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“Eskrima” or “Escrima” refers to a class of Filipino Martial Arts that emphasize stick and sword fighting. The term and the art most probably originates from the Spanish word “esgrima” which is the term for fencing.
Other terms which have entered into common usage include “Kali” and “Arnis de Máno” (“harness of the hand”); occasionally the abbreviation “FMA” (“Filipino Martial Arts”) is used. Eskrima and Arnis are among the many names primarily used in the Philippines today to refer to these arts. The name Kali, although primarily used in the United States and Europe, is seldom used in the Philippines and in most cases is an unknown word. But due to the popularity of the term outside of the Philippines and the influence of foreign practitioners, the term Kali is increasingly being recognized and accepted in the Philippines. Kalis, as used in the Philippines, refers to a sword. It is commonly mistaken as synonymous to or a derivative form of kali (note: suffixation of “s” is not used in Filipino languages or dialects to indicate plurality). However, for all intents and purposes, Eskrima, Arnis, Arnis de Mano, Kali and FMA all refer to the same family of Filipino weapons-based martial arts.
The teaching of the basic skills in FMA are traditionally simplified. With limited time to teach flashy and intricate techniques, only skills that were proven effective in battle and could easily be taught en masse were used. This allowed villagers, generally not professional soldiers, a measure of protection against other villages, as well as foreign invaders. This philosophy of simplicity is still used today and is the underlying base of the FMA. Because of this approach, the FMA are often mistakenly considered to be “simple” fighting arts. However, this refers only to its systematization, not effectiveness. To the contrary, beyond the basic skills lies a very complex structure and a refined skillset that takes years to master.
Many different systems of Eskrima exist and can trace their origins to a single tribe or region. Some of the most famous systems from and in the Philippines are Lightning Scientific Arnis International/Lema Scientific Kali-Arnis System (LSAI/LESKAS), Pekiti-Tirsia Kali, San Miguel Eskrima, Doce Pares, Balintawak, Modern Arnis, Kalis Illustrisimo/Bakbakan, while in the United States the Inayan System of Eskrima, Sayoc Kali, Cabales Serrada Eskrima, Lameco Eskrima and Dog Brothers Martial Art are popular.
Practitioners of these arts are noted for their ability to fight with weapons or empty hands interchangeably. Most Eskrima systems include fighting with a variety of weapons, striking with hands and feet (suntukan, sikaran, tadyakan/tadiyakan), grappling and throwing (dumog), biting and whatever skills needed to complete a warrior’s training in the old days of tribal warfare. Perhaps the only major fields that have not been given as much emphasis as in the past in modern eskrima training today are skills needed for fighting effectively in groups and hilot – a Filipino system of first aid, healing, massage, and herbal medicine traditionally taught alongside eskrima but that has now virtually disappeared.
In most systems, skills with weapons and with empty hands (unarmed) are developed concurrently using training methods designed to emphasize their common elements. The most common variations used are single stick (solo bastón), double stick (double bastón) and sword/stick and dagger (espada y daga). Some systems are known to specialise in other weapons such as the whip and staff.
An eskrimador, kalista or mangangali (as some modern practitioners called themselves) is a practitioner of Eskrima, while Arnisador is also used for the variant name Arnis.
The term Eskrima is the Filipino spelling which comes from the Spanish word esgrima, “fencing”. Arnis is thought to derive from the phrase arnes de mano, Spanish for “harness of hand”. The origin of the name Kali is not certain, although some suggest it is related to the traditional weapon called a bolo knife, keris, kris or kalis where most farmers carry one. Another explanation is that the word is a portmanteau of the Cebuano words kamot, or kamay meaning hand or body, and lihok, meaning motion. This explanation may be a more recent innovation, retroactively fitting an acronym to the existing name. However, historically there was never a mother or parent art form known as Kali in the Philippines, including the Muslim populated Southern Mindanao. In his book “Modern Arnis,” Remy Presas states that the art of Arnis or Eskrima may have had its roots in an Indonesian fencing style called tjakalele, from which the name Kali may also have sprung. This may also have influenced the different names of Eskrima, such as kalirongan, kaliradman, or pagkalikali in different regions of the Philippines.
