We can only make a guess as to the origin of eskrima/arnis/estocada since
there are no conclusive written records available in the
archives to assist us in our research (that is, if we are really serious about this). Earlier writings did mentioned in passing, something
regarding pre-Hispanic martial arts in the islands. But we should remember this, that the earliest Europeans who visited the islands did
not know the native languages, were not familiar about the native culture at the time, were ethno-centrists, and were in the Orient
primarily to look for spices and not to do research on martial arts. Nobody can really say what kind of martial art these early travelers saw
(if that was truly a martial art) when they first came that summer. We cannot even say that it was kali they saw, since they were not
familiar about martial arts (like Draeger, Smith or Wiley). Let us also take note that during those times there was no unified form of
government and people were not hooked in the Internet. People in the archipelago then (and this is still true until today) speak many
languages, thus what was true in the island of Panay then, was not necessarily true in the nearby islands of Cebu or Samar. Forcing
ourselves to believe that eskrima/arnis/estocada is something pre-Hispanic even without enough proof to support the theory is not
We only have the following objective facts to help us prove or disprove
the current theory of the origin of the eskrima or arnis.
Fact #1 No written records available, which describes what this allegedly
pre-Hispanic martial art of kali really was and there is no
evidence to prove that eskrima/arnis/estocada martial arts are related to the art of kali.
Earlier writings mentioned how good those early natives were in hand-to-hand combat. These early European adventurers were maybe
accurate in their appraisals since they were soldiers/fighters themselves and knew what was good form and what was not. But still the
same, these available literatures do not give us details as to what kali really was. So kali can be everything, it can be stone throwing, wild
boar hunting, yo-yo playing etc.
Fact #2 Research found out that the natives in the islands before the Europeans
came used shields and spears, weapons that are no
longer visible in the majority of the contemporary eskrima/arnis/estocada schools.
If it is true that kali is the martial art practice by the ancient warriors in the islands then it must have included the use of the tameng or
shield and the bangkaw spear. Since the art of eskrima/arnis is derived from kali as some suggested then it must have these weapons
included in the curriculum. Tameng is still useful even in the modern times; in fact riot police are still using this contraption to control
angry crowds. Spears on the other hand are still found in many other martial arts.
Fact #3 The claims that historical personalities like Lapulapu, Tupas and
others were really into kali or eskrima remained unproven.
Some so-called authorities of FMA always associate names like that of Lapulapu to eskrima, as if they were around already in 1500s.
The funny fact is they could not even provide name(s) of who's who in the latter years (in the 1600s, 1700, 1800s) to strengthen their
claims. How one could claim he is the great-great grandson of the great Mr. So-and-so if he does not even know who his biological father
Fact #4 All eskrima/arnis share more common traits than differences.
The Filipino stick fighting in many ways is really different compared to other stick fighting systems in the region. The eskrima styles as
practiced by many Ilocanos in the far north of the archipelago are basically familiar to the styles found in the south, in the Visayas. There
maybe differences in some expressions but generally speaking they are the same.
Fact #5 Practically all eskrima systems/styles are practiced only in the
Christianized groups (or those who are under the direct influence
of the Spanish conquistadors for 333 years), and that no known eskrima system/style is found among those peoples in the hinterlands of
Luzon, among the Lumad and the Muslims in Mindanao.
The Spanish colonized the islands for 333 years, but they were not able to convert the entire population to the Christian faith. There were
many ethnic groups left who were not directly controlled and influenced by them. Many of these groups are slowly assimilated still retain
many of their pre-Hispanic practices. But if the theory is true that eskrima and the like is something originally pre-Hispanic, then at least
one of these many tribal groups could show us sampling of a functional eskrima-like stick fighting art, but there is none.
Fact #6 A link between kali and silat styles is yet to be proven, both
are really different in form and substance.
Many creative eskrimadors want to have this "Moro motif" integrated to their styles. In actuality eskrima/arnis has nothing to do with the
Muslims groups in the south who have their own very beautiful and lethal martial art of silat. Many people foolishly attempted to establish
link between the two, but until now they could not provide us enough evidence. In books and articles on eskrima they always include
stories about juramentado just to add dramatic effect, but in reality all of these, has nothing to do with eskrima/arnis. Some insist that
some of these Muslim tribes do practice some form of kali art. But if we inquire what tribe is that, they could not readily give answer.
Some say it is in Sulu, but if we ask further which part of Sulu? Again there is no clear answer. Since the 70s when this claim first
appeared, and until now nobody can really give the correct answer. Why? Well, the truth of the matter is, there is no kali in the Moroland.
Just a pure fantasy. Is it possible to invent stories and fool the martial arts community? You bet! If you are familiar with the story of the
Neolithic they reportedly found in Mindanao called Tasaday, you will easily understand how/why. In eskrima/arnis, emphasis is on
weaponry first then unarmed fighting later, but in silat they have the weapons training only later.
Fact #7 About 65% of technical terms used in all eskrima/arnis/estocada
developed and propagated by many linguistically diverse ethnic
groups are of Spanish origin.
The Spanish language was never totally adapted by the Filipinos unlike those in other former colonies of the North and South America.
This was because the colonial authorities in the Philippines did not encourage the natives to learn the language. For three centuries, only
the elite and the educated could speak and write the Spanish language. A strange fact is, a great percentage of technical terms used in
eskrima/arnis/estocada (and even the supposedly pre-Hispanic kali styles) are in Spanish, the language most Filipinos then (and now)
did not speak. This is also the language used by the authorities who outlawed the practice and propagation of this native martial art. If the
practitioners at that time were forced to practice in hiding, then why did they not use their own respective languages and dialects instead
of using Spanish?
Fact # 8 The connection between kali and Indonesian martial art of tjakalele
is not yet proven.
Tjakalele is practically just a war dance originated in the Mollucas. It uses spears and shields, the weapons, which are not found in 99%
of kali schools. Words like kali and tjakalele may sound familiar and related but this not proves anything that both are actually related.
