What is Kali

If you’ve seen the Bourne Identity movie series, then you’ve seen Kali. Matt Damon trained in Kali for 6 to 9 months for the role of Jason Bourne. He actually loved the art and its versatility so much that he still practices the art to this day. The scenes where he used the pen in the first one, rolled up magazine in the second one or when the fight in the bathroom occurred and he used a towel in the last one. That was all Kali. Orlando Bloom also learned Kali for his role in “Lord of the Rings”.

Eskrima, Arnis and Kali are the most common names used when referring to Filipino Martial Arts (FMA), the fighting arts of the Philippines. The word “Eskrima” is the Filipino pronunciation of the Spanish word “esgrima” which is believed to have meant “skirmish” in Old Spanish but in modern times refers to sport fencing. The word “Arnis” comes from the Spanish word “arnes” meaning harness but also refers to chain mail or armor. Kali, as a term to describe the FMA’s, is a bit controversial. Some claim it is the original word and the mother system for all FMA’s. Others believe it is a joining of the two words KAmut (hand)” and “LIhok (movement)”. Some say it is merely a marketing strategy made up to appear more indigenous than the Spanish derived words Eskrima and Arnis.

The FMA’s are traditionally blade based, with the stick often used as a safer training alternative; however, some modern systems have adopted stick-only training. Other systems use both blade and stick while others are unarmed. Some of the more common weapons include single blade/sword, double blade/sword, single stick, double stick, sword and dagger, stick and dagger, single dagger and double dagger. Other lesser-known weapons are the staff, spear, flail (nunchaku), dulo-dulo (palm stick), blowgun, whip and the bow and arrow. Unarmed FMA systems include sikaran (kicking), panantukan (empty hands) and dumog (grappling).

Compared to many martial arts, the FMA’s are unique in that weapons training comes before empty hands. Students use a weapon, commonly a rattan stick, on the very first day of practice while most martial arts introduce weapons to advanced students. FMA practitioners are also known for the ability to interchange between weapon and empty-handed combat. Unlike other weapons-based martial arts, FMA training involves the simultaneous development of both weapons and empty-handed movements. This is possible because the training focuses on principles of movement, rather than the memorization of individual techniques. Students learn to distinguish the common aspects in the movements and as a result, are proficient regardless of the weapon, or lack of weapon, that is available.

So, what does all this mean to the average person who may be interested in learning Eskrima? It means that even though practice focuses on the use of a blade or a stick, the principles behind using the blade/stick work equally well for any weapon and even empty hands. Eskrima practitioners recognize that anything can be a weapon. Common, everyday objects not considered weapons like a pen, keys, fork, brush, comb, rolled up magazine, rock, toilet plunger, credit card, nail clippers, yard signs, broom, tree limb  are all suddenly available and effective tools for self-defense.