Reflections on José Rizal, Arnis, and the Nature of ‘Historical Knowledge’

  • Andrea Rollo University of Alicante


Although Philippine national hero José Rizal practiced several sports, in popular imagination, he is generally remembered as a fencer. This is probably due to the famous pictures of the hero taken in Paris, France, where he can be seen posing in fencing gear. From an academic point of view, most sources describe Rizal as a swordsman who used to practice fencing, both in Europe and in the Philippines. Few works mention that Rizal practiced arnis or Filipino folk fencing, which nowadays is a well-known martial art and the national sport of the Philippines. However, the details given by biographers and scholars about the martial disciplines practiced by Rizal lack depth or are often inaccurate. By examining Rizal’s memoirs, novels, and epistolary correspondences with his family members, friends, and fellow reformists, as well as biographies and oral accounts about the hero, this article sheds light on the kind of fencing practiced by the hero in different stages of his life and reflects on the partial/impartial and biased/unbiased nature of historical knowledge explaining why many Filipino martial arts researchers and scholars have so far rejected the possibility that Rizal was an arnisador.