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A collection of training weapons used in an eskrima class. Includes a padded stick, a rattan stick, a wooden training knife, and a collection of modern aluminum training knives, or "trainers".
A collection of training weapons used in an eskrima class. Includes a padded stick, a rattan stick, a wooden training knife, and a collection of modern aluminum training knives, or "trainers".
Also known as Escrima
Focus Stick fighting
Knife fighting
Sword fighting
Unarmed combat
Hardness Eclectic / Hybrid
Country of origin Philippines Philippines
Creator Philippines
Famous practitioners Dan Inosanto
Jeff Imada
Ron Balicki
Forest Whitaker
Erik Paulson
Riaz Amin
Olympic sport No

Eskrima, Arnis,[1] and Kali are umbrella terms for the traditional martial arts of the Philippines ("Filipino Martial Arts," or FMA) that emphasize weapon-based fighting with sticks, knives and other bladed weapons, and various improvised weapons. It is also known as Estoque (Spanish for rapier), Estocada (Spanish for thrust or stab) and Garrote (Spanish for club). In Luzon they may go by the name of Arnis de Mano, Pananandata (use of weapons), Sinawali (Pampanga, "to weave"), Sitbatan (Pangasinan), Didya and Kabaroan (Ilocos region). In the Visayas and Mindanao, these martial arts have been referred to as Eskrima, kali, kaliradman, pagaradman and kalirongan. kuntaw and silat are separate martial arts practiced in the islands.

It also includes unarmed combat techniques like hand-to-hand combat, joint locks, grappling and weapon disarming techniques. Although in general, emphasis is put on weapons for these arts, some systems put empty hands (unarmed) as the primary focus and some old school systems do not teach weapons at all.[2] For the purpose of convenience, this article uses the term Eskrima.



Eskrima masters along with students in Cebu City, Philippines

For all intents and purposes, Eskrima, Arnis, and kali all refer to the same family of Filipino weapon-based martial arts and fighting systems.

Both eskrima and arnis are loans from Spanish and ultimately from Old Frankish:

  • Eskrima (also spelled escrima) is a Filipinization of the Spanish word for fencing, (esgrima).[3][4]
  • Arnis comes from arnes, Old Spanish for armor (harness is an archaic English term for armor, which comes from the same roots as the Spanish term). It derives from the armor costumes used in Moro-moro stage plays where actors fought mock battles using wooden swords. Allegedly, the practice of weaponry by the peasants or Indios was banned by the Spaniards during colonial times and the Moro-moro stick fights were a "disguised" form of continued practice of indigenous martial arts.[5]

Multiple theories exist on the origin of term Kali:

  • One belief is that the word comes from tjakalele,[6] a tribal style of stick-fencing from Indonesia. This is supported by the similarities between tjakalele and Eskrima techniques, as well as Mindanao's proximity to Indonesia.
  • Kali may be a portmanteau of the Cebuano words "kamot", or "kamay" meaning hand in Tagalog, and "lihok", meaning motion.[7][8]
  • In the Ilocano language, kali means to dig and to stab.[9]
  • There exist numerous similar terms of reference for martial arts such as kalirongan, "kalibanga", kaliradman and pagkalikali.[10] These may be the origin of the term kali or they may have evolved from it.[6]
  • In his book KALI - History of a Forbidden Filipino Fighting Arts, Fred Lazo put forward that Kali was an ancient root word for blade, and that the Filipino words for right hand (kanan) and left hand (kaliwa) are contractions of the terms "way of the blade" (kali daanan) and "without blade" (kali wala) as weapons are usually held with the right hand and the left hand is typically empty.[11]
  • In their book Cebuano Eskrima: Beyond the Myth however, Dr. Ned Nepangue and Celestino Macachor contend that the term Kali in reference to Filipino martial arts did not exist until the 1960s when two well-known eskrimadors in the United States popularized it to distinguish what they taught from other styles.
  • Since eskrima and arnis are derived from Spanish words, the preference for the term kali by foreigners may be due to its lack of a definitive foreign origin and an attempt to preserve authenticity of a name that has otherwise been lost to history.

Practitioners of the arts are called eskrimador (male) or eskrimadora (female) for those who call their art eskrima, arnisador for those who call theirs arnis, and kalista or mangangali for those who practice kali.


As Eskrima was an art usually practiced by the peasant or commoner class (as opposed to nobility or warrior classes), most practitioners lacked the scholarly education to create any kind of written record. While the same can be said of many martial arts, this is especially true for Eskrima because almost all of its history is anecdotal, oral or promotional. The origin of Eskrima can be traced back to the fighting systems used by Filipinos during conflicts among the various Prehispanic kingdoms. Settlers and traders travelling through the Malay Archipelago brought the influence of silat as well as Chinese, Arab and Indian martial arts.[12][13] Some of the population still practice localized Chinese fighting methods known as kuntaw.

It has also been theorized that the Filipino art of eskrima may have roots in India, and came to the Philippines via people who traveled through Indonesia and Malaysia to the Philippine islands. Indonesian Tjakalele and Malay Silat Melayu are two forms of combat said to have been introduced to the Philippines via these regions.[14] Silambam, a stick/staff based ancient martial art of India influenced many martial arts in Asia like Silat. As such, Eskrima may share ancestry with these systems—some Eskrima moves are similar to the short stick (kali or kaji) and other weapon based fighting styles of Silambam.

What is known for certain is that when the Spaniards first arrived in the Philippines, they saw an already-developed weapons-based martial arts practiced by the natives.

