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Disney’s Martial Arts Festival 2007: Melting Pot of Many Arts and Cultures

November 2, 2007

Pete Starr author photo
Now that the dust has settled from the whirlwind of Disney’s Martial Arts Festival (which was more than just a tournament; it was a spectacle) I’ve had time to sit back, rest, and gather my thoughts and feelings about the experience. And all I can say is, “Wow! What an event!”

I would hope that some of the participants and spectators would take time to consider what they witnessed during those three days of action. Consider; there were martial disciplines from several different countries represented there… and I’m sure that everyone noticed the differences between them. Taekwondo is considerably different from kung-fu and Filipino arnis (also known as escrima or kali) is radically different from Okinawan karate.

I think a lot of people simply look at these various forms and say something like, “Whoa! That’s really cool…” But it’s important to look beyond the surface and realize that one of the main reasons that these arts are so different is because they were developed and are still practiced within very different cultures. Filipino culture is quite a bit different than that of Korea and these differences, along with certain environmental factors have had an impact on the martial disciplines of these nations.

For instance, arnis is reknowned for its use of the single or double sticks. Actually, this art is descended from Chinese origins. Chinese pirates used to raid the coasts of the Philippines and one of the primary weapons was the broadsword. In time, Filipino natives learned to use this common Chinese weapon but found it unsuitable for use in the dense jungles of their land. Moreover, steel was scarce and difficult to forge. So, they exchanged sticks made of rattan (which is plentiful in the jungle) for the broadswords, reconfigured their techniques for close-quarters jungle fighting, and voila! Arnis was born…

There are no jungles in Korea. Mountainous terrain covers about two-thirds of the country. In ages past, people either rode horses or walked long distances. Although taekwondo (and tangsoodo) evolved from Japanese karate, it was only natural that their martial forms would emphasize long-range kicking techniques. Moreover, Koreans regard the foot as the dirtiest part of the body. Kicking someone would not only inflict serious damage; it would serve as a form of insult as well!

The U.S. Marines refer to Okinawa as “The Rock” because of its rough, rocky terrain. Okinawan forms of karate descended from certain forms of southern Chinese kung-fu. These systems are ideal for close-quarters combat.

In contrast, Japanese karate utilizes longer stances, smooth gliding steps, and long-range punches and kicks. Karate was introduced to Japan in 1923 and became very popular. However, the Japanese practiced in formal dojos (training halls) which feature polished wooden floors. Dojos have existed in Japan for centuries, primarily for the practice of swordsmanship and it was only natural that karate would be practiced in these stark, spotless, beautiful structures. Smooth, wooden floors facilitate long-range kicks, punches, and gliding movements much better than rocky ground and this impacted the development of Japanese karate.

Southern China has always been extremely crowded with narrow streets, and people living on houseboats or small alleyways. These living conditions affected the development of southern forms of kung-fu, which are often referred to as “short fist” styles. They feature short punches, low kicks, and joint-twisting techniques.

At the other end of the spectrum is northern China with its mountains and wide open plains. The northern styles of kung-fu are generically known as “long fist” because they emphasize long stances and high, jumping kicks.

Each of these cultures approach martial arts very differently. Not only do their techniques differ; the spirit with which they practice varies considerably. And many martial arts masters believe that it is the spirit of their respective arts that is the most important feature. Above and beyond physical technique, students must absorb and understand the real spirit of the art.

To me, this is an important part of the magic of Disney’s Martial Arts Festival; we were able to see the spirit and culture of so many different martial disciplines come together in one place. Martial arts that have been separated by culture, politics, and egos were able to put their differences aside to compete and perform side by side.

That made the whole trip worthwhile, as much as wearing ponchos in the rain while we watched the beautiful fireworks display at the Epcot Center, while Allegra tried to steal my crabcakes.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. rbvergara permalink
    April 10, 2008 9:30 pm

    Good post, although I think your version of the history of arnis is suspect…

  2. April 10, 2008 9:37 pm

    We’d love to hear more about what you know regarding the history of arnis. Feel free to send us more comments, or a longer note via email if you’d like us to post it. Thanks for your interest!

  3. pstarr permalink
    April 11, 2008 4:56 am

    The (extremely brief) origin of arnis that I described was told to me by tuhon Leo Gaje, jr., head of the Pekiti-Tersia style of arnis. It’s possible that it isn’t completely accurate; the origins of the Filipino arts is a topic that is often debated by practitioners of those arts.

    But it does make sense since the Philippines were part of the Majapahit Empire which was often exploited by Chinese traders and pirates.

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