6+ Filipino Martial Arts: Origins Of Philippines Fighting

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Updated on October 29, 2022

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A lot of Filipinos have shown greatness in combat sports. Have you ever wondered how this combat pedigree started?

Filipinos adopt many modern martial arts, but what are the primary Filipino martial art styles?

Kali, Sikaran, Dumog, Kinamutay, Panantukan and Yaw Yan are examples of Filipino Martial arts. Kali uses weapons, Sikaran mainly uses kicks, and Dumog is more on Wrestling. Kinamutay and Panantukan focus on dirty boxing. Lastly, Yaw Yan has a Muay Thai-like style.

Below is an in-depth article about Kali. Feast your minds and what beauty Filipino Martial Arts holds.

Types of Filipino martial arts

Filipino Martial Arts or FMA is a general term for the only Philippine traditional Martial Arts called Kali.

Before western martial arts infiltrated the Filipino culture, Kali was the primary self-defense of the Filipino ancestors.

They even used this during the revolution against Spanish colonizers to regain their freedom.

Let’s take a look at all there is to know about Kali and its variations as well as the many other martial arts that began in this beautiful culture.


Kali, also known as Eskrima and Arnis, is a weapon-based Filipino martial arts. It involves swinging a weapon while moving your body strategically to dodge an attack or to make an opening for the next strike. It’s also the Philippines’ national martial art.

The Philippines is a vast archipelago. This means Kali is performed by different groups of people across the country. That’s also why other names like Eskrima and Arnis came to be.

You can learn Kali with any purpose that you have. You can either learn it for cultural preservation or do it for the martial art it is.

You can also learn Kali competitively. You’ll learn more tactical moves, rules, and point systems in combat Kali to join a tournament.

Competitive Kali will make you wear samurai-like armor. Competitors will fight for three rounds with 1 minute and 30 seconds rest in between.

Two martial artists performing Kali stick fighting

Each successful body strike earns you a point. Here you’re only allowed to use bamboo sticks for both fighters’ safety.

Kali doesn’t only include bamboo sticks as a weapon. Here, you can hold a sword, knife, a long staff, or nun-chucks.

Each experience is totally different from the other. A stick is more manageable to swing than a heavier sword.

The first utilization of Arnis can be traced back hundreds of years ago, way before Spaniards arrived to colonize the country.

Filipino ancestors called “Pintados” are believed to pioneer the combat style. They’re called Pintados because of their tattooed body. They used Arnis to settle Prehispanic Filipino tribes’ conflicts.

When the Spanish era arrived, Filipino Katipuneros (a revolutionary group of men and women) continued to use Arnis as their primary way of defending their motherland.

As time went by, they started a massive revolution that sparked a war between Spaniards and the Katipuneros.

Luckily, the Katipuneros won the battle. This battle for freedom is extraordinary because the Filipinos only used bolos and some smuggled revolvers against an army of Spaniards armed with rifles.

Today, Arnis and the history that came with it are still well-preserved. It has also evolved into a much safer martial art form where students use a baston (bamboo stick) as the main weapon instead of bolos.

As Kali entered the modern age of martial arts, it also adapted new styles to offer for younger students.

Some Kali schools teach practical self-defense against an armed enemy. Some instructors have also been teaching empty hand combat.

There are different variations of Kali. Bellow are some Kali styles:

Espada y Daga

Espada y Daga is a Kali style where the martial artist will hold one long sword and a short dagger instead of a bamboo stick. This Kali style is mainly for performing cool-looking Kali maneuvers. If you’re planning to learn Arnis for its beautiful art, Espada y Daga is a good style choice.

Back in the day, Filipino national heroes used this Espada y Daga style to defeat Spanish soldiers.

The only difference is that they used a single “bolo.” Bolo is a sharp sword-like weapon, mainly for cutting thin wood and grass: it is somehow similar to a machete.

All in all, Espada y Daga is the most dangerous style of Arnis as it uses an edged weapon. This weapon can actually take someone’s life compared to regular bamboo sticks. 

