Deadly and Beautiful, Kali and Its Escrima Sticks Survive as a Tribute to a Powerful Filipino Culture

When early Spanish Conquistadors began to colonize the Philippines, they arrived to a native population whose culture permeated with a fierce weapons-based martial arts style, known today as Kali, Escrima (also spelled Eskrima) or Arnis. In order to subjugate the native Filipinos, the Spanish enacted a decree that banned the native population from practicing their traditional fighting style.

On pain of death, natives were prohibited from owning swords and other weapons. As a result, early masters of Kali, determined to hold onto their traditions began to adapt their martial art. Fight training developed into a beautiful cultural dance and short swords were substituted for short rattan escrima sticks.

Sakuting Stick Dance

About Escrima Sticks

Escrima sticks are made of a lightweight rattan material about 28 inches long and 1 inch wide. While seemingly docile and unimposing, in trained hands, escrima sticks are incredibly powerful weapons.

Here is a great example of what they can do in the hands of a master:

Think it’s for men only? Think again. Kali is great in that it’s accessible to anyone at any fitness level.

What exactly is Kali?

Relying heavily on weapons-based techniques and hand-to-hand combat, Kali is about limb destruction and maximizing damage to your enemy. While the art is normally associated with the use of escrima sticks, one of the primary philosophies behind Kali is that any ordinary item can be adapted to be a weapon, a rattan stick, an umbrella, a knife, a hand, a book, keys, literally anything.

Kali is aggressive. The art is intended to be brutal with a focus on fighting in close-quarters via short range weapons and hand-to-hand and combat. Most techniques in this art are intended to bring you forward and break or slice through your enemy.

Strikes are described through angles of attack. Some Kali systems focus on 12 basic striking angles, others focus on 24 or 25 but in all of the various flavors of Kali the most basic, most-widely used striking angles are the first five.

The video below will walk you through 12, but as you begin to learn the basics stick with the first 5 until you have a good flow between the angles.

  • Right shoulder across the body to left hip/leg
  • Left shoulder across the body to right hip/leg
  • Straight across right to left
  • Straight across left to right
  • Straight ahead

Footwork generally follows the male and female triangles, making movements in this martial art very short, functional and powerful following either a V shape or inverted V shape.

Time to Start Training!

There is a lot more to Kali than a few YouTube videos can provide and nothing beats learning from a master or guru in the art. In my experience, there is a real openness in Kali to blending with other styles and every school is slightly different with its own flavor.

If you’re looking to learn a martial art open to all fitness levels, Kali and its escrima sticks are for you.

You can find inexpensive escrima sticks at any martial arts supply store or find them a bit cheaper online. Kali classes are just about everywhere. No excuses, give it a try - you might just be surprised at what you can do.