Datu Dieter Knuettel in an interview 2007


Axel Heimsoth
2. Dan Modern Arnis

Axel Heimsoth (AH): What was your personal way to martial arts? Have you started as a child?

Datu Dieter Knüttel (DK): Yes, I started when I was 6 years old. As usually in Germany at that age and during that time, I started with Judo. Later, as a teenager, I also trained Kung Fu, Karate, Taekwondo, Bo-Jutsu, Tai Chi Chuan and more.

AH: When you are leaving the age of a teenager is’s for every one the important decision to find a “normal profession” and train on a lower level or to look for a job, e.g. as a trainer, in the martial arts. You studied sport science in Cologne (G). Was this choice a compromise for you?

DK: No, not at all. I started teaching martial arts at the age of 17 already. When I finished school, I went to Australia for a year as a youth exchange student. This was 1979/80. There, I started in a Kung Fu group, that existed for 20 years after I left, but I already taught an Arnis seminar. We did not have Rattan sticks at that time, so we used cricket sticks (the ones you aim at, not the ones you hit with).
Then, after coming back, I did a 2 year bank apprenticeship, but was not happy with it. I taught already in week seminars in south germany at that time. I wanted to open a martial arts school. But then my father suggested to me, to get a solid foundation and to study sports. I thought this was a great idea, so I enrolled and in 1982, I finished the studies with the masters degree in sports science.

AH: Now, after you have finished your studies, you have a little film production company: Abanico. You were making first videos now DVDs about different styles in the martial arts. Did you have this idea as a student?

DK: Not really. My thesis at universtity included a production of an Arnis video, and I had already produced a few videos for the DAV, but not professionally. During the studies, my aim changed. I did not want to open a studio any more. So I got a job in a sports marketing company for 6 months. But I did not like it and I think, they did not like me (laughs). Then, I had to think about, what to do with my life. So I sat down with my wife and we discussed the things I am good in. We came to the conclusion, that I can teach well, and that I had already experience with video making, so I would try to open a business there. At that time, 1988, there were not 5 german instructional videos on the marked. But a lot of american ones were available for exorbitant prices. So I thought, why not be the engine of a train and be ahead of a trend, instead running after it, when it had already started. And I was right.

AH: What is the special product that you place on the market?

DK: I produce differently than most available instructional videos. I don’t let the martial artist on the video talk in front of the camera, but I use dubbing and a lot of different camera angles and so on. At that time, it was different to what the others did. Good content, good quality, rather long productions and all that for a fair price. And the customers seemed to like my concept.

AH: You started to train with sticks as a student. When did you see stick fighting at first time? Did you immediately get a kick to train this art?

DK: Well, I was interested in anything new. So I participated at the first Arnis seminar taught in Germany. It was taught by Jackson Cui Brocka, who also was the first FMA instructor of Datu Kelly Worden. Picture 4 Funny parallel. Anyway, the longer I trained, the more I became aware of the fact, that this is something I really like. Also, for it was new to Germany, I knew, that if I will be good at this and be at the top there, I will have the chance to train closely with very good masters and grandmasters as one of only a few instrucors at that time. Also I imagined, after 20 years one could look back and say: Well, I had my share of responsibility in spreading this art in Germany. It was already around 1982- 83, when I had these thoughts.

AH: Where was your first training partners here in Germany? Are some of them today active in our association?

DK: Except of Hans Karrer, who started Kung Fu with me in 1978 and later Arnis, they are not active any more. Some still are, but not in the DAV.

AH: You are one of the founders of this association: Deutscher Arnis Verband e.V. What was the reason for the launching?

DK: We were part of an organisation, that had many martial arts under its roof. The name was DAKO. For it was good in big seminars, for we got a lot of students from different arts and different cities in our training during, we later felt as “the 5th wheel of a car”, as we say in Germany. So we wanted to found our own organisation, where we could exclusively train and work for the spreading of Arnis.

AH: In the DAV you have a specific function. What is this and which impulses you have given the german association?

