Tsako, Chako, Chaku



Until recently, I’ve never known nanchaku, nanchuks, or even tabak-toyok by any other name than tsako, chako, or chaku. Ask any man on the streets of Manila and more often than not, they’ll identify them as such.

I was surprised to learn that it was a tool used by Filipino farmers. “Really? I’ve always thought that they were weapons, from China!”

Master Cris said that in Davao, they would dry rice grains in the sun for several weeks and then thresh them with tsako.

My friend Eli, an agriculturist working at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources,  confirmed it but said that farmers no longer use tsako now. Farmers now have threshing machines or if not, they use the traditional but easier method of “threshing grains with their feet.”

Anyway, he tried to demonstrate how to thresh with tsako but because of my zero farming background, I couldn’t visualize it.

Now here’s serendipity: One day I was in a bookstore leafing through a Tagalog Bible comic book about Gideon, the Mighty Warrior of Israel when I saw an illustration of him threshing grains using what looked like a tsako!

Image Credit: ICI Ministries

You hold one stick and flail the other one against the grains!

I don’t know if it was just a Filipino illustrator’s rendering of the Biblical account, “Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress”. Do you suppose ancient Isrealites had tsako as well?

Anyway, what’s important is I now know more about this farm tool/weapon.

That, I believe, enriches the experience of training with it.






There is always something there to remind me

“This is not good,” I told myself. “I probably should go back to Filipino Martial Arts training soon.”

You see, I was in a church service tonight, and was only vaguely hearing what the pastor was saying because I was so distracted. First, it was the pen in his shirt pocket.  I thought of the long list of  lethal moves I could do with it. Then his microphone, another long list. And then the mic stand….

I’ve burned out and it’s been almost two months now that I’ve pulled back from FMA training and all other related activities. (Check out my earlier post I’m tired of Filipino Martial Arts.)

During this break, I realized that I can’t completely shut off FMA. Remember that catchy 1960’s song “There is always something there to remind me” by Burt Bacharach and Hal David? It’s true of FMA.

I go to a book store and spot a knife book.



It’s kitchen book alright but that hold can very well be ours. IMG_20141111_160309

I go to a hardware store

IMG_20141112_132131and find walking sticks

IMG_20141112_131139and knives.IMG_20141112_125920And don’t let me get started on the mall’s kitchen section: weapons are just too many to mention!


IMG_20141112_123925I sit at a doctor’s waiting room and get mesmerized by the pens and scissors on the secretary’s table. I eat lunch and remember the farmers’ bolos cutting palay.   I see a flag and think of Lapu-lapu, Andres Bonifacio, and Diego Silang.

There’s really no escaping. FMA is and will always be a part of my life and unless I want to think of lethal moves in church again, I better start getting small doses of FMA soon.

We’ll see what happens.



“What’s that, a can opener?”

“No… it’s a… neck opener, haha!”

That was an exchange between two of my arnis friends when I recently showed them my new karambit training knife.

“Well, it’s a neck opener alright… and an eye gouger, tendon cutter,  etc., etc., “ we said with a chuckle as only martial artists would considering the gory scenario.

Anyway, I got interested with karambits because my blogger friend, Fia posted hers. And then during the latest Arnis Pasindo tournament, KAMAO’s combat demonstration used karambits.

So, I ordered one from Grandmaster Rodel Dagooc. I think it’s a bit large for me but Master Cris said it’s fine for training purposes.

Full Length: 7 1/2″ Handle: 4″ Long, 3/4″ Thick Blade: 3″ Long 1/4″ Thick Materials: Aluminum ( Blade ) , Kamagong ( Handle )

Anyway, Master Cris said that karambits are similar to the curved and traditionally bigger blade, the sanggot.

He added that when he was still in Davao, they used the sanggot to harvest coconuts, cut palay, and chop banana tree trunks for pig feed.  The curved blade lessened their wrist fatigue. They usually used the foregrip and did not hook their fingers into the finger ring.  The ring was mainly for the cord they tied to the scabbard on their waist.

Anyway, how did my first day of karambit practice go? Totally enjoyable!

Here I am practicing six different grips.

Karambit grips

It felt familiar yet new. Familiar because it’s a blade and I know blades but it’s new because the curve, the two edges, and the ring allowed different technique applications.

Master Cris added a brief warning:“Be careful with the finger ring. It can prevent you from dropping your karambit but if you don’t watch out, it can also fracture your finger.”


On with my moves…

SLASH! HOOK! PUNCH! JAB! PUNCTURE! CUT! RIP!  The karambit felt like a claw and brought out my animal instincts! Cat woman, Arnis version!


Totally cool, I must say. Oh yeah!! 🙂


Thank you for taking time to read The Deadly Dance. Pugay!

Interesting reads from around the web:


Baguio’s BenCab museum


A few years ago I thought that I was done with the Philippines’ summer capital. I’ve visited it many times since childhood and although the cool weather was still a pull, Burnham Park, Session Road, Camp John Hay didn’t seem to have that spark for me anymore.  “Been there, done that,” I thought.

But what do you know, hubby and I recently went up there again and surprise surprise, we had a good time! In the middle of summer its temperature was 18C (64F),  (that’s 15C cooler than in Manila), discovered the pineapple-cinnamon bread of Swiss Baker, and visited National Artist Benedicto Cabrera’s museum.

The museum houses BenCab’s own works as well as those of other Filipino masters. It also showcases the Cordillera’s culture and tradition with its collection of granary gods, lime containers, domestic arts and crafts,  and of course, my favorite, weapons!


Long spears, a shield, and axes.

