An article written by a student at Kapiolani Community College

The Filipino Martial Art of Eskrima by Tiffany Canonigo

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Eskrima is a martial art form that originated in the Philippines. Due to the Spanish influence during Spain’s colonization of the Philippines, the word eskrima is derived from the Spanish word, esgrima meaning fencing. Arnis, another term for this martial art is also derived from the Spanish term Arnes meaning defensive armor. Because the Filipino language has so many dialects, it has acquired many different names for this art. For example, in Tagalog, it is called Pananandata; the Illocanos know it as Didya, or Kabaraon; and in Visayan, it is known as Kaliradman or Pagaradman, but the more common name known to many is Kali, or Arnis.

Historians have revealed as many as 200 styles of this martial art, styles that describe the different range of fighting. Some of these different styles include Largo, Medio, and Serrada (corto), which mean long, medium, and close range fighting. Other names are based on the movements, which include Abanyko (fanning), Palis-Palis (go with the force), Sungkiti (flicking), Ocho-Ocho (figure eight), and Lastico (snapping). The choice of weapon used is another way to determine another system of classifying this martial art. One may use a single or double stick, (solo, doble or sinawali), a sword or a dagger (espada y daga) or even nothing at all, (mano mano or de kadina).

Chief Lapulapu is believed to be one of the primary masters of arnis, or better known in that time as pangamut. He had trained his men to fight in battles against his enemies long before his meeting with the famous explorer, Ferdinand Magellan on April 27, 1521 on Mactan Island. It is believed that Lapulapu’s father, Datu Mangal, was responsible for bringing the art of fighting with a stick to Mactan Island. Lapulapu’s primary reason for training his men to fight in battle was because he himself was in rivalry with Rajah Humabon, the son of Bantug Lumay, who brought the art to Sugbu or Cebu Island. Lapulapu accused Rajah Humabon of stealing a portion of his father’s land, mainly the sea area between the Mactan Island and Cebu. However, Lapulapu never got the chance to use his technique in his battle with Rajah Humabon. It wasn’t until his meeting with Magellan, that he successfully defeated an enemy force.

During the Spanish occupation of the Philippines in the late 16th century, the art of Arnis was banned. Fearing the Filipinos’ exceptional skill with the knife, the Spaniards imposed a total ban on teaching and practicing the art. The Spanish felt that the Filipino people practiced Arnis more than working. But in the 19th century, Arnis became popular again. Disguising the art in plays such as Moro Moro, and dance moves gave the Filipinos the opportunity to evade the order against practicing Kali and carrying knives. Originally, these dances were invented to give the Filipinos a reason to continue the practice and teaching of Amis, and so instead of using bladed weapons, the people began incorporating the use of hardwood called Bahi or Kamagong or using rattan or cane called Oway.

In this paper, I have chosen to discuss two well-known styles of eskrima, Doce Pares style and Balitawak, because they come from the same style of teaching. I will briefly discuss the principles of the Doce Pares style and explain the training using the different range of fighting, the instruments and techniques used, the angles of attack, and the Balintawak style of performance.

Balitawak Eskrima
The Balintawak style split from the Doce Pares style in the early 20th century, when grandmaster Bacon and the Canete brothers went in separate directions. Although a lot of their teachings are similar, there are some differences. During the drills and training, one learns different aspects of the weapon and how to use them, the twelve angles of attack, timing and rhythm. The Balintawak style of eskrima strongly emphasizes in-fighting techniques. The main features include entangling or trapping the hands of the opponent and making a smooth transaction; flowing from one move to the next is a major aspect. One has to have a well-developed visual and concrete sensitivity to the force that’s exerted by his opponent.

The weapon used, not only in this style of eskrima but in all styles and teachings, is the stick called an olise. It is usually made of rattan, which is a tough, fibrous vine. Other types of wood used for eskrima are palm wood or bahi, ironwood or kamagong, and guava wood. The length of the stick should be as long as your arm, from your armpit to the tips of your fingers. The light weight of the stick allows you to move rapidly against your opponent. In many cases, martial arts instructors teach students to use their hands for defense in the beginning of their training, but in eskrima, instructors emphasize the use of the weapon first, then empty-handed fighting later.

While training, there is always an eskrimador, someone who consistently practices the marital art, to watch over you and your partner. The basic and most important drill is to alternate block and defend against the twelve basic blows with the stick. “One to twelve” is the name of the drill. These strikes are done in a pre-arranged order. Eskrimadors teach juniors to move by using subtle redirecting motions while advanced students have added techniques to this particular drill.

Here are the twelve angles of attack, in order:
Angles one and two — lateral blows from the top of the head to the base of the neck.
Angles three and four — lateral blows from the shoulders to the hips. The main targets are the shoulders, elbows, and hands.
Angle five — mid-line thrust from below the elbow.
Angles six and seven— lateral thrusts to the chest or the armpits.
Angles eight and nine — lateral blows from the hips to the feet. The target areas are the knees, shins, ankles, or feet.
Angles ten and eleven — lateral thrusts to the eyes or the neck.
Angle twelve — mid-line blow from above downward.

This is the basic training for all later teachings of the Balintawak style, which is also performed with a stick against another stick, knives, or without any weapon at all.

