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History of Kali
The oldest martial arts in the Philippines were those practiced by the indigenous peoples. They were in contact with the aborigines of Taiwan and Borneo, which is evident from oral legends and similarities between their fighting styles. The native tribes focused on combat with swords, shields, spears, knives, sticks, and bows and arrows, while practicing unarmed combat forms like dumog (wrestling). Some of these ancient Filipino martial arts still exist in tribal regions but others have either gone extinct or are very rare. Armed training took precedence over empty-handed techniques because of the simple fact that weapons are deadlier. Even today most Filipino fighting arts remain weapon-based.
Malays from Indonesia and Malaysia are theorized to have made three separate mass migrations to the Philippines and brought with them the influence of silat to the south. Early settlers and traders from China also had a large impact on the local fighting techniques and certain Filipino styles contain characteristically Chinese movements. Additionally, the migrants practiced localized Chinese martial arts, which they called kuntao. These Malay and Chinese settlers are considered progenitors of the classical Filipino combat methods.
The first western account of Filipino martial arts comes from the 16th century from the accounts of Antonio Pigafetta who chronicled Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition (and last stand) where they were routed by the men of local chieftain Lapu Lapu who used spears, swords and wooden shields.
Decades after Magellan’s contact, Spaniards returned to what is now known as the Philippine islands and conquered it through superior technology (guns), religion, alliances and by exploiting local enmities and rivalries by setting the different tribes and kingdoms against one another. For more than three hundred years Spain had control over much of the Philippines. The European regime often enforced royal laws and decrees limiting and prohibiting weapons among the indigenous people. These restrictions were partly responsible for the secretive and underground nature of Filipino martial arts. During this period of colonization, fighters trained in secret and only passed down skills to family members. It was this isolation between the practitioners that gave birth to the vast number of Filipino fighting styles that exist today. Despite their prohibitions, Spaniards often employed Filipino warriors to fight in various battles and skirmishes such as the ferocious Macabebes of Pampanga.
As bladed weapons (tools specifically made for war like swords as opposed to farming implements like the bolo) were eliminated by the Spaniards from the areas of populace they “civilized”, fighters hid their fighting systems into stick dances such as the Sakutingin Luzon and Moro-moro stage plays where they engaged in mock battles with wooden swords and a unique and highly complex form of stick fighting developed and emerged.
After independence, martial arts in the Philippines could be practiced publicly and freely influenced each other. In 1972, the Philippine government included Filipino martial arts into the national sports arena. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports also incorporated them into the physical education curriculum for high school and college students. Knowledge of the Filipino fighting skills is mandatory in the Philippine military and police.
WHERE DOES THE TERM KALI COME FROM RELATED TO FILIPINO MARTIAL ARTS?
A book by Tomas Pinpin entitled “Librong Pagaaralan nang manga Tagalog nang Uicang Castilla” published in Manila in 1610 mentions the name Kali as the term used for FMA prior to the 17th century.
In the 20th century the term “kali” appears to have first been used to describe FMA in 1957, when Placido Yambao wrote the first modern book on FMA, called “Mga Karunungan sa Larong Arnis”. Yambao states that the term Kali was used prior to 1610. He equates the shortened term kali as having derived from martial arts terms in various dialects such as pagkalikali (Ibanag), kalirongan (Pangasinan), and kaliradman (Visayan).
In an interview with world renowned FMA teacher Peachie Baron she stated that “In our system we use the word Kalis which means blade, thus the blade of Ilustrisimo. I am aware that the word Kali was used before, but research shows that the word Kali in the Visayan dialect means scratch, so we do not use it now.”
Guro Dan Inosanto states that the term Kali, as he learned it came from the terms “Kamot Lihok” (Cebuano [Visayan].
Kali also has its linguistic roots in recorded South Pacific history. Kalimantan (North Borneo) the island from which the ten datus fled, eventually establishing the [schools] Bothoan on Panay Island [Philippine Visayas]. Indonesia Tjakalele and Malay Silat Melayu are two forms of combat said to have been introduced to the Philippines. Remy Presas, 1974, “Modern Arnis”.
The evidence points to the term Kali as being Visayan.