History of Arnis

Map of the Philippines

Map of the Philippines

The Philippines is an island nation rich in both culture and history. The Filipino martial art of Arnis/Kali/Escrima has contributed to both the history and diversity of the Philippines. There are an abundance of styles and systems of Arnis/Kali/Escrima that are taught throughout the world to this day, that have survived and developed throughout the different regions, families and teachers who have preserved what is sometimes called a “complete” martial art.

Arnis/Kali/Escrima was originally developed by the people native to the islands using simple impact and edged weapons such as kampilans, rattan, swords, daggers, spears and other assorted weaponry for combat and self defense. These weapons were also sometimes used as farm implements.

The arrival of Ferdinand Magellan’s force in 1521 was met in battle with a group of islanders, led by Raja Lapu Lapu, who defeated Magellan using only a bladed weapon. Magellan’s armored and musket bearing conquistadors were overpowered by the fierce fighters and retreated. The Spanish returned in the 1570′s and this time the Philippines came under Spanish rule unable to contend with the modern weaponry the Spanish used. The practice of Arnis/Kali/Escrima was prohibited, but continued and was preserved through native ritual dance, performance, and mock battles. Thus the arts were passed down in families from generation to generation, honing their skill, speed, accuracy and agility.

The terms Arnis, Kali and Escrima are all used to refer to the Filipino martial arts. There has been some confusion as to what word refers to which part of the martial art. It is believed that Arnis, Kali, and Escrima are all a part of the same art and depending on the location, dialect and type of training taught. Also, any of the three names may apply to a certain part of training. One interpretation is that Kali is the mother art of Arnis and Escrima. Arnis focuses on the knife, including dagger, sword, and any other form of bladed weapon. Escrima is based on the baston or stick. It has also become very popular in the sport aspect of full contact stick fighting.

To this day Arnis/Kali/Escrima has retained a strong Spanish influence not only in the names and titles used in training, but in the impact it has had on Filipino culture. Filipino martial arts continue to encompass a large range of weapons training and hand-to-hand combat, enriching the culture of Filipino society. Thus the reference to it being a “complete” martial art.

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