Is there a tournament for Espada y Daga?

There’s no combat tournament when it comes to Espada y Daga. This style is way too dangerous for both fighters despite wearing protective armor. The sword’s sharp edge might still pierce through the armor, which may cause fatal injuries.

This style is mainly for exhibition or self-defense purposes only. If you want to learn Arnis for combat, try Sinawali.


Sinawali is a dual-wielding Kali style. Here, practitioners hold two bamboo sticks at once. Practitioners will use one for attack and the remaining stick for defense. They can also use both for simultaneous attack and block moves.

Sinawali probably has the most diverse move set when it comes to different Kali styles. This is because of the wide variety of choices you can make in the middle of a specific situation. 


Sikaran is the Taekwondo of the Philippines. Sikaran fighters mainly use their legs in the majority of their moves. The only use of the hands in this martial arts is to block incoming shots. Using your hands in a competition to inflict damage may cause point deduction or disqualification.

Sikaran originated in the province of Rizal, specifically, the town of Barras.

According to Rizal province ancestors, Sikaran was present even before the Spaniards came to colonize the Philippines. Sikaran was believed to be practiced by early Filipinos from the 16th century. 

In 1958, the Filipino Martial Arts organization was established in Baras, Rizal by Meliton C. Geronimo.

The organization’s goal is to preserve all the traditional Filipino Martial Arts for the next generations, including Sikaran.

Sikaran has unique kicks that other combat arts simply don’t use. For example, the ‘Biakid Kick’; in this type of kick, you will perform a spinning hook kick to damage your opponent’s temple or the nape. 

During a Sikaran match, fighters can hit each other nearly everywhere. Groin, heart, and back of the head blows are allowed. This unique rule makes Sikaran very effective during a street fight.


Dumog is closely similar to the modern Combat Jiu-Jitsu. The only difference between the two is that Dumog is a Wrestling martial arts that allow elbows, knees, submissions, and punches during close-quarter combat. 

Dumog originated from the middle part of the Philippine archipelago, Visayas. People from Antique, Iloilo, and Capiz in Panay Island first used Dumog as their self-defense style.

The founder of Dumog is Venancio Bacon.

He established Dumog in the early 1950s. Dumog came from the word Buno which means ‘To throw’ or ‘To Kill.’ Moreover, the word Dumog means ‘Brawling.’

The main objective of Dumog is to pin your opponent to the ground, submit them, or rack up some points using strikes or throws.

If you get close to your opponent, you can choose from various attacks such as headbutts, forearm strikes, and more. 

You can knock your opponent out and win the match if your strikes are strong enough during the clinch.


Kinamutay is the dirtiest Filipino martial art there is. In Kinamutay, practitioners will focus on mastering strikes that involve pinching, biting, and eye poking. Kinamutay is often pertained to as ‘cat fighting’ in some regions of the Philippines.

Kinamutay originated in the Visayas, specifically in the large province of Cebu. Kinamutay came from the root word ‘kinamut,’ which means using the hands.

Kinamutay involves using one’s hands to pinch, poke and inflict damage to almost every part of the body, including the eyes, groin, nipples, and more. 

Aside from the unusual strikes you can do in Kinamutay; you can also grapple with your enemy on the ground.

Kinamutay grappling focuses on the nerves and pressure points of the human body. 

During grappling, you can choke out and put pressure on various lethal nerves to choke out or inflict immense pain on your opponent. 

Some incorrectly spell Kinamutay as Kino Mutai, but the correct and original spelling is ‘Kinamutay.’ 


Panantukan is the Mixed Martial Arts of the Philippines. Panantukan includes dirty Boxing, Wrestling, Muay Thai, and some kick moves. Panantukan fighters land the knee on the limb area to destroy the opponent’s movement.

Panantukan is the original term for ‘suntukan,’ which is Filipino Boxing. Ancestors also call Panantukan as ‘mano mano.’