DK: I’m the chief instructor of the DAV since it was founded in 1985. Picture 5 This is a position, that is elected every 3 years. So in this interval, I have to face the DAV-members, like all members of the board of directors, and they will have to tell us through their voting, if they are happy with our work and if they reelect us for another 3 years. Lucky for me, I have always been reelected, I and I hope it stays this way. (smiles)

Well in the beginning I was alone responsible for the technical orientation of the DAV. I wrote all the examination programs and started to introduce special black belt seminars, later also seminars, only for 3. Dan and higher. Then we founded a technical commission, consisting out of the 6 full examiners, and 2 elected members. I am heading this commission and we do this all together now.

But I am constantly looking for new ways and new things to incorporate into our system. You know, we have the very old Modern Arnis of Professor Remy Presas through me learning in 1983 from Rodel Dagooc, Ernesto and Roberto Presas, Cristino Vasquez and Rene Tongson – to name a few of my instructors at that time. Their Modern Arnis was still very close to the Modern Arnis of GM Remy in the 70s.

Then, the 80s in the US are rather well documented through his videos. Also I have taught several seminars together with Dan Anderson and Bram Frank, who were very active with the Professor in the 80s. Also the books of Dan Anderson gave me a good insight of Professors teaching at that time. Fortunately, we were able to experience the techniques of the 90s directly from the Professor, who taught a lot of seminars in Germany and who trained privately with me a lot. Now, I am looking backwards, to get more of the old teaching from GM Rodel Dagooc and from GM Jerry Dela Cruz, both of whom started to train with Professor Remy Presas in 1968: GM Dagooc taught at the summer camp in Germany in 2005 and GM Dela Cruz who taught at the end of March 2007. But I Iook also in the future, see and observe, where other students of the Professor take the art, and of course my Modern Arnis is still constantly improving and changing through the different inputs I get and trough the research I do. And of course, through the training, new things develop and the art evolves. This is Modern Arnis. Not sticking to the tradition but moving forward. This is, what Professor Remy did and this is, how we continue to practice his art. Rooted in the various stages of Modern Arnis in the past and also looking forward into the future, looking for new ways, methods, techniques and applications.

AH: What is the difference between traditional and Modern Arnis?

DK: Traditional Arnis uses different weapons, it uses more swords, it is more combat orientated and from the teaching more the one to one situation: one teacher to one student. It was used against the Spanish, the Americans and the Japanese, in guerrilla warfare, it was used in fighting each other, it was used for killing and surving. It was also rather easily instructered, because not only the warriors were able to fight but also the farmers (the workers). They don’t have every day time to train and could learn complicated techniques. They needed very simple techniques, functional and effective techniques to be able to use it even without a lot of training, effectively in a fight. For example, they would cut the arm stab in the heart and finish. That is where the world “dis-arming” comes from: take the arm off.

AH: Which role had Professor Remy Presas for the Modern Arnis?

DK: Remy Presas changed the form of teaching. So you don’t hit the arm of your partner every time because it is very painfull, if you get hit on the arm all the time in training. Because before, the stick was a sacred tool that you were not allowed to hit in training so you attacked the arms and the body of the partner straight away. This training method led that Remy Presas could teach not only in a one to one teacher and student situation but he could teach batallions in the army, he could teach many people, at schools and universities. The teacher will be in the front and all students do the excercises because he simplified the blocking of the sticks and make the techniques a little less lethal, less deadly and so Modern Arnis could become a popular martial art and it is not only for warriors to killing. Remy Presas introduced the values of Modern Arnis: discipline, respect to the partner, helping your partner, having a good training atmosphere, contrary to fighting your partner and trying to kill your partner every time. Remy Presas introduced the modern sports values of martial arts into the Modern Arnis, that many other FMA do not present in the way that Modern Arnis does. This leads in the present to the point that Modern Arnis is more a sport and a art and not so much warfare anymore. People do it for their leisure time, for having fun and enjoyment. They do Modern Arnis, because they like what they doing and not because they have to train to survive in a very violent situation. For some this may still be true, but most of the students will never come in this kind of situation. This way, some of the techniques have changed, from the deadly violent situation in the war or in the jungle fight, to street self-defence, to techniques you could play and practise with your partner – less lethal, less deadly, not ineffective but not as deadly as it was before. We still practise this and it is more the classical, the older part of Modern Arnis. In the modern part are the modern techniques: disarming, take downs, throwings and so on. This is more for modern life.

