Happiness is the Key

I tried to give this post with the title “Pursuing Happiness” but that would be too cliché. I was planning a post series about happiness which I started here but my schedule prevented me from doing so. For now, I felt an internal nudge telling me to write about this.



Too often we would hear people say that man’s ultimate goal is to be happy. I have struggled with the idea as long as I can remember. Growing up as a church minister’s son, I have concluded early in my life that happiness is not paramount. Of course for a Christian, it is living according to God’s precepts. But a person’s goal must be something so rewarding and must always start with something unreachable.

I always wanted to be like my dad. His duties as a pastor of our local church were attractive. Even though I grew up as a shy kid, I will always wonder how my dad interacts with people treating even strangers like old-time friends. By the time I graduated in elementary, I told myself that I would be a computer engineer, whatever that profession means. I would never follow any of those two since after graduating from high school, I took up business administration. Now, I am pursuing the life of a medical doctor.

The evolution of my attitudinal change flashed in my mind when I was working with my adopted family for our community work. They were telling me about what they were doing to remedy their sickness including their medical experiences for the last few months. They told me about people who tried to dupe them into buying expensive food supplements and about the drug they are keeping as an emergency pill that was clearly not related to the ailments that they have.


Broken Smile

I planned to make my visit short and just record their vital signs and verify some information that I took months before. However, my visit went on for an hour where mostly I debunked their misconceptions and answered their questions to the extent of my knowledge. I admit I was thankful that their questions were not too technical but I loved the feeling of exchanging ideas with them, seeing their interested and satisfied faces, and the total exercise of the event that was happening before my eyes.

It culminated when I notice the firstborn in the family looking eagerly at my nameplate, at my stethoscope, and at my notes. His face was serious and I feel like he was trying to say something. Before I left I asked him if he, too, wants to be a doctor someday. He smiled and answered yes.

His parents were quick to tell him that they may not afford medical education or that now is not the time to decide about it. I dispelled their fears by telling how many doctors are needed by the Philippines and that there is still hope for free medical education someday. They both looked at their son and agreed.

I can’t believe I would be inspired by that scenario. I realized that man functions to follow his need to be happy. He wants to satisfy the longing in his heart that would ultimately make his heart smile.


Trigger-Happy Obsession

We are often obsessed with the difference between joy and happiness. Often, joy is something that dwells in our hearts and may persist no matter what the circumstance is. Happiness is the feeling that we feel due to something that happened. I agree that the preceding definitions are correct.

However, the dictionary would tell a different story. For Merriam-Webster, joy is “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires,” and happiness is “a state of well-being and contentment.” By the looks of it, they seem to be similar. We have joy in our hearts but we still try to seek happiness and that is never wrong.


Happily Blessed

Religions and self-help programs would guide people to achieve happiness. Because of its English etymology (using blood to consecrate something), we associate the word “blessed” with the act of making something holy. We forget that in the religious context, it also means someone who is happy.

The most famous sermon of Jesus Christ is His Beatitudes which are beautiful in meaning and structure. We call it beatitudes because it has sentences that start with the word beati which means “happiness or blessedness.” This sermon sums up some of the values that He taught and it says that the person who follows them will be happy.

To make yourself happy is not even contradicting to a Christian. The mere fact that believers live their lives to give God happiness is reason enough to say that pursuing happiness is a holy act if done the right way. Belivers disregard that God’s happiness would result to their own happiness.

As long as we do not hurt others, we can chase anything that would make us happy. I think I have a newfound outlook on my life and would now try to seek my happiness.

Oh, the things medical school does to you.

Reformation500: How Reformed Christianity Reached the Philippines

Aside from being a full-time medical student, I also serve our local church as a worship leader and head of publications in print and online. This year, Christendom will be celebrating the 500th year of the Reformation which was led by Martin Luther, giving way to reforms in the whole Christian church. Every week, I post some reflections on the events of the Reformation, writing about some points on it. This is our post for this Sunday:

Spain started its colonization of the Philippine islands in March 1521, just six years after Martin Luther declared his faith on the doors of Wittenberg Church. While the Reformation was enjoying its early success in Europe, the inhabitants of these islands are yet to encounter the Christian faith.