Among the earliest written records of Filipino martial arts comes from the Spanish conquistadors who fought native tribesmen armed with sticks and knives.[15] Driven back to their ships, the European colonists had to resort to fire-arms to defeat the Filipinos.[15] In 1521, Ferdinand Magellan was killed in Cebu at the Battle of Mactan by the forces of Datu Lapu-Lapu, the Mactan king. Some eskrimadors (male practisioners) hold that Lapu-Lapu killed Magellan in a sword-fight, but the only eyewitness account of the battle by chronicler Antonio Pigafetta tells that he was stabbed in the face and the arm with spears and overwhelmed with multiple warriors who hacked and stabbed at him:

The natives continued to pursue us, and picking up the same spear four or six times, hurled it at us again and again. Recognizing the captain, so many turned upon him that they knocked his helmet off his head twice, but he always stood firmly like a good knight, together with some others. Thus did we fight for more than one hour, refusing to retire farther. An Indian hurled a bamboo spear into the captain's face, but the latter immediately killed him with his lance, which he left in the Indian's body. Then, trying to lay hand on sword, he could draw it out but halfway, because he had been wounded in the arm with a bamboo spear. When the natives saw that, they all hurled themselves upon him. One of them wounded him on the left leg with a large cutlass, which resembles a scimitar, only being larger. That caused the captain to fall face downward, when immediately they rushed upon him with iron and bamboo spears and with their cutlasses, until they killed our mirror, our light, our comfort, and our true guide. When they wounded him, he turned back many times to see whether we were all in the boats. Thereupon, beholding him dead, we, wounded, retreated, as best we could, to the boats, which were already pulling off.[16]

Sources differ on the degree to which Spanish colonization affected eskrima. The fact that many eskrima techniques have Spanish names (and the name of the art itself, which comes from the Spanish term for fencing, esgrima) adds fuel to the debate, but this can be explained as Spanish was the lingua franca of the Philippines until the early 20th century. One of the apparent influences from Spanish styles is the espada y daga (sword and dagger) method, but some disagree, as Filipino espada y daga appears distinct from European rapier and dagger techniques; the stances are different as weapons used in eskrima are typically shorter than European swords.[17] For example, According to Grandmaster Federico Lazo†(1938-2010), unlike in European historical fencing, there is no lunging in the Northern Ilocano Kabaroan style of eskrima—it is more of an evasive art. On the other hand, having done comparative studies, Kalis Ilustrisimo archivist Romeo Macapagal estimates that perhaps 40% of the blade-oriented style of Antonio "Tatang" Ilustrisimo† (1904-1997) may have descended from European styles.[18]

After the Spanish colonized the Philippines, a decree was set that prohibited natives from carrying full-sized swords (such as the Kris and the Kampilan). Despite this, the elite and other underground practitioners found ways to maintain and keep the arts alive.

To circumvent the decree, some practitioners used sticks made out of rattan rather than swords, as well as small knives wielded like swords. Some of the arts were hidden from the Spaniards and passed down through familial or communal ties, usually practiced under the moonlight or right under the Spaniards noses by disguising them as entertainment like with choreographed dances such as the Sakuting stick dance[19] or during mock battles at Moro-moro (Moros y Cristianos) stage plays. Due to the way the arts were then clandestinely practiced, one apparent effect of Spanish subjugation and disarmament of the civilian population was the evolution of unique and complex stick-based techniques in the Visayas and Luzon regions. The southern Mindanao retains almost exclusively blade-oriented techniques, as the Spaniards and Americans never fully conquered and disarmed it.[20]

Although the turbulent and conflict-fraught history and environment of the Philippines enabled Eskrima to develop into an efficient art, this has changed in the sense that some systematization allowed easier and quicker teaching of the basics. With the exception of a few older and more established systems, it was previously common to pass the art from generation to generation in an informal approach. This has made attempts to trace the lineage of a practitioner difficult. For example, Antonio Illustrisimo seemed to have learned to fight while sailing around the Philippines, while his nephew and student Floro Villabrille claimed to have been taught by a blind Moro princess in the mountains; a claim later refuted by the older Illustrisimo. Both have since died.

Modern history

Various Filipino knives.

The Philippines has what is known as a blade culture.[21][22] Unlike in the West where Medieval and Renaissance combative and self-defense blade arts have gone almost extinct (having devolved into sport fencing with the advent of firearms),[23] blade fighting in the Philippines is a living art. Local folk in the Philippines are much more likely to carry knives than guns. They are commonly carried as tools by farmers, used by street vendors to prepare coconuts, pineapples, watermelons, other fruits and meats, and balisongs are cheap to procure in the streets as well as being easily concealed. In fact, in some areas in the countryside, carrying a farming knife like the itak or bolo was a sign that one was making a living because of the nature of work in those areas.[24] In the language of Palau, the term for Filipino is chad ra oles, which literally means "people of the knife" because of Filipinos' reputation for carrying knives and using them in fights.[25]

Philippine–American War

Americans were first exposed to eskrima during the Philippine–American War in events such as the Balangiga massacre where most of an American company was hacked to death or seriously injured by bolo-wielding guerillas in Balangiga, Eastern Samar—and in battles in Mindanao, where an American serviceman was decapitated by a Moro warrior even after he emptied his .38 Long Colt caliber revolver into his opponent. That and similar events led to the request and the development of the M1911 .45 ACP by Col. John T. Thompson, Louis La Garde and John Browning which had more stopping power.[26][27]

World War II

During World War II, many Filipinos fought the Japanese hand to hand with their blades as guerilla fighters or as military units under the USAFFE like the Bolo Battalion (now known as the Tabak Division).

