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Grandmaster Max Pallen

History of Eskrima Kali Arnis
(Exerpted from "Eskrima Kali Arnis" by Dionisio Canete)

Eskrima, Kali, Arnis the only known traditional Filipino martial art, has its roots deep in the culture and history of the Filipino people. The exact date of its origin, however, remains unclear. Traces of historical evidence reveal that this manly art of self defense - involving the use of a single stick. two sticks, a long and short stick, a dagger or some other blunt instrument - had no doubt existed long before the arrival of the first Spanish colonizers in the country.

The first know Filipino hero, Lapu Lapu, was believed to be one of the foremost masters of Arnis, which was known during that time in the native dialect as pangamut. In fact, Lapu Lapu had vigorously trained and prepared his men for the "showdown" fights against his enemies long before his historic battle with Ferdinand Magellan on April 27, 1521, on Mactan Island. It was no surprise then, that when the first circumnavigator of the world tried to subdue the recalcitrant Lapu Lapu, who refused to come meet him in Cebu, Magellan and his men were met not with a hail of bullets but with wooden instruments, spears, and bolos. It was ironic that when the smoke of that epic battle cleared, the Spanish conquistadors more "modern" weapons were no match for the crude wooden arms of Lapu Lapu and his warriors. Magellan lost his life in that battle.

In the book De Los Delitos, printed in 1800 by Don Baltazar Gonzales in Madrid, Spain, the author tells that it may have been Datu Mangal, the father of Lapu Lapu, who brought the art of stick fighting to Mactan Island, and Sri Batugong and his son Sri Bantung Lumay who brought the art to the neighboring island of Sugbu (Cebu). Bantug Lumay was the father of Sri Humabon or Rajah Humabon. Humabon was the chieftain of Sugbu at the time when Magellan arrived in 1521.

The tribes of Lapu Lapu and Humabon were part of the Sri Visayan Empire in the 14th Century. After the empire was defeated by the Maja Pahit Empire of ancient Sumatra and Borneo, the tribes became part of a group who eventually settled in the islands of the Visayas in the central Philippines. Another group of those Sri Visayans, which included the tribes of Datu Puti and Datu Sumakwel, went out and settled on Panay Island.

Lapu Lapu, even before his momentous meeting with Magellan, had been training his men because of his bitter rivalry with Rajah Humabon, whom he accused of having grabbed a portion of his father's land, particularly the sea area between Mactan Island and Cebu. The feud between these local chieftains contributed significantly to early development of the "old" Arnis. Lapu Lapu and Humabon's showdown clash, however, was never realized. Rather, it was in the battle of Mactan where the native martial art was put to a real test against the modern weapons of the foreign invaders. The rest is history.

Thus, 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 in a class by themselves in the arts of stick fighting and sword fighting. Yet it was not until the 19th Century that arnis gained popularity among the Filipino citizens. The rapid growth was attributed largely to the rules imposed by the Spaniards prohibiting the display and carrying of bladed weapons. As a result, the people concentrated on mastering arnis using rattan or a piece of hardwood known as bahi, kamagong, or oway. Also, by disguising their training as stage plays, dances, or dance movements such as the Moro Moro, the Filipinos were able to continue their training in arnis with the use of bladed weapons as kali. A kali is a type of broad sword still popular among the Filipinos today, particularly the Muslims.

Due to the Spanish influence this Filipino martial culture art came to be known as arnis de mano, which derives from the Spanish word arnes, meaning "trappings", or "defensive armor". It also acquired namesake such as estokada, estoque, fraile, armas de mano or simply arnis. Among the Tagalogs, it is known as pananandata; to the Pangasinan natives, kalirongan; to the Ilocanos, didya or kabaraon; to the Ibanan, pagkalikali; to the Pampagenos, sinawali; and to the Visayans, kaliradman or pagaradman, or later, esgrima or eskrima.

The word eskrima is derived from the Spanish word esgrima which means a "game between two combatants with the use of blunt instruments". The name of the stick use in eskrima, made either of rattan or hardwood, is called either olisi, garote, or baston.

The revival of arnis to its present level of popularity is credited to the National Arnis Kali Eskrima Association of the Philippines (NARAPHIL), which was organized in 1975, mainly to promote and propagate this Filipino art. Having been given the sole responsibility of reviving the interest and the enthusiasm of the people for the art, NARAPHIL implemented major programs that in a short time catapulted arnis to a level of acceptability and popularity on a par with other well known martial arts. Among these projects was the staging of the First Asian Martial Arts Festival in 1976, the First National Arnis Championship in March, 1979 in Cebu City, the First World Eskrima Kali Arnis Championships in Cebu City on August 11-13, 1989. It was during the first world championships that NARAPHIL organized a convention that led to the formation of the World Eskrima Arnis Kali Federation (WEKAF). Representatives of ten countries including the Philippines became the charter members of the federation.

NARAPHIL also played an important role in organizing the First USA National Eskrima Kali Arnis Championships in San Jose, California, in October, 1988, and the First Eastern USA Eskrima Kali Arnis Championship in Jersey City, New Jersey in May, 1989. With a more comprehensive program, and under the present leadership of NARAPHIL, the time in not too distant for arnis to become "the martial art of the 90's", as predicted by one popular USA martial arts personality.

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