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File:GM Abaya.jpg
An Arnis teacher wielding rattan sticks
Also known as Arnis
Hardness full contact to non contact, Kata
Country of origin Flag of the Philippines Philippines
Olympic Sport No

Arnis, also known as Eskrima and Kali is the National Sport and Martial Art of the Philippines. It is an umbrella term that refers to a class of Filipino martial arts that emphasize weapon-based fighting with sticks, blades and improvised weapons. Although training starts with weapons, empty hand techniques, trapping and limb destruction are core parts of these arts as the weapon is considered merely an extension of the body. Eskrima and Arnis are the most common among the many names often used in the Philippines today to refer to these arts.<ref name= Wiley>Wiley, Mark V. (2000). Filipino Fighting Arts: Theory and Practice. Tuttle Publishing, 1–15. ISBN 0-86568-180-5. </ref>

The teaching of the basic skills in Arnis are traditionally simplified. With limited time to teach intricate moves, only techniques that were proven effective in battle and could easily be taught en masse were used. This allowed villagers, generally not professional soldiers, a measure of protection against other tribes, kingdoms and sultanates in the archipelago now known as the Philippines and also against foreign invaders. This philosophy of simplicity is still used today and is the underlying base of eskrima. Because of this approach, Arnis and the Filipino martial arts in general are often mistakenly considered to be "simple". However, this term refers only to its systematization, not its effectiveness. Infact, beyond the basic skills lie a very complex structure and refined skillsets that takes years to master.<ref></ref>

For the purpose of simplification, Arnis shall be used to refer to the interchangeable terms of Eskrima and Kali for the rest of the article.


Etymology of Name

For all intents and purposes, Arnis, Eskrima and kali all refer to the same family of Filipino weapon-based martial arts. In Luzon they may go by the name of arnis, arnis de mano, sinawali, pagkalikali, panandata (usage of weapons), didya, kabaroan (blade usage) and kaliradman. In the Visayas and Mindanao, these martial arts have been referred to as eskrima, kali and kalirongan. Kuntaw and silat are separate martial arts that have also been practiced in the islands.

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 is derived from the armor costumes used in Moro-moro (Moor versus Christian) stage plays where actors fought mock battles using wooden swords. The practice of weaponry by the peasants or Indios was banned by the Spaniards during colonial times and the Moro-moro stick fights disguised as mere entertainment was one of the methods they were able to practice their art right under the Spaniards' noses.<ref>Edgar Sulite. The Secrets of Arnis. </ref> Arnis was hidden as quaint folk dances like with the Sakuting stick dances in Luzon.<ref>Youtube videos of Filipino Sakuting Folk Dances.</ref> These methods of hiding the arts are probably how Arnis evolved into distinct and complex stick fighting systems in the Luzon and Visayas areas which had been disarmed by the Spaniards.

Eskrima is a Filipinization of the Spanish word for fencing (esgrima). As Spanish was the lingua franca of the Philippines at the time and various families and regions simply called their art and family styles "Eskrima" (or fencing).<ref name="EskrimadorsDocu">Official website of the Eskrimadors documentary film. Retrieved on 2011-05-01.</ref> <ref>History of Filipino Martial Arts. Retrieved on 2009-11-11.</ref><ref>Warriors Escrima - Worcestershire. Retrieved on 2009-11-111.</ref>

The word Kali, although primarily used in the United States and Europe, is seldom used in the Visayas and in some cases is an unknown word to Filipinos. The term is said to be used mostly in Mindanao, but due to the popularity of the term outside of the Philippines and the influence of foreign practitioners the term has now been accepted as a synonym for Arnis and Eskrima. In their Cebu Escrima Myth distributed by Lex libris, Dr. Ned Nepangue and Tinni Macahor contend that the word 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.