Some of the grandmasters who are known to have used their skills in World War II are Antonio Illustrisimo, Leo Guiron,[28][29] Teodoro "Doring" Saavedra,[30] brothers Eulogio and Cacoy Cañete,[31] Timoteo "Timor" Maranga, Sr,[32] Jesus Bayas[33] and Balbino Tortal Bonganciso.[34]


The arts had no traditional belting or grading systems as they were taught informally. In fact, it was said that to proclaim a student a "master" was considered ridiculous and a virtual death warrant as the individual would become challenged left and right to potentially lethal duels by other eskrimadors looking to make names for themselves. Belt ranking was a recent addition adopted from Japanese arts such as Karate and Judo, which had become more popular with Filipinos. They were added to give structure to the systems, and to be able to compete in attention for students. Filipino martial arts were at the brink of extinction via obscurity with the general populace by the mid to late 20th century due to urbanization, modernization and colonial mentality (Filipinos' tendency to look down on things of local origin).

With regards to its spread outside the Philippines, Eskrima was brought to Hawaii and California as far back as the 1920s by Filipino migrant workers.[35] Its teaching was kept strictly within Filipino communities until the late 1960s when masters such as Angel Cabales began teaching it to others. Even then, instructors teaching Eskrima in the 1960s and 70s were often reprimanded by their elders for publicly teaching a part of their culture that had been preserved through secrecy.

In recent years, there has been increased interest in Eskrima for its usefulness when defending against knives and other street encounters. As a result, many systems of eskrima have been modified in varying degrees to make them more marketable to a worldwide audience. Usually this involves increased emphasis on locking, controls, and disarms, focusing mainly on aspects of self-defense. However, most styles follow the philosophy that the best defense is a good offense. Modern training methods tend to de-emphasize careful footwork and low stances, stressing the learning of techniques in favor of more direct (and often lethal) tactics designed to instantly end an encounter.


One of the most important practices in classical eskrima was dueling, without any form of protection. The matches were preceded by cock-fighting and could be held in any open space, sometimes in a specially constructed enclosure. Eskrimadors believe this tradition pre-dates the colonial period, pointing to similar practices of kickboxing matches in mainland Indochina as evidence. Spanish records tell of such duelling areas where cock-fights took place. The founders of most of the popular eskrima systems were famous duelists and legends circulate about how many opponents they killed. In rural areas throughout the Philippines today, modern eskrima matches are still held in dueling arenas. In bigger cities, recreations of duels are sometimes held at parks by local eskrima training-halls. These demonstrations are not choreographed beforehand but neither are they full-contact competitions.

In modern times, public dueling has been deemed illegal in the Philippines to reduce legal problems that arose from injury or death.


Notable eskrimadors from Balintawak lineage: (from left to right)"Chito" Velez, "Meo" de la Rosa, "Nene" Gaabucayan, "Anciong" Bacon, Ray la Victoria, "Bobby" Taboada, Teofilo Velez at Fort San Pedro, Cebu City (c. 1976). The photos were taken by "Johnny" Chiuten

After decades of lobbying and overdue recognition, arnis/eskrima/kali was proclaimed as the official National Martial Art and Sport of the Philippines in January 2010.

There are two main types of eskrima practiced as a sport. The most common system used internationally is that of the WEKAF (World Eskrima Kali Arnis Federation), established 1989. The less recent one is the Arnis Philippines[36] (ARPI) system, established in 1986, and was most prominently used during the 2005 Southeast Asian Games.


The WEKAF system works on a 10-point must system similar to boxing where participants spar with live sticks while wearing a long padded vest with skirt and sleeves and a helmet similar to Kendo headgear. Hitting below the thigh is prohibited. This format has sometimes been criticized because it emphasizes a heavy offense at the expense of defensive techniques sometimes with players raining blows on each other without defending, giving rise to the impression that combatants are merely hitting each other in a disorganized way. This has been tackled by introducing a 'four second rule', to prevent constant and unrealistic attacks, and judges do not to score the same strike if the fighter uses it more than twice in succession. Judges warn fighters and remove points if they continue after two warnings. However, fights can easily come down to an unrealistic attack from an unskilled fighter who impresses judges with many body hits after taking two or three clear, strong hits to the hands and head.

This is, to some, an antithesis to traditional training methods, where training in footwork and arm/weapon movements are intricate and precise and any part of an opponent's body is fair game. As a consequence, WEKAF tournaments may be seen as not promoting the original art. Moreover, participants have been known to suffer broken bones and injured tendons due to the fact that live sticks are used, so the older system is considered more 'hardcore' and less safe. Another complaint about the WEKAF system is that it uses the 10-point must system, which is more subjective depending on who is judging. Favoritism among judges and players is a common complaint with this scoring system due to its subjectivity.

Since the WEKAF system is more risky, it is preferred by many practitioners who want to test themselves. The WEKAF system is the most widely used format internationally.


The Arnis Philippines system uses foam-padded sticks about an inch in diameter with thin rattan cores roughly a centimeter in diameter. These sticks are meant to break before serious injury occurs. For protection, the same headgear used in the WEKAF system, and a large groin guard is required for males. Vests (optional for men, required for women), optional armguards, shinguards and leg wraps are used. Scoring is more similar to fencing where fighters are separated after solid clean hits are made (observed by multiple judges stationed at different positions to observe if hits were clean and unblocked, and determine the strength of the strike by the loudness of the impact). Alternative ways to score are to disarm one's opponent or to force him to step outside the ring.

