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Filipino Martial Arts

Ancient and newer fighting methods devised in the Philippines. It incorporates elements from both Western and Eastern Martial Arts, the most popular forms of which are known as Arnis, Eskrima and Kali. Kali, Escrima and Arnis are umbrella terms for the weapon-based traditional martial arts of the Philippines. Arnis is a Northern Term, Escrima more Central, and Kali is from the South. Many believe that Kali is older, a more comprehensive “warrior’s art” than Escrima or Arnis.


Generally speaking the terms just refer to indigenous weapons fighting systems of the Philippines. Every village and often every master has a distinct style; however all share similar fighting concepts and methods. The intrinsic need for self-preservation was the genesis of these systems. Throughout the ages, invaders and evolving local conflicts imposed new dynamics for combat in the islands now making up the Philippines. The Filipino people developed battle skills as a direct result of an appreciation of their ever-changing circumstances. They learned, often out of necessity and simple practicality, how to prioritize, allocate, and use common resources in combative situations.

The weapon categories are edged, impact, flexible, and projectile; there are a wide array of weapons taught in Filipino martial arts but the emphasis is on stick and knife. The empty hand training includes striking, grappling, stand up, and ground methods.

Kali students traditionally start their instruction by learning how to fight with weapons and only advance to empty-hand training once the stick and knife techniques have been sufficiently mastered. This is contrary to most other well-known Asian martial arts. Perhaps the reason is to condition students to fight against armed assailants since armed conflicts are common in the islands; in addition, the obvious fact is that an armed person who is trained has the advantage over a trained or untrained unarmed attackers as well as an advantage over trained but unarmed person. Another explanation used by the old masters is the principle that bare-handed moves are acquired naturally through the same exercises as the weapon techniques, making muscle memory an important aspect of the teaching.

Most systems of Kali apply a single set of techniques for the stick, knife, and empty hands; a concept sometimes referred to as motion grouping. Since the weapon is seen as simply an extension of the body, the same angles and footwork are used either with or without a weapon. The reason for this is historical since tribal warriors went into battle armed and only resorted to bare-handed fighting after losing their weapons.

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