AH: What are the focal points of Modern Arnis?

DK: Today Modern Arnis as we practise it, has two legs to stand one. One is the martial art where you train abilities like speed, power, precision, timing and things like that. And then you have the self-defence. Here you can practise how you can defend against an attacker who grabs me, chokes me or also attacks me with a weapon or a stick. The art is not so important. Art as a little complicated, a little intricate movements. In self-defence we try to move very directly, very functional and the art is more for developing attributes with your partner. Through this we have the ethical values to train with each other, we help each other, we don’t want to hurt each other. This apply in the training but of course if I have the possibilities to hurt somebody else I have the responsibility in my life to be careful with my abilities to people around. So I can’t go and say: “You look bad! I punch you in your face!” I have to become a calm person and not use my art I could apply. So the values I apply in training to my partner I try to apply to all people I meet in every day of my life: to be friendly, to be helpful, to support and not to be agressive and destroying.

AH: What are the techniqueal principles in Modern Arnis?

DK: In our Modern Arnis we differenciate between technical principals and overall principles. Technical principles are used in a certain technique and are applied also in another technique. For example, we take the principle how we use techniques in the double stick-situation (with two sticks) and we apply this in an empty hand-situation. Or we use a single stick-technique and apply this with dulo, or palm stick or empty hands. We take the technique from this one weapon situation and use it in another weapon situation.

The overall principles are not in relation to a certain technique. For example, we say the shortening the angel, of moving in to the attacker to avoid the power of the weapon. Another principle would be called programming. In programming we give the opponent an attack and either he reacts to the attack according what we want or he gets hit. If he doesn’t react he gets hit – fine; if he reacts the way we use his reaction because we know in advance what he has to do because if he doesn’t react he gets hit.

AH: What do you use to teach skills to your students?

DK: What do I use? I use teaching skills (smiles). I use a technique for example, or a movement and then I explain my students how to apply this technique into different situations and different weapons and how it relates to each other. Our program, that we use in Germany, is a system that is very well structured. You learn different parts, different bits of the system and the higher you get the bits and pieces start to interlink to each other. It’s like in a gear box where you have different gearweels. You can see, you have learned a technique in one situation and then see, that you can apply it also in another. So you see: “Ah yes, I know this already.” The higher you get you have more of this sensations: I know this already and I can apply it here or there or in another way. You get an understanding of movement which is very important.

AH: Would it be true to say, that the person that studies Modern Arnis also develops his mind?

DK: Yes of course. We sometimes called it “brain-jogging”, because it is the way you practise Modern Arnis: the right hand, the left hand; the left hand from the right side and the right hand from the left side. All these different movements makes connections between both parts of the brain. It has a lot to do with coordination, how to use the hand and the timing to do the right thing in the right moment. It’s also the challenge to master a movement when you have problems of doing it in the beginning and you practice it and then you start to notice that you get it. That is the fun part of Modern Arnis, there is a lot of happening in your head. In Modern Arnis there are a lot of studied people who like to use the brain to practise Modern Arnis. So it is often, that we teach Modern Arnis at an university. Here people like, that your are not doing 1000 punches and then are worn out, but that you have to use your brain while practising Modern Arnis. It is sometimes not so easy but it’s rewarding.

AH: Is your way of teaching based on sciences?

DK: Well, I studied sport science at the German Sports University in Cologne and got the Masters degree in sports science. There are a certain acknowledged ways of teaching, how to teach your students new things: from the easy to the difficult, from the well known techniques to the unknown techniques. I try to incorporate these things into the teaching. You start with something the people know and than you move into a new stuff. So they can relate, what they done before. Every person has another channel of learning. Some people learn by hearing, some people learn through watching, some people learn through repetition, some people learn through tactile references that you have to guide them, and some people have to feel it. I try to use as many of those learning channels because the more channels you use for learning the better the information you have learned is processed in your brain. But a student should not feel any of that, they shall not be aware of how the teaching happens. Then it is a good teaching.

