The Phillipines


"Kali", like "Kung Fu" is something of a misnomer, though it is slowly being integrated into the good and proper term. To outsiders (most Americans) "Kali" is the catch-all term for the Filipino martial arts system, whereas the proper term is Escrima. Technically speaking, Kali and Escrima are actually two separate and distinct fighting systems, the former of which was created later in America. Without getting into too many details, somehow popular culture contorted this fact and, to Americans (and the History Channel), Kali inexplicably became a "mother" form of Escrima.

For the purposes of this guide, "Kali" will not be used in place of the proper term of "Escrima." Also, the distinct American style of "Kali" will not be covered, though some forms of FMA "Filipino Martial Arts" incorporate the style. This is a chapter on Escrima or Arnis de Mano, nothing else.

Unlike Sanda, Escrima is rather ancient for a "modern" combat art. In fact, in the Phillipines, Escrima has been practiced, albeit covertly, for hundreds of years. It comes as a unification of many different forms of close quarter fighting practiced throughout the many islands. Primarily a weapons form, Escrima is best known for its stick and knife fighting. In actual fact, Escrima integrates three types of striking styles: short stick, knife, and hand. Unlike most other martial arts, however, Escrima is unique in that its practitioners do not, in fact, have to learn three different systems.

Escrima can be described as one martial art disguised as three different martial arts. Though it's hard to imagine, the use of weaponry is almost a cosmetic addition to the fighting system. Each strike and movement in Escrima is designed to accommodate the use of a knife, a stick, or to be performed with the empty hand. A single downward movement can be a downward strike with a stick or a quick knife slash or a hammer punch. The only difference armament makes is the range of said attack. The inevitable conclusion one could draw from this unique feature is obvious: disarming an Escrima practitioner is a rather futile maneuver.

That is not to say, however, that disarmament is disregarded in Escrima. Quite the opposite, disarming techniques are integral parts of the Escrimador's arsenal. Complex disarm-and-incapacitate maneuvers are drilled into the average practitioner. At any moment, a practiced Escrimador, whether using his hands or his weapon as an extension of himself, can employ joint-locks and leverage to relieve his opponent of his weapon while simultaneously forcing a painful submission. The simultaneously defensive and offensive nature of such combinations is instrumental to the spirit and philosophy of Escrima.

Escrima is intensively single-combat oriented in nature and practice. Every movement is designed to face a well-trained, prepared, and most likely armed opponent. Allowances are made during every attack for a possible failed or even countered attack. A disproportionately high number of Escrima techniques are aimed at neutralizing the opponent's attacking power; in other words, striking/breaking the arms and legs. Techniques that dislocate joints, break bones and/or joints, and even muscle-paralyzing hammer strikes are key components of Escrima, whether or not one is armed.

Range-wise, Escrima is characteristically a middle-to-close range martial art. Due to its single combat and weapon intensive training, attack movements often come in arching swings of various degrees: wide, swinging arcs with a stick, short, slicing arcs with a knife, and guarded reaching arcs of punches. Specific range is decided, oddly enough, mostly through armament, though situation also effects an Escrimador's reach. The longer the weapon, the longer the range. Grappling also works slightly differently from most other martial arts systems. Because an armed Escrimador does not have access to his fingers, the fighting system follows the arm-grappling strategy. That is, using the forearms and/or other limbs (sometimes even the weapon itself) as pincers to manipulate an opponent's joints. Empty-hand grabbing is also utilized, but these are instantly neutered with the use of a weapon. Arm-grappling, though difficult, is no less effective.

At this point, it should be obvious that Escrima's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. Its intensive focus on single-dueling makes it a formidable style for quickly and brutally dispatching one opponent. But what happens if you're faced with multiple opponents at the same time? Escrima doesn't deal with that. No doubt, a highly skilled Escrimador can flex his creativity and skill to maneuver out of that sticky situation. However, crowd control is not a skill that is intrinsic to Escrima as an art, however a practitioner utilizes it to achieve such a measure is a display of the fighter's resourcefulness and not the effectiveness of the combat form. Worse still, like Sanda, Escrima is relatively useless when flat on your back.

If a man rushes you with a knife, Escrima will take him down handily. A skilled knife fighter tries to slit your throat, Escrima will manage his disarmament and probably hand him a healthy dose of his own medicine. An angry mob decides to make you mincemeat, you'll find Escrima less useful. A berserk football player tackles you, and you probably want to resort to high-school wrestling.

Well-known Fictional Escrima Practitioners:

Jason Bourne (Film)

L.T. Bonham and Aaron Hallam—the Hunted (2003)

Ethan Hunt—Mission: Impossible 2