The goal of Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition was to jumpstart the Kingdom of Spain’s quest for God, Gold, and Glory; where God signifies the Christianization of lands that they will colonize. In this painting by Fernando Amorsolo, we see the first mass on the islands and the conversion of the locals into Christianity through the Roman Catholic Church.

Prior to this arrival, Spain was one of the prospect states for the Reformation ideology to penetrate. However, the Spanish Inquisition, a special tribunal to identify those who were deemed heretics by the kingdom and the church established in 1478, was a strong opposing force. This deadly tribunal led to countless deaths of Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and other non-Catholics, or their exile, whichever comes first. The Inquisition was only disbanded in 1834.

Understandably, this also prevented the spread of the Reformation to the Philippine Islands throughout the 333 years of Spanish rule. However, the Reformation, through its influence on the Enlightenment, may have spread some ideologies through literature. Several local uprisings from local church leaders were also noted, notably, the separation of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente from the Roman Catholic Church led by Gregorio Aglipay, often hailed by the church’s members as the “Martin Luther of the Philippines.”

The Reformed church formally stepped on the waters of the country after the Treaty of Paris in 1898, which ended the Spanish-American War, was signed, where the Philippines was ceded to the United States of America. Because of this, American Protestant Missionaries were able to spread the Gospel among the people. Prior to this, Catholicism was the state religion and other denominations are not permitted to practice their faiths.

The first Protestant service held in the Philippines was on Sunday, August 28, 1898 led by Chaplain George Stull of The Methodist Episcopal Church, After the service, he said, “That the power of God will use this day to make a good Catholic better, any weak American stronger, any backslider ashamed, and the gloomy old dungeon the beginning of wonderful things in these Islands, is my prayer.”

Re:New Christian Church lives up to this legacy on how the Reformation shaped the world and how the Gospel of God was shared up to this generation of Filipinos. We continue to meet and discover this wonderful story that God has laid before us, speaking of His greatness and of His love through His Son Jesus Christ.

Further back, this is our answer to Jesus’ Great Commission, and we dream of fulfilling this commandment, spreading His word up to the ends of the world.

Martin Luther said, “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”

“Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.'” Revelation 14:6–7 (NIV)

100 days before Christmas 2017

Well, there’s only 100 days before Christmas this year. And if you’ve read my post about Filipino Christmases, you would know that we celebrate the season for months. For others, today marks their true countdown for the celebration.

And if this early Christmas festivities can take away all the bad things that we experienced this year up to this point, I know most of us would gladly have them.

We would rather celebrate. Of course, just see what we have:


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The Rise of Human Rights issues in the Philippines. The country is still under the war on drugs and many are dying as collateral damage.
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The USA was ravaged by two hurricanes. Some Filipinos overseas were also affected.
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The Government’s Budget. Netizens slammed Congress after they passed that the Commission on Human Rights will be given only Php 1,000.00 for their budget next year. The constitution is now reviewed by most citizens.
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Marcos’ 100 Birth Anniversary. The late dictator was given a special celebration following his 100th birth anniversary, with the Malacañang even giving him a special holiday in Ilocos.
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iPhone X launch. Now, owners of old iPhones will strive to get this model and may starve themselves because of this.

And more. Conflicting opinions clash about these topics. We cannot blame others who would rather think of happy things than to ponder on these. But it does not mean they will not be discussed. They must be discussed in an intelligent way.

More than just a mode of diverting our attention, Christmas must teach us the gift of the season: HOPE. Let us continue to hope that our world will survive until all of these will pass.

How to Prepare for the NMAT Exam: Tips and Tricks to Ace the Exam

So, you want to be a doctor. And you happen to be a Filipino or want to study medicine in the Philippines. Before you can take the entrance exams to the school of your choice, you still need to prove yourself worthy. You need to take the country’s aptitude examinations for aspiring medical students.

If you have family members who were exposed to the world of medicine, you would have known about this examinations. This is the equivalent to the United States’ Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) but is not a computer-based exam like the latter.