Fact #9 The suggestion that kali is the root word of some words found in
different Filipino languages and dialects is not based on
linguistics, in fact a study on this claim is yet to be made.
Important pre-Hispanic household words like diwata, Bathala, datu, ulipon are still understood by many and this same is also true with
words associated with the warriors, like bangkaw, baraw, tameng. So what is supposed to be the ancient name for the Filipino martial
art? Kali? If it is kali then, why don't we find this word in dictionaries of the different Filipino languages and dialects? In fact this particular
word was just "re-introduced" years ago. Kali is never a traditional name for the native martial art. If one goes to a secluded place in Cebu
for example and ask those eskrima old-timers there if they know what is kali, the will probably say they don't know. And these people are
supposed to know better.
Fact #10 The earliest technical description about eskrima/arnis was available
The very first known book available in public was Yambao's book in
Fact #11 Many modalities in eskrima/arnis/estocada like espada y daga are
also found in European fencing arts.
Fact #12 The once Spanish colony of Venezuela in far away South America
also have their own form of stick fighting.
The Garrote Larense stick fighting art of Venezuela reminds one of eskrima. There must be a connection between these two martial arts
somewhere and further research is needed.
Fact #13 It is baseless to say that eskrima or arnis are just phases of
the natural evolution of kali, that is kali being the original form,
eskrima and arnis the modern and diluted equivalents.
Kali that we can see today don't differ from eskrima/arnis. Some say that kali is on blades while eskrima/arnis more on sticks implying
that kali is more combative, realistic and original form while eskrima/arnis as sanitized intended for sports. But in places where the word
kali is not the traditional term used, the eskrima/arnis also included the practice of the bladed weapons. In fact many of those who
categorize their styles as kali were actually derived from escrima/arnis styles.
Fact #14 There is no lack of good blacksmiths and is not the reason why
many eskrima/arnis fighters use sticks now instead of real
Many good eskrimadors are not found in areas known for their machete making skills. Many panday or sword smiths do not know
eskrima and it is never mentioned in the Philippine history that Philippines were running out of bolos.
Fact #15 That the theory proposed is actually not corroborated in the works
of the experts of the Philippine history, anthropology and
Intertribal war was a reality especially before the islands became a colony of Spain. When there is war, there are warriors, weapons and
military arts. If kali was a military art then history books in high school and college must mention it. I do not remember reading a word
kali in our history books when I was still in high school and college, instead in our world history I read words like samurai, katana etc.
Books of anthropology must also provide details about it. It is not mentioned, not because historians are not interested, it is simply
because there is no sufficient information about it.
So basing on the aforementioned facts, we can only offer logical comments
as to the possible origin of the contemporary Filipino Martial
Arts (a bigger portion of which is the eskrima/arnis/estocada/kali). It is basically a product of Filipino creativity and no doubt whatsoever,
it is very Filipino. The bulk of its repertoire was developed during Spanish colonial times, and plausibly it got its inspiration from European
fencing concepts and practices. It was greatly developed and refined (and the evolution still continues) only here in the islands of the
NEW THEORIES ON THE ORIGINS OF ESKRIMA
By: Celestino C. Macachor
Regional ethnic pride seems to be the biggest obstacle in acquiring an
unbiased historically correct account on the origins and
evolution of Eskrima. The Ilonggos in West Visayas insist on the story of the ten Datus of Borneo that is widely believed to have
brought with them an ancient form of bladed combat known as Kali. Congruent to the theory on Kali as the progenitor of Eskrima /
Arnis are the hoaxes and fabrications on the Code of Maragtas and Kalantiaw. In his article Maragtas and Kalantiaw - History,
Legend or Fraud?, Paul Morrow wrote:
"How do historians know about events which, according to them, occurred
before there were Spaniards in the Philippines while there
are almost no known authentic written documents from that era? Much of what we know about the pre-Hispanic era came to us
through legends. These are stories that were not written but were spoken by each generation to the following generation. Legends
change with each telling because often the teller's memory is weak or mistaken- or the teller just wants to make additions to the
story to spice it up. Legends are usually nothing more than stories about the creation of the world, the first man and woman and
such. It is easy to see that they are not meant to be regarded as fact. However, there are some legends which do contain a kernel
There is a kernel of truth in the story of the Ten Datus of Borneo that
reach the island of Panay during pre-Hispanic times. However,
the presumption that the Ten Datus sphere of influence spread throughout the Visayas lacks merit in the light of a research in 1968
made by historian William Henry Scott that exposed author Jose Marco's fabrication on the story of Fr. Jose Maria Pavon the
supposed discoverer of the Code of Maragtas. Scott further revealed in his book Pre-Hispanic Source Materials for the Study of
Philippine History: " José E. Marco's contributions to Philippine historiography… appear to be deliberate fabrications with no historic
validity. There is therefore no present evidence that any Filipino ruler by the name of Kalantiaw ever existed or that the Kalantiaw
penal code is any older than 1914."
Unsettling as it may be for some Filipino ethnic group, but with the advent
of information revolution, as quickly as it is to spread lies
and fabrications it is also as quick to debunk them with serious hard work, patience, methodical research and a passion for
historical accuracy. Such is the story of the First Mass in the Island of Limasawa, Leyte that until the overthrow of Marcos and to
appease her flamboyant First Lady a native of Leyte, was taken as irrefutable historical fact written in textbooks and taught in all our
schools. There is now an overwhelming archaeological/documentary evidence presented by credible historians, anthropologists and
archaeologists of Agusan del Norte that proves the First Mass was in fact celebrated in Masau - present day Butuan City.
Like the Limasawa story, Philippine history is replete with fake stories
and fantasies concocted by self-serving politicians especially
the ruling elite of the Manila and other vested interest groups. This will go on while there are still scams like the textbook bribery
scandal in 1998 involving Mary Ann Maslog.
