CE: Sifu Bolden, please tell us how you became interested in the martial arts?
TB: When I was growing up I had a real passion for wrestling. I wasn’t a large kid, but I was quick and quite strong for my size, so I got to be rather good at it. There was no organized school program or anything like that. Kids would just get together during school recesses or other idle time after school and wrestle. We had no trained coach, we just picked things up from each other or from the street and practiced a lot. We called it sandlot style, because we would usually find sandy areas or plowed fields in which to wrestle, so as to reduce the impact of falls when being thrown. Since I was small, larger kids would often pick on me and try to push me around. On many occasions however, my wrestling skills proved to be quite an equalizer in allowing me to effectively deal with these larger bullies. It was this early experience with wrestling that sold me on the idea of formally studying the martial arts.
CE: When did you begin formally studying the martial arts and what arts have you studied?
TB: My formal martial arts training began in 1962 when I joined the U.S. Marine Corps. During Basic Training we were taught hand to hand combat, which was comprised of Combat Judo and Rifle and Bayonet fighting. After finishing Basic Training, I was assigned to an infantry unit where hand to hand combat practice was a regular part of the training regiment. In addition to this training, over the years I have also studied, Western Boxing, Shorin Ryu Karate, CHA-3/Hawaiian Kenpo, Pancipanci Eskrima, Tai Chi Chaun , Tae Kwon Do, Fu Jow Pai Kung Fu, Aikido, Capoeira (Regional & Angola), Modern Arnis, Silat, Small Circle Jujitsu and Balintawak Eskrima.
CE: Exactly when did you get involved with the Filipino Martial Arts and who was your teacher?
TB: I was first introduced to Eskrima in 1964 in Hawaii. I was still in the Marine Corps and had been transferred to Hawaii as a member of the Guard and Military Police unit at Camp Smith. It was there that I met and began training with Filipino Master Florentino Pancipanci who had only recently started a CHA-3 Kenpo class on Base. I loved the Kenpo training, it was different than anything that I had practiced before. Unlike the strict structure of Shorin Ryu Karate which I had studied back on the mainland, Kenpo was very free flowing and innovation was encouraged. Since the class was new, Master Pancipanci needed an Uke so I was the one chosen. Why me, I wondered. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise because about six months later, Master Pancipanci told me to stay behind one night after Kenpo class. He then took newspapers and rolled them up very tight and began teaching me what he referred to as “Filipino Art“. The term Eskrima was never mentioned at that time. This was the beginning of my Eskrima training. I trained with Master Pancipanci in both CHA-3 Kenpo and Eskrima, for the remainder of my tour in Hawaii and returned to train for several years following my discharge from the Marine Corps. In 1978 Master Pancipanci promoted me to Full Instructor in Kenpo and Assistant Instructor in Eskrima.
CE: You mentioned earlier that you’ve also studied Modern Arnis and Balintawak Eskrima. Can you tell us more about that?
TB: In 1984 I met Professor Remy Presas and became his student in Modern Arnis. I studied with Professor Presas until 1995. Professor Presas was a student of Balintawak Eskrima Great Grandmaster Anciong Bacon and initially based much of his Modern Arnis system on Balintawak Eskrima. For this reason students who trained with Professor Presas in the early years, were given a lot of insight into the Balintawak system. I’ve also had the good fortune to study and train in the Balintawak system with Grandmaster Bobby Taboada, who also studied with Great Grandmaster Bacon.
CE: Considering your extensive Martial Arts background, why have you chosen Arnis as your preferred art?
TB: I embrace Arnis because of the philosophy and nature of the art. Arnis is known for its use of Flow, the art of combining dynamic movement, rhythm, sensitivity, versatility, efficiency, deception, etc., to effect defense and counter strategies. Arnis does not focus on technique, but rather embraces various combat principles and concepts and concentrates on using Flow to apply them in combat situations. Flow allows for instantaneous and very versatile defense and counter responses and maneuvers. When one becomes proficient at Flow, techniques become virtually limitless. Flow allows techniques from various systems to be blended seamlessly and with ease. For this reason Arnis is often referred too, as the art within your art.
