Jun 19, 2024

JB Ramos teaches arnis (stick) fighting at Combat Science: Warrior Arts of Asia in Toronto.

A little-known fact is that Hollywood actor Matt Damon underwent three months of extensive training in Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) for role as amnesiac spy “Bourne Identity” movies. His new skill set made a credible action star out of Damon, whose fight scenes in this spy series are ranked among the best by movie insiders and combat enthusiasts.

 JB Ramos, the main arnis instructor at the martial arts school Combat Science, who has made it her life mission to promote FMA in Canada, is thrilled that interest in the indigenous fighting art significantly picked up after the Bourne series.

“Since then, I have noticed a surge in interest in learning more about the FMA. Many schools are now incorporating the FMA in their curriculum. I have also noticed more people in the Canadian-Filipino community take interest in our cultural heritage which includes our martial arts of the Philippines,” Ramos enthuses.

The second generation Canadian-Filipino said the FMA has been around a long time, and is being taught worldwide. However, unlike many of the other mainstream trends out there, it still has a long way to go in gaining popularity.

Among the FMA, arnis has gained the most popularity as a favoured combat system. “It has Spanish influences incorporated with the combative styles of the Malay and Chinese. It also provides one with a glimpse of Philippine culture, and is a practical and effective form of self-defense,” she said.

Ramos was first exposed to FMA in early 2000. “It was the time I fell in love with it. Since then, I have been on the path of learning and teaching. It wasn’t until 2012 that I was given the opportunity to move from student to teacher, role model and leader all at the same time.”

In 2012, Ramos’s mentor, Combat Science: Warrior Arts of Asia founder Laura Armstrong, wanted to pass along the school, her knowledge and teachings to her prized student. “Since then, I have continued to teach and share the school’s foundation of passing along the knowledge given through weekly classes, workshops, seminars, hosting local FMA tournaments, demonstrations, and performances.”

Ramos, whose parents migrated to Canada from the Philippines in the 70s, has collaborated with Kapisanan Philippine Centre for Arts and Culture on its Arnis Workshop Series. "Community outreach has always been important to me. With this opportunity to partner with Kapisanan, I hope to be able to reach out to the next generation and all those who are interested in learning more about the FMA - arnis/kali/eskrima in all its forms through an inclusive, community-based, and holistic approach," she continued.

Her martial arts journey started when she was in grade school in the mid-80s. Her parents enrolled her in Okinawan Shorin Ryu karate at the local community centre. “For four years I competed at local tournaments in sparring and kata. Those were my early formative years taking karate; it helped pave the way for my love of martial arts,” she said.

“I was not aware of how much it made an impact on me until years later. During my late high school and college years, I took a break from martial arts. It wasn’t until the late 1990s to early 2000s, that I found my path back to studying the martial arts, this time it was Korean Taekwondo,” Ramos added.

A couple of years into training, she said they had a guest instructor do a class on Filipino martial arts with the use of the rattan sticks. At this point in her life, she had never heard about FMA. “This was something that sparked a renewed interest in my culture. The fluidity and gracefulness with the way she demonstrated the use and application of the simple looking sticks, left me in utter amazement. It was beautiful, but, deadly. Graceful yet lethal. From that moment on, I knew I found what I had been looking for,” she said.

That was the beginning of her lifelong journey with FMA.

Mary Ann Reyes-Mandap has over three decades of experience in journalism, public relations and corporate communications work, and was a staff member and writer for Mr. & Ms. Magazine, Malaya, and Free Press in the Philippines. While living in San Francisco in 2003-2007, she worked as Associate Editor of Philippine News, the oldest and most widely circulated Filipino newspaper in the United States, and as Editor of the Filipino Insider Magazine. In Vancouver, she is associate editor of Dahong Pilipino and had worked as community news editor of Philippine Canadian Inquirer.

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