x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Dubai martial arts enthusiasts are fighting the heat

Practitioners of a Filipino martial arts form are taking on more than each other when they meet at Dubai's Safa Park.

Briton Tony Whittington leads Dubai’s Sicas Famosus Group in practising the Filipino martial art of pekiti tirsia kali on a hot summer evening in Safa Park.
Briton Tony Whittington leads Dubai’s Sicas Famosus Group in practising the Filipino martial art of pekiti tirsia kali on a hot summer evening in Safa Park.

DUBAI // Two men, dripping with sweat, square off against each other in Safa Park, one wielding a long stick and what looks like a knife.

Suddenly he lunges at his opponent, but after a flurry of strikes and holds the knifeman is on the ground, his limbs tightly locked in place. He has nowhere to go.

Then, just as quickly, the two are back on their feet, smiling and embracing each other, ready to go again.

The move is part of a Filipino martial art called pekiti tirsia kali, practised in Dubai by the Sicas Famosus Group week in, week out at Safa Park.

The intense sparring matches pit the fighters against the energy-sapping heat and humidity as much as their opponents.

"Despite all the moves and action the biggest danger is dehydration," says Arif Nizami, 48, a Pakistani management consultant who has been training for a year. Bodies quickly become exhausted in the heat and mugginess, and any mistake could easily result in a nasty injury.

"It's really tough in summer so we usually have our sessions a little later in the evenings when it's a bit cooler, although not much," says Mr Nizami. "The key is to make sure you get plenty of water."

He has experience in ving tsun kung fu, muay Thai and tae kwon do, but says kali is unique among the martial arts.

"It is a very direct and brutal system, which I like," Mr Nizami laughs. "It's used by the police and special forces in the Philippines.

"My interest in kali started after watching Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon. Many years later I met Dan Inosanto, a Bruce Lee protege, and saw him in action at his school in Los Angeles."

For Tony Whittington, 39, a British construction director who often leads the training sessions, the heat of a UAE summer cranks up the pressure of a workout, which he enjoys.

"I really enjoy training outside during the summer as it adds a stress factor," Mr Whittington says.

The humidity makes it easy to lose grip on the sticks and weapons the group uses, so there is more focus on technique during winter.

"All the movements are the same, whether you are holding a stick, knife or empty-handed," says Mr Whittington. "The best way to learn to defend against weapons is to know how you are most likely to be attacked by them.

"In a fight you need to keep your wits about you and use whatever comes to hand. That way your chances of survival are a lot better."

Yeyati Nafrey, 30, who works in hospitality and has been in Dubai for 20 years, says he was attracted by the simplicity of kali.

"The methods and concepts are simple, very efficient, and the training is structured yet very organic, which means you learn at your own pace," says the Indian national.

Mr Nafrey has been training with the group for 10 months and plans to teach his children one day.

He says he quickly gets used to training in the heat and humidity.

June Lozano, 35, a Filipino paralegal, says she joined the group because of its ties with her homeland.

Ms Lozano has been training for a few months and has found it "challenging and fun".

"Drinking lots of water and wearing sensible clothing is really important for summer training," she says. "It helps, too, that we train in the park and start a bit later than we do in the cooler months."

nhanif@thenational.ae

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