Any part of the body, from head to toe, is fair game as a target—except for the back of the head, which the headgear does not protect. Stabs to the face are not allowed, because the thin rattan core may penetrate the padding and slip through the grills of the headgear into the player's eye. Thrusts to the body score points, but are harder to present to judges for scoring because they make less noise and it is difficult to determine impact.

Punches, kicks and throws are not allowed. Prolonged clinching to prevent the opponent from striking is not allowed (similar to Western Boxing) to keep the game moving and more interesting for audience that may not appreciate the fine and practical aspects of grappling. Disarms must be performed quickly and cleanly to count. Because the legs are fair targets, in lighter weight divisions, complex evasion and deep lunges where players lie horizontal with the torso almost touching the floor to extend reach are often seen.

The emphasis of the ARPI system is on player safety, as proponents are applying to become a recognized Olympic sport like judo, karate, taekwondo, wrestling, boxing, and fencing.

Even though padded sticks are used in the sport, players regularly retain large bruises that last for weeks and sometimes minor injuries to joints and because of the sheer amount of force generated by conditioned practitioners. Sometimes the stuffing commonly comes off from the harder hitting players and one cause of injury is when a player is struck by the exposed rattan core. Still, these are relatively minor as compared to injuries sustained when practitioners spar with live sticks.

One major problem with the ARPHI system is that because the padded sticks with light rattan cores are used, they tend to flex and "lag", thus making the experience significantly different from using a live stick and in that sense, lessens the "realism" of this system. This is acceptable though as again, the emphasis is on safety.

Like the sayaw (meaning "dance") in the WEKAF system, the ARPI system has a separate single and team choreographed division called Anyo (Tagalog for 'forms'). Aside from the visual appeal, practical combative applications must be clearly seen so as to avoid looking like just majorettes in marching bands who just twirl batons and dance (a concept similar to the Floreio ("flourish") aspect of Capoeira and to Tricking which are more for show than practicality).


In another variation that simulates knife fights, competitors use false blades edged with lipstick to mark where an opponent has been struck. These matches are considered more similar to traditional duels than the WEKAF point-system.


Eskrima students start their instruction by learning to fight with weapons, and only advance to empty-hand training once the stick and knife techniques have been sufficiently mastered. This is in contrast to most other well-known Asian martial arts but it is justified by the principle that bare-handed moves are acquired naturally through the same exercises as the weapon techniques, making muscle memory an important aspect of the teaching. It is also based on the obvious fact that an armed person who is trained has the advantage over a trained unarmed person, and serves to condition students to fight against armed assailants. Most systems of eskrima apply a single set of techniques for the stick, knife, and empty hands, a concept sometimes referred to as motion grouping. Since the weapon is seen as simply an extension of the body, the same angles and footwork are used either with or without a weapon. The reason for this is probably historical, because tribal warriors went into battle armed and only resorted to bare-handed fighting after losing their weapons.

Many systems begin training with two weapons, either a pair of sticks or a stick and a wooden knife. These styles emphasise keeping both hands full and never moving them in the same direction, and trains practitioners to become ambidextrous. For example, one stick may strike the head while the other hits the arm. Such training develops the ability to use both limbs independently, a valuable skill, even when working with a single weapon.

A core concept and distinct feature of Filipino martial arts is the Live Hand. Even when as a practitioner wields only one weapon, the extra hand is used to control, trap or disarm an opponent's weapon and to aid in blocking, joint locking and manipulation of the opponent or other simultaneous motions such as bicep destruction with the live hand.


A pair of rattan sticks

The most basic and common weapon in eskrima is the yantok. They are typically constructed from rattan, an inexpensive stem from a type of Southeast Asian vine. Hard and durable yet lightweight, it shreds only under the worst abuse and does not splinter like wood, making it a safer training tool. This aspect makes it useful in defence against blades. Kamagong (ironwood or ebony) and bahi (heart of the palm) are sometimes used after being charred and hardened. These hardwoods are generally not used for sparring, however, as they are dense enough to cause serious injury, but traditional sparring does not include weapon to body contact. The participants are skilled enough to parry and counterstrike, showing respect in not intentionally hitting the training partner. In North America and Europe, eskrima practitioners wear head and hand protection while sparring with rattan sticks, or otherwise use padded batons. Some modern schools use sticks made out of aluminium or other metals, or modern high-impact plastics.

Impact weapons

  • Baston, olisi, yantok: stick ranging from twenty-four to twenty-eight inches long.
  • Largo mano yantok: longer stick ranging from twenty-eight to thirty-six inches
  • Dulo y dulo: short stick about four to seven inches in length, held in the palm of the hand
  • Bankaw: six-foot pole. Staves can be used to practice sword techniques
  • Wooden dagger measuring 12 to 14 inches (300 to 360 mm)
  • Panangga: shield
  • Improvised weapons: Wood planks, steel pipes, umbrellas, flashlights, rolled-up magazines/ newspapers, books, cellular phones, tennis rackets, butt of billiards cue, bottles, coffee mugs, chair legs, tree branches or twigs, etc.

Edged weapons

Traditional bolos from the Visayas islands (ginunting on the left, and three talibongs).

