FOR SENATOR Migz Zubiri, the first ever Arnis World Championships happened “eons ago,” in his words. But he still fondly recalls details of that 1989 tilt where he emerged as the overall winner.
“We really didn’t have the proper gear,” he remembered with a laugh. “Most of us had the armor taped on us! We were also using live rattan sticks. After the tournament, we had a few broken bones.”
Now, 31 years later, Zubiri presides over the Philippine Eskrima Kali Arnis Federation, the national sports association of the Filipino martial art, overseeing a new generation of athletes who are emerging as champions of their own.
Last December, he was there at the sidelines of the Angeles University Foundation gym — the current site of the PBA bubble — witnessing one of the greatest moments of arnis in recent years: a 14-gold medal romp in the 30th Southeast Asian Games. It was the most of any sport in Team Pilipinas.
It’s this moment that’s immortalized in a new documentary called The Rebirth of the Rebellion Sport.
Assembled from footage taken during the SEA Games, producer and director Franco Mabanta crafted an intimate look at the men and women of the arnis national team.
It’s a short watch, not even hitting the half hour mark. But it does train a lens on the stories behind one of the SEA Games’ biggest successes — like the team’s apprehension as they faced regional rival Vietnam, or the personal journey of Ross Ashley Monville, champion of the padded stick lightweight women’s competition.
Watching the documentary — released almost a year after their victory — brought back great memories for many of the arnisadors.
“We haven’t had arnis as an event in the SEA Games for 14 years,” said Jude Rodriguez, silver medalist for women’s live stick featherweight, during the media premiere of the docu. “As a team, that was the challenge. It’s not just even about yourself. It’s something bigger than yourself.”
And why the name “rebellion sport”?
“It’s part of our history. It’s part of our culture,” said Zubiri. “We survived three colonizers with our forefathers using arnis to defend themselves, to defend their communities, to fight against these colonizers and to help win our independence.”
At a time when arnis is getting even more popular around the world — often featured in fight scenes in Hollywood movies — Zubiri wants to pivot that interest back into the land where it was birthed.
“I don’t want to have to see the time where it is more popular abroad than it is in the Philippines,” he said.
The Rebirth of the Rebellion Sport will premiere on Migz Zubiri’s YouTube channel on November 23.