Finding physical /archaeological evidence to determine the exact origins
of the Filipino Martial Arts is a very remote possibility,
nevertheless, we can collate a wealth of information from the academe and other reliable sources to piece together our theory that:
Contrary to popular belief that it is pre-Hispanic, Eskrima / Arnis / Estokada
is a relatively new Martial Art and did not precede the
arrival of the Spanish conquistadors and developed mainly in the coastal towns of Cebu, Siquijor, Bohol, Negros, Leyte, Panay and
coastal towns of Luzon like Pangasinan, and Pampanga that became a favorite predatory ground for marauding Moro pirates. From
a retreating and defensive mode, the early Visayans shifted strategies that once relied on Cottas to more aggressive offensive
tactics. Extracted from Cebu in Legend and History by Evangeline Lavilles de Paula and Angel in Stone by Fr. Pedro G. Galende,
OSA are these stories:
1.1 MOALBOAL - Southwest Cebu Coast
This story is probably the first historical account on the use of canes
and Latin Oracion against Moro Invaders and the significant
contribution of Bohol style Eskrima to the Cebuano Martial Arts. Again, I would like to reiterate that the writers belong to the
mainstream academe and were in no way involved in the research of Filipino Martial Arts history.
"Oral tradition relates that Boholano pioneers founded the town of Moalboal.
A substantiation of this contention is that its leading
families - the Gadors, Cabarons, Bableras, Redobles and many more - came from Bohol. Another fact is that many residents,
especially the older ones, still speak with Boholano accent.
The first Boholano to settle in the town was Laurente Sabanal. He was captured
by the Spaniards in Bohol for having killed a guardia
civil. But he later escaped on a rowboat to Cebu. He chose Moalboal as his new home, having found the land fertile and the sea
abundant with fish. He lived alone for a while, but he later returned to his native town and brought back with him his family and some
relatives to emigrate to his new-found home. Expectedly, he became the ruler of the settlement.
The Muslims also directed their raids at Moalboal, being already a prosperous
settlement. But led by Sabanal, the inhabitants
successfully repulsed the invaders. They attributed their victory to Sabanal's oracion. When he died, it is said that he was buried by
the shore marked by his magic cane. To this day, a part of it could still be seen. In his honor, the people named a street along the
1.2 SPANISH PERIOD - BANTAYAN ISLANDS
Kinatarcan Island, which belongs to the Bantayan group of Islands, is the
birthplace of GM Floro Villabrille and GM Antonio
Ilustrisimo. A colleague Juris Fernandez who comes from Doong Island told us about his Great Grandfather Tata Lucio Pastor who
is one of the longest living Eskrimador of the island. Tata Lucio Pastor who lived up to 106 years old used bakhaw a fire hardened
wood cut from mangroves as fighting stick. The lineage of Tata Lucio Pastor's Eskrima is untraceable but the fact remains that his
Eskrima is indigenous to the island of Doong and that it was probably developed to repulse superior weaponry and martial skills.
" The Parish of Bantayan was then under the direct control and supervision
of the Archdiocese of Manila. Fr. de Ocampos then, built
a church made of nipa and bamboo. This church was put on torch by the Moro raiders in 1600, when according to Blair and
Robertson , some 800 Bantayanons were taken as captive and sold as slaves to rich Mindanao Muslims. A second church was
again erected and was again put on fire by the marauding Moros.
The stone church as we now see is the third church erected. Construction of this church began on 1839 and completed on year
1863. It was Fr. Doroteo Andrada del Rosario who built this church with a tall belfry and tall walls that surround the plaza.
Fr. Del Rosario being aware of the Moro attack built several lookout towers. The towers were located at Balwarte (Suba, Bantayan),
Do-ong Island, Bantigue, Kabac, Daan Patio (Madridejos), Kaongkod (Madridejos), Tamiao, Ocoy (Sta. Fe), Cota (Sta. Fe) and
Sulangan. Of these towers, only Bantigue and Sulangan have no ruins. To serve as signal of the incoming attack each tower is
equipped with virso (a canon like cylinder wherein explosives were set to make a very loud noise). If one tower sees the incoming
invaders, they would make a signal. The next tower upon hearing the signal would in turn fire their virso and so with the next towers,
a chain explosion is achieved until the signal would reach the town proper. The church bells would then ring the bells to warn the
populace about the incoming attack and prepare for the said attack while the olds, woman and children are cloistered to the
confines of the tall walls surrounding the church.
1.3 PILAR, CAMOTES ISLAND, CEBU
The next story from Lavilles de Paula recalls another vivid historical
account on the use of strategy and Martial Arts against
marauding Moro pirates and probably the importation Leyte Eskrima to Cebu:
"In search for a better place to live in, a family from Cabalian Leyte
crossed the Visayan sea to a nearby island and they became
the nucleus of a settlement in Cebu which grew into a town. Solferino Borinaga was attracted by the fertile soil and the rich fishing
grounds of a place called Palawan. It was so named as there was a spring (Palawan in the dialect) in the area. He brought his wife
Alejandra and son Martin. Since life seemed much better in their new home, Solferino went back to his native town and encouraged
his relatives and friends to immigrate to Palawan. A group - about ten families - went with him. Together, they organized into a
The inhabitants - prosperous as they were - were objects of forays by Moro
pirates. Discovering the new colony, the Muslims would
raid and seize properties, food, and even people. But Solferino Borinaga was an exceptional leader, not only good in organizing, but
an expert in the art of battle. Together with only a few men, they did not only defend their village successfully , but they also
mounted offensive attacks on the veteran sea warriors, fighting them face to face. Surprisingly defeated, the Moros fled and never
disturbed the village again.
News of unprecedented victory over the Moros spread and soon many went
to Palawan to settle there permanently. It grew into a
town and quite naturally, it was Solferino Borinaga who was its first capitan."