Baraw is a Cebuano term used eskrima that means knife or dagger. The term Baraw is more commonly used on the Cebu Island in the Visayan region whereas other islands and regions more commonly use the term Daga but both terms are often interchangeable within the Filipino martial arts community.

The terms Baraw and Daga can be used either as Solo Baraw or Solo Daga associated with single knife fighting and defence systems, Doble Baraw or Doble Daga associated with the double knife fighting systems or even with a combination of long and short weapons e.g. stick and dagger fighting systems Olisi Baraw or sword and dagger fighting systems Espada y Daga.

  • Daga/Cuchillo (Spanish for dagger and knife) or Baraw/ Pisaw: daggers or knives of different shapes and sizes
  • Balisong: fan knife or butterfly knife from Barrio Balisong in Batangas province. The handle is two-piece and attaches to a swivel that folds to enclose the blade when shut.
  • Karambit: claw-shaped Indo-Malay blade held by inserting the finger into a hole at the top of the handle.
  • Bolo: a knife/sword similar to a machete
  • Pinuti: a type of sword from Cebu blade shaped similar to a Sundang but elongated.
  • Iták or sundáng: a farm or house hold bladed implement, it's blade has a pronounced belly, chisel ground edge with the handle angled down.
  • Barong: wide flat leaf shaped blade commonly used by women.
  • Binakoko: long blade named after a porgy fish
  • Dinahong palay: has a very narrow blade shape similar to a rice leaf.
  • Kalis or Kris: Indo-Malay dagger, often given a wavy blade, it is most commonly used in the southern provinces
  • Kampilan: fork-tipped sword, popular in the southern Philippines
  • Sibat: spear
  • Improvised weapons: Icepicks, box cutters, screwdrivers, scissors, broken bottles, pens, car keys (using the push knife grip)

Flexible weapons

  • Sarong: a length of fabric wrapped around the waist
  • Ekut: handkerchief
  • Tabak-toyok: chained sticks/ flail or nunchaku
  • Latigo (Spanish for whip): consisting of a handle between 8 and 12 inches (200 and 300 mm), and a lash composed of a braided thong 3–20 ft (0.91–6.10 m) long. The "fall" at the end of the lash is a single piece of leather 10–30 inches (250–760 mm) in length.[37]
  • Improvised weapons: Belt, bandana, handkerchiefs, shirts, towels/socks with hard soap bars/rocks, ropes, power cables, etc.

Technical aspects

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Most systems recognize that the technical nature of combat changes drastically as the distance between opponents changes and generally classify the ranges into at least three categories. Range is in relation to the opponent. Each range has its characteristic technique and footwork. Of course, some systems place more emphasis on certain ranges than others, but almost all recognize that being able to work in and control any range is essential. The Balintawak style for example, uses long-, medium- and short-range fighting techniques, but focuses on the short-range.

To control the range and for numerous other purposes, good footwork is essential. Most Eskrima systems explain their footwork in terms of triangles: normally when moving in any direction two feet occupy two corners of the triangle and the step is to the third corner such that no leg crosses the other at any time. The shape and size of the triangle must be adapted to the particular situation. The style of footwork and the standing position vary greatly from school to school and from practitioner to practitioner. For a very traditional school, conscious of battlefield necessities, stances are usually very low, often with one knee on the ground, and footwork is complex, involving many careful cross-steps to allow practitioners to cope with multiple opponents. The Villabrille and San Miguel styles are usually taught in this way. Systems that have been adapted to duels or sporting matches generally employ simpler footwork, focusing on a single opponent. North American schools tend to use much more upright stances, as this puts less stress on the legs, but there are some exceptions.


Many Filipino systems focus on defending against and/or reacting to angles of attack rather than particular strikes. The theory behind this is that virtually all types of hand-to-hand attacks (barehanded or with a weapon) hit or reach a combatant via these angles of attack and the reasoning is that it is more efficient to learn to defend against different angles of attack rather than learn to defend against particular styles, particular techniques or particular weapons. For instance, the technique for defending against an attack angle that comes overhead from the right is very similar whether the attacker uses bare fists, a knife, a sword or a spear.

Older styles gave each angle a name, but more recent systems tend to simply number them. Many systems have twelve standard angles, though some have as few as 5, and others as many as 72. Although the exact angles, the order they are numbered in (numerado), and the way the player executes moves vary from system to system, most are based upon Filipino cosmology. These standard angles describe exercises. To aid memorization, player often practice a standard series of strikes from these angles, called an abecedario (Spanish for "alphabet"). These are beginner strikes or the "ABC's" of Eskrima.

Some angles of attack and some strikes have characteristic names:

  • San Miguel is a forehand strike with the right hand, moving from the striker's right shoulder toward their left hip. It is named after Saint Michael or the Archangel Michael, who is often depicted holding a sword at this angle. This is the most natural strike for most untrained people. It is commonly referred to as "angle #1," in systems where striking angles are numbered for training purposes, because it is presumed the most probable angle of attack.
  • Sinawali is the signature double-stick weaving movement associated with zrnis and eskrima named after the woven coconut or palm leaves called sawali that comprise the walls of nipa hut dwellings. It is commonly seen in double-stick continuous attack-parry partner demonstrations.
  • Another signature technique is the Redonda, which is a continuous circular downward-striking double-stick twirling technique.
  • A redonda (Spanish for "round") is a strike that whips in a circle to return to its point of origin. This is especially useful when using sticks rather than swords, such a strike allows extremely fast strikes but needs constant practice.
  • An abanico (Spanish for fan) or witik is a strike that is executed by flicking the wrist 180 degrees in a fan-shaped motion. This kind of strike can be very quick and arrive from unexpected angles.
  • Pilantik is a strike executed by whipping the stick around the wrist over the head in a motion similar to the abanico, but in alternating 360 degree strikes. It is most useful when fighters are in grappling range and cannot create enough space for normal strikes.
  • Hakbang (Filipino for "step") is a general term for footwork. For example, hakbang paiwas is pivoting footwork, while hakbang tatsulok is triangle stepping.
  • Puño (Spanish for "fist", "hilt", or "handle") is a strike delivered with the butt of the weapon. It usually targets a nerve point or other soft spot on the opponent but in skilled hands, the puño can be used to shatter bones.

