The Escrima History

Escrima, Arnis, Kali are just a few name used to describe the martial art brought to the United States by Filipinos.

Whatever name it goes under, the art has had a long and savage history, dating back to 1521 when Spanish rule first came to the Philippine Islands.Before colonization by Spain, Escrima was taught as a recreational activity, along with reading, writing, religion and Sanskrit.

The Spaniards had a hard time imposing their rule on the inhabitants, who wielded their bolos, daggers and sticks with fierce and deadly effectiveness.Not until they brought in reinforcements and firearms could they affect any semblance of order.

In the seventeen hundreds, when Spanish rule was firmly secured, the teaching and study of Escrima was banned (in the same way as the Japanese overlords banned the ownership of weapons on Okinawa). The carrying of a bolo (a long bladed weapon similar to a machete) or dagger was also forbidden. These orders were imposed in an attempt to “civilize” the spirited Filipinos.

Escrima then became a clandestine art (as did the art of Karate on Okinawa) and was practiced in secret. When it re-emerged it went unnoticed by the Spaniards.It had been set to native music and performed as it was, without weapons, the movements resembled only a harmless dance. This “dancing” even became popular withthe rulers and demonstrations were given in public at fiesta time.

The real Escrima had not died though, as the Spanish soldiers found out every time there was a revolt. From generation to generation, the many different regional styles,collectively termed Escrima, were kept alive, being handed down from father to son over the centuries.

When Spanish rule ended and the Americans took over in 1898, the ban on the art was lifted. Friendly competitions were then conducted in public at fiesta’s butthe teachers never “opened their doors”, so to speak and Escrima remained a semi-secretive activity.

The country was to see a lot more martial arts action in the ensuing years. When the war came, the Japanese invaded the Philippines and a lot of Filipinos workedalongside the Americans in guerilla units. Many of these owed their lives, in countless close-quarter engagements, to their Escrima training–the custom issuedmachete closely resembled their native bolo. This is an art that has been well and truly tested, over a long period of time in actual combat.

After the war, many Filipinos had emigrated to the USA–needless to add, Escrima went with them. Most of the immigrants went to Hawaii and California. Of these thatwent to California the majority settled in Stockton and it is from there that Arnis / Escrima has surfaced onto the American martial arts scene.

The “discovery” of Escrima, along with the widespread use of the Nunchaku weapon, must be credited to the late Bruce Lee. His portrayal of the use of the “double sticks” inthe movie “Enter the Dragon” and the unfinished “Game of Death” brought the art of Filipino Stick Fighting out into the open. Bruce Lee was taught Escrima by his student andfriend, Danny Inosanto who had in turn been trained by a distinguished Escrimador (the title given to practitioners of the art) in Stockton, California.

The Filipino Martial Arts is virtually unknown to the general public because of it’s late entry into the mainstream martial arts world. What hasn’t helped the popularity growthof Escrima is the stigma attached to how it is taught. Escrima is noted for using weapons, usually sticks, as the primary tool to learn the basic concepts of the art, with thesecondary focus being the empty hands. The idea of just picking up a stick or any weapon is a scary thought, and avoiding rather than exploring the beauty of the art seems saferand is less time consuming.