1.4 RONDA- South of Cebu is only 5 kms from Moalboal.
"Huluyaw was the former name of Ronda. The name may have come from the
name of a banana plant Huluyaw, which grew
abundantly along the banks of the settlement. It could have originated also according to a popular legend, from incidents when
pirates from Jolo would plunder this southern village to loot and run away with properties and kidnap natives, who would be heard
shouting "Jolo, ayaw!" (Jolo, don't!).
During World War II, the Ronda-Alcantara (87th Infantry Regiment of the resistance movement) was organized in the town, which
also became its stronghold."
The Province of Cebu stretching from Bantayan Islands in the North to Santander
in the South became the focal point in the
development of Eskrima and that its development and tactical use outlived the Moro raiders. The Art of Eskrima was also effective
against Spanish and American colonizers and also against the Japanese invaders. More heroic stories of the coastal towns in Cebu
from Evangeline Lavilles de Paula's book: Cebu in Legend and History:
2.1 BADIAN- A heroic struggle of a small town against three foreign invaders.
"Badian is a town well-sheltered from natural elements like typhoons and
floods. It has high mountains protecting it and it is located
on elevated spot. The strategic position also served the people as protection from Moro raids during the olden times.
As was a practice of early inhabitants to associate and subsequently name their place after a plant, or animal, or a natural
formation. Badian was also named after a plant abounding in its locality called Badyang. Finding it hard to pronounce, they
shortened it to Badian, with its Anglicized spelling.
Badian was the site of a number of historic battles. During the Filipino-American war in 1898, a firece encounter occurred at Barrio
Bugas. Filipino freedom fighters led by Col. Hilano Aliño inflicted heavy casualties on the American forces. It was also in Badian
where the nucleus of the resistance movement of southern Cebu during the World War II was formed by Sgts. Gregorio Sungcad,
Torquato Antiporta, Geronimo Dacillo, and others. Badian was the scene of many clashes between guerilla forces and Japanese
invaders. In retaliation, many innocent civilians were massacred by Japanese soldiers who raided barrio Manay-as on August 17,
ALOGUINSAN- This is where the first successful rout of Moro invaders by Cebuano natives probably took place.
"Bulwarte, a historic landmark, still stands as a mute testimony to the
courage of the early inhabitants of Aloguinsan. Because of
the frequent Moro attacks, the natives, under the supervision of Spaniards, constructed a watchtower on top of a hill at the mouth of
a river. From this vantage point, they could see incoming Moro vintas.
One night (it was a full moon, and the winds were favorable), the Muslim invaders approached the village. With old people, women,
and children safe behind the hills, the men began firing their cannons and did not stop until the pirates were annihilated. It was the
end of Moro assaults.
The historic hill of Villona between the barrios of Olango and Cawasan was also the site of a battle between the American forces
and Filipino revolutionist. The rebels under the leadership of Anastacio de la Cruz encountered the forces of Lt. Walker on Holy
Thursday on April 1903. Lt. Walker and a number of his men were killed. The following day, Good Friday, Lt. McCoy took over the
command of the American troops and outfought the Pulahanes (the rebels because of their red headbands were known as such.)
who were defeated.
The courage and patriotism of the Aloguinsan were again tested in World War II. Guerillas from the place stubbornly and fiercely
resisting Japanese invaders in barrio Konguigon resulted in the death of many Japanese soldiers. The enemy retaliated by killing
many civilians, including babies."
Arnis in Luzon particulary in the province of Pampanga blossomed at the
same time as Eskrima in the Visayas during the
administration of Governor General Sebastian Hurtado de Corcuera.
4.1 The Filipino Martial Arts that we know today was a deadly chemistry
of Macabebe, Cebuano, Ilonggo and other Visayan Martial
Arts. These diverse ethnic groups became brothers in arms and their meticulous recruitment by the Spaniards was intended to
match the skills of the Moro warriors. The only bridge to a cultural and language barrier among this mixture of Visayans and
Capampangans was their mutual hatred of Moros and the cross-pollination of combat skills. Chapter 9 of Vic Hurley's Swiss of the
Kris recalls accurately the recruitment of Pampango, Cebuano and Ilonggo conscripts during the administration of Governor General
Sebastian Hurtado de Corcuera to fight against the Moros of Sulu. Hurley credited Corcuera as the most successful Governor
General during the Spanish colonial period to have successfully contained the Moros of Sulu. Some of Chapter 9 Corcuera and
Almonte excerpts are here to support our theory:
"After due preparation, an expeditionary force under the command of Captain
Juan de Chaves landed at Zamboanga on April 6,
1635. There de Chaves founded the town of Bagumbayan, which was the first name for Zamboanga, and from this station he soon
reduced the towns of Caldera and Balvagan.
After Captain de Chaves' force of 300 well armed Spaniards and 1000 Visayans had cleared the peninsula temporarily of hostile
Moros, the construction of one of the finest forts in the East was put into execution. On June 23, 1635, the foundations of the grand
fortress of Nuestra Senora del Pilar was laid by Father Vera, engineer of the Spanish army."
The year 1635 had witnessed the arrival in Manila of a very efficient Governor-General and a perfect soldier. The coming of Don
Sebastian Hurtado de Corcuera marked a period of success for the Spanish arms which was not to be equaled again until the
mighty soldier Juan Arolas arrived 250 years later.
Whatever Corcuera's emotions as he gazed down the valley to the horde of brown kris men waiting to resist him, there can be no
question as to his valor. At a flourish of a mailed fist, the Spanish plumes disappeared into the wave of Moros.
We are indebted to Father Crevas for an account of this campaign. From him we learn that Corcuera, with a squadron of small
vessels and a dozen flat boats, entered the river, defying Correlat. "The forces which he had were five companies; his own of 150
men, those of Captain Nicholas Gonzalez and Lorenzo Orella de Ugalde of 100 men each; another company of sailors; another of
Pampangos; all the rest were rabble and pioneers. The same day he reached the river, he entered, with seventy men, the court of
Correlat, defended by more than two thousand armed Moros."