CE: There are those who consider Arnis as basically a weapons art and question its practicality. What is your response to this?
TB: Many people have this misconception because they really don’t understand the art of Arnis and in many cases the roots of their own arts. Many martial art systems have derived many of their empty hand techniques from weapon techniques. Tae Kwon Do and Karate for example employ techniques such as spearhand, hammer fist, knife hand, axe kick, etc.. The names are such because in the execution of these techniques the practitioner mimics the action of the weapon from which the name was taken.
In Arnis, weapons training is also preparation and training for empty hand combat. Holding, swinging, and manipulating the weapon strengthens the sinew and develops strong arms and hands. The weapon is in effect like having an extra joint/weight on the end of the arm, such that when the weapon is removed, the limb becomes lighter and effectively shorter, resulting in increased speed and versatility of movement. In effect training with a weapon turbo charges the arms and hands for empty hand combat. Like Tae Kwon Do and Karate, Arnis too, derives empty hand combat applications and strategies from the use of weapons; but to a much greater degree. In Arnis all weapon maneuvers are translated into empty hand combat applications (i.e. slicing, jabbing, striking, locking, throwing, breaking, etc.). Because of Flow, translations are made seamlessly and with amazing speed, power and versatility.
CE: How big is the Arnis community in the United States and do you feel that it is growing? What can be done to increase the interest in the art?
TB: Well certainly Arnis is not as popular in the United States as say Tae Kwon Do or more recently Brazilian Jujitsu; but it has seen steady growth over the last decade. Now that so many martial artists (from various styles) are getting into weapons, Arnis is becoming better known. Very often Bastons (or Eskrima sticks as martial artists from other styles often refer to them) are the weapons of choice for the beginning weapons enthusiast. This is definitely contributing to the knowledge of and familiarity with the art. In fact it is quite common today for martial art schools of various disciplines to have Eskrima sticks displayed on their walls.
As was discussed earlier, many people have the misconception that Arnis is a weapons art only and question its practicality. As people start to realize how truly effective the empty hand aspect of the art is (and that is already starting to happen), I feel that it will really take off.
CE: What is the relationship between Arnis and the other Filipino Martial Arts?
TB: I take it that you are talking about Kali, Arnis and Eskrima? These are different names for the same thing. They are basically different regional or dialectal generic terms used for a group consisting of hundreds or maybe thousands of family styles and variations of Filipino stick and blade based fighting arts. A common characteristic of these arts regardless of stylistic differences, is the art of Flow which was discussed earlier.
There are however, many other lesser known Filipino Martial Arts. Buno and Dumog are Filipino grappling or wrestling styles. Panantukan is a boxing style and Sikaran is a kicking styles for example.
CE: How do you feel about Arnis tournaments?
TB: Well I see good and some bad points relating to Arnis tournaments. One point of concern to me especially with the padded stick tournaments is the false sense of security and lack of defensive concern, strategy, skill and artistry displayed by some combatants due to the presence of protective equipment. For this reason matches often end up looking like flailing matches or street brawls. In addition to being bad reality training, it diminishes the spectator quality of the art, which I feel is important for its growth as a spectator sport. Mostly though I see tournaments as being positive for the art of Arnis. Tournaments generate interest and excitement in the art and this leads to growth. Martial arts competition is very popular today. Look at the success of Karate and especially Tae Kwon Do due to tournament competition.
CE: Would you recommend Arnis as self defense training for women?
TB: Yes, definitely. I feel that Arnis is an excellent art for women to practice, both as a method of self defense and for physical conditioning. Because women are often smaller than an opponent, an art like Arnis can be a very effective equalizer. Arnis is a combat art and uses both weapon and empty hand strategies combined with such skills as agility, elusiveness, deception, etc., to neutralize size and strength. Arnis is naturally an aerobic and dance like art, which develops such qualities as balance, rhythm, timing, agility, flexibility, endurance, etc., while providing an excellent cardiovascular workout.
CE: What Are your plans for the future?
TB: I would like to do more traveling and teaching abroad, to help spread the art of Arnis around the world. To help facilitate this effort I am working on an instructional video series, which should be finished by the end of this year. I am also considering writing a book to document my adaptations of Arnis.