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.








“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:


A tree fell on my car and gave me an awesome workout

Photo credit: NASA
Typhoon Glenda 2014. NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz

The eerie howling of the wind woke me up at around 5 AM. Power was out and although all our windows were shut, it was chilly. “It’s going to be a memorable day,” hubby said (it was his birthday).

The Philippines has around twenty typhoons (tropical cyclones) a year and this year’s seventh, Typhoon Glenda (International name, Rammasun) was one of the worst to ever strike Metro Manila (sustained winds 94 miles/hour with gusts up to 116 miles/hour).

Around 6 AM, the winds intensified and banged our kitchen windows. I kept praying that the glass wouldn’t break. Hubby decided to open the shutters a bit to lessen the pressure but that meant rain entering our kitchen. I was so nervous that I decided to hole up inside our bedroom! There was nothing we could do but wait.

It took another four hours before the howling stopped. Whew!

The aftermath:

Me and my family in various areas of Metro Manila were safe. That’s the most important. I just hoped that when the national reports come in, they wouldn’t be devastating.

Anyway, we looked out to our yard and saw this:

One of the main branches of our decades-old mango tree fell…


and hit my car!

Typhoon Glenda 2014

Hubby’s car which was parked a few feet away was spared, yay!

At first, hubby’s plan was to borrow or buy a power saw to cut all the branches, but then I remembered one training session Master Cris and the rest of  our group had.  They cut tall grass with their itak. So I thought, “With all these trees to be cut,  why not use my Eskrima training? It could turn out to be a terrific workout!”

“Go, ahead,” hubby shrugged when I told him my idea. Did I sense some amused doubt there? 🙂

Anyway, I got some old socks, cut off the ends and used them to cover my arms, just like how master Cris described what they did when he worked in the farms in Davao.

And then I hacked and hacked with all my might!


Our neighbors came to help.




Janet, who grew up in a farm in Tacloban knew how to wield an itak and her strikes were strong and precise. No wonder a lot of farmers are good in Eskrima!


Good thing only my rear bumper was damaged. Hey, how did that branch get UNDER the car?  P1060579

That’s hubby, the birthday boy.P1060571

We were careful not to get bitten by these!


We only had these tools but we accomplished a lot.


It turned out to be a happy, awesome workout for everyone.


The next day, hubby hired five men to finish the clearing up.

All’s well that ends well.

That was an awesome workout, I must say. 🙂

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


To read my post about another terrible typhoon, the worst in modern history, click here. 



Arnis stick

Force = Mass x Acceleration. And how nice, it’s also Filipino Martial Arts!

Call me a nerd but I remembered that physics equation when I broke Master Cris’s stick this morning.

We were doing Ocho Defensa Tirada drills and I was giving my all. During the first few strikes, I saw some splinters come out of his stick and then suddenly, it broke and formed a “7”. “Na-siete!” exclaimed the boxers who were practicing near us.

I know that I’m going to break more sticks as I continue training but the first always thrills. Afterall, it just means that I’ve come a long way from my weak strikes 15 months ago. Read my blog post about that here.


Force=Mass x Acceleration

The force you generate is equal to the mass involved in the execution of the technique, multiplied by its acceleration.

For our purposes, mass means body weight. The way I understand it is to have much power, have the right form and technique so you can use as much of your body weight as possible and then strike very fast!

I’m flattering myself: I had good form and technique, and was very fast so I broke my master’s stick.

Well, either that or his stick was already worn and brittle, haha!

What do you think?


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

You might also like


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!


You might also like these related posts:



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?


How many Filipino Martial Arts can you name?


Yesterday I can name only eight, with difficulty. Now, 20 easily.

Thanks to my new, big, and heavy coffee table book, The Way of the Warrior: Martial Arts and Fighting Styles from Around the World by Chris Crudelli, 2008.

Reading an overview of the hundreds of martial arts from all over the world and seeing the beautiful, well chosen photos made me feel like an eager student again — I took down notes!

Although I suspect that Crudelli’s list may not be 100% complete, he discussed 20 FMAs and that’s 100% good enough for me.  Afterall, where else can I find such a list?

For that, I’ve decided that this is now one of my favorite martial arts books.

Well, classmates, would you like to look at my notes?

