A lot of fighters from the Philippines have shown greatness in combat sports. I’m sure you’ve wondered how this all began.
The primary Filipino martial arts are Kali, Sikaran, Dumog, Kinamutay, Panantukan, and Yaw-Yan.
Kali is the broad term for all martial arts of the Philippines, but it’s also called Arnis and sometimes Eskrima/Escrima.
In the rest of this article, I’ll detail the unique features of these other fighting styles from different regions and pockets of Filipino culture.
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Kali, also known as Eskrima and Arnis, is a weapon-based Filipino martial art using sticks, knives, and other blades.
The Philippines is a vast archipelago. This means different groups of people across the country perform Kali. That’s also why other names like Eskrima and Arnis came to be.
It involves swinging a weapon while moving your body strategically to dodge an attack or to make an opening for the next strike. It’s also the Philippines’ national martial art.
You can learn Kali with any purpose that you have. You can either learn it for cultural preservation or do it for the martial art it is.
You can also learn Kali competitively. You’ll learn more tactical moves, rules, and point systems in combat Kali to join a tournament.
Competitive Kali will make you wear samurai-like armor. Competitors will fight for three rounds with 1 minute and 30 seconds rest in between.
Each successful body strike earns you a point. In competition, the ‘weapons’ used are usually bamboo sticks.
But the whole concept of Kali is using many kinds of bladed weapons and even some open-hand techniques.
Each experience is different from the other. A stick is more manageable to swing than a heavier sword.
The first utilization of Arnis can be traced back hundreds of years ago, way before the Spaniards arrived to colonize the country.
Filipino ancestors, called “Pintados,” are believed to have pioneered the combat style.
They’re called Pintados because of their tattooed body. They used Arnis to settle Prehispanic Filipino tribes’ conflicts.
When the Spanish era arrived, Filipino Katipuneros (a revolutionary group of men and women) continued to use Arnis as their primary way of defending their motherland.
As time went by, they started a massive revolution that sparked a war between the Spaniards and the Katipuneros.
Luckily, the Katipuneros won the battle. This battle for freedom is extraordinary because the Filipinos only used bolos and some smuggled revolvers against an army of Spaniards armed with rifles.
Today, Arnis and the history that came with it are still well-preserved.
It has also evolved into a much safer martial art form where students use a baston (bamboo stick) as the main weapon instead of bolos.
As Kali entered the modern age of martial arts, it also adapted new styles for younger students.
Some Kali schools teach practical self-defense against an armed enemy. Some instructors have also been teaching empty-hand combat.
There are different variations of Kali inspired by different regions and teachings, so let’s take a look.
2. Espada y Daga
Espada y Daga is a Kali style where the martial artist will hold one long sword and a short dagger instead of a bamboo stick.
This Kali style is mainly for performing cool-looking Kali maneuvers. If you’re planning to learn Arnis for its beautiful art, Espada y Daga is a good style choice.
Back in the day, Filipino national heroes used this Espada y Daga style to defeat Spanish soldiers.
The only difference is that they used a single “bolo.” Bolo is a sharp sword-like weapon, mainly for cutting thin wood and grass: it is somehow similar to a machete.
All in all, Espada y Daga is the most dangerous style of Arnis as it uses an edged weapon. This weapon can actually take someone’s life compared to regular bamboo sticks.
There’s no combat tournament when it comes to Espada y Daga.
This style is way too dangerous for both fighters despite wearing protective armor. The sword’s sharp edge might still pierce through the armor, which may cause fatal injuries.
This style is mainly for exhibition or self-defense purposes only. If you want to learn Arnis for combat, try Sinawali.
Sinawali is a dual-wielding Kali style where practitioners hold two bamboo sticks at once.
They will use one for attack and the remaining stick for defense, and can also use both for simultaneous attack and block moves.
Sinawali probably has the most diverse moveset when it comes to different Kali styles.
This is because of the wide variety of choices you can make in the middle of a specific situation.
Sikaran is the Taekwondo of the Philippines. Sikaran fighters mainly use their legs in the majority of their moves.
The only use of the hands in this martial art is to block incoming shots.
Using your hands in a competition to inflict damage may cause a point deduction or disqualification.