The National Medical Admission Test or NMAT is described as follows:

The test consists of Part I and Part II. Part I is a 200-item test with four subdivisions, which are on Verbal, Inductive Reasoning, Quantitative and Perceptual Acuity Skills and is a three-hour exam. Part II is a two-hour-30-minute test in the field of basic sciences such as Biology, Physics, Social Sciences and Chemistry, all of which form 200 items. Qualified test takers are graduates and graduating students of degree programs. So that is 5 hours and 30 minutes exam in a day. Generally its results come in about 15 working days, and a candidate can get the admission as per college requirements. The grading system is percentile ranking from 1- to 99+ and marks are given ranging from 200 to 800.

In the past, third year and fourth year students in any Bachelor’s Degree program were permitted to take the exam. But the Commission on Higher Education issued their Memorandum Order (CMO) No. 10, s. 2006 or the “Updated Policies, Standards and Guidelines for Medical Education” which amended the requirements for those who want to be medical students. They are as follows:

Bachelor’s Degree (including those who will graduate by the end of the term, i.e., fourth year students)

National Medical Admission Test (NMAT)

Certificate of Eligibility for Admission to a Medical Course (CEMed)

Applicant’s Acceptance in Medical School

As you can see, the NMAT is very important before you can follow your dreams of becoming a doctor. I was blessed enough to have a good rating in my NMAT exam and was able to enter the medical school of my choice. Even though I was not an achiever back in my undergraduate days, I was still able to get a good score!

It’s NMAT season once again and if you were not able to know the schedule and more requirements for the examinations, visit the CEM web page dedicated for the NMAT here. The Center for Educational Measurement, Inc. (CEM) has been commissioned since 1985 by the CHED through its Technical Committee for Medical Education, to develop and administer the NMAT.

With the information given above, it is clear that you need to prepare your requirements first before doing other things. So, how do you prepare for the NMAT?


Enroll in a review class

People say that not all information you need in life can be found inside the classroom (haha) and that’s what review classes are for! Since your baccalaureate degree may not be strictly pre-medicine, review classes offer you a more focused venue for your goal of becoming a doctor.

Reviewers may offer essential tips or recommendations that you’ll surely use in answering your exams. The lessons are concentrated on topics that will cover all examination questions. Plus, your review centers may even give old test questions or exams patterned from the real thing that will give you a hang of the exam.

Some centers even claim that you can ace the exams through their help. Many have proven this and joining one will surely help you.


But if you can, self-study!

Not everyone can afford to pay for review classes and it is quite understandable. I was not able to attend any review session but was able to get good scores. This method is okay with those courses related to medicine, either directly or indirectly. I am a BS Biology graduate so I was able to use my course for the exams.

Although those with non-science degrees can still self-study if they have the resources. Since NMAT covers general subjects, one can find textbooks, even those from high school, to be good sources of information for review.

Others will even say that Wikipedia and Google helped them in their review.


Buy a review book

Since we’re on the topic of self-review, you may want to get copies of NMAT review books available in bookstores nationwide. Like the review centers, these books may contain old exam questions and exam sets that may have been patterned with what is given during the NMAT.

Some review centers would supplement their students with review books and larger review centers even sell review books under their names. The important thing is not to rely too much on these books. Again, these are just guides and memorizing the questions and answers may get you to nowhere. The best thing to do is still study.

Familiarize yourself with the exam types

NMAT has two parts and Part 1 is given in the morning while Part 2 is given after the lunch break. Part 1 exams cover the following: Verbal, Inductive Reasoning, Quantitative, and Perceptual Acuity. Each subset consists of 40 items and tests the mental ability of the student.

Part 2 exams include the following: Biology, Physics, Social Science, and Chemistry. Each subtest consists of 50 items and this part tests the academic proficiency of the student.

Remember that these tests have time limits!


Study your basic sciences

As mentioned above, the Part 2 of the examination covers the major sciences that most aspiring medical students are well aware of. Even those in non-science courses may be familiar with these subjects as they were also given in high school.

Biology. They say Biology students or those with health sciences degrees have an advantage with this subtest. Even though this may be true in some aspects, the questions given are general and surely lives up to its purpose in testing the proficiency of the student.