  • One possibility is that the word comes from tjakalele,<ref name="ReferenceA">Remy Presas, 1974, "Modern Arnis", pp. 10-12 ISBN 971-08-6041-0</ref> 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. Numerous alternative theories attempt to explain the term's origin:
  • It could have also come from the Baybayin word kalepo or kalibo ("kali sports" or panlarong kali). This suggests that Kalibo's name may have originated from the word "kali" because there are many escrima schools in Kalibo today.
  • Kali may be a portmanteau of the Cebuano words "ka"mot, or "ka"may meaning hand or body, and "li"hok, meaning motion.<ref>The Bladed Hand: The Global Impact of Filipino Martial Arts.</ref>
  • It might be traced back to the word for scales (kaliskis) because Cebuano warriors from the 8th and 9th centuries wore scale armour before bronze and copper armour were introduced in the 10th century.
  • There exist numerous similar terms of reference for martial arts such as kalirongan, kaliradman and pagkalikali. These may be the origin of the term kali or they may have evolved from it.<ref name="ReferenceA"/>

Practitioners of the arts are called arnisador for those who call their art Arnis, eskrimador for those who call theirs Eskrima and kalista or mangangali for those who practice Kali.


The origin of Arnis can be traced back to the fighting systems used by Filipinos during inter-tribal warfare. Settlers and traders travelling through the Malay Archipelago brought the influence of silat as well as Chinese and Indian martial arts.<ref>Mark V. Wiley (1994). Filipino Martial Arts: Cabales Serrada Escrima. Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 0-8048-1913-0.</ref><ref>Sam Buot (1991-2009) 'Eskrima-Arnis, Martial Arts of the Philippines.</ref> Some of the population still practices localised Chinese fighting methods known as kuntaw.

As Arnis is an art for the common folk, 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 Arnis because almost all of its history is anecdotal, oral or promotional.

Among the earliest written records of Filipino martial arts comes from the Spanish conquistadors who fought native tribesmen armed with sticks and knives.<ref name="Draeger">Donn F. Draeger & Robert W. Smith (1969). Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts. ISBN 978-0-87011-436-6. </ref> It can be traced back from the time Lapu-lapu from the writings of Antonio Pigafetta, the chronicler on the expedition of Ferdinand Magellan as well as Tomé Pires' book, Suma Oriental .<ref>Haines, Bruce A. (1995). Karate's history and traditions. Vermont: Tuttle Publishing, 75–76. ISBN 9780804819473. </ref>

When Spaniards arrived at the islands now known as the Philippines, they saw already-developed weapons-based martial arts practiced by the natives and during the Battle of Mactan at Cebu in 1521, the Spaniards had to resort to fire-arms to fend off the natives.<ref name="Draeger"/> Ferdinand Magellan was killed at the Battle of Mactan by the forces of Raja Lapu-Lapu, the ruler of Mactan.

Although Arnisadors hold that Lapu-Lapu killed Magellan in a sword-fight, the only surviving eyewitness account of the battle is by chronicler Antonio Pigafetta who recounts that Magellan was overwhelmed by 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.<ref>The Death of Magellan, 1521. Eyewitness to</ref>

The last part from Pigafetta's account is rather comical considering the amount of mortal injuries Magellan received, so it is generally accepted that the account was made with some coloring and embelishments by Pigafetta to make Magellan sound more impressive.

Once the colonization and conquer of the archipelago was underway Spaniards enforced their rule by issuing a decree prohibiting the native from carrying full-sized swords such as the Kris and the Kampilan to disarm them. To circumvent this decree locals practiced their arts clandestinely to preserve them.

Sources differ on the degree to which Arnis was affected by the Spanish colonization.

The fact that many Arnis techniques and styles have Spanish names adds fuel to the debate, but this can be explained as Spanish was the lingua franca of the Philippines until the early 20th century. Some theorize that there were groups of conquistadors and Jesuit warrior-priests who taught the Indios how to defend themselves against Moro raiders. Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order was a veteran knight and soldier and many Jesuits knew how to defend themselves as they were generally dispatched into the most dangerous areas by the Pope.

