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FILIPINO MARTIAL ARTS. by Bong Abenir

Arnis, Escrima , Kali and Kalis


Are Martial Arts which have its origins in the Philippines. The practitioners of these arts emphasize the use of blunt, projectile, hand to hand and bladed weapons. Projectile weapons may refer to spears, bow and arrow, blow guns and knives. (It does not include plates, glass, spoon, fork and other kitchen wares which Filipina wives throw at their husbands during marital warfare.)

Arnis de mano is the term commonly used to refer to the Filipino Martial Art. It is a corruption of the Spanish word “Arnes” that refers to the various means by which armor was strapped on.

Escrima is also from the Spanish word “Esgrima” which means “Fencing”, it is a sword fighting art through which the older masters of the blade-based Filipino Martial Art prefer to call it.

Kali is a modern term used to refer to the Filipino Martial Art which probably may refer to the term “Pagkali-kali” in describing the locked talon-jousts of eagles in mid-air. Others have given their explanations as to the origin of the term. However this new term is not familiar to most of the Filipino Masters here in the Philippines although it is widely used in foreign countries.

Kalis is a term which means sword. A preferred term used by one of the factions between the Ilustrisimo groups. “Kalis Ilustrisimo” headed by Master Antonio Diego says that the term is more appropriate for Antonio Ilustrisimo’s art due to its blade based orientation.

All these are now interchangeable terms which describe blade, stick and empty hand way of the Filipino Martial Art or FMA.


History of Arnis

Nobody really knows the true origin of Arnis (But we Filipinos know more about the legend of the banana tree!) since there were no written treatises on the art before the twentieth century. And this is probably due to the fact that most of the written documents our ancestors had were burned by the Spaniards and also since it was outlawed by their officials that the practice of the art went underground and its masters and practitioners reduced to doing roles as fight choreographers and actors on theatrical performances during Moro-Moro stage plays which depicts combat between Christians and Muslims. Although for sure we had a martial art which was being used by our ancestors in order to protect each other either from other tribes or warring clans and from foreign invaders. That is why we have the story between the fight from the army of Magellan and the legendary Lapu-Lapu and his warriors. Nobody knows exactly what kind of martial arts they were using or if they even had a name for it……but it’s quite clear that they knew how to fight well. As for the claim of others that Kali is the term used before Arnis and Escrima, it is still a matter of debate and thus needs further investigation.

However there were references to the art by the likes of Jose Rizal when he studied Arnis as a young lad and even included it on his school curriculum when he set up one during his exile in Dapitan. We also have other well known historical figures such as Juan and Antonio Luna and Marcelo H. del Pilar who were known to have studied and practiced the art. An epic called Florante at Laura by Balagtas also mentions the term Arnis as a form of martial art.


Today we have seen the Filipino Martial Art featured on both local and international films such as Kamagong, Mano-Mano, Bourne Sequels, Mission Impossible 3, and the Hunted. There are also a lot of instructional videos and numerous reading materials found in the internet and books written about it. It has now become one of the most in-demand and popular Martial Art in the United States and Europe. Thanks to the likes of Dan Inosanto, Romy Macapagal, Antonio Diego, Mark Wiley, The Dog Brothers, Leo Gaje, Bobby Taboada, Edgar Sulite, Christopher Ricketts and others who had popularized the art by exposing it to the public thru seminars, instructional videos, magazines and books.

History or rather stories by many of its masters and practitioners are often made up or not always trustworthy since most of their claims regarding the origin of their art are often shrouded in mysteries such as masters who dreamt of being taught by enchanted spirits, and others who traveled many treacherous mountains and learned their skills either through a beautiful blind princess or a hermit. (I am dying to hear stories of those who learned Arnis from a very ugly princess without arms and legs or those who dreamt of learning from an enchanted frog…..iyan ang usapang lasing o mga kwentong barbero, hehehe)

Thanks to authors like Mark Wiley who have made a thorough investigation of the history of the Filipino Martial Art that we have now a scholarly study of the subject. His book “Filipino Martial Culture” is a good reading material. We also have other good sources which come from Filipino authors like Rey Galang and Edgar Sulite.


Forms of Arnis, Escrima and Kali/s

Solo Baston or single stick is a form which an arnisador uses a stick measuring about twenty to thirty inches long, with a diameter of an inch. The free hand is used for parrying, striking and snatching the weapon from the enemy.

Doble Baston is using two sticks with equal length and is wielded with skill. Another term for the movements used for wielding two sticks is called sinawali.

Espada y Daga is a form which uses a sword and a dagger and got its influence from Spanish sword play using such weapons.

Kutsilyo or Baraw is the form of using a knife in which the skills used by the Filipinos in wielding this weapon is highly regarded as a very practical and functional way of fighting with a knife. It also employs the handling of two knives.

Mano-Mano is the empty hand form which employs the use of punches, elbows, knees, kicks and grappling skills. Many do not know that this particular phase of Arnis, Escrima and Kali/s is included in the curriculum. Thinking that the art is purely weapons oriented, but the truth is that it is a complete fighting system where empty hand and weapons training are emphasized to become a well-rounded martial artist.


There are also fighting systems which is indigenous in the Philippines that does not emphasize the use of sticks or bladed weapons such asSikaranYaw-YanDumog and others that are based on empty hand combat. Although they do have some training in weaponry, it is not their main focus. (We also have what we call “Sayo na tsi” which is basically a running art wherein you give your slippers to your opponent and run!-“Sayo na Tsinelas Ko!” hahaha Duwag!)

 

Why train with such primitive weapons?

We are in a world where guns are used in order to do the job of either using it for self-defense or for committing crimes effectively and for keeping law and order as well. All it takes is a well aimed shot and a good squeeze to trigger the bullet inside the ammo, and that’s it! The problem is, not all could afford to buy himself one and keep it around his person anywhere, all the time. You also need to go through a psychological test before you get a clearance and a license to buy a gun if you happen to have the money for it. Maybe you could settle to buy low quality ammo made from danao (just make sure that the bullet fires at the direction of your assailant and not you!) So leave these to those who could afford to buy and who really need to use it, such as law enforcers and law breakers? Hehehe.

A well trained Arnisador is not limited to using sticks and knives as a means for fighting. He is able to pick up anything such as pens, books, keys, umbrellas, stones, pipes, magazines, trash cans, pool cue (save the pillow fights for kids) or whatever is available and effectively turn it into a weapon provided that he has trained himself to use these things. The weapon an Arnisador holds could be used effectively to defend himself provided that he knows the limitations of whatever weapon is at hand. (Well with some exception of course. Don’t expect an Arnisador to hold a banana and fight someone with a knife! Tsk, tsk,tsk delikado ka iho.)

Training with weapons helps one develop the necessary attributes such as Coordination, speed, strength and power. It also helps in reducing ones fear when faced with a bladed weapon such as the bolo or knife or when up against someone holding a baseball bat or a lead pipe or a broken glass, ice pick, or a light saber?. It equips you with the necessary skills and courage to help you deal with these kinds of situation wherein you have to defend someone or yourself for that matter. And a weapons oriented person is likely to survive than someone without knowledge on handling a weapon when it comes to combat. (But always remember that the best thing to do whenever confronted with an armed assailant is to find a way to get out of his way and run like hell!)

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