Anting-anting and the Filipino Martial Arts
Various oraciones inscribed on a vest. This anting-anting was said to belong to General Macario Sakay.
The acquisition of an “anting-anting,” an object of supernatural powers is a common part of the old practice of arnis-escrima. While the mystical amulet is the most common form of anting-anting in the Philippines, the anting-anting comes in varied forms. It could be a prayer (oracion), a small stone or a crocodile tooth. The ways of acquiring an anting-anting are also diverse. Some were passed on from father to son while others were believed to be acquired after defeating spirit warriors. The belief system behind the anting-anting is a combination of animism and Catholicism. Those who own an anting-anting believe that its power is best replenished and tested during Good Fridays. The Catholic Church as well as the various evangelical churches in the Philippines does not condone the use of anting-anting. It’s etymology unknown, the anting-anting was also known by other names such as “agimat,” “bertud,” or “galing.” The anting-anting is distinct from the “gayuma [love potion],” which is another popular facet of Philippine esoterica.
It was in 1999, at the turn of the century that a number of my Filipino martial arts (FMA) colleagues began experimenting with oraciones. They’ve joined an ancient blade cult whose initiation rites include being hacked by a very sharp bolo several times. This particular type of anting-anting belongs to the “kabal” or “kunat oracion” category that were believed to make the bearer impervious to bladed weapon attacks. All of my friends emerged unharmed from the hacking ritual. But one of them, who later on tried to replicate the feat in an independent demonstration, sustained a very nasty injury.
Another type of anting-anting that is also commonly associated with escrimadores is the “tagaliwas [diverter]” that claims to have the power to cause the bullets to miss from guns fired at point blank range.
In an article titled “Unmasking the Art - Artist“ by Marilitz Dizon (Rapid Journal Vol. 6 No. 3), Romeo Macapagal, one of the senior students of the late legendary grandmaster Antonio “Tatang” Illustrisimo narrates his experience on his teacher’s demonstration of this kind of power, it says, “Before Tatang’s health deteriorated in 1992, his mind was very sharp and focused, his will power tremendous. On Good Fridays we would go to empty lots to test his power. On a sheet of bond paper, Tatang would scribble a few oraciones and have it set up for target. Now, my two elder sons and I are competent shots, but at a distance of five meters we are only shooting around that 8 x 11 inches sheet of paper, knocking its edges only at three meters. Good sight pictures, good squeeze, good ammo, but we could not hit the target. Whatever the mechanisms, it worked.”
One documented mass-use of anting-anting that ended in disaster was the case of Valentin delos Santos and his religio-political society Lapiang Malaya. In May 21, 1967, the then 86-year old Delos Santos and the members of his society demanded reforms from the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos. The group, armed with bolos and believing that their anting-anting could ward off all harms against their person marched against the military and ended up being massacred.
The use of the anting-anting is almost always associated with uprisings in the Philippines. During the 1896 Philippine Revolution against Spain, It was said that the Supremo of the Katipunan, Andres Bonifacio carried an amulet called Santiago de Galicia – Birhen del Pilar for protection.
Manong Ignacio Mabait, an old-school escrimador whom I have befriended in 2000 showed me his own anting-anting – it was a talisman implanted in one of his arms by his father. He intimated to me that his father was also an escrimador who have fought against the Spaniards and consecutively against the Americans. Manong Ignacio himself fought against the Japanese in Manila during World War II. The implant looked like a bead that moved about under his skin. I surmised that, that kind of anting-anting was the same kind possessed by the founder of the Philippine Independent Church, Gregorio Aglipay as mentioned in Nid Anima’s book “The Filipino Martial Arts,” it reads, “Perhaps the coincidence that this writer is Aglipay’s godson qualifies him for the revelation of factual information about the Aglipayan bishop which are heretofore unchronicled. From my grandfather who was a priest in his church, I gathered that his early morning gurgle constituted not water but vinegar. Refuted as a man’s extraordinary strength, one manifestation of Aglipay’s strength was in the way he toyed a heavy iron bar like a child toying a pencil, holding one of its tips between thumb and index finger and swaying it.
Aglipay’s trip to Bangued Abra was characterized by lodging in my grandfather’s house. His siestas there were aided by one of grandfather’s sons, Agustin, whom he was particularly fond of. The bishop’s back was a strange phenomenon, according to Uncle Agustin. Scattered on different places on his back were five flesh corns and about the size of corn grains, too. Pressing one of these would send them all scrambling playfully, taking each other’s different places in the manner of children’s games.”
While there are still escrimadores that consider anting-anting as part of their martial arts practice, the majority of FMA practitioners in the Philippines today, including the top masters put more importance to practical skills than esoteric practices. I got the following succinct answer from Master Yuli Romo, another senior student of Tatang Illustrisimo and founder of Bahad Zubu when I asked his opinion on the subject: “I believe in oracion but I give more importance to practical skills. The Bible says that we have guardian angels and they were there for our protection. I believe in that. But to say that I’ll use an oracion so that my opponent would not be able to hit me, that is another story.”