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  • Writer's pictureLouella Esguerra

Martial Arts in Dune - Review

Has there been an increase in FMA representation in movies lately? I'm excited that FMA has made its way into Dune as I think it's one of the years stand-out movies. I rewatched it several times just for the scenery and how they conveyed other-worlds. I also bought the 1965 book by Frank Herbert to see if it was any better reading and as per usual the book does have more detailed character explanations and inner thoughts that aren't addressed in the movie. For example...

"In shield fighting, one moves fast on defence, slow on attack... Attack has the sole purpose of tricking the opponent into a misstep, setting him up for the attack sinister".

Balintawak obviously wasn't represented in the book however the fight coordinator Roger Yuan mentions that Balintawak was specifically used in the movie as the 'new' style of fighting. He states that the dual nature of blocking with the free hand while attacking with the weapon was a key component of the film. In the book Paul and Gurney use the rapier sword and a kindjal dagger. Thrust, parry, feint and counter-feint are the words used to describe movements and so alludes to European fencing tactics. In Balintawak language identifies its tactics as strikes, blocks, defence, counters, lifting and clearing, which is what we are seeing in the movie.

I thought it was also interesting to see how the sword was translated across as I've never seen a Balintawak guro use training swords or blades and I've always felt that Balintawak was a stick fighting art more than a sword art unlike other FMA styles. Perhaps this is why - and I cringed - in the movie they block 'blade on blade' rather than 'flat side on blade'. I could just be looking into it too much, it is a movie after all, and fight scenes in movies don't necessarily depict reality. Either way, the choreography was amazing and it did suit the style and theme. Paul, Gurney, Duncan all from the house Atreides use the same fighting style, which utilises Balintawak's hand and sword movements but interestingly not the footwork. In the movie they salute the way certain FMA styles salute. Jason Momoa mentions that his salute was a tribute to his son who practices FMA.

The most interesting part for me was the Bene Gesserit mind control tactics. I think spiritual fighting concepts and ideas, which have been a part of many indigenous cultures including Philippines, are generally cast aside due to its mystical and paranormal nature. Fair enough, it can be a bit too wild. However, it's existence not just in the movie but in many eastern cultures makes me think there might actually be something there worth looking into, if just to understand how different people see and experience the world. I've been reading a book by Manong Romeo Macapagal on Kalis Ilustrisimo and at the beginning chapters he talks about Antonio Ilustrisimo's esoteric beliefs, magic, incantations, oracions, and anting-anting that he practiced during his time of street fighting in the Philippines. I doubt many people would practice the same these days but who knows? That side is generally hidden from view.

I can't wait for Dune 2 to see how the fighting choreography has progressed.


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