Filipino martial arts refer to ancient and newer fighting methods developed in the Philippines. It has been influenced by both Eastern and Western martial arts.
The most popular forms of Filipino martial arts are known as kali, arnis, eskrima. Although there is still controversy on where these forms originated, most practitioners today use the terms interchangeably.
Although there is controversy on where they originated, the one common underlying theme in Filipino martial arts is that the system was created out of a need for self-preservation from the numerous invaders and local conflicts its inhabitants were forced to defend against over the years.
The Filipino people developed combat skills as a direct result of these ever changing circumstances.
According to Mark Wiley, author of Filipino Martial Culture, there are three distinct systems of this combative art.
The “Ancient” Systems
“Ancient Filipino martial arts were practiced prior to the arrival of the Spanish in 1521. Generally speaking, the ancient arts (often referred to as kali), are structured around the use of Indonesian and Malaysian swords (i.e., kris, barong, kampilan), the use of indigenous projectile weapons (i.e., sumpit, pana), the use of flexible weapons (i.e., kadena, panyo), with footwork patterns structured around elaborate geometric shapes. Preserved in the unconquered Muslim areas of southern Philippines, these arts did not undergo the same evolutionary process as did eskrima and arnis. Therefore, the ancient art of kali could not have possibly maintained eskrima or arnis in its curricular phases- Spain, the United States, and Japan had not, as of the height of this art’s popularity in the archipelago (prehistory to 1521 A.D.), dominated the Philippines.” (Wiley, Filipino Martial Culture, pg 313)
Below is Grandmaster Antonio “Tatang” Illustrisimo, founder of Kali Illustrisimo, an ancient system of Filipino martial arts:
The “Classical” Systems
“Classical Filipino martial arts evolved during a three-century ban on the ancient martial arts (1565-1898). Many of these systems, therefore, encompass elements of European swordplay which the preserved ancient arts do not. Initially, the arts of eskrima, for example, were practiced with long and short sticks-as even the brandishing of the general utility bolo was prohibited. Since Western fencing became a favorite past time among mestizos (Filipinos of Spanish descent) sticks were later replaced by European-style edged weapons such as the estoc. The footwork patterns of the classical weapons systems systems tend to be structured around a triangle set between two parallel lines. Moreover, while the classical systems generally have an elaborate repertoire of hand-to-weapon defenses they have only marginal techniques of hand-to-hand fighting.” (Wiley, Filipino Martial Culture, pg 317)
Below is Grandmaster Benjamin Luna Lema, founder of Lightining Scientific Arnis, a classical system of Filipino martial arts:
The “Modern” Systems
Modern Filipino martial arts evolved as a result of Philippine independence from Spain, and subsequent culture contact with the United States and Japan (1898 to the present). These modern martial arts generally feature inclusion of hand-to-hand defensive techniques largely incorporated from any combination of Okinawan, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese sources. Moreover, they tend to lack sophisticated footwork with training essentially centered around modern sport competition.” (Wiley, Filipino Martial Culture, pg 330)
Below is Grandmaster Remy Presas, founder of Modern Arnis, a modern system of Filipino martial arts:
Techniques of Filipino Martial Arts
Here is a list of some of the techniques found in Filipino martial arts.
- Impact- short stick, staff, palm stick, shield, improvised weaponry (such as keys, pens, rolled-up newspapers)
- Edged- knife, sword, machete
- Flexible- chain, whip, rope
- Projectile- bow and arrow, spear, blowpipe, darts
- Mano mano- punch, kicks, elbows, knees, locks
- Sikaran- kicking techniques
- Dumog- Filipino style grappling
- Buno- Filipino style of wrestling
- Yaw-Yan- similar to Muay Thai
If you live in the NYC area and are interested in learning Filipino martial arts (kali, arnis, eskrima) then check out our NYC eskrima curriculum here.