The indigenous and only TRADITIONAL Filipino martial art is known as Arnis had existed long before the arrival of the first Spanish colonizers in the Philippines. It has its roots deep in the culture and history of the Filipino people. Otherwise known as Eskrima or Kali, it’s exact origin and beginning, however, could not be exactly determined and is still the subject of debate up to the present.
The Lapu-Lapu shrine is a 20 meters (66 ft) bronze statue in Punta Engaño, Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu, Philippines, erected in honor of Lapu-Lapu.
Indisputable, however, is the fact that it was Lapu-Lapu, the chieftain of the small island of Mactan who first exposed the art to the world when he had engaged the great explorer Magellan in that historic battle of Mactan. The tribes of Lapu Lapu, whose original name was Cilapulapu and that of Humabon the chieftain of Cebu were part of the Sri Visayas empire in the 14th century. After the empire was vanquished by the Maja Pahit empire of ancient Sumatra and Borneo their tribes were among those who fled and eventually settled in the Visayas in Central Philippines.
It was believed that Lapulapu who was known as the foremost master of “Pangamut” the name by which the Filipino martial arts was then known, had trained his men for a showdown battle with Humabon, his cousin, owing to a long-running feud.
The showdown between the two groups did not occur until the arrival of Magellan on April 7, 1521. A few days after Magellan came to Cebu, Humabon allowed himself to be baptized a Christian and was renamed Rajah Charles, the Christian king of the Archipelago of St. Lazarus. He also had pledged to obey the king of Spain and promised to pay tribute. But Lapulapu remained recalcitrant forcing Magellan to take action to punish him as an example to those who refused to pay respect to the new king. Humabon took advantage of the situation and encouraged Magellan to destroy Lapulapu’s enclave, offering to send some of his men to join in the invasion. Greatly underestimating the strength and the fierceness of Lapulapu, Magellan lost his life in the battle of April 27, 1521, where the more “modern” Spanish armor and weaponry was beaten by the primitive weapons of fire-hardened stakes, arrows, stones and spears. Magellan though had shown extraordinary courage and leadership because while already brutally wounded, he covered his men as they retreated back to their ships, many of them fearfully broke ranks to escape the natives’ onslaught. When the battle ended, Lapulapu lost 15 men while the Spanish lost 20. Unfortunately, one of the 20 was their captain, the man who was known as the first to have circumnavigated the world.
When Miguel Lopez de Legaspi landed in the Philippines to establish the first settlement in 1565, he and his men immediately found out the Filipinos’ exceptional skill and ability in blade or sword fighting. The art was then the favorite sports of the royalties and was always featured in public demonstration during special occasions.
The Magellan Shrine is a large memorial tower erected in 1866 in honor of the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan on the Mactan Island of Cebu, the Philippines. The spot is believed to be the site where Magellan was killed in the 1521 Battle of Mactan.
When the Spaniards gained control of the country, they banned the practice of eskrima as they were fearful the Filipinos might, later on, turn against them and use their skills in the art. Although the reason given was that the natives spent long hours in practice and neglected their works, it was obvious the authorities were more concerned about the threat to their lives. For a while, the Filipinos were cowed into obedience and abandoned Eskrima. In the 19th century, it resurfaced as the natives found some convenient covers to resume the practice of the art. “Moro-moro” stage plays and some native dances were introduced and became popular with the people. Employing the movements in the plays and dances, the Filipinos were able to circumvent the prohibition and had taken to training with the art again. In order to avoid suspicion and as subterfuge, the natives used in their training pieces of wood called “bahi” or “kamagong”; or with the use of bamboo-like materials known as rattan or “oway”. Only in special events that blade and sword were used as the Spaniards were quick to spot when the natives violated the rule against the practice of Eskrima.
Due to the Spanish influence, the art came to be known as “Arnis de Mano” – derived from the Spanish word “arnes” meaning trappings or defensive armor. It also acquired other names as “estokada”, “estoque”, “fraile”, “arnes”. Among the tagalogs, it was known as “pananandata”; the Pangasinan native, “kalirongan”; the Ilocanos, “didya” or “kabaraon”; the Ibanags “pagkalikali”; the pampanguenos, “sinawali” and, the Visayans “kaliradman” or “pagaradman”, later on “esgrima” or “eskrima”.
The word “eskrima” was derived from the Spanish word “esgrima”, which means “a game between two combatants with the use of blunt instruments”. The name of the stick or piece of wood as its principal weapon which could either be rattan or hardwood is called either “olisi”, “baston” or “garote”. The word “eskrima” became popular in the early years of the American rule in the Philippines when the first Arnis organization was organized in Cebu City in 1920, the Labangon Fencing Club. The group used the name Eskrima in their practice of the art until its dissolution in 1931. In 1932, Doce Pares association was founded by the all the well-known masters of Cebu. In years to come, this group became so popular that its name was almost synonymous with marital arts or arnis itself and, it was to its credit that arnis was practiced and accepted as sort of competitive sport. Its rule on sparring matches had received broad acceptance, that in early 1970 was widely accepted by big arnis schools and organizations in the country. In fact, the present tournament rules adopted by the World Eskrima Kali Arnis Federation (WEKAF) had been substantially lifted from the Doce Pares rules.
A very efficient, and deadly system of techniques. Strikes, Defense, Counters, taka-aways, grabs, and throws. Doce Pares Eskrima is considered the complete fighting system and respected by many. Infamous for eliminating multiple attackers.
The revival of Arnis to its present level of popularity is credited to the National Arnis Association of the Philippines (NARAPHIL) which was organized in 1975 mainly to promote and propagate the Filipino art. Having been given the sole responsibility of reviving the interest of the people towards Arnis, NARAPHIL implemented major programs which, in a short time, catapulted arnis to a level of acceptability and popularity at par with the other well known martial arts. Among these projects were the staging in 1976 of the First Asian martial Arts Festival in Manila and the First National Arnis Festival held in Cebu City, the First national Arnis Open Championships March, 1979, in Cebu City; the First National Arnis Invitational Tournament in August, 1979 in Manila and, the First World Eskrima Kali Arnis Championships in Cebu City on August 11 – 13, 1989. It was during this world tournament that the 78 delegates coming from ten (10) countries, spearheaded by the author had approved the founding of the World Eskrima Kali Arnis Federation (WEKAF). WEKAF had, since its founding, carved a name for itself and has proven its worth as the world governing body in the study, promotion, and practice of the Filipino martial arts. It has now a membership of more than 30 countries where the art has gained a foothold and tremendous following. The world championships in Los Angeles, California in June, 1996, the one in Cebu City in August, 2000 and the 8th world championship in London in July, 2002 and the resounding success of the 8th edition of the event in Cebu City in June, 2004 are strong indications of the immense popularity of the art. With the unflinching loyalty and wholehearted support of its members, it will not be long, this pride of the Filipino people, a part of their cherished cultural heritage may soon find its way to all martial art loving countries.
The arrival of the Americans following the victory of the US forces over the Filipinos proved providential for the Filipino martial arts. Banned by the Spaniards during the more than 300 years rule, Eskrima resurfaced and began to blossom again in early 1900 under the American regime.