Another 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 to be distinct from European rapier and dagger techniques; the stances are different as weapons used in Eskrima are typically shorter than European swords.<ref>J. Christoph Amberger. Eskrima, Spanish rapier, and the Lost Continent of Mu.</ref>

One thing that is known is that 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 (see Youtube videos) or during mock battles during Moro-moro 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 (unlike Southern Mindanao which retains almost exclusively blade-oriented techniques as it was never fully conquered and disarmed by the Spaniards and Americans).<ref>Wiley, Mark V. (1994). Filipino Martial Arts: Cabales Serrada Escrima. Vermont: Tuttle Publishing, 21–26. ISBN 978-0804819138. </ref>

Although the turbulent and conflict-fraught history and environment of the Philippines enabled Arnis 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 and 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

The Philippines has what is known as a blade culture. 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, other fruits and meats, and balisongs are cheap to procure in the streets as well as being easily concealed. Thus, they are much more used when tempers rise than by people in North America or Europe. In fact, 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.<ref>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.</ref> As a result, blade fighting is still very much a living skill in the Philippines, particularly in rural areas.

Americans were first exposed to Arnis 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, Samar or in battles in Mindanao where an American serviceman was decapitated by a Moro warrior even after he emptied his entire magazine of .38 Long Colt .38 caliber bullets into his opponent. That and similar events led to the request and development of the .45 ACP which had more stopping power.

With regards to its spread outside the Philippines, the teaching of eskrima was kept strictly within the Filipino community until the late 1960s when it was brought to the US by masters such as Angel Cabales. 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. 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 rather than relying only on defense. Modern training methods tend to de-emphasize careful footwork and low stances, stressing the learning of techniques as opposed to more direct (and often lethal) tactics designed to instantly end an encounter.

Today it is taught to the Filipino military as well as American groups like Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces, Delta Force as well as the Russian Spetsnaz (special forces).<ref>Jessica Zafra. The greatest Filipino cultural export is kicking ass. Philippine Daily Inquirer.</ref>


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.


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 2 main types of Eskrima practiced as a sport. The oldest and most common system used internationally is that of the WEKAF (World Eskrima Kali Arnis Federation). The younger one which is promoted by the Philippine Sports Commission and the government is the Arnis Philippines (ARPHI) system and was 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 belt 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 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 to be 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 were fighters are separated after solid clean hits are made (observed by multiple judges stationed at different positions to be able to observe if the hits were clean and unblocked and able to 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.

The entire body from head to toe is fair game as targets, except for the back of the head which is less protected by the headgear. Stabs to the face are not allowed because the thin rattan core may penetrate the padding and slip through the grills of the headgear and go into the player's eye. Thrusts to the body score points but are harder to sell to judges because they make less noise and it is harder to determine the magnitude of their impact.

Punches, throws and kicks and throws are not allowed as are prolonged clinching to prevent the opponent from striking (similar to Western Boxing) in order to keep the game moving and more interesting for the audience who may not appreciate the fine and practical aspects of grappling. Disarms must be performed quickly and cleanly in order to be counted. Because the legs are legal 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 ARPHI system is on safety for the players as it is applying to become a recognized Olympic sport similar to other martial arts like Judo, Karate, Tae Kwon Do, 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, emphasis is on the safety of the players.

Like the sayaw (meaning dance) in the WEKAF system, the ARPHI system has a separate single and team choreographed Kata-like division called Año (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 ("flowery") aspect in the Brazilian martial art Capoeira and 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 and the obvious fact that an armed person who is trained has the advantage over a trained unarmed person and 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 skill which is valuable even when working with one 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 biceps destruction with the live hand.


File:Arnis Sticks.jpg
A pair of rattan sticks

The most basic and common weapon in eskrima is the baston (Spanish for "stick) or 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 will not splinter as easily like other woods do - thus making it a safe training tool. This aspect makes it useful in defending 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

  • Yantok, olisi, baston: 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  (Expression error: Unexpected round operator. )
  • Panangga: shield
  • Improvised weapons like pens, car keys (using the push knife grip), cellular phones, flashlights, coffee mugs, umbrellas, rolled-up magazines & newspapers, books, tennis rackets, bottles, chair legs, etc.