Note that many Eskrima techniques have Spanish names, because Spanish was the lingua franca spoken during colonial times among the natives who spoke over 170 different dialects in the archipelago's 7,100+ islands.

Eskrima techniques are generally based on the assumption that both student and opponent are very highly trained and well prepared. For this reason, eskrima tends to favor extreme caution, always considering the possibility of a failed technique or an unexpected knife. On the other hand, the practitioner is assumed able to strike precisely and quickly. The general principle is that an opponent's ability to attack should be destroyed rather than trying to hurt them to convince them to stop. Thus many strikes are aimed at the hands and arms, hoping to break the hand holding the weapon or cut the nerves or tendons controlling it (the concept of defanging the snake), but strikes to the eyes and legs are important. A popular mnemonic states that "stick seeks bone, blade seeks flesh".

Mano Mano

Mano Mano is the empty-hand component of Filipino martial arts, particularly eskrima. The term translates as "hands" or "hand to hand" and comes from the Spanish word mano (hand). It is also known as suntukan or panununtukan in Luzon and pangamot in the Visayas, as well as De Cadena or Cadena de Mano in some FMA systems. American colonists referred to it as "combat judo".

Mano mano also includes kicking, punching, locking, throwing and dumog (grappling). Filipino martial artists regard the empty hands as another weapon and all the movements of mano mano are directly based on weapon techniques. In eskrima, weapons are seen as an extension of the body so training with weapons naturally leads to proficiency in bare-handed combat. For this reason, mano mano is often taught in the higher levels of eskrima after weapons training has been mastered because advanced students are expected to be able to apply their experience with weapons to unarmed fighting. This not always the case though, as some systems of eskrima start with (and at times only consist of) empty hands fighting.

Some notable masters of Mano Mano include:

  • Antonio Illustrisimo
  • Venancio "Anciong" Bacon
  • Rey Galang
  • Leo Tortal Gaje
  • Edgar Sulite


Paninipa, Pagsipa, Pananadiyak, Pagtadiyak, and Sikaran (all terms for "kicking" in various regions, dialects and styles) are components of eskrima that focus on knees, tripping, low-line kicks, and stomps. Pananjakman is also a term used in Filipino-American-developed and Western FMA systems, usually referring to the system from the Lucky Lucaylucay, Floro Villabrille and Dan Inosanto blend lineage. Except for the distinct style of Sikaran from the Baras area of the province of Rizal, which also uses high kicks, kicking as a separate art is never taught by itself in the Philippines, and this practice is only done in the West with Pananjakman. Pananjakman is usually taught together with Panantukan.

Paninipa can be regarded as the study of leg muscles and bones and how they are connected, with the goal of either inflicting pain or outright breaking or dislocating the bones. Most striking techniques involve applying pressure to bend the target areas in unnatural ways so as to injure or break them. Such pressure may be delivered in the form of a heel smash, a toe kick, a stomp, or a knee. Targets include the groin, thighs, knees, shins, ankles, feet and toes. The upper body is used only for defensive maneuvers, making pananadiyak ideal for when combatants are engaged in a clinch. When used effectively, the strikes can bring an opponent to the ground or otherwise end an altercation by making them too weak to stand.

Fundamental techniques include kicking or smashing the ankle to force it either towards or away from the opposite foot (severe supination or pronation, respectively), heel-stomping the top of the foot where it meets the lower leg so as to break or crush the numerous bones or otherwise disrupt the opponent's balance, and smashing the opponents knee from the side to break the knee (with severe supination and pronation as the desired result).


Several classes of exercises, such as sombrada, contrada, sinawali, hubud-lubud and sequidas, initially presented to the public as a set of organized drills by the Inosanto school, are expressly designed to allow partners to move quickly and experiment with variations while remaining safe. For example, in a sumbrada drill, one partner feeds an attack, which the other counters, flowing into a counterattack, which is then countered, flowing into a counterattack, and so on. The hubud-lubud or hubad-lubad from Doce Pares is frequently used as a type of "generator" drill, where one is forced to act and think fast. Initially, students learn a specific series of attacks, counters, and counter-attacks. As they advance they can add minor variations, change the footwork, or switch to completely different attacks; eventually the exercise becomes almost completely free-form. Palakaw, from the Balintawak style, are un-choreographed and random defensive and offensive moves. Palakaw in Cebuano means a walk-through or rehearsing the different strike angles and defenses. It may be known as corridas, or striking without any order or pattern. Disarms, take-downs, and other techniques usually break the flow of such a drill, but they are usually initiated from such a sequence of movements to force the student to adapt to a variety of situations. A common practice is to begin a drill with each student armed with two weapons. Once the drill is flowing, if a student sees an opportunity to disarm their opponent, they do, but the drill continues until both students are empty-handed. Some drills use only a single weapon per pair, and the partners take turns disarming each other. Seguidas drills, taken from the San Miguel system, are sets of hitting and movement patterns usually involving stick and dagger.

