by Allen Owen
The Filipino martial art of Kali, also known as arnis and escrima is one of the most beautiful and equally deadly arts in the world. It is mainly a weapons-based system of fighting with the use of knives, swords and fire-hardened wooden baton-length sticks made of rattan- a light yet sturdy wood from a vine abundant in the Philippines. For this reason, Kali is also referred to as Filipino stick-fighting and practitioners use single or double sticks to disarm and take down opponents. The term is hardly used in the Philippines where locals call the art arnis, arnis de mano or escrima. The term Kali is mainly used outside the country in the U.S. or Europe.
From tradition, basic training in Kali and the Filipino martial arts are simplified for easy instruction of large groups and for this reason, are mistakenly referred to as 'simple' martial arts. On the contrary, training past the basic levels is relatively complicated and takes several years to master. Both men and women participated in Kali martial arts training. Filipino women have always been known to participate in wars and battles throughout Philippine history.
The famous explorer Ferdinand Magellan along with his Spanish conquistadores were said to have been defeated by tribal Filipinos skilled in the art of Kali. Sword and stick-wielding natives led by Lapu-lapu were able to route the invading forces despite the latter having the advantage of guns and protective armor.
Although the Filipino people take pride in Kali being a martial art with purely Philippine origins, it does have influences from China, India, Arab missionaries and Spain. An offense-based fighting system, it uses the "good offense is the best defense" principle and are categorized into two types of training: stick training for fighting with swords and sword training for fighting with sticks. Basic training usually employs the use either double sticks or one stick in one hand and a knife in the other- espada y daga or 'sword and dagger'. The most basic move in Kali training is the San Miguel or right overhead forehand strike. It is named after Saint Michael the Archangel since paintings of him depict him brandishing a sword in this position. Other moves are the Abaniko or fan, the Redondo or roundabout strike, the punyo or butt-strike (with the weapon, not someone's rear-end), and the hakbang paiwas (footwork to avoid) and hakbang tatsulok (triangular footwork).
Kali differs from other martial arts training in that it teaches unarmed empty-handed techniques in the advanced levels of training instead of in the basic stages. The concept behind this is that weapons are only an extension of the body and the same movement and footwork are used in both armed and unarmed combat. Starting-out with weapons in the early stages of training therefore automatically conditions the body for unarmed combat as well.
In the mid 1940's after the second world war, Filipino Kali masters migrated to the States and it was only a few years after that Kali and the Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) were taught to foreigners.