Edged weapons

Baraw is a Cebuano term used in the art of Eskrima that means knife or dagger. The term Baraw is more commonly used on the Cebu Island in the Visayan region where as 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/Baraw: 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 common farm tool similar to a machete
  • Pinuti: a type of bolo from Cebu
  • Sundang: a sword created by the Bugis people of Indonesia. Its blade is usually wavy.
  • Barang: flat-headed blade
  • Binikoko: long blade named after a porgy fish
  • Dinahong palay: blade named after a type of poisonous snake
  • 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: Icepicks, box cutters, screwdrivers, broken bottles

Flexible weapons

  • Sarong: a length of fabric wrapped around the waist
  • Ecut: handkerchief
  • Tabak-toyok: chained sticks or nunchaku
  • Whip consisting of a handle between 8  (Expression error: Unexpected round operator. ), and a lash composed of a braided thong 3  (Expression error: Unexpected round operator. ) long. The "fall" at the end of the lash is a single piece of leather 10  (Expression error: Unexpected round operator. ) in length.<ref>Kali-Eskrima-Arnis Weapons by Jeff Patterson</ref>
  • Improvised: Belt, bandana, handkerchiefs, shirts, towels with hard soap bars, ropes, power cables, etc.

Technical aspects


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. Each range has its characteristic techniques 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-distance, medium-range and short-range fighting techniques, but focuses more on the short range.

In order 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, very conscious of battlefield necessities, stances will usually be very low, often with one knee on the ground, and footwork will be 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) will hit or reach a combatant via these angles of attack and it is reasoned that it is more efficient to learn to defend against different angles of attack rather than learning 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 barefists, 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 in which they are numbered (numerado), and the manner in which they're executed vary from system to system, most are based upon Filipino cosmology. These standard angles are used to describe exercises; to aid memorization, a standard series of strikes from these angles called an abecedario (Spanish for "alphabet") is often practiced. 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 to be the most probable angle of attack.
  • Sinawali is the signature double-stick weaving movement associated with Arnis 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 redondo (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 or watik (from the Spanish for "fan") is a strike executed by whipping the stick around the wrist in a fanning motion. Not very forceful and not well suited to swords, this strike can be very quick and arrive from an unexpected angle.
  • 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") 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.

It is to be noted that many of the Eskrima techniques have Spanish names because Spanish was the lingua franca spoken during colonial times among the natives who spoke over 170 different languages in the archipelago's 7,100+ islands.

Eskrima techniques are generally based on the assumption that both the student and their 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 to be able to strike very 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 known as panantukan in Luzon and pangamot in the Visayas. American colonists referred to it as "combat judo".

Mano mano 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 generally taught in the higher levels of eskrima because advanced students are expected to be able to apply their experience with weapons to unarmed fighting.


Pananjakman is a component of eskrima which focuses on low-line kicks. Some claim that pananjakman is an art in and of itself but this separation was probably made for the purpose of marketing the art as a new system. Pananjakman is never taught by itself in the Philippines, and this practice is only done in the West.

Pananjakman 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 maneuvres, making pananjakman 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 sumbrada, 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 taken from the Villabrille style, 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. Palakat, from the Balintawak style, are un-choreographed and random defensive and offensive moves. Palakat 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 in order 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 will, but the drill will continue 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 given more emphasis in the United States and Europe where a regular beat serves a guide for students to follow. To ensure the safety of the participants, most drills are done at a constant pace which is increased as the students progress. The rhythm, together with the southern Filipino attire of a vest and sashed pants, is commonly mistaken to be 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. Although the art existed long before the European colonisation, it has been named after Spanish fencing (escrima). Filipino eskrimadors typically train in their everyday clothes. The more affluent and modernized city practitioners and foreigners practice while wearing either their studio uniform, an altered form of the Japanese gi or 3/4 length pants. However, 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 was taken from a matting that is commonly used in the tribal Nipa Huts which 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 in order to 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 elements of Japanese martial arts such as Judo and Karate as some of the founders were blackbelters in these systems. Eskrima is complementary with Aikido because of the rounded nature of the conditioning and body mechanics when twirling or swinging sticks.

In Western countries, it is common for Eskrima to be practiced 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 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 Wing Chun or Jeet Kune Do which dates back to Bruce Lee's close collaboration with Dan Inosanto (the weapons aspect of Jeet Kune Do comes primarily from Eskrima and Bruce Lee considered it as the martial art which had the closest philosophy to JKD).

