The Somewhat Controversial Filipino Martial Arts History

The Philippine Martial Arts have somewhat of a controversial history. The following are from history, research, and also knowledge passed on from experienced eskrimadors. Do your own research and come to your own conclusions.

Eskrima- the art of fencing; fighting with swords in a skilled.

Arnis- Filipino sword fighting martial art.

The Philippines warrior arts are deeply rooted in the history
and culture of the Filipino people. They are the products of a highly developed
civilization which flourished long before the arrival of the West upon its
shores, and of centuries of warfare against a variety of oppressors. Both these
factors are responsible for the highly technical and pragmatic outlook of the
Filipino Martial Arts.

The History of the Philippines is a long one, with records stretching back to as far as 900AD.
In the case of the Filipino martial arts, when examining the history of the Philippines as a nation, it is clear that fighting arts have always been an integral part of the Filipino society. The fighting arts of the Philippines, like in many other places, were influenced by many different cultures and made uniquely Filipino by the Filipinos and there weapon systems and surroundings.
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 except 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 angles of attack, and the use of Espada y daga (sword and dagger). 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 it’s use by the Spanish. Hardly ever was it used to block or parry an oncoming strike. However through time the Filipinos began to realise that because the stick had different handling qualities, certain lines of attack were open to them that were not available with the swords, 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 (stick and dagger).

I have heard that the term eskrima was derived from the spanish word esgrima, or possibly from the word skirmish(a short unexpected fight). Arnis de mano was said to be derived from the Spanish word “arnes” meaning trappings or defensive armor. Other literature said the term Arnis is a bastardised 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 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 (hand) and Lihok (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 is 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 weapon. Its use in the West stems from the use of the word by Floro Villabrille who used this term to describe his art, and this was eventually popularised by Dan Inosanto. 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.

Regardless of the controversy of names, terms, and history the effectiveness has been proven many times over. It is not the art that needs to be questioned but the individual practitioners and their ability to express the functionality of the system they practice. The U.S. special forces have implemented the Philippine warrior arts into their military training regiments for many years and still to this day.

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