Mano mano is similar to the term used by western people when they want to square up, which is ‘mano y mano.’ Panantukan is also from the islands of Visayas.

In Panantukan, fighters utilize two types of jabs. They can either land a conventional snapping jab or a finger jab.

Finger jab is adapted to Jeet Kune Do, where you land the tip of your fingers on your opponent’s eye sockets. 

Panantukan is what’s mainly used by the Filipinos during street fights. Modern Filipinos use the term ‘Suntukan’ instead of the original ‘Panantukan.’

Yaw Yan

Yaw Yan is commonly called by the Filipino locals the ‘Sayaw ng Kamatayan’ or The dance of death. Yaw Yan shares a close resemblance to the famous Muay Thai. The only difference is the way they want to strike with an opponent. 

Yaw Yan is the Filipino Kick Boxing style developed by Napoleon A. Fernandez in the 1970s. Fernandez was a local of the Quezon province, making Yaw Yan a Quezon-rooted martial art.

In Yaw Yan, martial artists throw kicks and punches from a distance to be more elusive and generate more power.

Clinching and close quarter combat like in Muay Thai is rarely done during a Yaw Yan match. 

High-level Yaw Yan practitioners often transition to MMA and fight professionally under the Philippines’ most prominent MMA organization, URCC. URCC stands for Universal Reality Combat Championship

Common questions about Filipino martial arts

Filipino martial arts are not as famous as western combat sports such as Boxing and MMA. And yet, there are many Asian UFC fighters that are very successful in combat sports.

With that, there are still a lot of questions from the public that are unanswered. Allow me to try and answer many of them…

What are Filipino martial arts called?

Filipino martial arts is often abbreviated as FMA. Specifically, when people say FMA, they’re talking about either Kali, Sikaran, Dumog, Kinamutay, Panantukan, and Yaw Yan. There are a lot of names for some of these martial arts. A good example is Kali; some call it Arnis and Eskrima.

Out of the three interchangeable names for Kali, Arnis is the most traditional one. Before the world knew the martial art, It was only called Arnis by the Filipino locals. 

Eskrima is a Filipino translation of the Spanish term for Esgrima or Fencing.

Tho, Arnis and Fencing are totally different sports. The only similarity is they use an elongated weapon as the main means of combat.

Kali is a modem term for the local Filipino word “Kalis.” Again it means blade and fencing because people compare Arnis with Fencing back then.

After all, it’s a weapon-based martial art. 

Suppose you want to be really attached to the culture of martial art. I recommend you to call Kali its original name, Arnis.

How many Filipino martial arts are there?

There are a total of six recorded Filipino martial arts, namely Kali, Sikaran, Dumog, Panantukan, Yaw Yan, and Kinamutay. However, this number is not exact because many tribes in the Philippines might have their own undiscovered martial art.

Although the Philippines is known to produce various elite combat sports Athletes like Manny Pacquiao in Boxing, Eduart Folayang in MMA, and more, the Philippines has only six martial arts.

Western or East Asian Countries influence all the other martial arts that the Pinoys do.

Despite having a few martial arts, the Filipino people still do their job to preserve its combat culture.

As time goes by, they try to innovate the art and give birth to new styles to adapt to other martial arts. Filipino youngsters also study Arnis during their high school year.

Are Filipino martial arts deadly?

Filipino martial arts are deadly. The deadliest Filipino martial art is Kali because of the use of bladed weapons. In fact, Filipino ancestors used Kali to kill Spaniards that have been enslaving them for hundreds of years.

Other Filipino martial arts like Dumog, Sikaran, and such are also capable of taking someone’s life.

Filipino martial arts focus on the dirty side of fighting, where head butts, eye poke, and strikes on the back of the head are allowed. 

These certain strikes are illegal in all professional martial art contests because they may cause severe injuries or even death.

Despite FMA being deadly, the philosophy of self-discipline is still there. Filipino martial arts are taught in the modern world for self-defense, peace, and cultural preservation. 

If you’re planning to learn Filipino martial arts because it’s deadly, you’re getting it all wrong.