It is also contended that the term Kali did not exist until the 1960s when two well known eskrimadors in the United States popularized the word to distinguish what they taught from the teachings of other eskrimadors. Unfortunately, many came to believe that Kali represented a parent art form of escrima and arnis, and eventually the name, Kali, took on a life of its own. Today, the term Kali, although seldom used and mostly in few areas in the Southern Philippines, is gaining more acceptance and popularity throughout the country thanks in due part to the influence of visiting foreigners who more commonly use this term to describe the art. Several theories claim that the difference in the name either implied the region from which the art originated, the time period when the art was developed or the primary weapon of training, although in reality these claims are groundless. One will find the terms Eskrima and Arnis used interchangeably in the Philippines regardless of region, time period or weapon emphasis.
Filipino Martial Arts have seen an increase in prominence due to several Hollywood movies and the teachings of modern masters such as Dan Inosanto, Atty. Jose Villasin ,Cacoy Canete, Elmer Ybanez, Tony Diego, Teofilo Velez, Richard Bustillo, Gialogo Brothers (Richard and Ryan Gialogo), Edgar Sulite, Leo Gaje, Armando P. Angeles, Leo Giron, Mike Inay, Ernesto Presas, Remy Presas, and Angel Cabales.
Rattan, an inexpensive wood from a type of palm in the Philippines, is the most common material for sticks and staves. Hard and durable, yet light weight, it can be fire hardened. It shreds under only the worst abuse and will not splinter like other woods do – thus making it a safe training tool. This aspect also makes it useful in defending against blades. Kamagong (Ironwood) is also sometimes used, but generally not for sparring, as it is dense enough to cause serious injury, although traditionally sparring does not include weapon to body contact; The participants are skilled enough to parry/counterstrike, showing respect in not intentionally hitting the training partner. Eskrima sticks are made in many sizes depending on the system and the respective ranges being trained. Common lengths range from 6″ (15cm) to 96″ (2.44m), with the most common ranging from 24″ (61cm) to 36″ (91cm). Eskrima sticks are a reflection of the artist, their system and methodology.
As with most martial arts, the history of Eskrima is surrounded by legends, making it difficult to pin down facts. This is especially true for Eskrima since a significant amount of its history is anecdotal , oral and promotional. Being a martial art for the common folk, some of its practitioners lacked the scholarly education to create a written history. This confusion is further complicated by the fact that there are actually many different fighting systems with different histories that are called Eskrima (or Arnis de Mano). One explanation for the origin of Eskrima systems is that they were originally the fighting systems possessed by every tribe in the Philippines and used by them to fight and defend against each other. Another explanation is that it evolved from Indian martial arts, as well as other Malay martial arts such as Tjakalele and Silat, brought to the Philippines by people who travelled through the Malay archipelago.
It is historically recorded, though, that when the Spanish conquistadors arrived, some tribes fought them, using native weapons and techniques. Ferdinand Magellan was killed in the Battle of Mactan in 1521 by forces of the Mactan tribal chief Lapu-Lapu when Magellan landed in Cebu – albeit by an arrow as claimed by the spanish side, not a sword or stick as many eskrimadors promote, yet this information is still unknown as many Spaniards and Portuguese exaggerated their stories to impress their Kings. From this point sources differ on the history of Eskrima. Certainly by the time the Spanish reached the Philippines, they were extremely challenged by how the natives had fought, when the natives of the Philippines only had simple weapons such as swords, spears and bow and arrows plus a shield to protect themselves. The experienced conquistadors were able to invade Maharlika (now Philippines). The degree to which this affected the practice of the native fighting arts is a matter of debate, but it seems likely that the Filipinos kept what worked and discarded what didn’t. Eskrima had to be hidden from the Spaniards — they practiced it in their dancing, and pretended they were practicing the Spanish style of fencing to avoid being caught. For this reason, Eskrima has some strong Spanish influences.