As we consider the caliber of the men who opposed Corcuera that day, we wonder how he kept his small company from being
overwhelmed. The Spaniards had arquebuses, but they were slow and laborious to reload. A great deal of the combat must have
been hand-to-hand. Pitched to religious fervor, a Moro was the equal to any Spaniard in hand-to-hand battle, and yet Corcuera
survived to win a brilliant victory.
de Corcuera remains as one of the conspicuous figures of the Spanish conquest of Mindanao. He was a perfect soldier. His reward
for distinguished service in the field against the Moros was paralleled by the treatment Cortez and Balboa received at the hands of
the Spanish crown. During his term of office as Governor-General of the Philippines (1635-1644), he incurred the displeasure of the
Friars, and upon being succeeded by Diego Fajardo, he was haled into court, fined ,000 and thrown into prison for five years. He
was finally released by a Royal Order and given the tardy award of Governor of the Canary Islands.
Ned Nepangue in a previous article wrote of the stick fighting arts of
Canary Islands and Venezuela that is closely similar in
technical form to Eskrima / Arnis. Who could have introduced stick fighting in the Canary Islands? From the historical facts above
we can surmise that De Corcuera, during his administration of the Canary Islands could have brought along with him trusted alalays
(cronies) that probably cross trained with native Filipinos during his Mindanao campaign.
4.2 From another source "Complete Sinawali" by Reynaldo Galang, he wrote:
"A royal decree in 1636 ordered the "pacification"of the island of Mindanao.
Two large companies composed of mainly Pampangans
and Visayans were part of the force led by Governor General Sebastian Hurtado de Corcuera. This force traveled aboard eleven large
vessels with 760 Spanish infantrymen who were divided into a total of seven companies. Using Zamboanga as base, the troops
underwent rigorous training with the advice and help of Datu Suksukan of Zamboanga and Datu Piatong of the Lutaos"
Chavacano the native dialect of the Zamboanguenos is a hodgepodge of bastardized Spanish, Cebuano, Tagalog and Ilonggo.
4.3 Even after the administration of Corcuera the Spanish authorities continued
to employ Visayan mercenaries to exact revenge
and kill as many Moros as they can with the promise of great rewards. Chapter 13 of Swish of the Kris details this account:
"A decree dated December 21, 1751, was signed by the Governor-General of
Manila. It provided:
· The extermination of the Moslems of Mindanao and Sulu with fire and sword and no quarter for Moros of any age or either sex.
· The fitting out of Visayan corsairs with authority to extinguish the foe; to accomplish the burning of all that was combustible.
· To destroy all crops; desolate all land; make Moro captives and recover Christian slaves.
· One fifth of the spoil taken from the Moros belong to the King.
· All Visayans engaged to be exempt from the payment of all tribute while engaged in the extermination of the Moros.
Criminals who volunteer to the service to be granted full pardon for past offenses."
Given this historical background on the animosity of Visayan Christians
and Moros, it is easy to grasp how deep rooted the conflict
in Mindanao is until today. The bloody war of attrition between the Barracudas (Moro fighters) and the Ilagas (Ilonggos)and the
succeeding MNLF war of secession in the1970's displaced more than a quarter of a million Muslims in Mindanao. Casualties from
both sides also numbered to several hundred thousands.
4.4 The recruitment of Cebuanos continued until the 19th century. Chapter
15 Later Wars of Swish of the Kris, recalls graphically
what motivated the Cebuanos to volunteer in a war against the Moros in the name of the King of Spain:
"Indeed, matters reached such a state that before the end of the year warships
were ordered out for another attack on Jolo. Four
regiments of infantry and a corps of artillery aided the gunboats. Included was a battalion of Cebuanoes (sic)who sought revenge for
the Moro raids. The wives of the Cebuanoes(sic) emulated Lysistrata in reverse. Every wife took an oath before Father Ibanez to
deny forever their husbands all of their favors if the Cebuano men turned their backs to the Moros.
In the battle of Jolo, Father Ibanez lost his life in the assault on a Moro cotta. The good Father tucked his cassock about his waist
and plunged into the thickest of the battle. The Cebuanoes(sic) performed prodigies of valor and Jolo fell again. The seat of the
Sultanate was removed across the island to Maybun, and the Moros paid regular visits to Jolo to slaughter the Spanish garrison
which remained. "
It is therefore not unthinkable that the Cebuano survivors/veterans of
this campaign later passed on their martial arts skills to the
rest of Cebu and the Visayan Islands. The foregoing text also bolsters our theory on the active participation of Spanish priests in
combat and their influence in the development of Eskrima. Lavilles de Paula in her narrative told of the same pattern of pillage and
plunder in the towns of Sibonga, Mandaue with its famous Bantayan sa Hari Tower, Carcar, Oslob,Naga and Talisay. Practically all
the 52 coastal municipalities of Cebu had a history of recurring Moro forays. Given this statistics and taking into account the brave
Sri Vishayan ancestry of the Cebuanos, Ilonggos and Warays, we can deduce that a raw form of Martial Arts started to take shape
in defense of their coastal communities. Later the Spanish authorities took advantage of the Martial skills of the native Cebuanos
and their animosity against the Moros during the Corcuera administration. And with the subsequent alliance with the Pampangos
and a more deadly and highly developed Martial Arts that we now call as Eskrima, Arnis, Estoque or Estokada later flourished.
4.5 From the Book THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS, Chapter XV by Blair & Robertson
is a narrative of Moro raids in Leyte, Bohol and
That year of 1634 was so quiet and so barren of events worthy of remembrance
that I shall not dwell long upon it; for there is nothing
of which I have heard to detain me, unless it be the raid of the Mindanao enemy into the island of Leyte, and the depredations that
they committed there with the license permitted to them in seeing that there was no attempt made in Manila to check them.
