The documentary movie The Bladed Hand aroused the curiosity of many FMA practitioners, particularly the younger generations belonging to the Mix Martial Arts era. In the film, a known Filipino martial arts historian, and a professor of Anthropology in The University of The Philippines, Felipe Jocano Jr, presented a very clear picture of how FMA has evolved over the years. He was very kind to explain the roots of the FMA. It seem to me that until now, the history of the FMA is still a cloudy topic that needs to be understood.
Just recently, after my workshops in several fight clubs here in Russia, I have been asked (again for the nth time) to explain a few things about our Filipino Martial Arts. And the 2 most common questions are these: Why is Kali more popular in America than in the Philippines? And Is there a truth about the existence of a 100 years old Kali System?
One of the things that is being asked of me is the introduction of some FMA websites. In the internet, you can find information that says:
“Kali is the indigenous fighting art of the Philippines. With its Cultural and Philosophical values its history traces back more than 1500 to 2000 years in the past.”
Alright then, at this very moment, you are reading this article in August of 2012. If we were to go back 2,000 years in history, the year would have been 12AD. There could not have been an indigenous fighting art back then because the Philippines did not even exist during that time.
The Spanish galleons arrived in the islands of Sugbu (now known as Cebu) in 1521. The group of islands was named “Philippines” in 1543 by Ruy Lopez de Villalobos in honor of Prince Philip the 2nd. (By the way, Philip the 2nd was at that time not yet a king when the islands were named after him).
In these same internet sites it says that a Centennial celebration was held on October 27, 1997. It was to commemorate the 100 year existence of a certain Kali System from Negros Occidental. So I have conducted a research to prove (or disprove) these information. This is not to shame any person or group. But as a thinking human, and as a practitioner of the art, and as a Filipino in particular, I too would want to know the history of my own combat culture. I’m sure that you too would agree to this feeling.
A known writer from Bacolod and FMA historian, James Sy Jr., gave me the following facts. And he told me; “There was no concept of a “system” as we know it today as late as the 1920’s.
Lapu-Lapu Viñas Arnis, the oldest DOCUMENTED system, started out as a club of Arnis founded in Bacolod in 1932.
The Lightning Scientific Arnis, the oldest DOCUMENTED system started out as a club of Arnis founded in Capiz and perhaps Panay in 1937.
Labangon Fencing Club was founded in Cebu in 1920.
The Doce Pares of Cebu in 1932. Both Labangon and Doce Pares were associations/clubs rather than “systems.”
Over time, the aforementioned clubs evolved into what are now called “systems.” Pekiti Tirsia is a traditional method of Arnis in Negros, at least, it is considered more as a “family system.” Leo Gaje (creator of pekiti tirsia kali) has been documented as using Arnis at the time he migrated to New York in 1972.
“Any claims of lineage dating back to 1897 will have to produce the appropriate documentation”. says James Sy.
“The question remains – where is the documentation? You may quote me on this, if need be.”
-James Sy Jr.
Bacolod City, Philippines
Another respected Martial Arts teacher in Bacolod named Maxwell Jagurin Maun has something to say about a certain fighting system in Negros that apparently also celebrated its centenary in 1997. Sensei Maxwell says the following:
“Mumbakki, This kali group’s (100 year) history is entirely a fraud. The first time I’ve heard of them was in 1979 and the early 1980’s when one grandmaster arrived back here (from America). He invited several Grandmasters to help him establish KAN or Kali Association of Negros.
This has led me to think of several questions and I hope you would too. Is there only one grandmaster in the hundred years since the system was developed? If there is any truth to claims of this grandfather in 1897 started the Kali system, then where are the offspring of this “grandfather” who can exhibit the same and exact method they are promoting? Do these (1897) kali offspring, children or students exist? Why is there only one man promoting this particular 1897 Kali group in the late 60’s and early 70’s? And more importantly, why is Kali known and recognized only in America and not in its homeland-The Philippines?