Physics. Many people say this is the Waterloo of most NMAT takers. Even though Physics is required as an appreciation course in many degrees, most of my friends and acquaintances tell that they forgot most of their earnings in Physics. I myself found the exams to be hard but thankfully I memorized the essential formulas for the test and thankfully survived.

Social Science. This came as a surprise to some of my acquaintances as they though NMAT would only focus on health and sciences. (They probably forgot to read the NMAT guide which you can get here.) As a Social Science junkie, I found the questions enjoyable to answer. Better be aware of everything around you. They might come up in the exams.

Chemistry. They say this belongs alongside Physics as the hardest tests in the exams. But Chemistry is an interesting topic and if you are planning to be a doctor, you need to appreciate it now before you’re shocked about how important the subject is in medical school!

One of the things that people are confused about the NMAT is its scoring scheme. I was also confused about this years ago. Here’s what CEM got to say about it:

The NMAT yields the following set of scores: (1) Part 1 subtest scores and a composite score called APT, (2) Part 2 subtest scores and a composite score called SA, and (3) a full composite score derived from the eight subtests called the General Performance Score (GPS).

The score on each of the eight subtests is expressed as a standard score (SS). The SS has a range of 200 – 800. The test results of examinees are compared to those of the norm group which has mean scores of 500 and standard deviations of 100.

The NMAT GPS is reported with a corresponding percentile rank (PR) that ranges from 1- to 99+, with a midpoint of 50. The PR indicates the percentage of NMAT examinees who has NMAT scores the same as or lower than the examinee.

The PR will be evaluated against the PR cutoff prescribed by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) or by the medical school. This PR cutoff is the minimum score that qualifies an examinee as a bonafide applicant for admission into his/her preferred medical school.



Memorize important formulas (especially in physics!)

I have said this before but I need to reiterate this. I would have finished my exams late if I was not able to grasp some formulas both in Physics and Chemistry before taking the exams. I got this technique from a friend and was truly thankful for it. It is a simple trick but it will surely help you.

Of course, most students who want to be doctors are already enrolled in science courses or are working as health care providers. This means that most are already learned in Biology. Maybe the best approach to this is to assess which subject you are not comfortable with. Giving more effort to that area would truly help you.


Research about the medical school you want to attend

Even though I did not see it coming while I was an undergrad, I felt blessed that I was accepted in the medical school that I want to attend. I have this rocky journey with my school but the point is, I would have done better if I thought over the means for me to be accepted to the school of my choice.

Some medical schools have tough requirements and cutoff scores. Here comes your NMAT score to play. You need to make sure that you are cut out for the slot that will be given to you. Yes, you may not be sure about your performance in the exams. But knowing that your chosen school has stiff requirements can pump you up and inspire you to study hard.

Not all medical schools, though, have high requirements for NMAT scores. If you were not able to be accepted in your desired school, you may always seek for alternatives. Medical schools have different requirements and they have their reasons for that. Yes, there is a ranking for medical schools in the Philippines but I think that will never define you or your future in any way. Getting to schools other than those with prestigious names and ranking is by no means a measure of being a medical student.

Of course, like all other aptitude exams, the NMAT will never define your capability or even your IQ. With the time constraint that you’re in during the exam, you have a great chance of giving the wrong answers even to questions that you know by heart. The important thing is to never waver and give up. If you think you have done enough, just try again and again. If you’re meant to be a doctor, with effort and timing you’ll surely get your goal.


Set your goals; believe in yourself

The best thing to prepare for the NMAT is to remind yourself of why you want to be a doctor. Yes, the NMAT is still far from the medical license that you want to get. But at the end of the day, your interest in having a high NMAT score would still rely on what made you decide to take it in the first place.

Set your goals and make sure that those goals are for the common good. The medical school journey starts at the moment you decided to take the NMAT exam. This is the best time for you to believe in yourself. This journey has many rough roads and sometimes these can be reasons that will lead you to doubt yourself. The way of the medical doctor is a blessed calling and those who even just want to be one are blessed in their own right.

If you have a hard time on believing in yourself, find other who might become your sources of inspiration. Faith is important; you may rely on God on this venture. Find hope from your families, friends, and acquaintances. Just remember that you are not alone in this and you can do it!


