The Philippines is known for its beautiful white beaches, warm, friendly smiles, and scrumptious dishes. With its 7,100 islands, yummy halo-halo during the summer, and hospitable community, not everyone knows that they are also experts in knife-wielding martial arts that roots back before the Spanish Era in the 15th century. Kali, eskrima, arnis; whatever you prefer to call it, it’s the same Filipino Martial Arts used by US Army and the Russian Special Operations Forces.

History of Arnis

Arnis. Photo; Triangle Kung Fu Arnis Academy

Arnis came from the Spanish word arnés which translates to “armor.” The term “eskrima” came from the Filipinization of the Spanish word “esgrima,” which means fencing. Lastly, Kali was a Filipino term for blades called “Kalis.” It was quite unclear when exactly this Filipino martial arts practice started. It was said that there were no written accounts on when Kali exactly started because most of its practitioners didn’t have scholarly education. However, it could be traced back to the “Pintados” or the Philippine ethnolinguistic group native in the Visayan region. We know, though, that this martial art includes hand-to-hand combat, grappling, joint locks, and weapon disarming. In fact, it has been the Philippines’ National Martial Art and Sport since 2009.

Weapons that can be used in Kali. Photo from The Deadly Dance

Nowadays, the most popular weapon used in kali is a pair of durable rattan sticks called “baston” or “yantok.” They are usually ranging from twenty-four to twenty-eight inches long. Other less popular known weapons were swords, daggers, and spears.

Influence in Other Countries

The kali techniques were so effective that they were also practiced and adopted by the US army in its Close Quarters Combat courses and other martial arts. For the Russian Systema Spetsnaz, which is a comprehensive combat system used by Russian Special Forces, it is reported that the “knife fighting methods they practice can be traced back to Kali Eskrima and Eskrima grandmasters are sometimes hired to do sessions for the special forces team. Spetsnaz soldiers are also trained to control the body’s six levers (elbows, neck, knees, waist, ankles, and shoulders) with the blade similar to Kali Eskrima.”

In the 2002 film “The Bourne Identity,” Jason Bourne (played by Matt Damon) was an expert of different martial arts, including kali, which could be observed in a scene where he used nothing but his pen against an attacker with a knife.

Nowadays, many centers offer kali classes inside and outside the Philippines, like Daniel “Mumbakki” Foronda, a propagator of Filipino Martial Arts both in the Philippines and other countries like The Russian Federation. There were also martial arts schools and organizations like Arnis Philippines and UP Kali Eskrima that teach this martial art.