable and digital TV are growing, and still have an endless requirement for content. Imagine the possibilities.

Fifth, in Asia, the Philippines is key to success in the boxing market. Former WBC super featherweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez was treated like a rock star at the fight Sunday. The Mexican hero hardly got any rest, as fans applauded him loudly and continuously asked for autographs. It sent a signal: Filipinos know their boxing, and respect great boxers. Remember, this was not held at a casino arena, where ringside is occupied by high rollers screaming for blood because of large bets they made. It was held at the Araneta Coliseum where regular fans mingled with the mighty for a chance to see a countryman do them proud.

When the WBO went into Asia about a decade ago, they started with Thailand, then went to the Philippines. In a growing market like Asia, with large countries like China and India waiting to be tapped, having a global boxing icon in a neighboring market will expand interest in boxing in particular, and sports in general.

In sum, the invasion may have been repelled, but the invitation to bring more big boxing events to the country is open.

Filipino boxers victorious in international showdown

More boxing talent from the Philippines show their might to the world in a recent international showdown. Watch them in the next few years as they follow Pacquiao’s footsteps and fight big name boxers in the US.


6 Pinoys outclass boxing ‘invaders’
By Edri K. Aznar
Source: Sun.Star http://sunstar.com.ph/static/ceb/2008/04/07/news/6.pinoys.outclass.boxing.invaders..html


Monday, April 07, 2008

QUEZON CITY—Once again Gerry “The Fearless” Peñalosa, 35, defied all odds and brought glory to the country as he and his fellow Filipino warriors fended off all the foreign invaders with knockout victories in yesterday’s “Invasion: The Philippines vs. The World” at the Araneta Coliseum.


In the eighth round, Peñalosa (53-6-2, 36 KO’s) successfully defended his World Boxing Organization bantamweight crown as he disposed of Ratanachai Sor Vorapin (79-10, 48 KO’s), with a right uppercut that sent the Thai fighter to the canvass.


Because of the punishment Sor Vorapin received from Peñalosa, referee Gino Rodriguez stopped the fight at the 2:31 mark.


Peñalosa was patient all throughout the fight and didn’t rush things, as he waited for the right moment to dispose of his opponent.


Sor Vorapin fought aggressively and threw a lot of powerful punches, but the Filipino champion blocked and dodged the bombardment.


The two-division world champion found his opponent Sor Vorapin, whom he knocked out in 2005, a difficult foe but Peñalosa proved hungrier for a victory.


“Matibay yung kalaban ko. Gusto niya manalo pero gusto ko rin manalo (He’s tough. He wanted to win, but I wanted to win too),” said Peñalosa.


In his next fight, Peñalosa wants to fight his tormentor, Daniel Ponce de Leon. “Gusto ko yung tumalo sa akin at ni ‘Boom Boom’ na si Daniel Ponce de Leon,” said the WBO champion.


Manny Pacquiao, the WBC super featherweight champion, stood on the stage with his friend and said that if the fight between Peñalosa and de Leon materializes, then he will be training with him.


Eric Gomez, vice president of Golden Boy Promotions, was impressed with Peñalosa’s performance.


“Peñalosa was very good. We’ll sit down and see who’s next,” said Gomez.


In the supporting bout, ALA Boy Rey “Boom Boom” Bautista (25-1, 18 KO’s) brought back his past glory as he won convincingly with a seventh round KO over Mexican Genaro “Duro” Camargo(16-4, 10 KO’s) and kept his WBO Inter-Continental super bantam weight strap.


Bautista floored the Mexican twice in the first round but his thunderous left hook in the second round was the charm.


After this victory, Bautista declared: “Boom Boom is back.”


It was lights out for Uruguayan Caril “El Raton” Herrera (21-1, 13 KO’s) as he was hit by a bombardment of lefts and rights from AJ “Bazooka” Banal (17-0-1, 14 KO’s), who kept his undefeated record intact and is now the number one contender in the IBF super flyweight division.


Banal stopped the so-called “Pacquiao of Uruguay” with a TKO at the 1:18 mark of the fourth round. Herrera was also knocked down in the third round by a flurry of punches.


In another bloody match, the referee stopped the fighting at the 2:24 mark of the fifth round, hailing Ciso “Kid Terrible” Morales (11-0, 7 KO’s) as the winner via TKO over Korean Yoo Shin Kim (6-2, 4 KO’s).


Morales kept both his unblemished record and his WBO Oriental super bantam weight belt.


In other supporting bouts, Bert “Ninja” Batawang destroyed the much smaller but leaner Heri Amol with a KO from a body shot that sent the Indonesian to the canvass, gasping for air in the seventh round.


Michael Domingo finished his bout swiftly as he knocked out Thailand’s Thepnemit Sor Chitpattana in the second round.


GBP and ALA Promotions, in cooperation with ABS-CBN, organized the fights, the first GBP-promoted event in the Philippines.


Among the sports personalities spotted were Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez, Luisito Espinosa and Fil-am UFC fighter Brandon “The Truth” Vera. 


Lessons for Clinton from Filipino martial arts; Obama a grandmaster

The slugfest that is the race for Democratic party nomination reminds me of another combative sport that is dearer to my heart — Filipino martial arts (FMA).

Known to the public as escrima, or arnis, or even kali, Filipino martial arts enjoy a reputation for being ‘no-nonsense’, brutal, and graceful — all at the same time. Developed over generations of open and guerilla warfare against foreign aggressors, FMA holds many lessons applicable to daily life, and yes, even for presidential candidates in an election year.

One of these FMA lessons is for Clinton, and it is the concept of striking with intention.

This is likely an odd point to many, if not foreign to most, so let us start by defining this concept from a FMA perspective.

A beginner in FMA is often taught first to strike with precision, thus the attention to striking angles as his introduction. Depending on the school, the angles could be between 5-20 angles. The second lesson is usually how to strike with power, then with speed, then with grace or footwork, until finally, a student is taught to strike with intention. Striking with intention is different from striking with precision because included in the lesson of intention are the previous lessons of precision, power, speed and grace.

Striking with intention is striking a precise spot on the enemy with your whole self. Striking with intention, therefore, requires great skill so that one can adapt, improvise and overcome no matter the situation or the enemy.  And it also requires one more thing, knowledge of self in order that one can manipulate learned techniques so that once executed, they may remain ‘fresh,’ appropriate, self-expressive and effective in any and every situation.

To be great in FMA you must not only know the art, but also yourself.

This is where the lesson for Clinton begins. Clinton, in my view, does not know herself, what her campaign is about and, thus, how to strike with intention. She cannot campaign with her mind, body and soul.

Clinton, despite her ability to strike with precision, does not and cannot know how to strike with intention. She cannot speak beyond what is specific; she cannot speak with the authority that can only be derived from knowing the issues intimately, as if they were running through one’s veins.

Clinton is not real enough for ordinary Americans; her background as an elite betrays the populism of her pronouncements and election-year promises. One does not feel her campaign. She does not inspire when she speaks. And there is a disconnect when she reaches out.

And her misgivings as a candidate go beyond her lack of oratory skills. They lie in her inability to relate, to truly see and, therefore, to truly articulate the interests of the ordinary American.

In politics, campaigning with your whole self — striking with intention — cannot be acquired, cannot be taught. Thus, Clinton has already lost because Obama is a grandmaster.