More questions boggle my mind: How come a martial arts system that claims to be pure Filipino carries a Spanish name and in fact uses Spanish words as a medium of instruction? Why is it that the group used to carry the name Arnis America and not Kali if not for the Spanish influences of the art? How is that possible? As a Filipino who is propagating the Filipino Martial Arts, I deserve the right to ask these questions. And I deserve the right to know the answers.
A few years back, I have had the privilege of addressing these questions to one of the grandmasters who strongly propagate the name kali as the Filipino Martial Arts . He was unable to give me a direct answer. He would get angry when asked specific questions act like a cornered beast in his annoyance. I was likewise surprised that he failed to define the word Kali or explain its origin.
In November 2011, I met the nephew of one kali grandmaster in Makati City and purposely asked him questions regarding the supposed existence of his family’s hundred year old Kali system. I asked why they called the club pure Filipino when the name is in Spanish? He answered with something so unrelated by asking me another question: “bakit si Jose Rizal, marunong din mag Spanish?” (What of Jose Rizal, he also knows how to speak Spanish?).
Clearly, these are just one of the answers you will get from someone, or some groups suffering an identity crisis, at least in their brand’s history on FMA. The responses are so far and hundreds of miles away from the question being asked that you wonder what the basis of the responses might be! It appears they are completely unaware of their own history and the basis for their much promoted “system”.
You can never hope to win a debate with people or group like this because promoters of this nature who cannot answer your questions competently will opt to confuse you with illogical responses and counter-questions. I am not questioning the contribution of this group to FMA, and I am also not questioning their skills and effectiveness. I am finding the answers to the missing links. Did I get the answers? NO. Just like how it wasn’t answered in the many years that passed because nobody dared to ask.
It is disappointing that many promoters continue to preach a false history of the Filipino Martial Arts. Many of these promoters are not themselves Filipinos! They speak on behalf of Filipinos who actually live in the Philippines. It becomes obvious that non-Filipino promoters of misinformation did not conduct their own research. In the spirit of fairness, they should be beyond blame. It is clear that they just follow and propagate whatever information has been given to them, no more, no less.
Some Filipino masters is not concerned with some foreigners posting their name on the pages of an internet website simply for self-promotion. The propagation of wrong information does not reflect poorly on the master himself, but the system as a whole. It brings the entirely of the practice in question.
Is it right for a Filipino Master to enlist the help of his non-Filipino students in standing up for the fabricated histories? How would you feel if you learned that non-Filipino promoters have been spreading false and invented information regarding Philippine History to the world via the Internet?
I sent a message via the social networking system, Facebook which I addressed to several “Guros/Teachers” of this 100 year old system. I asked them politely to sit and meet with me as I have plenty of questions to ask and clarify with them regarding their style. No one has replied, save for one old friend. This friend assured me that my message was received by all, but still – silence. How can I make conclusions if none of my questions can be answered?
If any of these individuals whom I sent the message to, happen to chance upon and read this article and develop the machismo and guts necessary to prove their claims by answering all my questions, then I will readily make myself available to them. I am looking for answers anyway, because I am not the only one on this quest that aims to correct and put right certain errors currently being propagated regarding Filipino Martial Arts. If there is anybody who thinks that this article is not making sense… come forward and prove me wrong.
I likewise firmly believe that there are several members of this estimable and century old organization that agree with me when I say – Kali is an alternate name for Eskrima or Arnis. And that based on my interviews with other FMA promoters in Bacolod; There is no truth to the 100 year old system!
*** Dear readers, just a few hours after this article was posted by a friend in another internet site, I received a few messages coming from concerned (or guilty?) parties. It seems though that they are not reading well the content of this article. No disrespect to those masters with limited english vocabulary who are often quick to react instead of understanding what is written here. I presented the names of the people whom I interviewed regarding the information on FMA history and those (information) are not mine. Notice that I am asking questions. These are questions that over the years, nobody dared to ask the grandmasters in question. Either none have the balls to do so, or they are simply comfortable being a part of the fabricated information on Philippine History. It was also clear that I will make myself available if there is someone “out there” who is ready to give me the answers to the questions. Thank you very much.***