AH: Is your way of teaching from yourself or have you take it from someone?

DK: This principles I just said are very normal teaching techniques of any sports instructor. Of course, I take some of the ways my teacher have moved and taught things. This I give also to my students. But some things I think the asian way of teaching is different to the european teaching. Our mentality is different and some regards I adapted the techniques and the way of teaching the techniques to the european mentality. Because it is easier for them to learn and to remember the techniques and the combinations as if you would teach the asian way. I have adapted this, yes. But for example, Master Dulay or Grandmaster Tongson – they are also very educated people – they also know principles of teaching, of modern ways. They not only use traditional old ways of teaching what they have learned from there teacher. They, of course, are able to adapt modern necesseties and also teach the modern way.

AH: Are there secret Modern Arnis techniques? Have you secrets of your way of teaching?

DK: I would not call them secrets, there are advanced techniques, techniques that you could not do as a beginner because you have not the foundation. For example, if you start high diving. As a beginner you can’t do a triple somersault with two rotations. At first you have to learn the easy thing, then one somersault, then two, so it builts up. In Modern Arnis we have advanced techniques. I don’t teach these to beginners because they could not do it anyway. But it’s like in any sport, you start with the basics and then you work your way to the advanced techniques. Look to the gymnastics or ice skating. You first learn to skate, before you learn the jumps. There are no secrets but skills.

AH: Which techniques do you use in fighting? How do you choose a technique?

DK: I don’t choose. You don’t do this consciously. This is another principle. We call this the principle of situative acting. That means, that when an attack comes towards you, you have to react and adapt to whatever in this situation needs. Not with a certain set combination, you may have trained. We believe in Modern Arnis that we have a very brought education. So our students learn a lot of different things. They have a variety of techniques to choose from. Different movements could happen. Things happen and you have to react, the way the situation needs. The more experience and the more technical tools you have the better you can react according to the situation. Every situation is different so we have to react different to these situations.

AH: Is the training with weapons a help for you to understand martial arts?

DK: The training with weapons let you understand speed, angels, power and body mechanics because the weapon is long, sharp and harder. If you do this correctly it is clearer as if you do it only empty handed. But it is not all the same, because with long weapons it is a little bit more different as with bladed weapons and empty hands. They all related to each other but it’s not all the same. The weapon teaches you the speed, teaches the body mechanics and the attributes you need for self-defence or martial arts.

AH: Professor Remy Presas bestows you with the title “Datu”. What’s the meaning of this and what means this title for you?

DK: The meaning is chieftain, leader of a group. For me it was the acknowledgement of my work. When I got it, I already worked for 15 years to spread Modern Arnis in Germany and Europe. So I was very happy and pleased with it. He said to me: “Now you belong to the “group of 10”. I asked him what he meant with this and he answered, that he will choose his successor from this group. For me, this was as far as the moon. At that time (1996) he was strong, healthy and still had a lot to teach. I never saw myself as a successor nor wanted I to be his successor. But for me this meant, that I belong to a very small group of people, that he regarded as some of his top student. Nothing more, but also nothing less. That was a big honour for me.

Now knowing a bit more, I think he meant with “the group of 10” 10 Datus, that he wanted to nominate. At least, this is, what you hear and read, once you talk which different people and when you read carefully through the internet.

But nobody knows what function or task Remy Presas had in mind with these 10 Datus. As far as I know, he never told anybody. And to make this clear, he also had very advanced and very good students, that he did not give the title of Datu. So I don’t feel better or more advanced than other Modern Arnis practitioners. I am just happy, that he granted me the honour of this title, because at least in the Modern Arnis world, people tend to listen a little more carefully if a Datu says something or somebody else. It does give you a little authority. If you deserve this authority, other people have to decide due to the work you do and the things you achieve. The title may serve as a springboard, but you have to jump for yourself and other people will judge your achievements and accomplishments.

AH: 2003 you got the 7. Dan Modern Arnis in the Philippines. What do this award means to you?

