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A Weapon Culture

In my study of Pekiti Tirsia Kali and FMA in general, a term I keep hearing is "knife culture". The term was used numerous times in the police training video "Surviving Edged Weapons", which I highly recommend to anyone training with edged weapons and martial artists in general.

I never really paid much attention to this term, maybe because in the back of my mind the idea that I live in a "knife culture" didn't have to be stated. When I gave it some thought, it occurred to me that the term should be changed to "weapon culture", which I believe best describes the Filipino fighting psyche.

Open a typical tabloid in this country and it will be filled with gory crime stories. Almost all of them involve a weapon of some sort. Knife attacks are so common here that they hardly grab your attention when you happen to see the words "stabbed to death" on some of the headlines.

It could be a burglaries gone horribly bad, a group of friends having one too many bottles of gin, a jealous husband suspicious of his best friend getting too close to his wife or any other high stress situation and almost always a knife or another weapon will be added to the volatile mix.

The ease of which people go for a blade at the smallest provocation makes it quite possible that someone will get stabbed over something as trivial as staring too long at someone; a deadly brawl can be sparked by "what the hell are you looking at?" But of course such violence is very much dependent on where you are. The typical Yuppie in cosmopolitan Makati (the business district) will generally be more even-tempered than some of the denizens of Metro Manila's slums.

But the risk of dying from a vicious stabbing is still very real in this society. A colleague of my wife was fatally stabbed 34 times by a burglar he surprised when he got home a little earlier than usual.

I'm not saying that Filipinos are all cold-blooded killers. In fact we are known throughout the world as a nation of very friendly and accommodating people. It's just that stabbing each other in anger, frustration or passion is almost a natural act. Unlike shooting someone, stabbing another human being means that you get up close to do the deed. The mindset that allows people to do that would be a great topic for sociological research.

Knife fans in the US talk about their cultural aversion to blades. In their society, guns are the preferred weapon of the protagonist, while the "villains" use knives in contrast to the dashing cowboy shooting his revolver at the Native American armed with a tomahawk.

But the "blade culture" does not stop at just knives. That term should be changed to "weapon culture", the Filipino penchant of picking up anything to use as a weapon. The same tabloids often have stories of people getting hit by pipes and other blunt instruments. To pick up something in a fight, "pumulot", is so common that I doubt that Filipinos realize it. A typical bar fight here will always involve chairs, bottles, pool cues, ashtrays and anything else that can be used as a weapon.

Filipinos love guns. There's a thriving gun culture here as well and local movies always show the protagonist blasting away at villains with almost every imaginable firearm. There are thousands of unlicensed firearms in the country and this continues to become a problem for law enforcement and the military.

Thus, to call what we have a "blade culture" only reveals part of the Filipino fighting mentality.

To Filipinos, picking up a blade or any weapon is not about fighting fairly or not. It's simply about surviving, nothing more. The idea of heroically fighting empty handed is somewhat alien. We apparently have a societal and cultural understanding that it's acceptable to pick up anything and use it as a weapon. To a foreigner this may seem underhanded but to a Filipino it's being "matalino" (smart) and "magulang" (shrewd). Filipinos regard cunning and shrewdness in battle something to strive for, a trait that often separates the living from the dead.

There's a world of difference between cunning and treachery. Filipinos understand this and look down on the former as cowardice and deceit. Cunning and smart tactics on the other hand are nothing but necessities for survival.

This article is from Mandala Buddy's blog.