Rhythm, while an essential part of eskrima drills, is emphasized more in the United States and Europe, where a regular beat serves a guide for students to follow. To ensure safety, participants perform most drills at a constant pace, which they increase as they progress. The rhythm, together with the southern Filipino attire of a vest and sashed pants, is commonly mistaken for some sort of tradition when practicing eskrima in the Philippines—perhaps incorrectly derived from traditional rhythm-based dances or an attempt to add a sense of ethnicity. Eskrima is usually practiced in the Philippines without a rhythm, off-beat or out of rhythm. The diversity of Filipino martial arts means that there is no officially established standard uniform in eskrima.

The Live Hand

The live hand is the opposite hand of the practitioner that does not contain the main weapon. The heavy usage of the live hand is an important concept and distinguishing hallmark of eskrima. Even (or especially) when empty, the live hand can be used as a companion weapon by eskrima practitioners. As opposed to most weapon systems like fencing where the off-hand is hidden and not used to prevent it from being hit, eskrima actively uses the live hand for trapping, locking, supporting weapon blocks, checking, disarming, striking and controlling the opponent.

The usage of the live hand is one of the most evident examples of how Eskrima's method of starting with weapons training leads to effective empty hand techniques. Because of Doble Baston (double weapons) or Espada y Daga (sword and parrying dagger) ambidextrous weapon muscle memory conditioning, Eskrima practitioners find it easy to use the off-hand actively once they transition from using it with a weapon to an empty hand.

Doble baston

Doble baston, and less frequently doble olisi, are common names for a group of techniques involving two sticks. The art is more commonly known around the world as Sinawali meaning "to weave". The term Sinawali is taken from a matting called sawali that is commonly used in the tribal Nipa Huts. It is made up of woven pieces of palm leaf and used for both flooring and walls.

This technique requires the user to use both left and right weapons in an equal manner; many co-ordination drills are used to help the practitioner become more ambidextrous. It is the section of the art that is taught mainly at the intermediate levels and above and is considered one of the most important areas of learning in the art.


Sinawali refers to the activity of "weaving", as applied Eskrima with reference to a set of two-person, two-weapon exercises.

Sinawali exercises provide eskrima practitioners with basic skills and motions relevant to a mode of two-weapon blocking and response method called Doblete. Sinawali training is often introduced to novices to help them develop certain fundamental skills—including: body positioning and distance relative to an opponent, rotation of the body and the proper turning radius, recognition of one’s center of gravity, eye–hand coordination, target perception and recognition, increased ambidexterity, recognition and performance of rhythmic structures for upper body movement, and muscular developments important to the art, especially, the wrist and forearm regions. It helps teach the novice eskrimador proper elbow positioning while swinging a weapon.


The Chinese and Malay communities of the Philippines have practiced eskrima together with kuntaw and silat for centuries, so much so that many North Americans mistakenly believe silat to have originated in the Philippines.

Some of the modern styles, particularly doce pares and modern arnis contain some elements of Japanese martial arts such as joint locks, throws, blocks, strikes, and groundwork, taken from: jujutsu, judo, aikido and karate as some of the founders obtained black belt Dan grades in some of these systems. Some eskrima styles are complementary with Chinese wing chun, or Japanese aikido because of the nervous system conditioning and body mechanics when striking, twirling or swinging sticks.

In Western countries, it is common to practice eskrima in conjunction with other martial arts, particularly wing chun, jeet kune do or silat. As a result, there is some confusion between styles, systems, and lineage, because some people cross-train without giving due credit to the founders or principles of their arts. For example, American kenpo and kajukenbo cross-training traces back to the interactions between Chinese, Japanese and Filipino immigrants in territorial/pre-statehood Hawaii, and to a lesser extent in other parts of the United States. Another one is the cross-training between eskrima and Jeet Kune Do Concepts as headed by Dan Inosanto, going according to the maxim "Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless", and also as Bruce Lee chose Eskrima as the weapon system for his art jeet kune do.[citation needed]

Proponents of such training say the arts are very similar in many aspects and complement each other well. It has become marketable to offer eskrima classes in other traditional Asian martial arts studios in America but some practitioners of other eskrima styles often dismiss these lessons as debased versions of original training methods.