DK: It makes me proud. And again it is the acknowledgement of the work I have done for Modern Arnis in the past almost 30 years. Picture 13 It is very important for me, that my work is accepted. And when the Masters in the Philippine see and appreciate the work I do for Modern Arnis, I am very proud and happy about it.

After the death of Professor Preas there is a gap in the Arnis scene in the world. What efforts have been started to avoid that all Arnis associations in the world will be separated forever?

Well, we have founded the Worldwide Brotherhood of Modern Arnis (WBMA) last year in the Philippines. Up to now, there are 8 associations member of the WBMA and through the WBMA, Modern Arnis is represented in almost 20 countries. We hope, more Modern Arnis organisations will join in, because the ideas behind the WBMA is very good. But you can read more about the WBMA in another article within this FMA-Digest.

AH: I think, it is very difficult to start with Arnis training and find a trainer in Germany?

DK: Well, not really. Go to the DAV website and look for a group near where you live and start training. We are far from being present everywhere in Germany, but we do have a lot of groups, that are spread out. From north to south and from west to east, all over Germany.

AH: You are fighting not only worldwide for the interests of Modern Arnis. Also in Germany you are trainer in two clubs, Essen and Dortmund. What will a normal guy learn, if he or she will come to you first time?

DK: Well, they learn how to handle the stick, they learn single and double Sinawalis, 12 strikes, blocks, counterattacks and then, how to apply these techniques for example empty handed. So they learn, that you do not need a stick for Modern Arnis. And once we have hooked them on Modern Arnis: They learn all the beauty of our system.

AH: Why doesn’t the DAV train for competition?

DK: Because we believe, that Modern Arnis is a martial art and self defence and not a competition sport. Sport reduces the techniques to a minimum, that will work within the framework of the rules of the competition. Self-defence does not work this way. We know, that GM Remy had exactly the same ideas about this as we have, because we talked with him about it.

AH: We learned a lot of techniques, but do we really need them?

DK: Need? Need for what? We need food, water and oxygen. But there are more things in life, that make life more enjoyable, richer. And I feel enriched by the beauty and variety of the Modern Arnis techniques when I train. I could stick with 5 techniques, but I would find it boring. Do you eat only 5 different meals? Or drink only 5 different sorts of drinks? Aren’t the new things, that you experience in live the ones, that makes life beautiful? This way I see it with the Arnis techniques as well.

AH: What’s going on in the future? In which direction should move the DAV?

DK: The way we are heading now: martial art and self defence. Find new things and preserve the old. Don’t discard traditions but be open for new developments and techniques. Like Professor Remy Presas always was. He constantly improved Modern Arnis and incorporated new techniques. This is the tradition of Modern Arnis.

AH: From which persons you get new impressions?

DK: From almost every instructor I see. Everybody has something ot offer. One just has to be open enough to see and accept. Nobody knows everything. So I look and watch. I look at the old filipino masters, at my peers in the US, but also at the new people, that come up.

AH: The modern sciences, like sport science or psychology, produce new results. Are this technical data possible points for the re-structuring the association?

DK: No, not really. The core are the techniques and their application and no scientist will spend too much time with Arnis techniques. The methods may change and the way they are practised, trained and automatized.

AH: At the end one question from the reality. If some one is in a dangerous situation, what’s the right behaviour? Would Modern Arnis help us when we were attacked?

DK: Of course it would help!
But I have waited for such a question from a journalist. Let me give the question it back to you in your profession: “If someone would ask you a question, what would you answer?”
You see how irrelevant this question is? But it still is comparable: Depending what question is asked, you will adapt your answer. And this is self-defence with Modern Arnis in the purest form: Adapting the technique to the needs of the moment. Not answer with a preset or prearranged technique, but use, what ever is necessary to solve the problem accordingly at that moment in that situation.

GM Datu Dieter Knüttel

GM Datu Dieter Knuettel is a 10th Dan holder and Grandmaster of Modern Arnis. He is a qualified sports instructor and national coach of the German Arnis Association. (DAV). With his company “ABANICO” he produces martial arts instructional videos, DVDs and downloadable media.


Knyphausenstr. 2b
44287 Dortmund

Phone: + 49 (0)231 – 494 80 60