Friday, June 11, 2010

New Theories on the Orgins of Eskrima by Celestino 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 of truth."

There is no truth to the story of the ten datus of Borneo. This was proven a fraud in a research made in 1968 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: Jose 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 Angels 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 shore."


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.


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 barrio.

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."


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:


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. Here are some excerpts of Chapter 9 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.

Governor General Sebastian Hurtado de Corcuera - was he the father of the Filipino Martial Arts?

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 25,000 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, Yakan and Subanon dialects.

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 Panay Islands:

"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 abaca (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 did so.
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, Binan, Cabalian, Canamucan, and Baybay (Leyte Island). But they were so stoutly resisted in the village of Inibanga (Inabanga) in [the island of] Bohol, and in Dapitan (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 Mindanaos sacked.
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 Batan, Domayan, and Mahanlur, and in those of Aclan 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 Batan, which is salt water, where a very grievous jest happened to two or three of their craft. The river of Batan 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 Batan 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.


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 Boljoon militiamen.
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 Tanon (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 Tanon. The first three were situated near the beach, while Tanon 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 Moros. "
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 us:

"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 investigation.

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, Saudi Arabia.
Juris Fernandez, Liloan, Cebu

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