What Exactly is Filipino Martial Arts?

Arnis, Eskrima, Kali – these all mean the same thing: Filipino Martial Arts. But what exactly is Filipino Martial Arts and how is it different from other martial arts?

spiros-politis-header modified

Image from EA Doce Pares , photo by Spiros Politis

1. Filipino Martial Arts is a Multi-Style System

Taekwondo and Karate are empty-hand styles of martial arts, which means that they use focus on punches, blocks and kicks.  The Japanese Kendo and European Fencing focuses on sword-fighting. Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) combines a whole range of fighting systems into one martial art.

FMA teaches both armed and unarmed fighting techniques:

Empty-Hand Techniques (Mano-Mano)

Empty Hand

Master Erwin of LA Doce Pares teaching empty hand techniques

Filipino-style Boxing


G Force Martial Arts, image from aboutmyarea.uk


knife disarm

Knife drills, photo by V. Rosario


sword dave green

Master Dave Green (Doce Pares UK),

image from http://www.fight-cancer.co.uk/pages/events.htm

And of course, Stick-fighting


Stick-fighting drills, photo by V. Rosario

Fighting with staffs (bangkaw), spears, whips and even darts and bows and arrows are also taught by some schools.


2. Filipino Martial Arts is Predominantly Weapons-Based

Most people familiar with martial arts will automatically equate Filipino Martial Arts with stick-fighting. Although this is our most recognizable weapon of choice, we are actually trained to use a variety of weapons. Knives, daggers, swords and sticks are all part of the curriculum.

The first thing they did when I started learning Filipino Martial Arts was put a stick in my hand. On my first day, I learned about the 12 striking angles, and was taught how to twirl the sticks for more impact. But as I progressed to higher levels, I was also taught how to use and defend against knives, daggers and swords.

Because Filipino Martial Arts is predominantly weapons-based, it gives students an edge when it comes to actual fighting. FMA trains students to be mentally and physically prepared to face opponents armed with anything.


3. Filipino Martial Arts is a Practical Art

Filipino martial artists are known for their ability to turn ordinary items into lethal weapons.

In the movie BOURNE IDENTITY, there’s a scene where Jason Bourne battles with an assassin using only a pen. You can watch the short clip below:

In today’s modern world, nobody walks around with katanas, or fencing swords. Knives, guns, even machetes and club-like weapons (bats, steel pipes, etc) are weapons one might encounter on the streets. FMA is a practical art because it teaches students how to translate one fighting form to another. We are taught to understand that weapons are merely an extension of our limbs. The techniques we learn from stick-fighting can easily be translated into knives and daggers and empty hands.

Improvisation is a part of FMA training. We are always encouraged to do a lot of freestyle sparring using both empty-hands and weapons because instructors want us to be able to automatically respond to whatever dangers we might face using whatever skill sets we have learned.


4. Filipino Martial Arts is Used in Hollywood Films and Military/Law Enforcement

Owing to its versatility, Filipino Martial Arts has had global impact in both law enforcement and in the world of Hollywood films.

Below, you’ll find a video of movies which used in FMA in their fight choreography:


I’m not sure if all of these really use FMA, but I’m pretty sure Denzel Washington trained in Eskrima for BOOK OF ELI as well as Aaron Eckhart for I, FRANKENSTEIN.


As for its military application, both the Russian Spetsnatz (Special forces) and the US Army and the Marine Corps actually use FMA in their combat training. Both the US Marine Corp field manual and the US Army field manual actually contains strikes, blocks and knife drills found in many Eskrima classes.

Sgt. Jim Wagner, a law enforcement officer and Army vet explains how Filipino Kali is alive and well in the Military and Law Enforcement in his article here.


5. Filipino Martial Arts is Constantly Evolving

As previously mentioned, improvisation is a big part of FMA training. Some Filipino Martial Artists are also trained in other forms of martial arts and they adapt their varied background into teaching FMA.

Many Filipino martial artists who form their own schools actually develop their own methods and techniques, so the art is constantly evolving.


Filipino Martial Arts is all these things and so much more. It’s a practical, versatile and deadly martial art with many real life applications, and one that I am blessed to learn.



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5 Responses to “What Exactly is Filipino Martial Arts?”

  1. S.P.Bowers says:

    I’ve always wanted to learn stick fighting. Thanks for this breakdown. Very interesting.

  2. I loved Bourne’s fighting style and it’s cool that it incorporates Filipino martial arts

  3. I enjoyed finding out more about FMA. How interesting to be able to turn ordinary items into weapons.

  4. Nick Wilford says:

    Sounds like you’d be able to handle yourself with all that training. Hadn’t realised it was so influential in the army and movies too.

  5. Donna Hole says:

    This was interesting. I like the focus on weapons.


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