Kali…Oh! Stick Fighting!

As made popular by such movies as The Bourne Identity, The Hunted, and The Book of Eli, the Filipino system of Kali has taken the America media market by storm. Some of the most devastating and visceral knife fights have, in recent years, been filmed using the Kali approach as a way to expose this beautifully efficient art. Sadly, many American martial artists still do not understand what Kali is, due to the art being commonly confused with stick fighting only. This is a common mistake made by many in American martial arts markets. Like all other arts, Kali has multiple facets that include a healing art, meditative art, a portion dedicated to living a healthy lifestyle, and of course the martial art. It is the martial art that I will take a few minutes to introduce.
Kali is a product of the indigenous arts of the Philippines. Some people (of which I am one) will say that Kali is the oldest expression of the Filipino arts, while others will claim that other expressions of the Filipino arts, such as Arnis or Escrima, predate Kali. I suppose this line of inquiry is fairly universal in the world of marital art. I liken it to the debate over which style of Karate came first. History will have a thing or two to say about how and where a style emerged and from what point did that style emerge from, but to my mind, these types of conversation are meaningless. What is important is that the art has a deep history and over the course of time, through countless numbers of expressions, Kali has continued its evolution into an art that is efficient and deadly.
img_6557When I think about most, if not all, forms of martial art, they all share a similar root: each art was developed as a way to protect life. In the case of Kali, this development was rooted in tribal warfare. The Philippines are an island nation. For one island to grow and expand their territory it meant that was necessary was the conquest of the next island. These battles were family versus family engaged in primitive, visceral acts of conquest. I do not mean to insinuate that any battle is not visceral, but the Filipinos had a way of going the extra mile.
Filipinos, especially the Moro and the Luzon, were renowned for their use of the blade. The cutting edge is the life blood of Kali. Early practitioners of Kali did not wear colored belts or sashes as a way to measure their skill. Instead, their skill was measured by the length of their blade. Younger practitioners were given longer blades to keep the student safe at longer ranges. The more skilled a student was, the shorter the blade became. I have heard stories of blades found on archeology dig sites that did not measure any longer than a finger’s length. Kali is meant to be fought up close and personal. While there are plenty of applications with plenty of weapon systems that include projectile weapons, thrown weapons, spear, oar, long sword and axe, the heart of Kali comes back to the blade and empty hand (more to come on the empty hand in a future blog).
When I have spoken about Kali in other venues I often hear that “stick fighting is good, but who carries a stick around with them all the time?” or some variation of this. It is important to remember that the stick is a teaching method that, consequentially, has a real world application. For a historical reference, like many nations that have been conquered, the Filipinos used the stick to hide or disguise their skill with something else. In this case it was the blade. To foreign occupiers, the stick was innocuous so the Filipinos were allowed to play their stick games. However, in large portions, the stick just substituted for the blade. It is not to say that the stick has no combat application: far from it. Instead, it is important to remember that the stick aids the student in learning good angels, learning to make good connections, and to accentuate the empty hand application.img_6558
The Kali interpretation that Jason teaches is a simplified, direct, and efficient interpretation that honors Kali’s history and tradition while keeping it simple for the student. Our theory is “Keep It Simple and Flow.” The flow is a concept whereby each student learns to work towards effortless motion. The mind is encouraged to work with the body and yet be as unobtrusive as possible. Students are taught awareness, conflict avoidance, threat assessment, good footwork, body structure, proper angles relating to anatomy, and fluid motion. Each student is encouraged to build their own flow and keep it simple. Life has taught Jason that on the street it is the simple stuff that saves a life.