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A Brief History of Filipino Martial Arts
1962 Tech Sequence
An Interview with The Dog Brothers
Kali - Means To Scrape
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A Short History of Filipino Martial Arts

A Short History of Filipino Martial Arts

Arnis, the most systematic and the best known fighting art in the Philippines is a reflection of the Filipino people's history, their philosophy, and their culture. Arnis boasts a long historical development from the Kali systems. Kali (Silat) comes from the word kalis, which implies a blade, is the oldest form of weaponry in the Phillipines and is the mother to escrima. The naturally graceful, harmoniously circular movements used in the Filipino martial arts are characteristic of the methods found in other Asian countries.

In order to better understand the dynamics of the unique Filipino martial arts, it is to take a brief look at the historical roots of the culturally and racially diversified society of the Philippines. The Philippine islands has an area of 115,707 square miles. It consists of more than 7,000 islands, only 154 of which have an area exceeding five square miles. Most of the population is concentrated on eleven islands exceeding 1,000 square miles each, in three major areas: Luzon, the Visayan islands, and Mindanao.

Historians and anthropologists have postulated that during prehistoric times, various groups of people migrated from the Asian mainland in search of food and game and eventually settled in the Philippines. They came from Indonesia and central Asia and possibly as far away as India, Persia, and Egypt. In addition to the bow and arrow, these various groups were expert fighters with the long knife, which has since assumed many forms, daggers, swords, and spears. Other subsequent migrations brought with them other bladed weapons.

In the fifth century, one of the earliest Asian empires, the Sri-Vishayan Empire (a famous Hindu-Malayan empire of Sumatra), conquered and colonized many lands, which included the Philippines. The impact of this empire on the Filipino culture was extensive. Besides being skilled warriors, seamen, and farmers, they introduced new laws, a written alphabet, a new religion, a calendar, etc. This merging of the cultures produced the Visayan people of the central Philippines.

It was also around the twelth century that another great empire formed in Java, called the Majapit Empire. They took over the Sri-Vishayan Empire and were instrumental in spreading the Muslim religion in the Philippines. They settled most heavily in the Southern Philippines, in Mindanao, and became known as the Moro (Muslim) Filipinos. They were fiercely independent proud and today, they still exist as a distinct culture.

It was the early in the sixteenth century when Spain invaded the Philippines. Ferdinand Magellan was the first famous foreigner to encounter the Filipino "Baston". To Spain and the old world, Magellan was a discoverer of new land. To the Filipinos he was just another invader, a pirate who sought to enslave people as part of Spanish conquest. Magellan was killed by Datu Lapu-Lapu on the island of Mactan, in what is now the province of Cebu. There Lapu Lapu battled Spain's finest steel armed with fire-hardened rattan sticks with points and homemade lances and won. This encounter was the beginning of a 400 year struggle. Magellan's men sailed home without him, but the Spaniards returned again with more and more firepower, reinforcements, and the Christian religion. Though, the Filipinos fought hard, modifying their fighting systems to mimic the Spanish's sword and dagger method (Espara Y Daga), they were no match for the Spanish's firepower.

After the Spanairds took control of the Philipines, the martial arts were outlawed by the ruling government. In order to preserve their art, the the Filipinos practice in secret under the light of a full moon. Often times the art would appear in dances being performed openly for the Spaniards. The Spaniards were never able to conquer the fierce mountain people called Moros.

Today, there are probably hundreds of styles of Filipino martial arts. They are all related but have been stylized by the tribes which used them. Nevertheless, they can be divided into three main groups:

  1. Northern Style - Arnis
  2. Central Style - Arnis de Mano
  3. Southern Style - Kali.
The various styles have one thing in common that makes them unique in the world of martial arts. The principals of combat of Arnis are based on a pattern of angles that all attacks fall into, regardless of style, regardless of weapon. It is not suprising that the elusive "bastons" of the Filipinos were effective and difficult to deal with, because of its elliptical and constant motion and varying angles of attack and countless reversals.

Phases or stages of training

  1. Solo Baston - Single stick
  2. Doble Baston - Double stick
  3. Espada Y Daga - Sword and knife
  4. Daga Y Daga - Knife to Knife
  5. Mano y Mano - Hand to Hand
  6. Sikaran (Sipa) - Kick counter Kick
  7. Sibat

Changing the Fighting vocabulary

  1. From: Defense To: Counter-offense
  2. From: Block To: Recounter
  3. From: Stance To: Footwork
  4. From: Self-Defense To: Combat
  5. From: Dogmatism To: Realism
  6. From: Rigidity To: Fluidity
  7. From: Frontal assault To: Guerilla warfare


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