A Brief History of Eskrima
What is Eskrima?
Eskrima, Kalis, Arnis are oftentimes interchangeable terms used to identify the indigenous weapons based martial arts of the Philippines. Even among historians and Filipino stick fighting experts there is still is much debate as to the proper and concise descriptive use regarding these terms. Some authorities believe that each term defines the region of the Philippines the specific art originates: For instance, Arnis in the North, Eskrima in the Central Philippines and Kali in the South. Others maintain that the terms refer to the period in which the specific fighting system was developed. Kali during the pre-Spanish era, Eskrima (Spanish for skirmish) during the Spanish occupation and Arnis in modern times
A Bloody Beginning…
History has it that a noble tradition of Filipino stick and knife fighting started once Tribal Chieftain Lapu Lapu and his warriors decisively defeated and killed the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan during their bloody skirmish when they invaded that Philippine island on the fateful morning of April 27th in 1521 there on the shores of Mactan Island. The celebrated victory of these Mactan warriors thus began a tradition of postulating and developing Filipino sword, knife and stick fighting arts among the tribes in that region. It later spread throughout the entire populated area and to other islands of the Philippines
Due to the Spanish influence this Filipino Martial Arts came to be known as "Arnis de Mano", derived from a Spanish word "arnés", meaning defensive armor. It also acquired namesakes such as "estokada", "estoque", "fraile", "arnes de mano", or simply "arnis". Among the Tagalogs, it is known as "pananandata", the Pangasinan natives "kalirongan", the Ilocanos "didya" or "kabaraon", the Ibanags "pagkalikali", the Pampanguenos "siniwali" and the Visayans "kaliradman" or "pagaradman", later on "esgrima" or "eskrima".
The word "eskrima" is derived from the Spanish word "esgrima" which means fencing. The name of the stick that is either rattan or a piece of hardwood, used in "eskrima" is called "olisi", "baston" or "garote". The word "eskrima" became popular in the early years of the American regime, when the first Arnis club organized in Cebu City, Central Philippines in 1920, the Labangon Fencing Club used the term in their practice of the art
Fighting skill of Filipino warriors
When Miguel Lopez de Legaspi landed in the Philippines and established the first settlement in 1565, he and his men noted that the Filipinos were a class by themselves in the art of stick fighting and blade or sword fighting. He had the first glimpse of the native’s exceptional skill and ability during his landing in Leyte in 1564 when he was entertained with an Arnis demonstration by the warriors of Chieftain Malitik. Similar demonstrations were made upon visits in Limasawa, Camiguin, Cebu and other places.
Total ban of Arnis
However, when the Spaniards gained substantial control of the country it discouraged the practice of Arnis. Fearful of the Filipinos exceptional skill, they imposed a total ban in the practice of the art. Although the reason given was the unusual long hours spent by the natives in the practice and training, hence, neglecting their works it was obvious the authorities were fearful of the threat to their lives at the hands of the very skillful and well trained people. Hence, the Filipinos put aside their training devices and abandoned the practice of Arnis.
Moro Moro plays and dances
The 19th century ushered in a new era for the ancient Filipino cultural warrior arts. With it Arnis began to surface again with a limited popularity among the natives. Afterward, this growth expanded exponentially with the popularity of the cultural Moro Moro plays and dances and was, in part, responsible for this renaissance. Most historians believe and gave them the opportunity to circumvent the rule that prohibited the display and carrying of bladed weapons. Consequentially, It was believed that the Moro-Moro plays and dances were invented to primarily give the Filipinos excuse or cover to resume the practice and training of Arnis. As a direct result, the people improvised in mastering ancient knife fighting arts by substituting this practice with sticks made of indigenous hardwoods such as "bahi" or "kamagong" or with the use of rattan or cane that ws called "oway". Through some of the deceptive subterfuge behind the guise of performing stage plays and dances or dance movements, the Filipinos were able to practice and continue their arnis training with the use of bladed weapons known as "kali".
Eskrima Reaches Foreign Shores
Unlike most traditional martial tradition, Prior to mid-1970, Filipino eskrima and kalis had virtually never been heard of outside of the Philippine Islands. Oh, we were knowledgeable of the tenacity of the Filipino warrior and their spirited combat prowess, which became evident during the Philippine-American War (1899-1913) and even more so by American military forces during WW II, but, by enlarge, the U.S. or western world never fully realized or appreciated just how many diverse stick and knife fighting arts there were prior to that. We were generally more familiar with the traditional empty-hand forms of self-defense such as Judo and Jiu Jitsu from Japan, Karate from Okinawa, Gung Fu from China, Tae Kwon Do from Korea, Kenpo from Hawaii and the world was recently waking up the little known assassins art of Ninjitsu, unveiling itself from a cloak of secrecy that had been well guarded for the better portion of several hundred years.