5 things you didn’t know about Filipino martial arts Kali, Eskrima & Arnis

Like most of the other countries in the Southeast Asian region, Philippines also enjoys a close and historic association with martial arts.

The country also boasts of its own unique martial art form known as Kali, Eskrima or Arnis; three different names used interchangeably to denote the Filipino martial arts (FMA) system.

However, there are subtle differences between the origins of the three systems, some of which we will delve into in this piece as we run through 5 things you probably didn’t know about martial arts in Philippines.

You first learn weapon combat, before hand to hand

This is surprising as in most other martial art forms that incorporate both hand to hand combat as well as weapon combat, the practitioner learns how to fight without weapons first.

However under the FMA umbrella, hand to hand combat is taught later on as an off shoot of stick and sword combat. Initially, the practitioner learns how to fight using one or two medium length sticks ideal for mid range combat.

Is practised by Dan Inosanto, who is a famous student of Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee is the father of modern day MMA and the innovator of a formless combat style known as Jeet Kune Do. Dan Inosanto was his student who also received instructorship under him.

What’s telling here is that Insanto was also a master in FMA. In fact, he was so well versed that he even doctored a sub style of Kali that was later named after him (Lacoste-Inosanto Kali).

Speaking of which.

Kali/Eskrima/Arnis have over 35 different systems

Filipino Martial Arts propagated widely throughout the world and were adapted into myriad systems that were influenced by various different martial art forms and practitioners.

Kali alone has over 16 different sub-styles while Eskrima and Arnis also contribute heavily towards the overall number of 35.

Schools of FMA can be found in America, Europe and Asia today.

The etymology of Kali, Eskrima and Arnis

Despite often being grouped interchangeably under the unbrella of FMA, there are subtle differences between Kali, Eskrima and Arnis that date back centuries.

Kali is the oldest among the three and originated in the Southern part of Philippines. The name can be broken down into ka and li which translate into ‘hand’ and ‘movement’.

Eskrima was borne in the central part of the Philippines and is said to have been derived from the Spanish word ‘Esgrima’ which means fencing. This referred to the sticks/swords that are used as weapons in the martial art form.

Arnis has a curious point of origin, and happened rather innocuously. The Spanish had banned Kali from being practiced in Philippines due to its excessively lethal nature and to keep the martial art form alive, the natives started incorporating it into a dance form that involved skillful movements of the hands.

The Spanish named this dance form ‘Arnes‘ which later evolved into Arnis, the martial art form.

There are other completely different martial art forms other than Kali/Eskrima/Arnis under FMA

Kali,Eskrima and Arnis are the most popular forms of Filipino martial arts, but there are a number of other disciplines that also come under FMA.

They are:

Dumog – a martial art form based on wrestling

Kino Mutai – a martial art form that allows eye gouging and biting

Panantukan – a street fighting system that is based on boxing

Sikaran – a martial art form almost solely focused on kicking

YawYan – a kickboxing discipline that also teaches grappling