On Sunday, December 3, 1634, the Mindanaos arrived with eighteen galleys at the village of Ogmuc,(Ormoc City) leaving behind in
that of Baybay the rest of the vessels, which they brought in their fleet. Fifty of our Indians went out to resist them, but being unable
to fight so many, they gradually retired to a little fort, possessed by the village. They thought that they would be able to resist the
pirates there, being encouraged by their minister, Father Juan del Carpio, of the Society of Jesus; and they did so for some time,
until the Moros, knowing that the church was higher than the fort, entered it and our men could not reach them with their shots.
They planted three pieces in a convenient place at the church, in order to do great damage to those in the fort; and firing without
cessation, they did not allow our men to fire a shot through its loopholes and windows. Others of the enemy hastened by another
side to gather bundles of thatch by uncovering the roofs of the houses; and by fastening together what wood and bamboo they could
gather, and pushing this contrivance toward the fort, they set it afire. The fire burned a quantity of rice and abacá (which is the hemp
of this country), and many men were choked by the smoke. The besieged, seeing that the fire had caught the timber-work [of the
fort], and that they were being inevitably killed without any chance to defend themselves, displayed a signal for surrender, and in fact
They were all captured; and a great contest arose among the enemy as to who should have Father Carpio as his captive. In this
contention they had recourse to the Mindanao captain, and he ordered that the father be killed. That they did very gladly, and
beheaded him and carried his head back to present it as a spoil to their king, Cachil Corralat (Sultan Kudarat). The latter had
charged them not to leave alive any religious or Spaniard, for so had he vowed to their false prophet Mahomet in an illness that he
had had. They took the others captive, and sacked and burned all the village. From that place they sailed out and committed the
same destruction in the villages of Soyor, Binñangán, Cabalián, Canamucán, and Baybay (Leyte Island). But they were so stoutly
resisted in the village of Inibañgán (Inabanga) in [the island of] Bohol, and in Dapitán (Mindanao), that they retired but little the
gainers; for those Indians (Visayan Christian natives) are very valiant, and very different in valor from the other villages which the
The Camucones (the name of the Moro pirates who inhabit the little islands of the Sulu group east of Tawi-tawi, and the islands
between these and Borneo) also-a people from islands subject to Borney, cruel and barbarous, and Mahometan by religion,
although there are pagans in some islands-made their raids into the island of Panay, chiefly on the villages of Batán, Domayan, and
Mahanlur, and in those of Aclán and Bahay, where they captured many of our Indians, and burned the churches of the visita. The
visitas are usually deserted, and have no houses to defend them; and those Camucones are very cowardly and very different from
the Joloans and Mindanaos, who are valiant, and much more so the latter named. The Camucones entered by the river and bar of
Batán, which is salt water, where a very grievous jest happened to two or three of their craft. The river of Batán has another river a
short distance above the village road, which ends in a very wide and spacious sea, which they call " tinagongdagat," or "hidden
sea," in which the inhabitants enjoy excellent fishing. With the ebb of the tide that spacious sea is left, almost dry, and then many
kinds of shellfish are caught, such as oysters and crabs. The Camucones entered that sea, with the intention of lying in wait for
some capture, but when they least expected it they found their craft on dry ground. An Indian who was gathering the aforesaid
shellfish saw them; and, recognizing them to be piratical enemies by the style of their craft, went to the village and gave warning of
them. Many of the inhabitants of Batán assembled, and, well armed, attacked the Camucones very courageously. They made a
great slaughter of the pirates, and captured many of them and burned their craft. Some of the Camucones escaped through the
mangrove plantations and swampy ground. They were captured next day, with the exception of those who had the luck to rejoin the
boats of their companions-who repenting of their carelessness, returned to their lands, and did not return to try their fortune in those
regions for many years.”
Again, the foregoing narrative demonstrated the cunning and bravery of
the early Christian Boholanos and Ilonggos of Panay in
repulsing the Moro raiders.
Eskrima / Arnis undoubtedly is a product of Filipino genius, however, we
cannot also downplay the significant contributions of
Spanish military/ civilian fencers especially the clergy in its development.
5.1 BOLJOON -
Boljoon's history presents proof of Spanish Warrior priests training Cebuano
natives and engaging Moro raiders in hand to hand
combat. We can further surmise that the early techniques of Eskrima such as the "fraille", "florete", "crossada" were coined by
these warrior priests. Erlinda Kintanar Alburo recounts in her book Sugat which a collection of essays on the Cebuano insurrection
that a Spanish priest Fr. Angel Maestro taught Cebuano revolutionary hero Leon Kilat the fundamentals of Eskrima. Here are more
excerpts from Evangeline Lavilles de Paula's book CEBU IN HISTORY AND LEGEND:
"Boljoon is one of the oldest towns in the South. And it is also the most
quaint and picturesque. Its narrow coastal plains are
bordered by cliffs and luxuriant hills which has a commanding view of Bohol Strait.
According to Marin Morales, the town was created in 1598. The parish was established a year later. But this was disputed by Fr.
Blanco, asserting that the parish was founded in 1600. The church of Boljoon was started by Fr. Manuel Cordero and completed by
Fr. Julian Bermejo, who also built the convent that was finished in 1841. The convent is L-shaped like a monastery surrounded by
walls and tile roof.
Boljoon church is a veritable showcase of old and intricate carvings and bass relief. It still has the Spanish churchyard beside it.
