Kali – Arnis – Escrima


Arnis Escrima Articles
Pekiti-Tirsia Kali as Part of Philippine Escrima

In all the hundreds of systems which make up the broad designation of Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) and the long-lived art of Escrima in particular, perhaps one of the more interesting of these is Pekiti-Tirsia Kali.

 The term “Kali” itself, which is used to describe FMA or Escrima, was never used as much in the Philippines as in other places, and  it mainly was an invention of Westerners who taught the various styles of FMA in America and Europe.  Still, it’s now pretty widely known as being another name for FMA or Escrima, and one of the most easily recognized weapons in FMA, or Escrima, are the so-called “Kali sticks.”

Pekiti-Tirsia Kali is a perfect example of how many of these countless forms and systems of Escrima have formed over the centuries.  Some are named after the particular street where they were first taught, or also after the tribe which took the time to put all of the fighting techniques learned into one teachable format.  Pekiti-Tirsia is a development of one single Filipino family, the Tortals, who founded the system back in 1897.  Today, it’s headed by the great, great grandson of the system’s founder, Norberto Tortal, who is honored with the title “Grand Tuhon.” The name of the art, translated into English, even sounds deadly:  “To Cut into Pieces at Close Range.”

Like many forms of Kali, or FMA or Escrima, Pekiti-Tirsia makes use of several actual weapons types in addition to the human body.  In “solo” style, Tirsia teaches how to use a single Escrima or Kali stick, sword or spear.  “Doble,” or double, style teaches the student how to use two sticks or swords.  There are also systems for teaching sword and dagger skills as a pair, knife-to-knife fighting and the most famous, of course, which is classic mano y mano (“mah-no, ee, mah-no”), which in Spanish means “hand to hand.”

 Once the Pekiti-Tirsia student or practitioner (escrimador) starts to gain enough skill, then several of the art’s subsystems are taught, including the famous Doces Methodos, which are the “12 attacks” that most people see escrimadors employ in the use of Kali or Escrima.  In addition, there are a number of other subsystems which are eventually taught to a student, and also a learning track that can teach a “specialty,” or area of strength that each student can choose to master and go on to teach others.  The most popular of these specialty strengths seems to be what the Grand Tuhon refers to as “Specialization A.”

In Specialization A, the escrimador, who’s gone on to become an instructor of Pekiti-Tirsia Kali, will have mastered a variety of attacks (over 64 of them) using both unarmed and armed techniques with short and long sticks, and a variety of blades like the Balisong and certain kinds of daggers.  Also, a lot of hand and footwork is taught and practiced until it becomes second nature.

An offshoot of Pekiti-Tirsia, the “Dog Brothers” system, has taken the extreme nature of the stick fighting that Tirsia does to an even higher level with its “Real Contact Stickfighting” training system.  We guess that Pekiti-Tirsia, with its “cut into pieces at close range” philosophy wasn’t quite fearsome enough for this newer form of Escrima!

Philippine Escrima and Kali in All its Varieties

In the Philippine islands of the 16th century, the solidification and classification of all the different Filipino martial arts of the day began to take form under a single name, for the most part.  Called “Escrima,” it took its name from the Spanish word for fencing, “esgrima.”  At that time in these south Asian islands, Spanish explorers and settlers had begun to set up colonies throughout the region.  Naturally, the people who lived in those islands didn’t exactly look kindly upon non-native peoples claiming lands that had been lived on for hundreds of years by others, so they began to act out in self-defense.

There are many different varieties of Escrima, though almost all of them have the use of fighting sticks and knives in common.  These different varieties usually could be traced back to a specific Filipino tribe or region where a tribe or tribes lived.  There are also some interesting names for these varieties, like Doce Pares (Spanish for “Twelve Pairs”), which emphasizes what’s called “one stick fighting.”  The people who practiced this form of Escrima, even to this day, were very skilled at handling and fighting with a single stick made of the popular rattan wood, which could be found all over the islands.

Local legend, which the Filipino people insist is true, says that the great king Lapu-Lapu of the island of Mactan led the first revolt against the Spanish in 1521, at the Battle of Mactan.   In that fight, Lapu-Lapu and his men used Escrima techniques and weapons like the rattan stick – which today is called a Kali stick – spears, and the kampilan (a single-edged long sword) to defeat a group of Spanish soldiers led by Ferdinand Magellan.  Magellan died in that fight.  He also is known for being the first to lead an expedition across the whole width of the Pacific Ocean, among his many achievements.