Name and Explanation Date of Origin and Founder Notes
1.    Balintawak Named after a street in Cebu 1950s, Venancio Bacon
  • Motto: economy, elegance, strength, and speed”
  • Influenced by the Doce Pares systems
  • Also known as Balintawak Eskrima
  • Developed from the founder’s experience of fighting death matches
2.   Buno “To throw” or “to kill” in Tagalog Indigenous art, No known founder
  • A wrestling art similar to Dumog (see below)
  • Has throwing techniques with controlled locks, joint manipulations, strikes, ground wrestling, and takedowns
  • Also has weapons like knives, spears, bows and arrows
3.    Dumog “Brawling” in Tagalog Indigenous art, No known founder
  • A wrestling art
  • Often taught alongside Eskrima (see below)
  • Techniques – unbalancing techniques, weight systems, and joint locks many of which can be performed from the clinch position
  •  Somewhat similar to western wrestling and the weight shifting principles of Aikido
  • Head- often used as a lever (“where the head goes, the body follows”)
4.    Escrido Filipino Mixed Martial Art 1980s, Ciriaco Canete
  • Has Eskrima stick, sword, and knife fighting techniques with locks and takedowns commonly found in jujutsu
  • Covers all fighting distances from long- and medium-range, to close quarter and grappling
  • Trains with one or multiple attackers
5.   Eskrima       From “Esgrima”, meaning “Fencing” in Spanish Indigenous art, No known founder
  • Emphasis- weapons based-training followed by empty hand movements
  • Battle-proven techniques
  • Also known as Escrima, Kali, or Arnis
  • Uses any method that might work in a fight like hand and foot strikes,  grappling, throwing, and shoving
  • Common weapons – solo stick, double stick, sword and stick, stick and dagger
  • Some systems specialize in other weapons  like whip, staff, and projectile weapons
  • Footwork generally follows a triangular pattern
6.    Espada y Daga “Sword and dagger” in Spanish 16th Century, No known founder
  • Have roots in Spanish swordsmanship
  • Stronger hand usually holds the longer weapon
  • Weaker hands fends off and stabs with the shorter weapon
  • Footwork is usually geometric
7.    Gokusa   A mix of Kuntao and Balintawak 1960s, Jose “Ju Go” Millan (A student of Anciong Bacon, a well known Filipino stickfighter)
  • Emphasis – shifting body weight and aligning the spine correctly
  • Has 12 strikes and defenses
8.    Jendo “The economical new fist way” in Tagalog 1973, Jonathan Makiling
  • Empty hand techniques plus traditional Filipino weapons like stick and knives
  • Recognized in 1996 as a Filipino Martial Art by the Philippine Sports Commission
  • Central philosophy – “tres energies” or three forces: the forces of normal, the unexpected, and the exceptional
9.    Kadena de Mano“Chain of hand” in Tagalog Indigenous art, No known founder
  • Combines empty hand and knife techniques
  • Most important aspects- combination techniques and reaction flow
  • Usually a series of short, fast movements delivered with both hands and elbow serve as simultaneous blocks and strikes
10. Kali Sikaran Filipino empty hand martial art Indigenous art, No known founder
  • Blends indigenous stickfighting, empty hands techniques with fencing techniques introduced by the Spanish
11. Kombatan Filipino Mixed Martial Art 1970s, Ernesto Presas
  • Largely based on the teachings of the founder’s brother Remy
  • Mixes Eskrima, eclectic elements of judo, karate, jujutsu and Japanese and Filipino weapons systems
  • Also influenced by Espada y Daga, Dumog, Bangkaw, Sinawali and Palit-palit
  • Well known for its double stick techniques
  • Highly organized collection of diverse techniques – stickfighting, knife fighting, grappling, throwing, chokes, holds
12. Kuntaw “Sacred strike” in Tagalog“Kuntaw” is a generic name for hand and foot fighting techniques Indigenous art, No known founder
  • One of the oldest fighting systems in the Philippines
  • Contains a number of open-hand and foot-striking combinations and holds and locks
  • Has a complex system of hitting vital points like nerve centers and sensitive bones
13. Kuntaw Lima-lima “Complete sacred strike” in Tagalog 1950s, Carlos Lanada
  • Also known as Kuntaw Arnis
  • Heavily influenced by kuntaw
  • Uses hands, feet, elbows, stick, and dagger
  • “Lima” (or “five”) – number of weapon forms used by brown belt or higher lever practitioners
  • “Lima lima” means “complete”
  • 25 Basic moves: 5 strikes, 5 thrusts, 5 blocks, 5 disarms, 5 locks
14. Lameco Eskrima  Stick and dagger martial art 1980s, Edgar Sulite
  • Heavily influenced by Eskrima systems taught by Jose Caballero and Antonio Ilustrisimo.
  • Main weapon – “baston“  which varies in length, weight, and thickness, according to the preference of the practitioner
  • Other weapons – stick and dagger, daggers, sword, staff
15. Modern Arnis    Stickfighting art 1960s, Remy Presas
  • A self defense system that is holistic, friendly, and injury free yet still preserved many of the traditional Filipino fighting techniques
  • Emphasis – correct body alignment  and shifting before  striking
  • Has 12 striking techniques
  • Also has the stick and knife training of espada y daga
16. Pangamut “Unarmed fighting” in Tagalog Unknown, No known founder
  • Has grappling, hand strikes, kicks, leg sweeps, foot traps, biting, gouging
  • Sticks, knives, daggers skills taught
  • Teaches weapon techniques with an empty hand
17. Sagasa      “Running over” in Tagalog 20th Century,     Guillermo Lengson (of the Philippine Karate Federation)
  • A kickboxing art
  • Techniques – boxing, arnis weapon fighting, throwing, striking, grappling
  • “Bakbakan” – a subsystem that favors full-contact sparring as primary training method
18. Sikaran      “To kick” in Tagalog Indigenous art, No known founder
  • A kickfighting martial art
  • Resembles karate
  • Predates the arrival of the Spanish
  • Probably developed by farmers
  • Signature move: “biakid” — player pivots his body in a somersault movement, flailing one leg in a vertical arc over his head
  • Two kinds of attack: “panghilo”, a paralyzing blow usually aimed at the thighs, kidneys, chest, knees, or feet
  • “pamatay”, a lethal blow to the neck, head, groin, heart, or spine
19. Suntukan         “Boxing” in Tagalog Unknown, No known founder
  • Involves empty hand, flowing, and striking drills which include chopping maneuvers and close range “chaining” where punches flow naturally in short bursts
20. Yaw-yan  “Dance of death” in Tagalog 1972, Napoleon Fernandez (a well-known kickboxing champion from Quezon Province)
  • An external fighting style (driven by speed and muscle power)
  • Follows many muay thai principles but differs in its downward cutting kicks and its hip-torquing motions
  • Has 40 basic kicks
  • Training usually full contact sparring using elbows, knees and shins
  • Has grappling and throwing techniques
  • Also trains in weapons mainly bolos, machete and balisong (butterfly knife)

Pretty cool, right?

Well, what do you think of this list? Did you know all 20?

Pugay 🙂