Since I'm a Filipino-American, I've added some non-martial history to this page.


The Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) or Pilipino Martial Arts (PMA) are martial arts related to the Philippines. The geography and climate have deeply influenced the FMAs. On one hand indenpendent thinking was fostered since there are over 7,000 islands, but on the other hand, there was a lot of exchange between islands and between neighboring countries. The tropical marine climate encourages great plant growth so sticks and blades from bolos (machetes) to knives are ubiquitous even in modern times. FMAs are weapon based not only because of the climate but also because the FMAs have been used fairly continuosly in combat throughout its history: Why enter combat without a weapon when you can have one?

There are many names associated with the FMAs, with the most commons ones being kali, arnis, and eskrima. It should be noted that the Philippines have four main island groups: Luzon in the north, Mindanao in the south, the Visayas in the middle, and Palawan in the west. Some say that kali is associated wth Mindanao, arnis is associated with Luzon, and eskrima is associated with the Visayas, but I haven't seen enough evidence for that statement. Som also say that kali is characterized by angles and circular footwork, while arnis is more like modern fencing, and that eskrima is very slashy, but everything's so intermixed that I don't see it.

The oldest human fossil found in the Philippines was that of "Tabon Man" ca 22,000 BCE. However, as noted by Jose Rizal, the Filipino national hero and practitioner of kali, stone flake tools found in the caves of Tabon are signs that that there were people in the Philippines since around 30,000 BCE. This time period coincides with the migrations of the Negritos, an Australo-Melanesian ethnic group, who are considered the aboriginal people of the Philippines. At around 3,000 BCE, the Nesiots from Indonesia settled in Luzon and Mindanao. Certainly these ancient cultures were familiar with the stick, spear, blade, bow and arrow.

However the earliest martial art associated with FMAs today was called kali and is thought to have been influenced by the Indonesian martial art tjakalele via the Majapahit Empire [W], a Hindu empire that took over the Malay Archipelago ca 1293/1500. Babayin, the prevalent pre-Spanish writing system used since the 14th century, is clearly based on the Old Kawi, a Javanese script. Due to geographical closeness, the FMAs have much in common with Silat, Pencak silat, etc, and other martial arts of the Malay Archipelago (between southeastern Asia and Australia) which includes the Philippines as well as Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, East Timor, and Papua New Guinea. There are many competing theories for the origin of the name kali.

It is interesting to note that in the same time period, the Chinese also had the Luzon Empire [W]. The influence of Chinese martial arts such as kung fu or chuan fa, which the Filipinos called kuntaw, cannot be ignored in the FMAs. In more recent times Wing Chun and Jeet Kun Do have heavily influenced FMAs thanks to Bruce Lee and Dan Inosanto.

Europeans officially arrived in the Phillipines in 1521 at Leyte, Visayas, where the Portugese Ferdinand Magellan claimed the land for Spain. Magellan himself was killed when he and his men lost a battle on 1521-04-27 to Lapu-Lapu [W], a Filipino chieftan, and his men. Pigafetta, Magellan's chronicler, noted that the natives used short, pointed, fire-treated, hardwood sticks. It was the Conquistadore Miguel López de Legazpi who established the first permanenet settlement in the Philippines on 1565-04-27 at Cebu, Visayas, which eventually led to Spanish rule of the Philippines until 1898. There were multiple documented feasts given for Legazpi, during which demonstrations of kali were given.

The Spanish influence led to the names of arnis and eskrima. By 1596 the Spanish authorities discouraged kali. Practitioners of kali were considered tulisanes or "outlaws". Even with the arrival of the Spanish and the Church, the Muslim influences, especially the south never quite went away. The Muslim Filipinos were called Moro after the Spanish word Moor. By 1637 the Spanish Church had the Moros participate in socio-religio-politico-historico plays called Moro-Moro, which dramatized the how the Christian Spaniards defeated the Muslim Moors of Granada, Spain. However, these plays provided an excuse to practice kali publicly in an artful manner and revived interest in kali again. Furthermore the on-stage military gear or "harness", i.e. arnes in Spanish, led to the word arnis in Tagalog or Filipino. The phrase arnis de mano, or "harness of the hand" is also common and a general idea of "arms of the hand" makes sense. By 1853, the word arnis was becoming more common place than kali.

The word eskrima is derived from the Spanish esgrima, which in English is "fencing". Note that Abakada, the official Filipino alphabet from 1930-1976, had a letter k and g, but no c, so the escrima spelling should be avoided. It should be noted that the Spanish sword of this time period was essentially a cut and thrust weapon and it most likely they did not allow the natives to have Spanish swords. While "fencing" has its root in "defence", in this context I believe it is referrng to "fencing" in the modern sense.eskrima a newer word than either kali or arnis.