Another popular form of this Filipino martial art is Balintawak Escrima (pronounce it “bah-leen-tah-wahk”).  Balintawak has a heavy reliance on the use of two Kali or Escrima sticks.  It arose in the 1950s in the Cebu City region on the Philippine island of Cebu.  It takes its name from the Balintawak Self-Defense Club, which of course is located on Balintawak Street in the city.  It also specializes in knife fighting using the bolo knife, which is a large knife that can look like a machete.  These bolo knives were used by Filipinos of the late 1890s to try to throw off the Spanish occupiers and later throughout every period of rule by the Spanish, and then when it was an American commonwealth.

In the United States today, there are several popular forms of Filipino Escrima, and all of them fall under an umbrella style of fighting known as “FMA,” or “Filipino Martial Arts.”  Some have colorful names like “Dog Brothers,” which teaches its students Escrima by making them undergo very physical stick fighting training.  The name of this teaching method is “Real Contact Stickfighting,” which can tell you all you need to know about how it trains its students!

Here at Buki Yuushuu, you can see many up-to-date models of Escrima or Kali or Arnis sticks that are beautifully detailed and made of the finest hardwoods.  Take a look at them to get a sense of how these modern versions draw their inspirations from the soul of the Filipino warrior of the 16th century.

Classic Weapons of Philippine Escrima
In all the long history surrounding the development and growth of Filipino martial arts since the 16th century, it’s a point of pride to the practitioners of Escrima  that they can make use of just about any tool or actual weapon in a whole catalog of them that the art has developed since the 16th century. In Escrima (which is the general name given to most of the martial arts practiced throughout the Philippine islands), there are several different classes of weapons, and each can stand by itself or together when it comes to using them to defend against an attacker. For starters, Escrima makes a lot of use out of wooden sticks (“Escrima sticks,” or “Kali sticks,” usually).  These sticks were historically formed from rattan, which is a wood found all throughout the Philippine islands.  Nowadays, there are any number of fine woods available, with the escrimador (the student, or practitioner) deciding what wood he’d like his sticks to be made from.  This martial art, though, is also very realistic, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that some sticks also may have blades or serrated edges like you’d see on a steak knife.  And they could also be made of some sort of medal, like the first one we’ll look at. Most of these sticks, wooden or metal, can come in two general lengths; long and short.  Short sticks are usually referred to as “Tabak Malii,” or “palm sticks.”  Most of the time, an escrimador will train with these by using them in pairs.  A skilled user of these short weapons uses them in hooking or thrusting movements that are designed to disarm an opponent.  They can be pointed and made of steel, and probably were copied a bit from the Japanese hanbō, or quarter-staff and the tantō, or short knife. Sticks in Escrima are also classed by how many of them are used.  The “single stick” is the most well-known weapon in the Filipino martial arts systems practiced since the 16th century.  We call them “Escrima,” or “Kali” sticks.  In the Philippines, depending on which dialect is being spoken, they’re usually called Olisi (“oh-lee-see”) in the Cebu island region and dialect, or Baston (“bah-stone”) in the Visayan region and dialect. Kali sticks are usually the first training tool used when somebody begins to take up the study of Escrima.  The stick can also be held in one or both hands, depending on the system of Escrima the student is learning. The Filipino martial art also has different types of daggers and knives in its weapons arsenal.  We won’t spend too much time as yet in speaking about them other than to say that there are two extremely interesting types; the Kris (“crease”), which is a wavy, double-edged, blade and the Balisong (“bah-lee-song”), which is also known in America as the “butterfly knife.”  It can be a fearsome weapon when it’s brought out in a fight, and it’s very useful for creating a lot of mayhem, though many martial artists feel the aim of any art should be to use only enough force necessary to disarm an attacker. The craftsmen at Buki Yuushuu have created a wide variety of Kali or Escrima sticks sure to please just about any person interested in using them as single or double sticks.  Please go to the online catalog at bukiyuushuu.com to get a look at the many modern versions available.

