Sunday, June 26, 2016


Are Martial Arts which have its origins in the Philippines. The practitioners of these arts emphasize the use of blunt, projectile, hand to hand and bladed weapons. Projectile weapons may refer to spears, bow and arrow, blow guns and knives. Today some have already included the use of firearms which I see as a necessary addition to our skills in order to keep up with the modern times and adapt ourselves to address possible scenarios which involves these types of weapons.

Arnis de mano is the term commonly used to refer to the Filipino Martial Art. It is a corruption of the Spanish word “Arnes” that refers to the various means by which armor was strapped on. The term arnis as I've observed is more likely the preferred name in most Tagalog regions like here in Manila and laguna. Now I may be wrong so please don't quote me on this.

Escrima is also from the Spanish word “Esgrima” which means “Fencing”, it is a sword fighting art through which the older masters of the blade-based Filipino Martial Art prefer to call it. The word eskrima is often used among the Visayan regions like Cebu.

Kali is another term used to refer to the Filipino Martial Art which probably has its origins (according to some) to the term “Pagkali-kali” in describing the locked talon-jousts of eagles in mid-air. Others have given their explanations as to the origin of the term. A master who I inquired about it said that KALI for him means "Karunungang Lihim" wherein the first two letters (KA and LI) of the words were joined together referring to the art. He says that karunungang lihim which translated in english would mean secret knowledge. A term which borders around the area of mysticism for it was said that masters of this art are also known to be healers as well. Although this sounds silly to many modern day thinkers but some (especially  elders) believe that there were eskrimadors who were known to posses uncanny abilities through the use of their oracions and anting-anting. That is as far as I would go about this. Moving on,  this term however is not familiar to most of the Filipino Masters here in the Philippines. But is now gaining acceptance  as a legitimate name for FMA as well. The term Kali is more widely used in foreign countries especially in the US.

Kalis is a term which means sword in Tagalog.  “Kalis is also a term preferred  by the late Master Antonio Diego. He said that the term is more appropriate for Antonio Ilustrisimo’s art due to its blade based orientation. This is also the word I used for our system which of course I got  from mang Tony's influence. He reitirated this to me many times until I decided to use the word instead of the former name which was Abenir Kali. So from then on we were known as Abenir Kalis.

I would wish to post this info as well which was shared by my friend Karl Medina:
I come from Central Luzon in a province with predominantly Tagalog speakers. I would, on occasion hear older people say "kalisin mo na lang yan" which I hear them say when ordering someone to use a blade to whittle, carve, or trim any object that can be affected by a blade, be it wood, animal or human hair, or even fins and scales of fish. I am no language expert, but if I have to translate "kalisin" according to my elders' usage, i would say that it is a verb in the future tense which means to process an object using a blade. And by blade it could mean all sorts of blades, big and small; from the humble labaha (razor "la navaja" in Spanish) to the versatile gulok.

As a verb:
Future tense: Kalisin
Present tense: Kinakalis
Past tense: Kinalis
Root word: Kalis

As a noun:
Kalis: a blade.

I hope this helps.

Note: I don't find anything wrong with others using the word Kali. It was my act of obedience to my late teacher's request which prompted me to do so. He was very generous to allow me to go on my own path since he knew of my heavy influence in Silat which I naturally would express in many of my movements especially when it comes to shorter blades and empty hands. So this was my way of showing respect and deep gratitude towards him.

All these (Arnis, Eskrima, Escrima,  Kali, Kalis)  are now interchangeable terms which describe blade, stick and empty hand way of the Filipino Martial Art or FMA. Interchangeable, meaning (like in my case)  that I could use any of these to refer to my system. And  we could call or refer to ourselves or any Fma practioner as Arnisadors, Eskrimadors or Kalista.......No contradiction and nothing wrong with that. Whatever their emphasis is. Wether they're known more with the use of sticks while others are more into swords are in general under the same concept. Mainly,  that  the weapons are merely an extension of the arms. Now if others  still make a big issue out if it by constantly bashing others  just by minor things such as this then that's thier problem.

History of Arnis

Nobody really knows the true origin of Arnis (But we Filipinos know more about the legend of "Si malakas at si maganda, Ang alamat ng saging" and other similar stories! since there were no written treatises about the art before the twentieth century. And this is probably due to the fact that most of the written documents our ancestors had were burned by the Spaniards.   It was outlawed by their officials which led to underground practice of the art. Some of its masters and practitioners were reduced to doing roles as fight choreographers and actors on theatrical performances during Moro-Moro stage plays which depicts combat between Christians and non-Christians.  Although for sure we had a martial art which was being used by our ancestors in order to protect each other either from other tribes or warring clans and from foreign invaders. That is why we have the story between the fight from the army of Magellan and the legendary Lapu-Lapu and his warriors. Nobody knows exactly what kind of martial arts they were using or if they even had a name for it……but it’s quite clear that they knew how to fight well. As for the claim of others that Kali is the term used before Arnis and Escrima, it is still a matter of debate and thus needs further investigation.
By the way, our historians are still in debate about the authenticity surrounding the legend of this brave Datu known as  Lapu-Lapu. Including  the exact location wherein the battle between Magellan and his men really took place. Some research are still going on and we are still waiting for any conclusive evidence. Our newly elected President Rody Duterte has promised the Cebuanos that he vows to elevate Lapu-Lapu's status as one of our National hero. As of the moment the only clear and reliable documentation ever done pertaining this battle which happened in 1521 is through the writings of Antonio Pigafetta. Magellan's chronicler.

