Filipino Kali is alive and well
in today's Police and Military Training
by Jim Wagner
Thumb through any martial arts magazine and you’ll see advertisements and the mention of the Filipino martial arts (kali, escrima, and arnis). In today’s martial arts community it’s hard to imagine a time prior to these arts’ influence. However, back in the not too distant past (the late 70’s) the Filipino martial arts were virtually unknown outside the small Filipino communities of Hawaii and Northern California. In fact, Dan Inosanto himself (the man credited for bringing the arts into the limelight) referred to the Filipino martial arts in 1977 as “dying arts.” I don’t think he or any of the “old guard” (Richard Bustillo, Angel Cabales, Leo Giron, Ted LucayLucay, or Ben Largusa) realized just how popular the arts would eventually become; not just with civilian practitioners worldwide, but within law enforcement, corrections, probation and the US military.
A little history lesson
The term “martial arts” literally means “war arts,” or “the arts of war.” The martial arts as we know them today (depending on your style) evolved from the methods employed by the ancient Shaolin monks, Korean soldiers, Japanese Samurai, and yes, the Filipino people’s 333-year struggle with the Spanish.
After World War II (1946) the American military occupied Japan. Many American servicemen began learning Japanese martial arts from masters who opened their doors to non-Asians in order to survive a post-war economy. These servicemen brought the techniques and training methods - and even the culture - back home with them to the States. A few of them even opened up schools of their own, such as the legendary Dan Ivan.
In the 1950’s Japanese karate, judo, and jiu-jitsu spread like wild fire. In fact, Dan Inosanto (one of my own kali teachers) took up the martial arts in 1957 from a Judo instructor named Duke Yoshimura. In 1959 he entered the US Army and found various martial arts styles flourishing at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The Korean War also saw an influx of Koreans immigrating to the United States, and with them the Korean martial arts. Although the Japanese martial arts were dominant for most of the decade, the American public soon accepted the Korean arts.
In the 1960’s Ed Parker (considered by many as the “Father of American karate”) was spreading his own style of Kenpo and sponsoring the International Karate Championships. In 1964 Bruce Lee made his first major public appearance at the Championships but it would be a few more years until kung fu took root in America.
In the 1970’s the floodgates opened for the Chinese martial arts due in large part to the growing fame of Bruce Lee (film star and martial arts instructor) and David Carridine who starred in the T.V. hit series “Kung-fu.” However, in 1973 Bruce Lee died and Dan Inosanto (along with Richard Bustillo and Jerry Poteet) continued to carry the torch of Jeet Kune Do (Bruce’s Lee’s own fighting system). In addition to JKD, the daily curriculum also included a mix of Bustillo’s kickboxing and Inosanto’s kali, escrima, and arnis (with quite a bit of Wing Chun thrown in). It was in 1978 that I first began taking lessons from Dan Inosanto and Richard Bustillo.
The 80’s saw the expansion of the Jeet Kune Do Empire, and with it the Filipino martial arts. In reality, the two systems are inseparable due to their marriage at the Filipino Kali Academy in Torrance, California when it all began.
By the 1990’s the Filipino martial arts were household words. A whole new breed of JKD instructors (such as Paul Vunak, Burton Richardson, Rick Tucci, Steve Tarani, Daniel Sullivan, Damon Caro, and less well known names) came out of The Inosanto Academy of Martial Arts (IAMA) in Los Angeles and turned the “dying art” into one of the fastest growing martial arts in the world. Of course, in the 90’s Dan Inosanto himself was busy exporting his arts around the world conducting seminar after seminar. Yet, it would be unfair to say that the JKD people had a monopoly on popularizing the Filipino martial arts. There are many other schools and organizations which contributed to the rapid growth such as Bahala Na International, the Filipino Martial Arts Association of America, LAMECO Eskrima International, and others.
Another major event that occurred in the 90’s (which went virtually unnoticed by the civilian martial arts world) was the integration of Filipino based martial arts as part of official US military training and law enforcement training. This includes corrections, probation, pre-trial services, and diplomatic protection services.