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

(arranged by family/lineage)

  • Doce Pares Escrima - 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 Escrima
  • 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.
  • Mig-Sune-Do Escrima De San Miguel founded by Alberto D. Dacayana Sr, senior student of Momoy Cañete
  • Dacayana Eskrima System - Founded by Alberto Dacayana Jr from the Dalmacio style of his mother's side and the Mig-Sune-Do style of his father.
  • Balintawak Eskrima - Founded in 1952 by Venancio "Anciong" Bacon after internal dispute amongst some of the original founders of the original Doce Pares club.
  • Villasin Balintawak - founded by Atty. Jose Villasin, one of Bacon's senior students
  • International Balintawak - founded by Bobby Taboada, one of Bacon's senior students
  • Liborio Heyrosa Eskrima De Cuerdas - founded by Liborio "Tiboring" Heyrosa, student of Anciong Bacon and "Ingko Nene" Rosales
  • Nickel Stick Eskrima - founded by Nick Elizar, student of Anciong Bacon and the other senior Balintawak pioneers
  • Tabimina Balintawak - founded by Bob Silver Tabimina, one of Anciong Bacon's last major students and inheritor of Bacon's style that was modified by his stay in prison before his death
  • Black Eagle Eskrima - founded by World War II guerilla fighter Carlos Navarro based on the Escrima de Llave of his grandfather, the Escrima de Avinico of his father and other Cebuano systems.
  • Tres Personas Eskrima de Combate Super Kuwentada System Founded by Police Maj. Timoteo "Timor" Maranga Sr., a fearless World War II guerilla fighter and member of the legendary Bolo Battalion. The system which is currently known as Eskrima Maranga System is characterized by its lightning speed strikes and disarming. Combate Eskrima Maranga (CEM) continues to advance with the founder's son Rodrigo Maranga.
  • Modern Arnis - Founded by Remy Presas which has its 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.
  • Kombatan - founded by Ernesto Presas, brother of Remy Presas.
  • Hinigaran Arnis de Mano - founded by Remy and Ernie Presas's youngest brother, Roberto Presas
  • Arnis Cruzada - Founded by Jeremias de la Cruz based on his family system from Pampanga and Modern Arnis. De la Cruz is the highest ranking Grand Master in the Modern Arnis system alive today.<ref name="FMA Digest">FEATURED INSTRUCTOR: Dr. Remy Presas, Jr. of Modern Arnis. FMA Digest.</ref>
  • Dagooc Style - founded by Rodel Dagooc, and based on Modern Arnis. Dagooc is the highest ranking Grand Master along with De la Cruz in the Modern Arnis system today.<ref name="FMA Digest"/> Dagooc crafts his own sticks and they are highly sought after by practitioners.
  • Otsotiros Baston Arnis System - founded by Pepito Robas, one of Remy Presas's senior-most associates
  • Abaniko Tres Puntas - developed by Mateo D. Estolloso from Antique in the 1930s, inherited by Rene Tongson, one of the senior-most Modern Arnis practitioners.
  • Lightning Scientific Arnis (LSAI)- Tercia Cerrada Cadenilla y Espada y Daga style founded by Benjamin Luna Lema in 1937.
  • Eskrima Labaniego - founded by Bert Labaniego who was one of Ben Lema's senior associates
  • Kali Arnis International - founded by Vicente Sanchez, a master of Cinco Teros from his hometown of Pangasinan, Modern Arnis and Lightning Scientific Arnis. Sanchez is the 3rd highest ranking Grand Master in Modern Arnis system alive today.<ref name="FMA Digest"/>
  • 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.
  • Dekiti Tirsia Siradas - by Jerson "Nene" Tortal Sr, of the Tortal clan and related to Pekiti Tirsia.
  • Kali De Leon - founded by Jun de Leon from his grandfather's style and many grandmasters in the Philippines.
  • Kalis Ilustrisimo - Founded by Antonio "Tatang" Ilustrisimo; important as the ancestor of many current Eskrima systems.
  • Bakbakan International - Founded by Antonio Diego, Rey Galang, Christopher Ricketts, senior students of Tatang Ilustrisimo
  • Bahad Zu'Bu - Founded by Epifanio Yuli Romo, influenced by his own family style and Kali Ilustrisimo. He is Tatang Ilustrisimo's second senior-most student.
  • Sayoc Kali Philippines - After years of extensive propagation of the Filipino Martial Arts in the US, Grandmaster Baltazar "Bo" Sayoc returned to the Philippines to promote the art in his native homeland.
  • De Campo Uno-Dos-Tres Orihinal (De Campo 1-2-3) - founded by Jose Caballero
  • 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.
  • Dizon style Eskrima - practiced by Felicisimo Dizon Sr. and carried on by his son Felicisimo Dizon Jr.
  • Doblete Rapillon - founded by Jose Mena
  • Cabales Serrada Eskrima - founded by Angel Cabales.
  • Lapunti Arnis de Abanico - founded by the Caburnay family.<ref>[1]</ref>
  • Arnis De Cadena (Pronus Supinus) - founded by Chinese-Filipino Johnny Chiuten which brought many infusions from his original background as an expert Chinese martial artist.
  • Tapado - a style created by Romeo "Nono" Mamar that differs from other Eskrima styles in that in concentrates on long sticks (45-47 inches)
  • Arkado Arnis - founded by Vhir Tubera
  • Paclibar Bicol Arnis (Sais Tiradas System) - founded by Jaime Paclibar
  • Mirarada Escrima Academy - Art Miraflor
  • Mirarada Escrima Academy- founded by Grand Master Art Miraflor started since 1968 in Stockton, California.
  • Moro-moro Orabes Heneral - founded by Master Alejandro "Andy" Abrian (November 3, 1936 - April 18, 2010)
  • Rapido Realismo Kali - Founded by Henry Espera from Kali Ilustrisimo, Abrian's Orabes Heneral Eskrima and Automatic Arnis
  • Garimot Arnis - Led by Gat Puno Abon "Garimot" Baet.
  • Siete Pares Escrima - Founded by Sozing Labor and Bert Labitan
  • Koridas - Mixed Martial Arts- founded by Pedro "Toldong" Hernando