According to Tamayo, of all Cebu's churches, the Boljoon church best gives one a sense of the Philippine colonial past. J.T
Newman describes the church: It is relatively well preserved, except for its communion rail with ornate silverwork, which has been
stolen. It is pseudo-baroque-rococo. Its tower is unusual because it is Islamic in character, it is square, rather than curved, making
it look more like a fortress than anything. Its rectangular belfry, built in 1701, has fort windows used to show cannons to defend
against Moro pirates. The sound of its silver bells reached Oslob and Alcoy. But in 1802, they were stolen by Muslim hordes led by
Datu Orendain. Because of their weight, the Moro vinta sunk. Fray Antonio Maglano, OSA, was the warrior-priest who led the
One of the parish priests who worked hard to repulse the Muslim pirates was Fr. Julian Bermejo. A chain of watchtowers was
constructed under his direction. This chain ran along the shoreline from Punta Tañong (Santander) to Manhage. It was later
extended up to Carcar, for a total length of 96 kms. He built a large quadrangular house made of masonry and its walls were at least
a meter thick; its four corners were reinforced wit loopholes. The townspeople called it dakung balay. The Governor-general,
impressed, sent to the necessary artillery equipment for this fortress. Fr, Bermejo also installed a telegraphic system for the
purpose of constant communication among towns in cases of impending raids.
Old Boljoon had four dependents: Mambaje, Ivisan, and Tañon. The first three were situated near the beach, while Tañon was
perched high up in the mountains serving as an observation post for the marauding Moros."
5.2 Also from Chapter 11 of Swish of the Kris, Hurley gave credit to the bravery the Spanish priests:
"The history of the Spanish occupation of the Philippines is filled with
reference to the bravery of the militant priests of the Jesuit
order. These ambidextrous missioners, Cross in left hand and Toledo blade in right, were in the first wave of every attack on the
The pattern of Moro raids from the shores of Bantayan Islands, Cebu, Antique, Iloilo, Leyte, Dumaguete to Pampanga matched
perfectly with the dominance of these coastal provinces in today's Filipino Martial Arts of Eskrima, Arnis, and Estokada. Like the
Big Bang Theory, the Filipino Martial Arts exploded in the years 1635-1644 during the term of Governor General Sebastian Hurtado
de Corcuera, the military genius that pitted the best warriors of the Visayas and Luzon against the fearless Moros of Sulu. The
dominant FMA organizations worldwide that originated from these once fertile Moro hunting grounds are Doce Pares, Kali
Ilustrisimo, Pekiti-Tirsia and Giron Arnis Escrima. There are also several dozens of obscure styles that have taken root from these
provinces like, Bergonia Style, Toledo-Collado(Pangasian -once part of Pampanga province), Moro-moro (either Samar or Bohol
orgins), Cadena de Mano (probably Panay), Abanico de Vertical (West Cebu), Bohol style, Tapado (Negros) to name a few.
It is foolhardy to assume that a single ethnic group invented the Filipino
Martial Arts, but what is obvious here however, is the
dominance of the Cebuanos and Ilonggos in the art of combat due to the vulnerability and proximity of their coastlines to the fast
paraos of Moro raiders. The Christian natives in these coastal areas had no choice but to fight tooth and nail to protect their
territorities, women, children, culture and their newfound religion. The Moro attacks on the Cebu, Negros and Panay coastlines were
more frequent than any other place in the entire archipelago. It is therefore safe to postulate that because of regular fracas, these
ethnic groups honed their fighting skills and developed a more technical form of combat vis a vis the other regions. The Visayans
dominance in the FMA has nothing to do with boastfulness as what Pedro Reyes wrote in his article The Filipino Martial Tradition.
For lack of a weighty hypothesis Pedro Reyes without qualms and understanding of the sensibilities of the proud Visayans insulted
"Arnisadores prefer teachers who shine by their own light, like the sun,
rather than the planets that shine by the reflected light of
their school or teacher. That is why arnisadores like Jose Caballero,(Cebuano) Remy Presas (Ilonggo) and Edgar Sulite(Waray)
claim to have created their own styles, rather than to have inherited them. Incidentally, masters from the North are more apt to be
self-deprecating while masters from the South are more prone to boast. This is due to social convention and personal dynamics and
has little to do with actual ability. But in the country of hard sell this could be one reason why arnis from the south is spreading
throughout the world, while arnis from the North remains in the shadows"
Reading between the lines, it is another vain effort by people of the North
to muddle the history of FMA. Reyes is no different from
the pretentious FMA historians out to skew the facts about the Filipino Martial Arts and as a loyal practitioner of Kali Ilustrisimo, in
effect he is banging himself in the head or unless he will concoct a story that the Ilustrisimo system originated in Tondo or Ilocos.
I've always been a proud Cebuano, however I find it difficult to believe
that Lapu-lapu defeated Magellan with his superior Kali skills
as portrayed by the pseudo historians in the FMA circles. For all I care Magellan could have tripped on the corals off the shores of
Mactan and bashed his head on the rocks. The "battle" that took place as historians tell us was actually a lopsided massacre.
Magellan only had less than a 50 man reconnaissance patrol (not a full scale invasion by any military standard) against more than
one thousand men of Lapu-lapu, and you call that a Martial Art victory? Pure hogwash! As the first Asian to repel a foreign invader,
Lapu-lapu's niche in Philippine history is already assured, but please let us stop spicing up the story on the "Battle" of Mactan as
an epic display of our hero's Martial Arts prowess.
I have nothing against organizations calling their Art Kali, that is just
fine for branding purposes, but laying claim that it is the mother
of Eskrima / Arnis and that it originated in Muslim Mindanao is a contentious issue. Kali is a contradiction in terms, where can you
find a practitioner of Kali who calls himself "Kalisador" or "Kalista"- no less than GM Antonio Ilustrisimo prefered to be called an
Eskrimador, or even our myopic friend Pedro calls himself an Arnisador. Master Ben Largusa leader of LargusaVillabrille Kali calls
his late mentor GM Floro Villabrille an Eskrimador.
