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History of Filipino Martial Arts

The history of the Philippines  stretches all the way back as far as 900 AD. Examining the history of the Philippines as a nation, it is clear that martial arts have always been an essential part of the Filipino society. Many different cultures and migrants influenced the martial arts of the Philippines, like in many other places.

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Settled in about 200 B.C by the Malays, in a first wave of migrations from the Southeast, they brought with them the weapon of the long knife. Although many weapons of different shapes and sizes were brought into the Philippines, the "Kris", a wavy bladed knife from the island of Java, was the first foreign weapon to be transplanted into the Filipino fighting arts. During the two more migrations that followed, these people were actually the ancestors of the present day Muslim-Filipinos of Mindanao and Sulu.

In 1518, Ferdinand Magellan convinced King Charles I of Spain that the Moluccas, then known as the Spice Islands, could be reached by sailing west. Magellan told the king that the Moluccas belonged to the Spanish side of the demarcation line drawn according to the Treaty of Torsedillas. The king agreed to send an expedition to the Spice Islands under the command of Ferdinand Magellan. On September 20, 1519, the expedition sailed southward across the Atlantic Ocean. Magellan reached the southernmost tip of South America, where he crossed the Pacific Ocean strait, otherwise now known as the Magellan strait. On March of 1521, he finally reached the Marianas. After resting, his men and obtaining provisions, Magellan continued his voyage and, on March 17th, 1521, sighted the mountains of Samar, marking their arrival in the Philippine Archipelago.

On April 28th, Ferdinand Magellan and his men waded ashore in knee high water to do battle with Raja LapuLapu and his men. The methodical historian at his side, Antonio Pigafetta recorded that LapuLapu's men were armed with fire-hardened sticks. In this battle, Magellan was slain by the chief Raja LapuLapu with a Kampilan by a blow to the leg and then a thrust to the neck.

In 1542 the group of islands was officially named Las Philippinas in honor of Prince Philip who later became King Philip of Spain (Philip II, 1556-1598). An explorer named Ruy Lopez de Villalobos, one of Magellan's predecessors takes credit for giving the place its name.

Spanish rule in the Philippines lasted until 1898 when Spain was defeated in the Spanish-American war. During this long period of colonization, the Spanish had some important effects on the Filipino culture. Firstly, most of the population was converted to Roman Catholicism with the exception for the Muslim Moros of the Sulu archipelago. Spanish fencing also had a direct effect on the fighting arts of the Philippines, with the introduction of the angles of attack, and the use of Espada y daga. When the Spanish imposed a ban on the practice of all native fighting arts and the carrying of bladed weapons during their occupation of the islands, the Filipinos were forced to substitute the use of the sword with that of the rattan. In the beginning, the rattan was used to deliver strikes in the same manner as the blade i.e. slashing and thrusting, and the knife or short stick was still held in reserve as a back up weapon in case the opponent closed the distance, typical of its use by the Spanish. It was hardly ever used to block or parry an oncoming strike. However, through time, the Filipinos began to realize that because the stick had different handling qualities, certain lines of attack were open to them that were not available with the sword, for example, the curved and snapping strikes. Once they began to appreciate the combat effectiveness of the stick, the use of the knife also changed and began to be used more aggressively in terms of blocking, parrying, checking, scooping, thrusting and slashing. This in turn led to the creation of "Olisi y baraw", which is the stick and dagger.

One of the other effects to have reportedly influenced the Filipino culture is the colorful costume of the Spanish. The bright and at times tacky colors are said to be the basis of the colorful outfits worn by many Escrimadors today. However, there is no evidence to support this claim.

Filipino martial arts today are even more confusing. Arnis and Escrima are used to refer to the weapon arts of the Philippines today. Kali is actually used outside the Philippines to refer to the same art. The term Arnis de mano is especially misleading. The term Arnis is a varied form of the word Arnes, which refers to the decorative harnesses used by the actors in moro-moro stage displays. De mano simply means hands, and so a literal translation of Arnis de mano turns into 'harness of hand'. The manipulation of these harnesses during the stage plays impressed the Spanish who dubbed it Arnes de mano. The style Arnis, a Spanish term itself, uses many Spanish terms to describe its techniques such as Espada y daga. 

The term Eskrima is another wide-ranging term derived from the word Escrima, which is again derived from the Spanish term Esgrima that is the term for fencing. It is also believed to mean to skirmish but there is no evidence to support this.

The last term Kali is always the most controversial. Many martial arts schools and instructors believe the word Kali to be a combination of the words Kamut, which is hand, and Lihok, which is movement.  It is also believed to be the mother art of Arnis or Escrima but there is a lack of evidence to support this. Kali or Kahli as it is sometimes written, in Visayan as a type of stick, but not used to refer to the fighting art. Kali is also the Hindu Goddess of destruction, and the Moros of the Sulu archipelago would often go into battle dressed like the Goddess of Destruction. The more believable explanation is from the Tagalog word for a large bladed weapon, Kalis. This was shortened simply to Kali to refer to all bladed weapons. Its use in the West stems from the use of the word by Floro Villabrille who used this term to describe his art, and Dan Inosanto eventually popularized this. An interview with Antonio Illustrisimo in 1993 revealed that he only used the word out of convenience because foreign students recognized it, although he preferred the term Escrima because this is what it was called when he was learning from his uncles.

Whatever term is used to describe the Filipino fighting arts today it is clear that they offer deep and rewarding training for those involved. 

The Origin

Filipino martial arts training traditionally starts with weapons then transitions into shorter weapons and so on to empty hands. The reason for this is of a historical and practical nature given the environment of the Philippine Islands. Throughout the Philippine history, unending wars between rival tribes and invasions from foreign aggressors have imposed the need for combat readiness. Survival did not depend on the strongest, but the smartest. Man used whatever it could to secure the advantage and to fend off and protect themselves against animals and other aggressors. This could have meant throwing an object, using a tree branch, and perhaps poking at their enemy with a sharp object. The weapon was used to equalize the differences of strength, speed and aggression between man and other enemies. Imagine the general make up of the Philippines. There are over 7,000 total islands, and these are divided into the three major island groups consisting of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. There are over a hundred different dialects throughout the country. However, the national language spoken is Tagalog. This means there is a lack of central communication and organization yet there is central theme in the Filipino Martial Arts, which revolves around fighting concepts. Looking at the different styles and systems, the techniques used are somewhat different, but the overall concepts of combat and winning remain the same. The Filipino Martial Arts is not a compassionate art; it is a vicious and dangerous form of self-preservation. There are hundreds of unique styles of the Filipino martial arts throughout the Philippines. Regardless of the controversies behind the origins of systems and the various styles of Filipino martial arts, it remains that the "Arn