International Systems

  • Lacoste-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 many grandmasters listed here.
  • Villabrille-Largusa Kali - founded by Floro Villarbille and Ben Largusa
  • Bahala Na Giron Arnis Escrima - founded by Leo M. Giron, the Bahala Na System (Bahala na means come what may) is currently lead by Grand Master Tony Somera in Stockton, California.
  • Inayan Eskrima - Developed by Suro Mike Inay from various other styles
  • Sudlud Eskrima - A popular system of Eskrima founded by Ray Terry
  • Kali Sikaran - Founded by Jeff Espinous and Johan Skålberg, two of the leading FMA representatives in Europe. It's a fast growing blend of systems with clubs in numerous countries.
  • Kali Majapahit - Founded by Guro Fred Evrard, the Kali Majapahit system has its roots in Kali Sikaran, Inayan Eskrima, Pencak Silat and Hakka Kuntao.
  • Vee Arnis Jitsu - founded by Florendo "Professor Vee" Visitacion
  • Arnis De Leon - founded by Anding De Leon, based on Modern Arnis
  • Natural Spirit International - founded by Kelly Worden, based on Modern Arnis
  • Rapid arnis - Founded in 1993 by Pat O'Malley and John Harvey who are recognised as two of Europe's leading authorities on the Filipino martial arts. A fast, aggressive system which is a combination of other styles.
  • 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.
  • Latosa Escrima - founded by GM Rene Latosa, and taught alongside Wing Tsun in the IWTO schools and their offshoots worldwide.<ref>Latosa Escrima Official Site.</ref>
  • Sayoc Kali - founded by Grandmaster Baltazar "Bo" Sayoc, the system promotes the "all blade, all the time" methodology of Filipino Martial Arts. The family system is now led by Pamana Tuhon Christopher Sayoc.
  • Senkotiros - Founded by Grandmaster Max M. Pallen and learned the basic techniques of the style from his grandfather. Senkotiros originated in the Bicol Region from the island of Luzon in the Philippines.

Eskrima in popular culture

See also


<references />


External links

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