Let us assume for the purposes of discussion that indeed Kali was practiced
by the Ten Datus of Panay as what Mark Wiley
suggested in his book the Filipino Martial Arts:
"Legends claim that ten Datus (chieftains) left Borneo and settled in Panay
where they established the Bothoan in the twelfth
century. The Bothoan was a school where the Datus taught Kali along with academic subjects and agriculture. It was a kind of
preparatory school for tribal leaders. "
But then again, as he said it is just a legend -told and retold and embellished
for several generations that any scholar in his right
mind would not take with a grain of salt. While we did have lectures about the Code of Maragtas and Kalantiaw,(which is already
proven as a fake) I can't recall any of the history my teachers back in college mentioning a sophisticated system of combat like Kali
during the pre-Hispanic period. Such a wonderful subject as an ancient Martial Art would have been a good piece of classroom
discussion. So, how could our teachers miss that during those years when Bruce Lee's Eskrima exhibition in the movie Enter the
Dragon was still very fresh in our memory. Again, granting that Bothoan really existed and Kali was one of the lessons in their
curriculum . . . well, what was true in 1500s or prior to that, was not necesarilly true to other adjacent islands . . . no internet cafe
then, no text messaging and no TransAsia plying the route.
I would like to argue that assumption of Mark Wiley by again quoting Paul Morrow:
"So, how do we tell what is true and what is false in Philippine history?
Here is a rule of thumb: Any account that assigns an exact
date to an event in the Philippines before the arrival of the Spanish in 1521 is probably not true. At present there is only one
exception to that rule. That is the date recorded on the Laguna Copperplate Inscription of 900 A.D. which was proved by skilled
As time goes on, more and more exceptions to the rule of thumb will arise
due to the efforts of the increasing number of new
historians who desire to correct the lies that were taught to Filipinos in the past."
If indeed Kali is a very old term and has something to do with warriorship
then everyone must be familiar with it like the words baraw,
tameng, sondang, bangkaw . . .and it would have imprinted an indelible mark in the collective consciousness of the Visayan people
for hundreds of generations like the Moro bogeyman that our yayas (babysitters) used to scare us with to pacify our childhood
tantrums: "Hala kon di ka mohilom dagiton ka sa Moros ug e-lawog sa Tirong" (Hey, if you won't shut up the Moro is going to
snatch you and feed you to the Tirongs)
To muddle the issue further there are other amateur linguists in the FMA
that theorize on certain Visayan words as the root of Kali.
They say that Kali is related to many words, that means that this same word has connections with the following Visayan words:
Kalipay (Happiness), Kalibutan (Earth/World), Kalibog (Confusion), Kaliwat
(Relatives/Ancestors/Heredity), Kalisud (Difficulty),
Kalibanga (Diarrhea/LBM), Kalimotaw (Eye Pupil), Kaligo (Bath), Kalit (Sudden), Kalihim (Secretary) . . . okay let us disarrange the
letters . . . Kilat (Thunder), Kilas (Agility) . . . and where and when did kris become kalis? What language is that? Esperanto?
For twenty-two years I have traveled the entire breadth of Mindanao as
a Salesman while on the side searching in vain for the
vaunted Kali man I've read so much in FMA books. Without luck, everywhere I went dodging bullets and 105-mm howitzers whistling
past my ears, from Ipil, Zamboanga del Sur to boundaries of Bukidnon, Davao and Cotabato I always end up in a quagmire. I tried
Ned's suggestion to search for him in a place noted for making bolos. Aside from their own version of native nipa wine called
Pa-uroy, the town of Cantilan Surigao del Sur is also famous for their finely forged pinuti , but there is no one here who can handle
the weapon with at least rudimentary skill. From Dumingag, I was referred to a Muslim bladesmith in Margosatubig, Zamboanga del
Sur, but the poor artisan I encountered does not even know the word Kali. I was expecting to finally get the chance to meet an
authentic Kali man in the person of GM Billy Baaclo of Ozamiz City. To my disappoint, he traced the lineage of his Abaniko de
Sungkiti to Prancing Ybanez of Sibonga, Cebu. I did find an assortment of Barongs and authentic Krises in Lanao, but they were
mostly ornamental. I tried to cajole the peddlers themselves to bring me to the Muslim swordsman, and what did I get? "Igso, banig
na lang, walay Kali." (Brother, just buy my mat, no Kali). So where's the elusive Kali man?
No one will question the Moro people's fortitude in battle, but whatever
form of sword fighting they practice, I have no doubt in my
mind that it is not Kali. Silat and Kuntao are indigenous to the Island of Basilan but none of its techniques are analogous to what we
see in "Kali", Eskrima, or Arnis. Or maybe they really don't have any organized sword fighting system after all and relied purely on
suicidal frenzy and the sharpness of their Kris at the height of mayhem. Knowing the typical Mindanao Muslim's penchant for
announcing in huge streamers petty accomplishments such as passing the Teacher's Board Exams, their "sticker-happy" cars,
gun-totting warlords and flamboyant display of jewelry, I find it incredible how such a Martial Art known as Kali that they supposedly
invented can be kept secret until today.
So where does our theory on the origin of the first Filipino Martial Art fit in? Simple logic, given our hyphothesis:
-Years 1635-1644 The Explosion of FMA during the administration of Governor
General Sebastian Hurtado de Corcuera
-Recruitment of Pampango, Cebuano, Ilonggo and Warays and cross pollination of raw martial skills with aid of Spanish fencers.
-Warrior priest actively engaged in combat alongside Christian Indios and Spanish Regulars
Coined by no less than the Spanish colonial masters of the era, the single
most definitive word that best described their
engagement with the indomitable Moros of Sulu was - ESCRIMA !
"Cebu in Legend and History" by: Evangeline Lavilles de Paula
"Sugat" by Erlinda Kintanar Alburo (Center for Cebuano Studies)
"Angels in Stone" Pedro G. Galende, OSA
"Maragtas and Kalantiaw-History or Fraud?" by: Paul Morrow
"Pre-Hispanic Source Materials for the Study of Philippine History" by: William Henry Scott
"Swish of the Kris" by: Vic Hurley
"Complete Sinawali" by: Reynaldo Galang
"The Philippine Islands" by: Blair & Robertson
"Origins of Eskrima" by: Ned Nepangue
Special thanks to the following contributors:
Mert Altares, King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals, Dhahran,
Juris Fernandez, Liloan, Cebu