Bencab museum
Are you wondering what I’m sweetly saying to hubby?

I was explaining how to cut heads.

Yes, the Igorots, as the people of Cordillera are collectively known, were very skilled warriors and some were headhunters.

So friend, you say you’re good with weapons?

Imagine yourself living in the Cordilleras a long time ago: a tribe is warring with yours. You remember the instructions your trainer gave:

10004033_10152352929343658_6832385783310598929_n (1)

Using your long spear, wound and pin down your opponent. Then with your shield’s curved bottom, pin down your struggling victim by the neck. Cut his head off with the flat blade of your double-sided ax then skin it using the opposing sharply curved blade.

And when you’re done, put the head in this warrior’s bag, bring it home, and display it like a trophy for all the people to see.


Gruesome, right? But awesome skills.

Well, can you imagine doing it? Can you  imagine throwing a spear with such precision that you can hit an enemy 30-feet away? Can you subdue and pin down a struggling enemy enough to cut its head off?


I can only begin to imagine the serious training it would take. Intense!

Well, anyway, I’m glad headhunting is a thing of the past. We do other things to kill enemies now…

Thank you for taking the time to read The Deadly Dance. Pugay!


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If I give you an itak, would you know how to open a coconut?


Hubby and I went to Batangas over the weekend and on our way home, one town was having a fiesta so traffic was terrible. Look at the gridlock above.

Anyway, on the roadsides were rows of fruit stands selling bananas, pineapples, and young coconuts (aka buco).

Ahh… buco!  Drink its nutritious, refreshing juice and when you finish,  split it open and eat its white slimy flesh.

Minding the store was an old woman who called her granddaughter to open the buco for us. Out came a shy teen probably not more than 5-ft tall and 90 lbs.


Buco, Itak

She was petite and dainty but watch her effortless skills. She didn’t even look scared at handling such a sharp, deadly weapon. I was totally impressed and entertained!

If you have trouble viewing the video, click here.

She makes it look so EASY.

Now, do you think you can do that also?


Agriculture, Irrigation, and Headhunting

Do you know of a people who are experts in all three? I do.

Recently I went to Baguio, a city in the Cordilleras and look what I found in the market.

A spear…

with waldo
That’s Waldo, the charming, walking encyclopedia of woodcarfts manning one of his family’s stalls

Arnis sticks and…


 … this gruesome thing

HH collage 2

A wood carving of an Igorot headhunter and his defeated foe.

It’s gruesome alright but it’s part of our past. Other people slashed their enemies bodies with swords or blasted them with guns. The Igorots defended their lives, honor and property by cutting heads,

Waldo said in his matter-of-fact, let’s-accept-it way.

Yes… they cut human heads…with their axes.

Igorot head axes Photo credit: www.vikingsword.com
Igorot head axes
Photo credit: http://www.vikingsword.com

Oh my. It’s really gruesome– imagine the hacking sound you hear as steel cuts flesh and bone. How many hacks do you think it needs to cut off a head? Yikes!

Look at this vivid description of how Igorots fought, by Albert Ernest Jenks, in his book The Bontoc Igorot” published in 1905.

Men go to war armed with a wooden shield, a steel battle-ax, and one to three steel or wooden spears.

Spears are thrown with greatest accuracy and fatality up to 30 feet. After the spears are discharged the contest, if continued, is at arms’ length with the battle-axes.

Their battles are full of quick, incessant springing motion. There are sudden rushes, retreats, and sneaking flank movements. The body is always in motion.

So intense! I wonder how they trained for those battles.

I think some FMA practitioners still practice spear skills these days. As for the ax, the moves are most likely like those of the itak too.

Anyway, in case you don’t know yet, the Igorots were not only skilled in warfare, they were also  agriculture and irrigation specialists having made the world-famous, Banaue Rice terraces. Experts in farming. Experts in warfare.

But even more than those, what really impressed me about the Igorots is their extraordinary valor, exemplified by what happened in 1942:

In one battle in Bataan during the WW2, an Igorot company of about 125 men was wiped out by Japanese oppressors. To even the score, an American Tank Unit supported by an Igorot infantry was ordered to attack. But the foliage was so thick that the tank drivers couldn’t see so the Igorots climbed on top of the tanks and acted as guides. Over the noise of the battle rose the fierce shouts of the Igorots braving the fact that they were open targets to grenade and gun fires. What valor! In the end, the enemies were destroyed. (Read a newspaper account about that here.)

So impressed was General Douglas MacArthur that in one of the assemblies after that  he said,

I have seen last-ditch stands and innumerable acts of personal heroism that defy description but I have never known an equal of those Igorots riding the tanks. When you tell that story, stand in tribute to those gallant Igorots. (Bonifacio Marines, The 66th infantry and the Igorot Diary).


I never knew that about Igorots.

See, this is another example of how studying FMA makes me appreciate my people more. Thank you FMA.

Pugay, gallant Igorots. I stand in tribute to you.


Read more about Igorots from an Igorot blogger Saria

My hubby passed out and I’m a suspect

Hubby gave me a scare last week. I really thought he was having a stroke when in the middle of the night he suddenly fell unconscious while peeing. I rushed him to the hospital and after tests and half a day in the Intensive Care Unit, doctors declared that it was just a case of Micturation Syncope (fainting during urination caused by a stimulation of a certain nerve that caused the blood pressure and heart rate to drop). Thank God. Whew!

What’s funny was the next day,  one of his buddies asked him,

Are you sure you didn’t feel a rattan stick on your head before you passed out? Nothing personal, but we have to consider all possibilities, you know. “

LOL! How many husbands get to be asked that??

So funny. 🙂