MAC News & Articles

A Little History of the Martial Arts Part 7

Welcome to part 7 of our short series on the history of some of the arts that are taught at Martial Art Concepts. We will continue to look at the expansive and deep art of Kali/Escrima.

The number one priority is weapons even if it is empty hands being taught. Please let me illustrate this point with a short story.

A young Filipino boy approaches the clearing in a cluttered backyard of wood, rubble and overgrown bushes. An old man perhaps in his seventies, is sitting there on a bench.

“Good morning, sir,” says the boy.

“Good morning, boy Now why you come my place?” the old man asks in broken English.

“I want to learn boxing and MMA fighting, sir,” the boy replies

“I teach you boxing and MMA good.” The old man smiles and hands the boy a rattan stick about two and-a-half feet long, In his own hand he holds a tightly rolled newspaper.

“No, no, no, sir, I don’t want to learn stick fighting. I want to learn boxing and MMA you know, like the UFC or mike Tyson”. The boys say gesturing in a fighting stance.

The old man nods, a wide grin creasing his face. “OK, OK, you learn boxing good,” he says, continuing ahead with the lesson. The old man holds his rolled up newspaper firmly. “You no like old style, huh? Ok move attack me, boy anything.”

The boy lunges at him desperately trying to tag the old man as he weaves and evades the blows. Suddenly, smack! The boy feels a stinging hit from the newspaper, first on his arm, then on his nose, then repeatedly all over his body. Tears well up in the boys eyes. Finally, he throws his stick to the ground. “What about the hands and feet?” he cries.

“Ok, come on,” the old man says as he drops the newspaper.

The boy jabs and swings wildly at the old man who, using the same motions as he did with his rolled newspaper weaves and evades the strikes while raining blow after blow off the boys face, chest and arms. Finally, the boy waves his hand. “Enough, enough!” The old man is smiling. He bends down and picks up the rattan stick and newspaper, He hands the stick to the boy.

“Ok”, he says “now you see; now you feel; now you will learn boxing good.”

The stick firmly in hand, the boy begins his education in the ‘empty hand’ phase of the Filipino martial arts of Kali and escrima.

Such stories are not uncommon among Filipinos familiar with the arts of Kali and escrima. In fact, some of the greatest Filipino professional boxers like Flash Elorde were highly skilled in these arts. Traditionally, learning the empty hand skills of these arts meant learning the weaponry first, which included the dagger, and single stick or sword and dagger, and single stick or sword. But why teach weaponry first?

Flash Elorde
Guru Dan Inosanto

In most martial arts, weaponry is learned last and considered the advanced portion of the art. But the Filipinos have a good reason for their type of progression.

To understand it, we must first look at the history, we discover they were always fighting invaders; the English, Dutch, Portuguese, Chinese, Spanish and even rival tribes of their own people. Everyone carried weapons during these times, the sword and dagger being the most common.

One’s life literally depended on ones martial skills because a deadly confrontation was always an immediate possibility, any place, any time. Since everyone bore arms, weaponry was taught right away. Only when a weapon could not be reached would a kali/escrima practitioner use his empty hands.

Filipino Weaponary
A selection of Filipino Weaponary
Guru Dan Inosanto Sword and Knife
Guru Dan Inosanto with Sword and Knife
Filipino Weaponary
A selection of Blades

The martial system of kali cannot be considered a separate entity from its philosophy, religion, or historical aspect, as an object of worship, and of kali, the fighting art.

Thus, it is important to study, both the historical and spiritual influence on the art. Philippine Islanders from the 6th century through the 16th century are believed to have worshipped the goddess of violence and death, kali.

