The Filipino Arts of Kali and Escrima
Weapons are Priority One
A young Filipino boy eagerly approaches the wooden gate that leads to a 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 empty hand fighting, sir,” the boy replies. “Sure, I teach you boxing 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 donít want to learn stick fighting. I want to learn boxing, you know, Like Muhammad Ali,” the boy says, gesturing like a boxer. The old man nods, A wide grin creasing his face. “Sure, sure, you learn boxing good,” he says, Continuing ahead with the lesson. The old man holds his rolled newspaper firmly. “You no like old style, huh? Okay, 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 boy’s eyes. Finally, he throws his stick to the ground. “What about the hands?” he cries. “Okay, come on,” the old man says as he drops his newspaper. The boy jabs and swings wildly at the old man, who, using the same motions he did with his rolled newspaper, weaves and evades the strikes while raining blow after blow off the boyís 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. “Okay,” he says, “Now you see, now you feel, now you learn boxing good.” The stick firmly in hand, the boy begins his education in the ’empty hand’ phase of the Filipino martial 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 weaponry first, which included the dagger, and single stick or sword. But why teach weaponry first?
In martial arts, weaponry is learned last and is considered the advanced portion of the art. But the Filipinos have good reason for their seemingly peculiar type of progression. To understand it, we must first delve into the history of Kali/Escrima.
When we examine Filipino 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 one’s martial skill 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 hand skills.