Escrima: The Philippine Martial Art
When it comes to Asian martial arts, most people think of China or Japan first of all, and then Korea.  For the most part, the martial art of Escrima, which was born in the Philippines, doesn’t usually come to mind right away.  Thankfully, as we’ve all come to appreciate and respect more and more cultures from around the world, Escrima as it’s  being practiced in the United States these days is becoming more attractive and popular as the years go by.  And the thing that separates Escrima from many other Asian martial arts systems is that certain weapons were always a part of its makeup. Escrima (pronounced “Ess-cream-ah”) itself grew up making stick and sword fighting a basic part of its structure.  We think the word “Escrima” comes from the Spanish word “esgrima,” which is the term for fencing (sword fighting).  The growth of this art can be directly traced back to the Spanish occupation of the Philippine islands back in the early 16th century, when local tribes began to fight back against the sometimes-cruel or inhuman tactics of Spanish soldiers (conquistadores…”cone-keess-tah-door-rays”). But Escrima – which is also called Kali (“kah-lee”) and Arnis (“are-neese”) or Arnis de Máno -- which means “harness of the hand” – may also have roots that go back to the Indian subcontinent centuries earlier.  Other scholars say that it may have been a style of martial art that owed its birth to the different fighting and self-defense techniques practiced down in Indonesia, who in turn took from the ancient Chinese Kun Tao (“koon-tah-oh”…the way of the fist). Escrima back then probably was disguised from the Spanish occupiers to prevent its techniques from being learned and then turned against the different Filipino tribes who were under the rule of Spain.  Many times, the students of Escrima – who were known as escrimadors – pretended to be practicing dancing, which a lot of the martial art could look like to somebody like a Spanish soldier or settler who’d never seen anything like an Asian self-defense system before.  The only difference many times was that escrimadors would not include the weapons they were trained to use while they were “dancing.” Now, these weapons of Escrima reflected the local regions where the martial art grew up.  Most of them had their roots in wooden sticks and rough knives or swords.  The two major weapons, the stick and the knife, were learned by training, logically enough, in “stick fighting” and “knife fighting.”  The most common type of wooden stick used in Escrima or Kali (the two are the same; it just depends on who’s talking about it) was made from the rattan wood of the many types of palm trees which grew all over the Philippines and throughout southern regions of Asia.  Today, we see rattan used in many pieces of fancy furniture.  Back then, it was a very tough wood excellent for turning into a stick weapon. Again, naturally enough, the stick weapons in Escrima came to be called “Escrima sticks,” or “Kali sticks.”  And it’s really as simple as that.  In later articles, we’ll talk about the philosophy behind the reliance or emphasis on simplicity in all the many different forms of Escrima or Kali or Arnis de Máno that was practiced in the Philippine islands of the 16th century all the way up to today. The people at Buki Yuushuu have some truly outstanding examples of modern Kali sticks in colors and woods that bring these very formidable weapons into the 21st century yet also pay great homage to those original 16th century weapons.  Please see them at bukiyuushuu.com    

The Many Styles of Philippine Escrima
If there’s one thing for sure about the Philippine martial art of Escrima, it’s that there are more variations or styles of it than can be easily counted.  Some systems are particular to just a single tribe or racial sub-group in the islands of the Philippines, and there over 7,000 of those.  Others are named after the street or neighborhood where they were adopted and practiced, as in the Balintawak system of Escrima, which developed on Balintawak Street in Cebu City, the Philippines.  Still other styles are named for the training methods they use in order to train students of the art, as in the “Real Contact Stickfighting” form of the Dog Brothers Escrima system. In reality, any form of self-defense martial art can be a worthy form if the students and the teachers are serious about the art itself, and practice it smartly and with emotional content.  Escrima can be just as effective and deadly in the right hands as anything that Jet Li or Chuck Norris -- or any of a thousand dedicated martial artists – might use.  And what’s really attractive about Escrima is that it takes the best from all the many styles (and there are currently over a hundred of them) of its art, and tries to apply certain techniques to any given situation. For example, the Black Eagle system of Escrima specializes almost entirely in using martial arts weapons and just a bit on the so-called “empty hand.”  This goes against most Asian martial arts, which try to teach unarmed self-defense first above all else, and then may incorporate something like the Kobudō weapons training outlook which is common in both Okinawan and traditional Japanese martial arts systems.  The list of weapons a Black Eagle Escrima student will learn can be long.  Besides the traditional Kali stick or sticks, there are long sticks (called Guan or Bo, elsewhere), single and double-daggers, swords like the kampilan (a single-edged long sword) and the golok, which looks a lot like a machete knife.  Don’t get us wrong:  An Escrima student of any of the hundred varieties of the art will learn basic empty hand or unarmed combat fighting; it’s just that Escrima seems to really enjoy the thought of using some sort of a weapon whenever possible. Most Escrima systems can fall into a few broad categories.  There are those, like Black Eagle, that stress weapons fighting ahead of unarmed self-defense.  Among all the Escrima systems, quite a few fall into this segment.  Other forms of Escrima insist on teaching the finer points of hand-to-hand, unarmed self-defense.  In fact, some can closely resemble the Mixed Martial Arts or UFC fighting that can be seen on television or in arenas today.  In these systems, very little weapons use occurs, with the major exception that almost every single system of the martial art makes use of the Escrima or Kali stick, either in single or double combinations. Buki Yuushuu features many fine examples of the Kali, or Escrima, stick at its online catalog, which can be viewed at bukiyuushuu.com.  Take a moment to stop by and see these outstanding weapons.