Final thoughts

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This is in no way an authority on how to prepare for your NMAT. I am not an expert in medical education. I have written these to perhaps help you in your own journey towards medicine. I have my failures in this journey but I wish that you, my reader, will have a better road and may you become a successful doctor in the future!

Please see the official NMAT website for information about the exam including the fees, the venues, and the requirements. Make sure to remember the dates! God bless!

Filipino Christmas: Celebrating the Holidays for Four Months

It’s nearly September and your friends might be sharing this meme for several hours on the first. In the early days of online social media, Filipinos would post Christmas messages at exactly 12:00 AM of the said day. But nowadays, people would make fun of this overly-advance holiday spirit and place Jose Mari Chan’s face in their profiles.

But would Filipino Christmas be complete without Jose Mari Chan’s “Christmas in our Hearts?” Originally released in 1990, this album would become the best-selling OPM album of all time and would top selling charts for albums since then. Filipinos all around the world would know that cassette tapes and CDs of the album would be played starting September 1.

If you have read this blog, you would know that I, too, am a junkie for Christmas. This season just brings back wonderful memories of childhood and its Christian side has always been a story of hope and love for all generations. But why the need for a long celebration?


A Time to Cringe

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August is often called tigkiriwi for Hiligaynon-speakers, a time marked by poverty and hardships. For people in working in rice fields and sugar cane plantations, the month is when the rice fields are not yet ready for harvest and sugarcane mills are not yet active. The term tigkiriwi comes from the root word kiwi, which means “turned or twisted aside, awry, oblique, inclined, sloping, slanting, leaning, canting, crooked.” The cringing face is the hallmark of this month.

Those working in sugarcane plantations would say that this month is part of what they call the tiempo muerto or dead season which starts in April covering the Holy Week celebrations which commemorate Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection.

These facts alone tell that August is deemed a sad month for the people especially from those in Western Visayas. With no harvest in sight, and all the funds spent up with the enrollment fees and other school needs in June, the tigkiriwi season will surely elicit cringing faces from struggling families trying to make a living. This fact also explains why the planned change of the school calendar in the country may not be a totally good idea.

Given these, Filipinos seek for something to draw them out of the worries of August. September poses as a symbol of hope.


Ber months or Beer months?

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The last four months of the year all end in -ber and the ingenuity of Filipinos led to coining the term Ber Months to refer to them. Christmas music would be heard from malls, most notably SM malls all over the country which would set a schedule for holiday tunes to be played. FM stations also start playing them from time to time.

In the past, people would even try to decorate their homes prior to September 1st just to embrace the festive feeling of the coming season. While these phenomenon has decreased in recent years, many families and establishments would still try to do this feat.

Meanwhile, people would eventually associate beer with the Ber Months. A 2001 survey of subjects aged between 15 and 74 years (total sample size n = 10 240) found that the rate of regular drinking was 11.1% (total), 13% (males) and 5.9% (females). Regular drinking was defined as drinking on four days or more per week. But if you’re around the community, you would see that beer consumption is rising during this months.

Together with the initiative of a local beer brand to bring the German celebration of Oktoberfest in the country, the emergence of the Beer Months moniker was legitimized. Unlike other Oktoberfest celebrations in the world, this coincides with the Ber Months with various celebrations across the archipelago from September to December. However, the German Club in Manila also celebrates this event, albeit more faithful to the original festival which, as of this writing, is in its 79th year.

The 2016 Oktoberfest hosted by the Manila German Club.

Perhaps this association only proves how right the tigkiriwi idea of the previous month is. With beer, people can be happy and be festive.


A Coping Mechanism

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Maybe this early celebration of Christmas is nothing but a coping mechanism. The country has experienced various hardships in the past. From its three centuries under Spanish rule to the Marcos dictatorship, one can see how the need for a long-term celebration is imminent here.

As of this writing, the country is bracing itself for the 10th typhoon to enter the area. Typhoons enter the country’s area of responsibility during the last part of May and would even reach until December. The country has been called the most exposed country in the world to tropical storms and though these storms may hamper Christmas celebrations, the mere promise of happiness by the season aids in coping with the stress that they may bring.


