There are very few sports that raise the adrenaline of its supporters like the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and its use of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). All around the world, people pay good money to watch ‘Fight Cards’ on pay-per-view events, and the fans are arguably just as passionate as the fighters they support.

Brandon Vera, a Filipino-American MMA fighter, rose to superstardom in 2006 and caught the Filipino public’s eye. Amazingly, eight years later, in 2014, he fought in the Philippines for the first time ever and it is marked to this day as one of the biggest days in Filipino MMA history. A year after that, he claimed the ONE Heavyweight World Title and spoke directly to the Filipino public: “Philippines, you now have a heavyweight world champion”.


 Eskrima:  Filipino-Spanish for fencing, skirmish
 Kali:  Pre-Hispanic-Filipino “Calis” for fencing, blades
 Arnis:  Old Spanish for armour

The popularity of his unique fight style has piqued the interest of the general international public, and this will be a little look into the fighting style of the Filipino people. This is an introduction to Filipino Martial Arts.

How did it begin?

Although the origins and exact timeline of Filipino martial arts are hard to track down, there are records of the Spanish conquerors encountering the local tribes who were already practicing a form of martial arts. Obviously, it was not used as a sport or an art form back then, much more likely that the tribes needed a form of self-defense.

Over the years, however, the many conquerors of many nations came and left, enriching and changing many aspects of Filipino life, including its fight style. Amazingly, its efficiency in using energy and weaponry has gained it international plaudits, with even many American, Russian and Indian troops learning to incorporate its stylings within their training.

National Sport

Image: Facebook/BhabeshChBaroAtc

1972 was the official year that the government included martial arts into its national sports arena, where it has grown from strength to strength. Today, not only are the police and military well-versed in this form of self-defense, it is also the country’s national sport.

What makes it special?

While many popular martial arts focus mainly on hand-to-hand combat (jiu-jitsu, tae kwon do, etc.), Filipino martial artists recognize the deadliness and importance of weaponized combat, and so they train mainly for practicality. Many fights will break up with a weapon involved, especially if the combatant is not skilled in actual combat, so most forms of Filipino martial art include training with a weapon.

It also teaches the primal, common sense use of everyday tools as weaponry to combat ever-changing circumstances.

Forms of Filipino Martial Arts

Filipino martial arts take many forms, including, but not exclusive to these categories:

  • Unarmed – Mano mano (hand to hand), Dumog (grappling), Sayaw ng Kamatayan (similar to Muay Thai), etc.
  • Impact – Baston (sticks), Bankaw (staff), Everyday objects (pen, keys, umbrella, etc.), etc.
  • Edged – Barong (knife), Golok (machete), Sibat (spear), etc.
  • Flexible – Lubid (rope), Everyday objects (towel, belt, etc.), etc.
  • Projectile – Pana (bow and arrow), Sibat (spear), Bagakay (darts), etc.

Most importantly, Filipino martial arts focus very heavily on being able to react to different circumstances. The weapon may have knocked from your hand or you may suddenly acquire one in a fistfight, and the most important thing is to learn to adapt. Movements and footwork are also a big focus for this style of fighting.

Function over specific movements makes this fighting style unique and especially efficient with energy use. No matter the weapon of choice, if you decide to learn Filipino martial arts, it is always about adapting on the fly.

As is, many people around the Philippines are getting to know and learn this highly effective form of self-defense. Maybe someday the sport will be as commercially viable as elsewhere around the world, but for now, this country is content with naming it as its national sport, and getting more and more people into this very demanding, yet very rewarding, art form.