FMAS: Filipino Martial Arts

The history of Philippines goes back to 980 AC. When you look to Philippines’ history, you can see the important role of martial arts in the cultural background.

Escrima, Arnis and Kali are few of these names that Philippines gave to their martial arts.

Whatever name it goes under, the art has had a long and savage history, dating back to 1521 when Spanish rule first came to the Philippine Islands. Before colonization by Spain, Escrima was taught as a recreational activity, along with reading, writing, religion and sanskrit.

Escrima becomes a clandestine art

The Spaniards had a hard time imposing their rule on the inhabitants, who wielded their bolos, daggers and sticks with fierce and deadly effectiveness. Not until they brought in reinforcements and firearms could they affect any semblance of order.

In the 1700s, when Spanish rule was firmly secured, the teaching and study of Escrima was banned (in the same way as the Japanese overlords banned the ownership of weapons on Okinawa). Carrying of a bolo (a long bladed weapon similar to a machete) or dagger was also forbidden. These orders were imposed in an attempt to “civilize” the spirited Filipinos.

Escrima then became a clandestine art (as did the art of Karate in Okinawa) and was practiced in secret. When it re-emerged, it went unnoticed by the Spaniards. It had been set to native music and performed as it was, without weapons; the movements resembled only a harmless dance. This “dancing” even became popular with the rulers and demonstrations were given in public at fiesta time.

The real Escrima had not died though, as the Spanish soldiers found out every time there was a revolt. From generation to generation, the many different regional styles, collectively termed Escrima, were kept alive; being handed down from father to son over the centuries.

When Spanish rule ended and the Americans took over in 1898, the ban on the art was lifted. Friendly competitions were then conducted in public at fiestas but the teachers never “opened their doors”, so to speak Escrima remained a semi-secretive activity.

Effectiveness of Escrima is being proved

The country was to see a lot more martial arts actions in the ensuing years. When the war came, the Japanese invaded the Philippines and a lot of Filipinos worked alongside the Americans in guerrilla units. Many of these owed their lives, in countless close-quarter engagements, to their Escrima training and the custom issued machete closely resembled their native bolo. This is an art that has been well and truly tested, over a long period of time in actual combats.

The period when Escrima spreads to USA

After the war, many Filipinos had immigrated to USA needless to add, Escrima went with them. Most of the immigrants went to Hawaii and California. Some of them that went to California, the majority settled in Stockton and it is from there that Escrima has surfaced onto the American martial arts scene.

The “discovery” of Escrima, along with the widespread use of the Nunchaku weapon, must be credited to the late Bruce Lee. His portrayal of the use of the “double sticks” in the movie “Enter The Dragon” and the unfinished “Game of Death” brought the art of Filipino Stick Fighting out open. Bruce Lee was taught Escrima by his student and friend, Danny Inosanto who had in turn being trained by a distinguished Escrimador (the title given to practitioners of the art) in Stockton, California.

The Filipino Martial Arts is virtually unknown to the general public because of its late entry into the mainstream martial arts world. What hasn’t helped the popularity growth of Escrima is the stigma attached to how it is taught. Escrima is noted for using weapons, usually sticks, as the primary tool to learn the basic concepts of the art, with the secondary focus being the empty hands. The idea of just picking up a stick or any weapon is a scary thought, and avoiding rather than exploring the beauty of the art seems safer and is less time consuming.