Didya ’Kabarwanan – Escrima

Back in 1980 when I was practicing some of the movements found in
Dan Inosanto’s book, Filipino Martial Arts, I asked my father, Vidal delos Santos Apostol, Sr.
(1912-2005) to strike me with a stick so that, with my own, I could practice what was presented
therein. Before doing so, however, he shared how he was witness to a weapons match back in
Hawai‘i between a Japanese man armed with a bokken wooden training sword resembling
a katana and an Ilocano man armed with a long hefty wooden stick. In a matter of time, according
to my father, the Japanese man was on the ground, whereas the Ilocano walked away. After the
story, he then began to overwhelm me with a barrage of strikes that left me flabbergasted on how
to handle the oncoming blows. It was only then did I learn that he was skilled in Escrima. He,
including that man in the story, were Ilocano sakadas (Philippine migrant recruits who worked for
the Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ Association) who gathered and honed their Escrima skills with each

A few years later, when visiting my father’s home town of Camiling, Tarlac, I inherited
his brother Alfredo’s wooden weapon. My mother’s brother, Proceso “Siso” Miguel Mayor who
was residing in Isabela also passed down to me a replica of his father’s wooden weapon. These
weapons were not the typical cylindrical-shaped sticks, but flat pang-or (clubs) popularly known
as balila or by the Spanish loanword garrote. The balila can be classified as “sword clubs” made
from various types of hardwood, especially of the labig or its cousin, the anaaw—two palm trees
that are differentiated by the texture of the trunk, shape of the serrated leaves, and grain. It did not
take too long for me to realize that their design and weight dictated a totally different approach
and set of principles for their use. This eventually launched me on a quest to research and discover
the Escrima styles of Ilocandia (Admistrative Regions 1, 2, and parts of 3) in Northern Luzon that
is dominated by the Ilocano ethnolinguistic group.

Rattan, from which sticks are obtained as the standard weapon in most Escrima styles, is scarce in
the northwestern lowland region of Luzon. The labig and anaaw, however, grow in abundance in
the forested areas of the north, and from which the older practitioners used to craft the balila. The
lumber of these palm trees is called billang, in which a matrix of coconut shell-like fibers
run throughout its grain. This makes the wood durable with a degree of resiliency. Because of its
weight, along with a tendency or preference for the weapon’s length to extend anywhere from 30-
36 inches, the balila dictates that the art be executed in larga mano fashion, that is, a committed
“follow-through” of the strikes. Footwork is, therefore, a necessity in manipulating distance and
positioning not only to effectively execute these strikes, but to defend against them as well. It also
requires the defender to evade the path of the oncoming strikes, or parry them out of harm’s way,
and limiting direct force-to-force blocks unless directed towards the hands wielding the weapon.
The term cadaanan derives from the Ilocano root-word daan (old, of past, or of an earlier
development). The term cabaroan, on the other hand, derives from the Ilocano root-
word baro (new, modern, or of recent development). It was only due to the popularization of what
was then being called “Cabaroan” was there a distinction made from the cadaanan methods. This
does not necessarily mean that one came from the other, since their foundation
was based on the older art of Didya.

There are two popular sequential “cinco tero” striking patterns used for
the cadaanan and cabaroan methods, yet they both maintain the same names for the quadrants in
which they are executed. In Iluko, these are known as follows:

1. Tagbat—from the upper right quadrant aimed towards the lower left,
2. Arabis—from the lower left quadrant aimed towards the upper right,
3. Saboy—from the lower right quadrant aimed towards the upper left,
4. Aplit—from the upper left quadrant aimed towards the lower right, and
5. Duyok—center thrust delivered either from pababa (below) or pangato (above).

The methods that I have researched, documented, and practiced eventually evolved into what is
now called “Didya a Kabarwanan,” or simply Didya ’Kabarwanan, which translates as “the
newest form of Didya.” This gives honor and recognition to both the old and the new, and to those
who brought forth these arts from a distant past. Those who have the patience to learn this will
find themselves practicing hours at end on each of the strikes of the Cinco Tero, and the breakdown
of the necessary body mechanics that provide the practitioner the ability to execute powerful
strikes. After their mastery, the practitioner then graduates into learning a series of movements that
serve as building blocks to maneuver the weapon into offense and defense.

Didya ’Kabarwanan serves as the foundation for the art of Didya Mudgara Warrior Club
Calisthenics in which practitioners swing two bulbous wooden clubs that are used in calisthenic
practices from India. Although some of the Indian swinging maneuvers are retained, the
methodology is used as a platform to carry over various movements that are based on the use of
the balila, thus truly maintaining combat-oriented maneuvers. Included in the mix are passive
yoga-like postures with the clubs that are complimentary to the active swinging maneuvers.
As a form of rehabilitative therapy, Didya Mudgara is beneficial for assessing and increasing joint
range of motion and to strengthen any weakness to specific muscles, particularly those surrounding
the shoulders. This is where the interconnectedness between Didya ’Kabarwanan, Didya
Mudgara,and the healing art of Ablon becomes evident.

The art of Ablon is an ancient, indigenous, spiritually-based form of manual medicine that has
been passed down to me from my maternal and paternal bloodline of indigenous healers from
Northern Luzon. My practice involves the evaluation, treatment, and care for patients dealing with
issues on physical, mental, and spiritual planes. Ablon is based on natural and spiritual laws
governing the human body by using spiritual, physiological, psychological, and mechanical

The presentation of these three arts, Didya ’Kabarwanan, Didya Mudgara, and Ablon is a
trademark of my perspective and teachings, as reflected in my class, “Way of the Healing Warrior,”
which provides a unique body of knowledge that is available to those who are serious in seeking
ancient knowledge and wisdom in this modern era.

*The material above was excerpted from my upcoming book on the Ilocano and
Pangasinan weapon arts of Northern Luzon.

Copyright © 2018 by Virgil Mayor Apostol. All rights reserved.