Summary: Kali sticks are not what Kali is all about. The sticks are a representation of any weapon.

Some typical Kali weapons. From left to right: cellphone and pen (for size reference), balisong, padded stick, short stick (21 inches) with handle, expandable baton, machete, 1 inch diameter stick 28 inches long, taped stick, 1 1/4 inch diameter stick, padded stick 28 inches in length

A misconception of most people while watching Kali / Escrima / Arnis being practiced is that it’s all about fighting with sticks. Even many Kali practitioners believe this to be the case. It is often referred to as “stick fighting”. However, the sticks represent much more.

A great training weapon

Rattan sticks are used because they are a safe, effective training tool. Rattan is cheap, durable, light-weight and does not splinter. It’s softer than most hard woods (safer to be hit with), but still solid. It can readily be cut to different sizes as well as sanded (to make handles of different shapes) and fire hardened. All of these properties make it an ideal training material. These properties make it ideal for other martial arts, activities and sports.

A representation of any weapon

While one can use a stick or any blunt weapon as an actual fighting weapon, in Kali the stick is a representation of any weapon of similar size, shape and function. Long sticks could be representative of a bat, sword, shield, machete, mace, baton or even more ‘improvised’ weapons such as an umbrella, lead pipe, fireplace poker, pool cue, wrench and yes – even a stick you pick up off the ground. A shorter stick could be representative of a knife, beer bottle, candlestick, or screwdriver.

All of this goes back to the topic of transferable technique (also known as One technique, many weapons): What is learned with one weapon should be easily transferred to the next. This means all weapons, including the empty hand.

A weapon of its own and the stick historically

While today it serves as mostly a representation, the stick as a weapon on its own is useful. Blunt (non bladed) weapons are extremely common historically and, from what I have heard and read, the stick has a significant place in Filipino warrior history. Bladed weapons were not immediate parts of any culture of the world. The stick is an example of early weapons ‘technology’.

Sticks were not always blunt. Warriors would sharpen the tips of their sticks to a point, possibly even a bladed point. These were used just as you might expect – for stabbing and slashing. It was common for the tips to be dipped in various poisons before battle to ensure the death of the enemy.

It’s not just a stick

It’s not just about fighting with sticks. There is a lot more to Kali and Filipino martial arts as a whole.


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Maple Heights, OH 44137

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One Response to “Understanding Kali Sticks”

Escrima Sticks April 17, 2010

Kali is one of the best weapon based arts you can train. and the weapons are still relevant for modern self defense: stick and knife. training drills develop a lot of attributes that can be crossed over to other ways of fighting