However there were references to the art by the likes of Jose Rizal when he studied Arnis as a young lad and even included it on his school curriculum when he built one during his exile in Dapitan. We also have other well known historical figures such as Juan and Antonio Luna and Marcelo H. del Pilar who were known to have studied and practiced the art. An epic called Florante at Laura by Balagtas also mentions the term Arnis as a form of martial art.

Today we have seen the Filipino Martial Art featured on both local and international films such as Kamagong, Mano-Mano, Bourne Sequels, Mission Impossible 3, and the Hunted. There are also a lot of instructional videos and numerous reading materials found in the internet and books written about it. It has now become one of the most in-demand and popular Martial Art in the United States and Europe. Thanks to the likes of Dan Inosanto, Antonio Diego, Mark Wiley, The Dog Brothers, Leo Gaje, Bobby Taboada, Edgar Sulite, Christopher Ricketts and others who had popularized the art by exposing it to the public thru seminars, instructional videos, magazines and books.

Although histories or rather stories by some of its masters and practitioners are often made up or not always trustworthy since most of their claims regarding the origin of their art are often shrouded in mysteries such as masters who dreamt of being taught by enchanted spirits, and others who traveled many treacherous mountains and learned their skills either through a beautiful blind princess or a hermit. Either these were just metaphors or actually believed to be true is up to us to interpret (I am dying to hear stories of those who learned Arnis from a very ugly princess without arms and legs or those who dreamt of learning from an enchanted frog…..iyan ang usapang lasing o mga kwentong barbero)

Thanks to authors like Mark Wiley who have made a thorough investigation of the history of the Filipino Martial Art that we have now a scholarly study of the subject. His book “Filipino Martial Culture” is a good reading material. We also have other good sources which come from Filipino authors like Rey Galang and Edgar Sulite.

Forms of Arnis, Escrima and Kali/s

Solo Baston or single stick is a form which an arnisador uses a stick measuring about twenty to thirty inches long, with a diameter of an inch. The free hand is used for parrying, striking and snatching the weapon from the enemy.

Doble Baston is using two sticks with equal length and is wielded with skill. Another term for the movements used for wielding two sticks is called sinawali. Movements requires hands that are well coordinated which if done properly is very beautiful to watch. It is also lethal in fight application.

Espada y Daga is elegant very elegant in form. It  uses a sword and a dagger to simultaneously cut, thrust, parry and spill off attacks and relies more on circular footworks, body defense positions and precision of its attack while holding these defensive postures.  It is said that it got some of  its influence from Spanish sword play using similar weapons.

Kutsilyo or Baraw is the form of using a knife in which the skills used by the Filipinos in wielding this weapon is highly regarded as very practical and functional. It also employs the handling of two knives.

Mano-Mano and Dumog is the empty hand form which employs the use of punches, elbows, knees, kicks and grappling skills (If you're picturing BJJ or Judo then its not like that. Actually it's more on eye gouge,  groin, arm and hair pull, biting even and whatever. It's just plainly used to survive streetfights)  Many do not know that this particular phase of Arnis, Escrima and Kali/s is included in the curriculum. Thinking that the art is purely weapons oriented, but the truth is that it is a complete fighting system where empty hand and weapons training are emphasized to become a well-rounded martial artist.

There are also fighting systems which is indigenous in the Philippines that  use also sticks or bladed weapons such as Sikaran, Yaw-Yan, Dumog and others but are more focused on empty hand combat. These arts like YawYan  is a perfect translation of arnis into empty hands. I know this because this was my very first formal martial art training  back in the late 80's. Formal meaning that I learned systematically inside a training facilty. Hand techniques were derived from stick fighting. But the kicks are equally beautiful and devastating.   (We also have what we call “Sayo na tsi” which is basically a running art wherein you give your slippers to your opponent and run!-“Sayo na Tsinelas Ko!” hahaha Duwag!) Kidding aside, FMA is indeed a pragmatic martial art system. It is A system which still find its way relevant on the streets as a means of self defense. Most importantly,  it is part of  our rich Filipino heritage, culture and tradition.

Bong Abenir
Abenir Kalis Filipino Blade Art

ESKRIMA STREET DEFENSE BY BONG ABENIR is available in kindle and book form at

photo 2016 Abenir Kalis Philippines

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