Those who wear badges or protect this nation all have something in common – both groups have sworn (affirm an oath) to uphold the laws of the land, and to defend this nation against all enemies foreign or domestic. When I enlisted into the US Army, then later joined the police force, I raised my right hand both times and gave the standard oath, and thus I was “sworn in. ”
Within the military you will find dedicated martial artists (learning it first as civilians or picking it up through their training). These practitioners usually find their way into training positions and insert their skills into the curriculum whenever possible, while still adhering to established procedures. Thus, it stands to reason that the Filipino martial arts have also found their way into the military just as the Japanese and Korean arts had in the 50’s and 60’s.
Today you don’t need to look very far to see the influence of the Filipino martial arts has had on the United States military. If you pick up the United States Marine Corps field manual Close Combat (MCRP 3-02B), dated February 18, 1999, you will find strikes and blocks (Chapter 3 Hand-Held weapons) that are identical to what you’d find in a typical kali class. The manual contains step-by-step moves for knives, and even sticks (a section titled Combative Stick Techniques).
There is also a section in the manual for non-lethal baton techniques, because the US Marine Corps has taken on the new mission of international peacekeepers. Although this publication is fairly new, it supersedes Fleet Marine Force Manual (FMFM) 0-7, Close Combat, dated July 9, 1993. The newer version contains the stick and baton techniques.
Likewise, if you pull out the US Army’s field manual Combatives (FM 21-150), dated September 30, 1992 you will not only find similar strikes and blocks found in the Marine manual, but you’ll also find a chart with 9 angles of attack – not too much different than the same chart found in Dan Inosanto’s book The Filipino Martial Arts (Know Now Publishing Company).
Many of the military’s Combatives or Close Combat instructors are very familiar with the Filipino martial arts. One instructor who capitalized on the arts was Navy SEALs operator Frank Cucci (also a student of Dan Inosanto) who now has a series of training videos out on the market (Panther Productions). He, like many military trainers, have taken the Filipino martial arts and adapted them to the military K.I.S.S. (keep it simple stupid) principle. The military version of Filipino kali has been stripped to its simplest form, whereas many JKD/kali schools are somewhat on the flowery and fancy side.
Stick and gun club
Kali, escrima, and arnis have had no problem in the adoption process with law enforcement and corrections (jails and prisons) since most officers and agents carry some form of impact weapon (baton, PR24, ASP, Orcutt, etc.).
Law enforcement has long been experimenting with various martial arts over the past two decades. And, like the military, the people who usually end up heading the training programs are officers or agents who are martial arts practitioners. As I travel around the world training various departments, I’m finding more and more Defensive Tactics instructors who are skilled in the Filipino martial arts or who have at least taken a lesson or two.
First hand experience
The Filipino martial arts have played a valuable roll in my own career as a law enforcement officer. Not only has the training paid off in quicker reflexes, but I credit the techniques and training methods in having survived two close-range knife attacks, and have brought some situations to a quick ending with the successful use of my baton. Without a doubt, it’s because of my strong confidence in the Filipino martial arts that I have passed on (and continue to do so) many of the techniques and training methods to many agencies, departments and US military units.
Every student I have ever trained in the Filipino martial arts has become an instant “convert” (again, only if they are stripped down for law enforcement and the military use. Kali, escrima, and arnis, as it is taught in most civilian schools today, would never be accepted by these two communities for a wide variety of reasons – use of force policies, combat effectiveness, limited training time, etc.).
I have studied many martial arts over the years, and all of them have contributed to my fighting abilities, but from my limited list of recommendations Filipino kali is a must for any serious fighter, and it should be mandatory training for all law enforcement officers and military operators (Special Forces, SEALs, PMO, Force Recon, Para-rescue, etc.). Stay safe.
Note: A 216 page biography on the life of Dan Inosanto has just been released by Paladin Press titled Dan Inosanto: The Man, The Teacher, The Artist by Perry Kelly (a police officer and Defensive Tactics Instructor, and student of Dan Inosanto). www.paladin-press.com
Sergeant Jim Wagner is a law enforcement officer, of 12 years, in California, USA. Past assignments include: custody officer, street patrol, bicycle patrol, SWAT, Search & Rescue, and patrol supervisor. Jim Wagner was also assigned to his department’s Dignitary Protection Unit (DPU).