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Filipino martial art ‘arnis’ takes root in HK

10 February 2019

MATTI HK instructors and students pose for The SUN. 

By Vir B. Lumicao

Master Rene Sorezo
Behind the police headquarters in Admiralty, a group of men and women wearing loose red or black cotton pants and white round-neck shirts go through mock combat, using rattan sticks held in each hand.

That spot beneath a flyover at the northwest end of Harcourt Road Park provides an inconspicuous practice ground for a group of Filipino workers and some locals who are honing up on "arnis," an ancient Filipino martial art.

The group, Modern Arnis Tapi-Tapi International Hong Kong, or MATTI HK, is one of a few arnis schools set up by Filipinos who are promoting the national martial art in the city. The others include Abanico Tres Puntas and Lakas Katorse FMA Hong Kong.

Master Renato Sorezo, a fifth degree blackbelter in arnis, is the chief instructor of the group that he formed in 2007. The supervising instructor-grandmaster is Bambit Dulay, a 10th degree red belter.

By Sorezo’s count, the group has had about 100 members since its founding, mostly Filipino domestic workers who spend half of their Sunday rest day going through the swing-block-strike motions of arnis.

But MATTI HK, like many other Filipino associations in Hong Kong, has seen its membership shrink over the years as practitioners return home or move to greener pastures.

“Ang members ko, kung hindi nagpo-for good, nasa isandaan. Yung iba nag-for good, umuwi ng Pilipinas, yung iba pumunta ng Canada at yung iba pa pumapasok,” said Sorezo, a civil engineer who is a member of Builders, a group of Filipino architects and engineers.

On weekdays, Sorezo is a principal works programmer for a China Railways-led engineering joint venture that built the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai Bridge and is now building a noise barrier project in Taipo.
Sorezo demonstrates bolo fighting with police officer-instructor. 

Sorezo said his group now attracts enthusiasts from different nationalities, including local police officers who are attracted to the exotic martial art.

At the time of the interview with Sorezo on Jan 20, he had a male senior instructor who was doing mock combat with a female instructor. It was the same officer who was administering the belt promotion exam for yellow belt aspirants.

“Ang isang yan, Chinese yan, pulis. Dati anim sila rito pero busy na yung iba, ang iba naman ay nagtuturo ng Wing Tsun, yung Chinese martial art,” said Sorezo.

Another foreigner-student is a Nepali man who, the master said, is keen to learn arnis.

Outside of Hong Kong, the Philippine martial art has spread to several other countries in addition to the United States, such as Australia, Canada, Belgium, Dubai, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Russia and Singapore.  

Two Filipino females, both new joiners, and a male OFW, were practicing various “tapi-tapi” or “counter-to-counter” moves of the stick fighting art, such as strike-block-counter strike, hooking and disarming, when The SUN chanced upon the group.

Sorezo said the MATTI HK members, who each pays $100 monthly dues, gather at the usual spot to train from around 1pm to 5pm on Sundays. They first do limbering to warm up and loosen their joints before the actual practice.

Aside from stick fighting, members are taught empty-hand combat, such as neutralizing an attacker who is armed with a knife or stick.

Sorezo also teaches “kali”, the Filipino art of knife fighting using blunt aluminum bolos and various knives, as well as the “dulo sa dulo” grip sticks similar to aikido’s yawara sticks, and retractable batons.   

Members also earn belt promotions as in other martial arts. The group holds promotion exams for belt aspirants.

Sorezo, who had been a judo and sikaran (Filipino footfighting) practitioner, said the self-defense training of his members is vital, especially in these times when you can be attacked without a warning just about anywhere.

Arnis was catapulted to its stature as Philippine martial art and national sport when President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed Senate Bill 1424 in December 2009, according the martial art its rightful niche and honor in history.   

The law, which dislodged sepak takraw as the national sport, was authored by then Majority Leader Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, a former national arnis champion.

For arnis masters and lovers, that event became the martial art’s crowning glory.  


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