Notable Styles

Practiced in the Philippines

  • Balintawak Eskrima – Founded in 1952 by Venancio "Anciong" Bacon after internal dispute amongst some of the original founders of the original Doce Pares club.
  • Bakbakan International – Founded by Antonio Diego, Rey Galang, Christopher Ricketts, senior students of Tatang Ilustrisimo.
  • De Campo Uno-Dos-Tres Orihinal (De Campo 1-2-3) – founded by Jose Caballero.
  • Doce Pares Eskrima – Originally encompassed 12 styles and was founded by the Saavedra and Cañete families in 1932. There are now several Doce Pares groups headed by various members of the Cañete family.
  • Eskrido – Founded by Ciriaco "Cacoy" Cañete, the last living founder and the highest ranking master of Doce Pares Eskrima.
  • Garimot Arnis – Led by Gat Puno Abon "Garimot" Baet.
  • Kali Ilustrisimo – Founded by Antonio "Tatang" Ilustrisimo; important as the ancestor of many current eskrima systems.
  • Kombatan – founded by Ernesto Presas, brother of Remy Presas.
  • Lameco Eskrima – Founded by Edgar Sulite. The name comes from the three ranges of the system, Largo (Spanish for "long"), Medio ("medium"), and Corto ("short"). It is a composite of many systems with heavy influence from De Campo 1-2-3 and Kali Illustrisimo.
  • Modern Arnis – Founded by Remy Presas, which has roots in the Presas family and Balintawak system. It is revolutionary for having pioneered a system that made teaching of Arnis easier for students as old-school systems were often very painful for the student, thus making it hard to attract students and keep the arts alive.
  • Pekiti Tirsia Kali – Founded by Conrado Tortal and carried on by Leo Tortal Gaje, inheritor of the family system of the Tortal clan. The name means "to cut into pieces at close range", although it includes techniques for all ranges. One of the most recognized blade-oriented systems. It is the system used by the Philippine Marine Corps Force Recon Battalion.
  • San Miguel Eskrima – As one of the founders (together with the famous Doring and Ensong Saavedra) of the Labangon Fencing Club in 1920 and later the Doce Pares Club in 1932, Filemon "Momoy" Cañete created the blade based San Miguel Eskrima as his personal expression of the Doce Pares art and methodology.

International Systems

  • Inosanto Kali – developed by Dan Inosanto from various other styles; he does not call it a system in its own right, but rather a blend of systems from John Lacoste and others.
  • Latigo y Daga – Whip and dagger method founded by Tom Meadows.
  • Dog Brothers – a group notorious for their Gatherings, which feature full-contact stick fighting and minimal protection.
  • Sayoc Kali – founded by Baltazar "Bo" Sayoc, the system promotes the "all blade, all the time" methodology of Filipino Martial Arts. The family system is now led by Christopher Sayoc.
  • Counterpoint Tactical System – also known as CTS the system founded by Zach Whitson is a weapon-based integrated martial art designed for the street with emphasis on real-world tactical counter offense in all ranges. ZW is a Grand Master in Cacoy Doce Pares system (awarded by Ciriaco "Cacoy" Canete 2014); Mataas na Guro in Pekiti Tirsia Kali (awarded by Tuhon Bill McGrath 2004) and a Senior Professor in American Kenpo (awarded by Huk Planas).

The Arnis Law

Republic Act No. 9850 of the Congress of the Philippines, approved on December 11, 2009 declares Arnis as the national sport and martial art of the Philippines for promoting patriotism, nationalism and appreciation of the role of national heroes and symbols in the historical development of the country.[38] Because of this law, Arnis becomes a pre-requisite for P.E. classes in most colleges in the Philippines.[39]

Eskrima in popular culture

See also

  • Eskrimadors (documentary film)
  • Filipino Martial Arts
  • Suntukan
  • Sikaran
  • Yawyan
  • Kinamotay
  • Balisong


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  2. Filipino Warrior Arts Research Society Macachor, Celestino S., Macachor met old practitioners who put emphasis or practiced only empty-hands forms when he was learning FMA and during research for his book with Dr. Ned Nepangue, "Cebu Eskrima: Beyond the Myth".
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  8. "Black Eagle (Detailed history of Eskrima)". 
  9. Federico Lazo, "Kali Caused the Change of the Word Kali to the Words Arnis and Escrima", 2008, Filipino Martial Arts Digest
  10. Arnis à Patling Documentary on Arnis in the town of Patling in Tarlac with GM Lamberto Ticsay, Arnis coach of the Far Eastern University as guide, Archive footage from Institut national de l'audiovisuel, Jan.10, 1962. YouTube copy with English captions
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  12. Mark V. Wiley (1997). Filipino Martial Culture. Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 0-8048-2088-0.
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  16. "The Death of Magellan, 1521". Eyewitness to 
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  18. Musings on Martial Arts with Romy Macapagal Macapagal, Romeo, Real Fighting Issue 7
  19. see Youtube videos
  20. Wiley, Mark V. (1997). Filipino Martial Culture. Vermont: Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 0-8048-2088-0. 
  21. Perry Gil S. Mallari (July 14, 2009). "The Enduring Knife Culture in the Philippines". FMA Pulse. 
  22. Perry Gil S. Mallari (June 8, 2010). "Filipino Blade Culture and the Advent of Firearms". FMA Pulse. 
  23. Daniel McNicoll. "Reclaiming the Blade documentary". Galatia Films. 
  24. Isagani Gabriel Jr. "GM Henry Espera Talks About How He Started Out With Kali". YouTube. 
  25. Francesca K. Remengesau, Dirk Anthony Ballendorf. "From Soul to Somnelence: The Palau Community Association of Guam, 1948 To 1997". Micronesial Journal of The Humanities and Social Sciences. 
  26. The Colt Model 1905 Automatic Pistol, 1998, John Potocki
  27. "History of the M1911 Pistol". 
  28. "Biography of Grand Master Emeritus Leo M. Giron". 
  29. "Inosanto Academy of Martial Arts Instructor Profiles, Leo Guiron". 
  30. "Atillo Balintawak History". 
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  32. "GM Timor Maranga bio". 
  33. "Master Norman Z. Suanico bio". 
  34. "History of Pekiti Tirsia Kali". 
  35. Eskrimadors documentary, 2010, Kerwin Go
  37. "Kali-Eskrima-Arnis Weapons by Jeff Patterson". Retrieved 2012-08-22. 

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