The FMAs are also known by other names in different parts of the Phillippines including the following: estocada, estoque, fraile, pagkalikali, kalirongan, kaliradman, and garote.

There are two stories of the Filipino martial influence that came from the Philippine-American War (1899/1913). The first story is that the Filipinos were so ferocious that the Americans upgraded the caliber of the handgun to .45, thus giving rise to the famous Colt M1911, the official U.S. sidearm for decades since. The second story is that when it came to hand-to-hand combat, the Filipinos would slash at the wrist, thus causing the change in boxing from palms forward to palms inward.

Just to wrap up the mini-history of the Philippines:

Categories in the FMAs

The FMAs is most famous for its stick and blade fighting, but like the Chinese, Japanese, or Western martial arts (CMA, JMA, FMA), the FMAs are comprehensive as opposed to focusing on one area of the martial arts. The modern FMAs focus on the baston (usually a 70 cm = 28" rattan stick) and knife, but historically the primary gear of the FMA are the same of other pre-gun cultures:

The FMAs free themselves to use whatever weapons they can get a hold of but there are some weapons that have a special place in the FMAs

The FMAs are also known for using two weapons at a time, hence the phrases like the following:

The FMAs like to have 12 categories, 12 angles of attack, etc. You can get all sorts of 12 areas listings. Personally I think 12 is a nice number and people just like to lump things into 12 and different people have different things in their 12. Here are some: lists 12 categories in FMAs:

  1. 'Single weapon-long (single stick, single sword)
  2. Double weapons-long (double stick, double sword)
  3. Long & short weapons (long & short sticks, sword & dagger, sword & shield)
  4. Double weapons-short (double daggers, double short sticks)
  5. Single weapon-short (dagger & empty hand)
  6. Empty hands-boxing, kicking, grappling, pinching
  7. Flexible weapons-rope, chain, nunchaku, whip, stringray tail
  8. Palm/pocket stick
  9. 2 handed stick style
  10. Spear/staff
  11. Throwing weapons-darts
  12. Projectile weapons-blowgun, bow & arrow' 'Kali, Escrima, and Arnis are the terms for the fighting arts of the Philippines. Kali is a South Term, Escrima more Central, and Arnis is from the North. There are 12 areas of combat in Kali, with Escrima containing 8 or 9 of them, and Arnis 4 to 6. These areas are :

  1. Single Stick (or long blade)
  2. Double long weapon
  3. Long & Short (sword & dagger, e.g.)
  4. Single dagger
  5. Double Dagger
  6. Palm Stick/Double-end Dagger
  7. Empty Hands (punching, kicking, grappling)
  8. Spear/Staff, long weapons (two-handed)
  9. Flexible weapons (whip, sarong, etc.)
  10. Throwing weapons
  11. Projectile weapons (bows, blowguns)
  12. Healing arts'

Ron Kosakowski's Practical Self Defense Training Center lists 12 too [].

  1. * Single Stick (Olisi or Bastone) * Single Sword * Single Axe * Single Cane
  2. * Double Stick (Double Olisi) or (Dubli Bastone) * Double Sword * Double Axe
  3. * Stick and Dagger (Olisi-Baraw) or (Bastone y Daga) * Cane and Dagger * Sword and Dagger (Espada y Daga) * Sword and Shield * Long and Short Stick
  4. * Double Dagger (Baraw-Baraw) or (Dubli Daga) * Double Short Sticks
  5. * Single Dagger (Baraw-Kamot) * Single Short Stick
  6. * Palm Stick (Olisi-Palad) * Double end Dagger
  7. Pangamut, Kamot-Kamot or Empty Hands * Panantukin (Boxing to include use of the Elbows) Elbows (Sieko) * Pananjakman or Panantukin and Sikaran (Kicking to include use of Knees and Shin) * Dumog, Layug, or Buno (Grappling) and Kuntzi (Locking) * Ankab-Pagkusi also heard kini mutai (Bite and Pinch) * Sagong Labo or Higot-Hubud-Lubud ("Tying-untying, and blending the two", trapping range sensitivity exercise)
  8. Long Weapons * Staff (Sibat) * Oar (Dula) * Paddle (Bugsay) * Spear (Bangkaw) * Spear and Circular Shield * Spear and Rectangular Shield * Spear and Sword/Stick * Spear and Dagger * Two Handed Method (Heavy stick, Olisi Dalawang kamot) * Two Handed Method (Regular stick)
  9. Flexible Weapons * Sarong (clothing worn in Southern Philippines and Indonesia) * Belt or Sash * Whip (Latigo) * Rope (Lubid) * Chain (Cadena) * Scarf, headband, Handkerchief (Panyo) * Flail (commonly known as the nunchucko) Olisi Toyok or Tobak Toyok * Yo-yo * Stingray Tail
  10. Hand thrown weapons, Tapon-Tapon * Spear * Dagger * Wooden Splinter * Spikes * Coins, Washers * Stones, Rocks * Sand, Mud, Dirt * Pepper, Powder * Any object that can be thrown
  11. Projectile Weapons * Bow and Arrow (Pana) * Blowgun (Sumpit) * Slingshot (Pana Palad) * Lantanka (Portable Cannon)
  12. Mental, Emotional, Spiritual training * Healing Arts * Health Skills * Rhythm and Dance * History, Philosophy and Ethics