The Goddess is full breasted, naked and standing on one foot. Her other leg bends at the knee, with the sole of its foot resting on the knee of her supporting leg. Both ankles have several anklets encircling each. Kali’s coiffeur culminates with three spires, the centre most being the highest.Her tongue fully extends from her mouth, with teeth barred. She wears a garland of skulls around her neck, bangle bracelets on her wrists and a slave bracelet around each bicep. A drooping belt of severed hands encircles her narrow waist. Four arms extend two from each shoulder, with her hands holding a kamagon (battle stick), sword or knife, shield, a strangling noose, or a severed hand of a giant. An empty hand extends forward palm out. Kali, in Sanskrit means ‘black’ and sources describe the goddess kali, as a black faced demon with blood smeared all over her face. They also state that paintings and sculpture show kali stepping on the prone figure of her consort, Shiva.

The Hindu meaning for kali is a devouring destructive goddess who is bloodthirsty. This stems from an incident in her life in which she was called to kill Raktavija, a demon. Raktavija seemed immortal since he could instantly reproduce at the rate of 1000 clones per drop of blood that fell to the ground from his body. To circumvent this, Kali speared and held Raktavija aloft so she could drink his blood as it fell, and not one drop reached the earth.

Indians honoured the goddess, kali, by daily sacrifice of goats at her temple in jalighat, Calcutta. Also assassins in India (also defined as thugs, sthaga, thag, thagi, thags or thuggee), ritually offered their sacrificial victims to kali. Ironically, however, the Philippine Islanders viewed kali as a peaceful god.

They and the Asian Indians were able to rectify life’s apparent contradictions.  Further illustrations of this was that the Asian Indians believed their supreme goddess, Devi, revealed her multiple, contradictory personalities in other goddess forms. Kali is associated with another goddess, Durga (also a fierce aspect of Devi), and represented the forms of her dark, terrifying, fierce side. Devi also took other forms in which she represented peace and tranquillity.

The Goddess Kali
The Goddess Kali

Many Filipinos believe that Panay was the birthplace of kali, the name for the early combative arts within the Philippine islands. Kali as stated means ‘black’. Inherently, kali was an art for the preservation of life. It was the mode of combat used to protect an individual (kalitao/kaliman) his family, village and culture. It was a way of life that embodied philosophy, physical training, combative and restorative arts, literature and religion. The kaliman confronted death, or the threat of death, as part of his daily life, until ultimately he became released from its inherent fear.

The importance was emphasized in kaligayahau(happiness) and kalayon (freedom), words that denote both the spirit of kali and a kalitao’s perspective of the world. In his confrontation with the darker side of life, the kaliman came to view and live life devoid of false illusion, empty dreams, and anxiety regarding combat, old age or long term illness. He could live his life unencumbered from his fear of consequence. Today Tuhon Leo Gaje expresses that this worldly view “engendered mutual respect among each other and a respect for life itself”. Therefore, the god of violence (kali)

The head of each family unit was a kalitao (kaliman) or martial artist who earned rank or title in accordance with his fighting skills. The kalitao’s rank was signified by his kali (Bladed weapon). An individual’s blade would reveal his rank, locale and religious heritage (Hindu, Indonesian, or Moslem). Persons of greater status and authority wore respectively shorter blades, called danganan, indicating that their martial ability was superior to others. Although there are up to twenty five or more variations of Filipino bladed weapons, more common are the Kris, balasiong, barong, hunong, kampilan, lahot and utak.

Kali was named differently depending on the people and region of the Philippines to which it belonged. It was 1) Pananandata to the Tagalogs, 2) Kalirongan to the Pangasinenses, 3) Didya or Kabaraon to the llocanos, 4) kaliradman or Pagaradman to the Visayans, 5) Sinawalli to the Pampaguenos, and 6) Pagkalikali to the ibanag.

Each region had a master teacher or Tuhon, who commanded the most respect and honour from the people. He held the responsibility of passing on the culture of the islanders to younger generations. The Tuhon was the leader of a central community. The Filipino culture at that time included history, astronomy, engineering, medicine and language, both oral and written. Languages differed among regions and even now a number in excess of 300 major dialects, with Tagalog being the current national language.