The Doce Pares style of teaching eskrima does not use a single style of teaching, but a combination of various styles that were introduced into the organization by different masters of the art. In 1932, a group of men wanted to unite as one and renew the dying art of eskrima. This group consisted of twelve people: the Canete brothers – Eulogio “Yoling,” Florentino, Felemon “Momoy”, Tirso, Silvestre, Rufino, Andres, Ciriaco “Cacoy,” their nephew, Maximo, and three Saavedras – Lorenzo, Teodoro, and Fredrico.

This particular style has developed through the years, and their forms, teachings, methods, and systems of fighting have been adapted by many other styles and teachings of eskrima. Their teachings comprise corto (close range) of Lorenzo and Teodoro Saavedra, the medium range of Jesus Cui, the Espada y Daga and corto of Felimon Canete, the long range of Eulogio Canete and Vicente Carin, and in the later years the corto of Ciriaco Canete, and the Pangamut of Maximo Canete. These styles have been incorporated into one more modern style, but the core of the original style remains in their teachings today.

The teachings of solo olisi, single stick, include long, medium, and close range fighting. One may even incorporate some techniques of espada, sword, into fighting with the stick. The stick serves as the offensive side of fighting, and one’s empty hand is used as defense. When fighting in the doble olise style, or double stick, one has two sticks, a stick for each hand. These may be used for combination attacks, or one hand may be used as offense, and the other for defense. A variety of striking and twirling patterns are practiced to develop strength and coordination over many angles of attack and combinations. These skills may be transferred over to the other styles such as mano mano combinations, solo olisi, and espada y daga.

—Mano Mano, or empty hand drills, absorb Western boxing style attacking movements. The defensive movements use the same body angling practiced with weapon techniques, and emphasize on open-hand defense, blocks, and evasive tactics such as bucking, snapping-back, slipping, weaving and sidestepping.

—Espada y daga, or sword and dagger fighting training begins with coordination of two weapons while striking, then footwork and body angling are added later. When fighting in the espada y daga style, the strong hand holds the long blade, and it is the primary offense. The other hand holds the short blade and is used for both offense and defense. The more complicated espada y daga techniques consist of locks and takedowns.

In order to be considered a student of the Doce Pares style, one has to be able to switch between long, medium and short range fighting, use Espada y Daga, mano y mano, trapping techniques, and also the twelve basic forms taught by their grand masters. Now this art form, once forbidden, has established itself and become considered a prestigious art form.

Mike Del Mar School
The del Mar School of Filipino Martial Arts was founded by Professor Mike del Mar. His system is a combination of several styles of eskrima that involve weapons and empty-hand techniques as well as kicking. Professor Mike developed his own blend of techniques from 29 years of experience and knowledge. At the beginning and at the end of each class, everyone pays respect to his faith, ancestors, Maestro/Maestra or grandmaster (whether it’s a male or a female), and lastly to each other. If other guests are present from other schools, they are acknowledged as well.

The first position is called alisto, which means attention, or to get ready; then everyone will ampo, or bow their heads to give an oracion, a prayer to their faith. After praying, everyone stands up and gives respect or saludo to their faith, and to each person in the class starting with the highest ranked person, the Maestro, down the rank to fellow students in the class. The Maestro then gives saludo to each person below him, including the students. At the ending of class, after paying saludo to your faith, to the Maestro, and each other, the very last motion is a handshake, beginning with the highest ranked person to each student of the class.

In his classes. Professor del Mar trains his students not only to learn the art and principles of eskrima, but to build good character and self-discipline, to develop strength, to condition oneself physically, mentally, and spiritually, to have respect for others, yourself and other martial art styles, and lastly, to defend yourself against physical and other assaults.

Professor Mike shared many interesting stories with me. One was about the last dueling eskrima match here in Hawai‘i, in 1948 in the old Hawai‘i Civic Auditorium. The two fighters, Floro Villabrille and Francisco Adrona, fought with absolutely no safety gear. Two weeks later, Adrona died. It was a mystery whether he died of natural causes or whether it was because of the fighting match that he lost.

Another story was about the spiritual side of eskrima. Just as the Asians have chi, the Filipinos believe in anting anting. This is a special power shown by a person practicing the art of eskrima, and also a power that no one can defeat in an eskrima match. This power also allows one to heal things. It is your choice to accept this power that is offered to you by another who possesses it. However, if you do accept it, you have to sacrifice a lot of time to practice, train, and maintain certain principles that come with anting anting. There may be times when people may want to challenge you if they have any inclination that you have this special power. Before you die, you must pass this power on to another person that you feel can and who is trustworthy and will use this power for good, not evil.

Eskrima, once a dying art, is reviving and becoming even stronger than ever. Many schools are being established all over the world, not only in the Philippines, but also in Berlin, Great Britain, and right here in the United States.

Del Mar, Michael. Personal Interview.
“ Kombatan: Flilipino Fighting Arts History,” <>.
Wiley, Mark. Amis: Reflections on the History and Development of Filipino Martial Art. Title Publishing. 2001.
Zimmer, Michael. Balintawak Eskrima: The Filipino Martial Art 16 May 1995.


  1. does anyone practicing these type of martial arts here in san diego, want to have a prctice withe someone interested, I have a little knowledge about these stick fighting

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