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The History Of Kali Escrima Sticks

Definition: martial art specializing in fighting with two baton-length sticks, with techniques adaptable to empty-hand or edged weapons. The terms "escrima" is thought to originate from the Spanish word "escrime", meaning to fence with a swoard--and is thought to have originated during the Spanish occupation of the Phillipine Islands. Often used synonomously for arnis and kali.

Kali, escrima or arnis de mano, stick fighting was developed over a period of many centuries in the Philippines as her people fought for their independence from foreign invaders. Each skirmish with a new culture added to the Filipino Martial Arts as Kali warriors developed techniques to combat foreign styles. Subsequently, more than 100 different Filipino Martial Arts styles developed, which can be grouped into three complete self-defense systems which utilize sticks, swords, empty hands and other weapons. The systems are called Northern, Southern, and Central.

"Kali," the mother of escrima and arnis de mano, is the preferred reference by its practitioners. Always assuming the use of the blade, whether it be the sword or knife (dagger), Kali employs many techniques, including strikes, stances and weapon handling, which have influence from China, Arab missionaries, Indonesia and Spain. This is due to immigration as well as invasion and occupation. The Philippines’ colorful history records the immigration of several cultures to the islands, all of which influenced the Filipino Martial Arts. The Madjapahit, who settled in the Southern stretches of the islands, where influenced by Arab missionaries and became know as fierce Moslems (called "Moro Filipinos") who violently opposed foreign peoples on their native land. During the American occupation of the Philippines in the early 1900s, Moros, marked by tiger-eyes and red headbands - signifying a resolve to kill until killed - strode singly down the streets blading everything in their path, embracing the belief that every slain Christian assured their places in heaven. So tenacious was the Moros’ rampage that hundreds of reports by American soldiers surfaced, stating that the slugs of .38-caliber pistols failed to stop the advancing Moros. As a result of those reports, the .45-caliber pistol was designed and issued to American servicemen. Although the Moros’ religious fervor was a crucial element in their destruction, it was the use of their bladed weapons that allowed the bloody chaos to succeed. The art they so deftly employed was Kali.

Spanish conquistadors, led by Ferdinand Magellan, invaded the islands in the early 1500s. A pirate according to Filipino history, Magellan was slain by the heroic chieftain Lapu Lapu and his men. The armor-clad Spanish, overpowered by the fierce islanders and their fire-hardened sticks, retreated. In the 1570’s, unable to match the conquistadors’ muskets, the Philippines fell under Spanish rule. The Filipinos preserved their Martial Arts by integrating it into native costumes and dances, often performing Kali movements in the form of dance for the pleasure of Spanish dictators.

In 1935, the Philippines were recognized as an independent nation until occupied by Japan during World War II. Welcoming U.S. intervention during the occupation, Filipinos eagerly enlisted in American services. Known for close-in, hand-to-hand combat with bolo knives, the Filipino troops established themselves as fierce guerrilla forces, marching in triangle formation with the point, or lead, man disabling enemy soldiers, leaving the following formation to finish the job.

Following the war, many adventurous escrimadors and Kali men left the Philippines for Hawaii and California. There they grouped together, working as farm laborers and practicing their art in secret, still adapting it to their environment by utilizing farm tools -asparagus knives, machetes, hoes and the like - as weapons.

After years of clandestine practice, the old masters have begun to teach a younger generation the beautiful and deadly Filipino Martial Arts. The "old men" of Kali and escrima believe the art is dead in the Phillipines. However, they teach the younger generation to respect the art by a salutation, shown by touching the closed fist of the right hand to the forehead and the open hand to the heart. Some of these masters of Kali who have continued the art are Angel Cabales, Regino Ellustrisimo, Leo Giron, John LaCoste, Ben Largusa, and Floro Villabrille.


 

       
   
   

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