Angles of Attack

The FMAs use specifically numbered angles of attack. The numbers are used as shorthand in class. The general theme is that the blows are usually paired (odd numbers are the forehand; even numbers are the backhand). The following examples assume a blow with right hand.

Here are the 12 attacks from Modern Arnis (1974), by Remy Presas. Interestingly the thrusts are done using the guard of rapier and with the strong angle too: Right thrusts are done with the hand in seconda, the stomach thrust is done in with the hand in terza, and the left thrusts are done with the hand in quarta.

  1. Forehand to left temple
  2. Backhand to right temple
  3. Forehand to left shoulder
  4. Backhand to right shoulder
  5. Thrust to stomach
  6. Thrust to left chest
  7. Thrust to right chest
  8. Backhand to right knee
  9. Forehand to left knee
  10. Thrust to left eye
  11. Thrust to right eye
  12. Downward to crown

You can find all sorts of these on the web too. EG: "The Filipino Martial Art of Eskrima" by Tiffany Canonigo []:

Angles one and two — lateral blows from the top of the head to the base of the neck.
Angles three and four — lateral blows from the shoulders to the hips. The main targets are the shoulders, elbows, and hands.
Angle five — mid-line thrust from below the elbow.
Angles six and seven— lateral thrusts to the chest or the armpits.
Angles eight and nine — lateral blows from the hips to the feet. The target areas are the knees, shins, ankles, or feet.
Angles ten and eleven — lateral thrusts to the eyes or the neck.
Angle twelve — mid-line blow from above downward.

Here is the most common numbering but some schools may use some variant. This list assumes the right hand is attacking with a single-edged weapon.

  1. Downward and inward upon the receiver's upper left. Forehand.
  2. Downward and inward upon the receiver's upper right. Backhand.
  3. Horizontally and inward upon the receiver's mid left. Forehand.
  4. Horizontally and inward upon the receiver's mid right. Backhand.
  5. Straight thrust, usu. to the receiver's midsection.
  6. Slightly angled thrust to the right of the receiver's head.
  7. Slightly angled thrust to the left of the receiver's head.
  8. Vertically downward upon the top of the receiver's head.
  9. Horizontally and inward upon the receiver's lower left. Forehand.
  10. Horizontally and inward upon the receiver's lower right. Backhand.
  11. Upward and inward upon the receiver's mid or upper left. Forehand.
  12. Upward and inward upon the receiver's mid or upper right. Backhand.

12 angles of attack in Kali Escrima/Eskrima Arnis FMAs

One pattern is to start with the most common attacks. Another pattern is that some angles are pairs (1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12) where the attacker would do a right forehand then a left backhand (the exception is 6-7)


Some of the terminology is not strictly Filipino (Tagalog, etc.) but are terms commonly used in the FMAs.

throwing. FMA focuses on wrestling (take downs and throws) rather than grappling because of the prevalence of knives.
hubad lubud
Aka hubud lubud. "to tie and untie". A trapping drill similar to chi sao = sticky hands.
swinging-thru strike
A blow with the butt of a weapon.
To retract the stick so it covers your face, then striking. A variant of a hanging block. See also umbrella.
spear techniques
"weaving". These are patterns usually for double stick but can be adapted for single stick, empty, etc.
To circle your hand forward around your opponent's hand, either to their inside or outside, usually leading to a disarm.
To take away your opponent's weapon, usually by holding their weapon while striking their wrist.
A wrist twisting strike followed by another via twisting the wrist nearly 180 degrees.
To retract the stick so it covers the side and then back of your head, then striking. A variant of a hanging block. See also rooftop.
Like snaking but done while using the leverage of your weapon.
snapping-back strike

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