When we talk about Filipino Martial Arts, we’re talking about Kali. From its murky origins in tribal conflict and wildlife defense, Kali has survived colonization, evolved through generations, and adapted to the modern world to become a respected global fighting discipline.

In this piece, we’re going on an adventure, a journey back in time that traces the gritty evolution of Kali. From weapon improvisation in jungle warfare to secret dance disguises under the watchful eyes of Spanish colonizers and onto the silver screens of Hollywood – Kali’s history is as diverse and dynamic as the techniques it teaches.

We’re about to explore how a fighting style born in the heart of the Philippine islands became practiced in gyms, depicted in movies, and implemented in military training globally. 

The story of Kali isn’t just about martial arts; it’s a testament to human innovation, adaptability, and the sheer will to survive. 

The Birth of Kali and Filipino Martial Arts

men fighting
Kali. Original art by SOFREP.

Think of a time before modern luxuries like AC, Netflix, or even a simple can opener. We’re referring to a time when survival skills determined whether you’d see another day. 

It was the world in which Kali, one of the world’s oldest fighting systems, was born. We’re in the heart of the Philippine Islands, where the landscape is your best friend and your worst enemy—a land filled with dense jungles, mighty rivers, and rugged mountains. And let’s not forget about the other inhabitants – from neighboring tribes to wild animals.

So, in this harsh environment, the local folks had to devise a way to protect themselves and their people, and that’s where Kali enters the picture. Now, the exact birthdate of Kali is hazy, but one thing we know for sure is that it’s been around for a  long time, possibly even thousands of years.

A No-Nonsense, Adaptable Fighting System

The tribespeople developed this martial art to defend against both man and beast, using anything they could get their hands on – from sticks and knives to their bare fists. It was a no-nonsense, adaptable fighting system to keep you alive in the wild.