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Kali - The Filipino Cultural Art of Stick and Knife Fighting

Aug 18, 2007
Every culture throughout history has created some form of martial art so their people can defend themselves in a time of crisis. But the only true test of a martial art is actual combat.

Known as Kali in Europe and the United States, the knife and stick fighting based art is actually called Eskrima or Arnis by the Filipino people. It is said that the art was developed over centuries during many intertribal conflicts and wars with outside invaders.

Those who practice Kali claim that is more then just a cultural art and remains an effective form of self defense that can be taught to someone quickly. And while on paper Kali seems like it has a lot to offer, both its historical data and self defense methodology say otherwise.

Many Filipino martial artists cite the Battle of Mactan, which occurred on April 27, 1521 as proof that their system works in battle. Warriors of Lapu-Lapu, a chieftain of Mactan Island, defeated a landing force of Spanish sailors and soldiers under the command of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. Magellan's forces were armed with crossbows and muskets, but were heavily outnumbered by the natives. The overwhelming tribal warriors cut them down and the famous explorer was killed.

The major flaw with this isolated example is that it is the only successful battle of hundreds throughout the sad but true history of a conquered people. The Spanish Conquistadors went on to conquer all of the islands with ease and held them until the United States invaded in 1898.

The conquistadors were skilled warriors even without muskets and cannons, because they forged their skills on the battlefields of Europe for centuries fighting the also highly skilled Muslim invaders! Not a bunch of tribal natives. Spain's fighting men conquered huge amounts of territory, and destroyed ancient empires with discipline, superior tactics, and hard training. The unfortunate tribal warriors of the Philippines (and their cultural fighting art of Kali) were no different than any other native conquest to the Conquistadors.

But historical insignificance is not the only chink in the Kali armor.

While it isn't fair to discount Kali simply because its practitioners main focus is blades and sticks (they also do practice some grappling and empty hand techniques), but this kind of training is hampered in the real world.

It has not been socially acceptable to carry a sword in public in over 100 years and there are many restrictions on smaller bladed weapons. And although Kali stick fighting looks impressive to the untrained eye, I have yet to hear of one person beaten to death by a pair of Escrima sticks. All said and done, someone armed with an ordinary wooden baseball bat or axe handle, could undoubtedly finish off one of these so called "dangerous" stick fighters in a heartbeat.

Like any cultural fighting art, I don't condemn anyone for spending their time practicing Kali because it seems like a decent physical conditioning method and a heck of a lot of fun. And while weapons training can be a great addition to your close combat toolbox, learning from these conquered people is not the answer as it is clearly not a legitimate method of self defense.
About the Author
For more information on Chris "Lt. X" Pizzo former soldier, cancer survivor, mercenary, barroom bouncer, educator, and hand-to-hand combat instructor, and his incredible FREE Accelerated Battlefield Combatives close-combat learning system, visit his martial arts and self defense website.
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