Are Filipino martial arts effective in a street fight?

Filipino martial arts are effective during a street fight. If you’re an Arnis practitioner and you don’t have your baston with you, you can still pick up a random elongated stick or a broomstick, and you’re ready to fight.  

Having a weapon is a significant advantage as you can make distance while simultaneously being a threat to your opponent.

If you’re fighting an empty-handed person, then there’s a huge possibility that you’ll dominate the fight.

The only downside of Arnis is when you find yourself in a fight with no available weapon at all. That’s the time when you will be forced to fight with your natural weapon, which is your fists.

Some Arnis academy teaches hand-to-hand combat to adapt to these inevitable situations.

When it comes to Sikaran, Yaw Yan, Dumog, Panantukan, and Kinamutay, you’re pretty much untouchable on a 1 vs. 1 street fight.

These Filipino martial arts are designed to be practically effective during a street fight. 

But if you find yourself outnumbered, you must swallow your pride and run as fast as possible.

It doesn’t matter how good you are in Arnis; if you get surrounded by dozens of people, you won’t stand a chance.

Are Filipino martial arts effective for special forces?

Arnis is effective for special forces. US army adapts this kind of combat art as one of their self-defense tool inside the field. The soldiers learn Arnis with knives and daggers because there’s a big chance they will defend themselves with a knife during close-quarter combat.

They choose to adapt Arnis because of its excellent movement flow and the fact that it’s very adaptive to certain real-life situations.

They also consider Arnis the world’s most advanced practical modern blade system. 

Aside from the United States, other countries such as India, Austria, and the Philippines, use Arnis for their military groups.

How long does it take to learn Filipino martial arts?

Like other Western martial arts, Filipino martial arts take years of dedication and perseverance to learn. No one can tell how long it will take to learn Arnis. You can’t have two or three Arnis lessons and expect yourself to be the best in the world.

Confidence is a good factor in any martial arts, but overconfidence can ruin everything.

Did Karate originate in the Philippines?

Karate did not originate from the Philippines. Karate originated in Japan. Similarly, Karate also originated in an archipelago named Okinawa. The Philippines has its own martial art originating there: Arnis, Sikaran, Dumog, Kinamutay, Panantukan, and Yaw Yan. 

It’s easy to mix things up because both are Asian countries geologically close to each other.

Is Sikaran and Karate related?

Karate and Sikara are two different martial arts. Both have different philosophies, styles, and origins of culture. Sikaran is more like the Philippines’ version of Taekwondo, where kicks are the fighter’s primary weapon.

Karate is focused on equal volume kicks and punches associated with speed and power.

Karate and Sikaran’s’ only similarity is that both originated in Asia and use a lot of kicks. 

How did the Filipino martial arts originate?

The oldest record of the Filipino martial arts can be traced way back to the Spanish era. The oldest Filipino martial art is Arnis, used by Filipinos during their revolution against the Spanish soldiers. Instead of a bamboo stick, Filipinos used a bolo knife to kill their way to freedom.

Arnis was present way before the Spaniards came. Ancestors believed that Arnis was used by old Filipino ‘Pintados’ for battle against enemy tribes during the early days of the Philippines.

What movies used Filipino martial arts?

A lot of movies have used Kali during their fight scenes. The 2002 blockbuster movie, The Bourne Identity, starring Matt Damon, is one of the most famous movies that did this. The sequels, The Bourne Supremacy in 2004 and The Bourne Ultimatum in 2007, used Kali as well.

Damon is trained by Filipino Kali experts Damon Caro and Jonathan Eusebio.

Aside from Matt Damon’s movies, other Asian films also used Kali on their films. Some of these Asian films are Sticks of Death and Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo. 

The Bonifacio movie shows how the Katipuneros used Kali to free themselves from the Spaniards. A must-watch.

Kali is an excellent martial art for movie fight scenes because of its nifty move sets. These moves can be associated with bladed weapons that make the entire scene awesome. 

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