Sikaran originated in the province of Rizal, specifically, the town of Barras.
According to Rizal province ancestors, Sikaran was present even before the Spaniards came to colonize the Philippines.
Sikaran was believed to be practiced by early Filipinos from the 16th century.
In 1958, the Filipino Martial Arts organization was established in Baras, Rizal, by Meliton C. Geronimo.
The organization’s goal is to preserve all the traditional Filipino Martial Arts for the next generations, including Sikaran.
Sikaran has unique kicks that other combat arts don’t use.
For example, the Biakid Kick which is a spinning hook kick to damage your opponent’s temple or the nape.
During a Sikaran match, fighters can hit each other nearly everywhere. Groin, heart, and back of the head blows are allowed.
This unique and brutal rule makes Sikaran very effective during a street fight.
Dumog is closely similar to modern Combat Jiu-Jitsu.
The only difference between the two is that Dumog is a wrestling martial art that allow elbows, knees, submissions, and punches during close-quarter combat.
Dumog originated from the middle part of the Philippine archipelago, Visayas.
People from Antique, Iloilo, and Capiz in Panay Island first used Dumog as their self-defense style.
The founder of Dumog is Venancio Bacon.
He established Dumog in the early 1950s. Dumog came from the word Buno which means “To throw” or “To Kill.” and Dumog means “brawling.”
The main objective of Dumog is to pin your opponent to the ground, submit them, or rack up some points using strikes or throws.
If you get close to your opponent, you can choose from various attacks, such as headbutts, forearm strikes, and more.
You can knock your opponent out and win the match if your strikes are strong enough during the clinch.
Kinamutay is the dirtiest Filipino martial art there is.
In Kinamutay, practitioners will focus on mastering strikes that involve pinching, biting, and eye poking. Kinamutay is often pertained to as ‘cat fighting’ in some regions of the Philippines.
Kinamutay originated in the Visayas, specifically in the large province of Cebu.
Kinamutay came from the root word “kinamut,” which means “using the hands.”
Kinamutay involves using one’s hands to pinch, poke and inflict damage to almost every part of the body, including the eyes, groin, nipples, and more.
Aside from the unusual strikes in Kinamutay, you can also grapple with your enemy on the ground.
Kinamutay grappling focuses on the nerves and pressure points of the human body.
During grappling, you can choke out and put pressure on various lethal nerves to choke out or inflict immense pain on your opponent.
Some incorrectly spell Kinamutay as Kino Mutai, probably because of a phonetic spelling error.
Panantukan is the Mixed Martial Arts of the Philippines. Panantukan includes dirty Boxing, Wrestling, Muay Thai, and some kick moves.
Panantukan fighters land the knee on the limb area to destroy the opponent’s movement.
Panantukan is the original term for ‘suntukan,’ which is Filipino Boxing. Ancestors also call Panantukan as ‘mano mano.’
Mano mano is similar to the term used by Western people when they want to square up, which is ‘mano y mano.’ Panantukan is also from the islands of Visayas.
In Panantukan, fighters utilize two types of jabs. They can either land a conventional snapping jab or a finger jab.
Finger jab is adapted to Jeet Kune Do, where you land the tip of your fingers on your opponent’s eye sockets.
Panantukan is what’s mainly used by Filipinos during street fights.
Modern Filipinos use the term ‘Suntukan’ instead of the original ‘Panantukan.’
Yaw-Yan is commonly called by the Filipino locals the “Sayaw ng Kamatayan” or “The dance of death.”
Yaw-Yan shares a close resemblance to the famous Muay Thai. The only difference is the way they want to strike with an opponent.
Yaw-Yan is the Filipino kickboxing style developed by Napoleon A. Fernandez in the 1970s.
Fernandez was a local of the Quezon province, making Yaw Yan a Quezon-rooted martial art.
In Yaw-Yan, martial artists throw kicks and punches from a distance to be more elusive and generate more power.
Clinching and close-quarter combat, like in Muay Thai, is rarely performed during a Yaw-Yan match.
High-level Yaw-Yan practitioners often transition to MMA and fight professionally under the Philippines’ most prominent MMA organization, URCC.
URCC stands for Universal Reality Combat Championship.