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Feeling the flow in the Filipino Martial Arts

The ancient Filipinos possessed systems of martial arts most closely linked with those of Indonesia and Borneo.

These included highly stylized forms of blade and stick fighting related to Kali system of Indonesia. Indeed, the word "kali" is still preserved in some parts of the republic.

Unarmed forms of martial arts like kuntao, dumog and the more recently developed sikaran also existed. Many of these forms may have lost their formal status during Spanish times when Filipino martial arts where expressly forbidden by law.

Over time these different forms could have fused into the various forms of Filipino street fighting that was passed on mainly in informal settings among the rougher elements of society.

The blade and stick fighting forms though managed to survive the crackdown during the Spanish period through very subtle means.

The moves and techniques of these forms, which became widely known by the names arnis and escrima, were preserved in dance performances.

These performances were incorporated into the plays called moro-moro, which often had a theme of "good" Catholics going to battle with the Muslims of the south.

Of course, the Muslims, or Moros, did not have to resort to such covert strategies since they were able to avoid Spanish colonization.

Thus, the purest and best preserved systems of Filipino martial arts are often found among the Moros or among other indigenous peoples who were able to ward off the Spaniards.

The general philosophy of the Kali forms in the Philippines involves a natural fluidity of motion incorporating the widespread martial arts concept of conservation of energy.

The motion known as sinawali, "weaving," best illustrates the uniqueness of the art. The practitioner weaves in and out of range of the opponent and attacks in a back and forth weaving style that wastes little energy.

In Kali the idea is to attack the whole body and thus strikes are mixed in a flowing style to legs, body, arms, shoulders and head.

In the unarmed systems of self-defense, the whole body approach is also important not only in terms of targets of attack but also in the sense of using the whole body as a weapon.

With the notable exception of sikaran, most indigenous Filipino martial arts do not use high kicks. The latter are considered to risky. Instead, low kicks and stomps are used. Various types of kicks are used including swift kicks and roundhouse-style shin kicks. One unusual type of kicking attack is a half-roundhouse shin kick to the front part of the knee.

Quite a lot of grappling is also used including nerve grips. The idea in unarmed Filipino martial arts is to quickly gain control of the opponent by taking to them to the ground (while remaining on one's feet). The same strategy is important in stick fighting. In blade warfare, the strategy is more to upset the opponent's balance rather than to accomplish a takedown.

After centuries of suppression under the Spanish, the Filipino martial arts are making a comeback. Numerous guros, or teachers, have established their own lineage's in the Filipino tradition of "many schools." This concept encourages masters to use creativity while staying within certain bounds of acquired knowledge.


The early Filipinos carried blades similar to the Malay kris
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Central Asia

ADB to lend $40
million to Mongolia

UNDP helps Tibet
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East Asia

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Pacific Islands

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Accord on
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South Asia

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Southeast Asia

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