The History Of Kali Eskrima


Kali Eskrima is an art that was introduced to the world from 1521 following the beginning of Spanish rule in the Philippine Islands and the battles between the Spaniards and the Filipinos. The inhabitants of these islands were very successful in fighting the Spanish using sticks, bolos (a machete-like long-bladed weapon) and daggers. It was noted by Miguel Lopez de Legaspi and his men (who established the first Spanish settlement in the Philippines in 1565) that the Filipinos displayed exceptional skill in the art of stick-fighting and blade-fighting.

The Spanish had not envisioned such resistance and courage from the Filipinos. It was on Mactan Island (several hundred miles south of Manila) that Lapu-Lapu, the earliest known indigenous Visayan chieftain and believed to be one of the foremost Eskrima masters, became the first inhabitant of the archipelago to resist Spanish colonization and is now regarded as the first National hero of the Philippines. On 27th April 1521, Lapu-Lapu was involved in a historic battle with Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese captain (at the service of Spain) and the first circumnavigator of the world. Upon Magellan's attempt to subdue Lapu-Lapu, he and his soldiers were met by Filipinos armed with fire-hardened wooden weapons, bolos, blades, and spears. Lapu-Lapu and his men overwhelmed the Spanish forces (who were equipped with armour and firearms) and Magellan was killed. The people of Cebu have erected a statue and church in Mactan Island in honour of Lapu-Lapu and renamed the town of Opon to Lapu-Lapu City.

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To further enhance their fighting skills, the Filipinos, who were impressed with the Spanish sword and dagger system of fighting, imitated it and soon found the weaknesses of the Spanish style. The result was a new method that employed a long and short weapon which eventually assumed the Spanish name of Espanda y Daga (sword and dagger).

However, when the Spanish established control of the Philippine Islands in the 18th century, they imposed a complete ban on the teaching and study of Kali Eskrima as well as the carrying of a bolo or dagger in order to avoid the threat to Spanish rule that was posed by a highly skilled and well trained people. Kali Eskrima was practiced in secret and re-surfaced hidden within plays and dances which provided the opportunity to train the art. Due to the ban on carrying blade weapons, the Filipinos had to substitute the sword with a rattan stick. Over time the Filipinos capitalized on the different handling qualities of the stick and began to use lines of attack that were not available with a sword (such as curved and snapping strikes). The role of the knife or dagger also became more aggressive and began to be used for parrying, thrusting and slashing. This process led to the creation of Olisi y baraw (stick and dagger).

The old Filipinos who made stick fighting an art, preferred to hit the bone and preferred a stick to a blade. Instead of a clean cut, the stick left shattered bones, not to mention that a stick can travel many times the speed of an empty hand. The stick feels nothing, whether it hits hard bone or soft flesh. It is little wonder that the vicious, swift and elusive sticks of the Filipinos were greatly feared.

The ban on practicing Kali Eskrima was overturned once Spanish rule ended in 1898 following the American defeat of the Spanish in the Spanish-American war, and friendly Kali Eskrima competitions began to be conducted in public. When the Japanese invaded the Philippines during the Second World War, many Filipinos (fighting alongside US guerilla units) were to employ their Kali Eskrima training in close-quarter combat using machetes.

The history of Kali Eskrima is one marked by its application and refinement in combat over many hundreds of years. We owe our knowledge of Filipino arts to those elderly Eskrimadors & Kali men who were willing to pass their arts on to us the younger generation