“I remember the Child…”

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The Philippines is known to be the fourth largest Christian country in the world with 90% of Filipinos are Christians which consists of 80.1% Roman Catholic, 1.8% Evangelical, 0.7% Iglesia ni Cristo, 1.1% Aglipayan, and 2.2% other Christian groups including other Protestant denominations. Majority of these Christian groups celebrate Christmas and because of this, it is not surprising that Christmas is a famous celebration in the country.

The Christ child has been viewed as a symbol of hope in the country. The Gospel message of God sending His only Son to save humanity has been the closest idea of redemption for the people. The promise of a new life in Christ and His coming may have enticed people to love the celebration that comes only once a year.


Christmas Economics

Of course, Christmas also has the promise of better earnings for business owners and more compensation for wage earners. The rise of sales because of buying gifts, decorations, and food, plus the added consumption of electricity and personnel is what it takes for the economics of Christmas to be deemed beneficial.

The country has the Presidential Decree No. 851 or the 13th-Month Pay Law that provides employers to give extra pay for regular employees to be given by December 24th every year, perhaps to give more purchasing power to employees during the holiday season.

Meanwhile, government employees in the country also get their 14th-month pay by virtue of Budget Circular 2017-2 covering all civilian, uniformed, and military personnel that has been in government service for at least four months of service since July 2016. This pay is given as a midyear bonus in the month of May.

However, the Philippine Statistics Authority gathered data in 2014 and concluded that more than a quarter of the total establishment employment were non-regular workers. Employment of nonregular workers in establishments with at least 20 workers as of 30 June 2014 was placed at 1.336 million – more than a quarter (29.9%) of the total establishment workforce of 4.472 million. This only means that these non-regular workers cannot avail of the provisions given above. The issue of contractualization is still widespread in the country even with the Department of Labor and Employment’s policy of banning endo in 2016.


Merry Christmas sa gihapon!

Maybe all of these woes still lead people to for ways to comfort themselves. Christmas is a simple celebration rooted in the modern Christian tradition, solidified by several events in the people’s lives. All of the reasons I gave may just be that. But the Filipino’s long celebration of Christmas is a beauty to behold.

And before Jose Mari Chan serenades you, let me be the first to greet you: Merry Filipino Christmas!

May that star on Christ’s still shine today and give us hope ’til Christmas Day!

Arnis: The National Sport and Martial Art of the Philippines

This was supposed to be published after my Dinagyang specials. Now it’s super-delayed. But arnis does rock so I’m publishing it anyway!

I’m still overwhelmed by the Dinagyang fever! This post is also contaminated by it! I was so inspired by an arnis competition that was joined by my younger brother that I take pride with arnis automatically.

As you know, I want to present an informative blog that would be enjoyable for people to read. At the same time, I want to show the real me through these post. Here is one of them. I<3ARNIS!

Here is a brief background:

EskrimaArnis and Kali refer to a class of Filipino martial arts that emphasize weapon-based fighting with sticks, blades and improvised weapons. Although training starts with weapons, empty hand techniques, trapping and limb destruction are core parts of these arts as the weapon is considered merely an extension of the body. Eskrima and Arnis are the most common among the many names often used in thePhilippines today to refer to these arts.

The teaching of the basic skills in Eskrima are traditionally simplified. With limited time to teach intricate moves, only techniques that were proven effective in battle and could easily be taught en masse were used. This allowed villagers, generally not professional soldiers, a measure of protection against other villages, as well as foreign invaders. This philosophy of simplicity is still used today and is the underlying base of eskrima. Because of this approach, eskrima and the Filipino martial arts in general are often mistakenly considered to be “simple”. However, this refers only to its systematization, not effectiveness. To the contrary, beyond the basic skills lies a very complex structure and a refined skillset that takes years to master.

Even though many modern-day people call it Eskrima or Kali, I prefer it be Arnis since this reflects the ingenuity of the Filipino race and a proper one since the main idea or objective of the art is the stick or “arnis” which is then utilized to several other types of styles of the art.

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