Bruce Lee Was Shown This Filipino Martial Art And Now It’s Used A Lot In Movies

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Everybody knows Bruce Lee for his Kung Fu films, for popularizing Chinese Martial Arts in the West, and for creating his own martial art system, Jeet Kune Do. But did you know that he also has an inseparable connection to Filipino Martial Arts?

Bruce Lee and Dan Inosanto

Bruce Lee and Filipino Martial Arts

In the unfinished 1978 movie, Game of Death, Lee fights various martial arts masters. One of them is a Filipino-American. His real life student and close friend, Dan Inosanto, fights him using Kali, a weapons-based style of fighting from the Philippines.

Game of Death was one of the first movies to catapult Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) into the Hollywood spotlight.

In more recent times, Matt Damon’s character in the Bourne series of movies makes heavy use of the fighting style of Kali.

In the movie 300, Kali was used to distinguish the fighting style of Leonidas’ army, since the real fighting arts of the Spartans has been lost to history.

In the Bourne films, Jeff Imada, the fight stunt coordinator, was a close friend of Bruce Lee’s son, Brandon, with whom he studied Jeet Kune Do under the tutelage of Dan Inosanto.

In 300, the head stunt coordinator and fight choreographer, Damon Caro, is also a student of Inosanto.

Filipino Martial Arts: A Quick History

But before Filipino Martial Arts became a go-to martial art style for realistic fight choreography, it was used by the Pintados – tattooed warriors that the Spanish encountered when they first landed on the Philippine Islands.

Pintados

Pintados from the Visayas. Image from the Boxer Codex (1595)

Each family group had their own fighting system which they used against rival tribes during the precolonial times. When the Philippines was under Spanish rule, native Filipinos, or indios as they were labelled, were prohibited from studying martial arts.

But they preserved and practiced their skills in the form of Moro-Moro plays, which depicted Filipinos fighting with sticks against their sword-wielding Spanish conquerors.

During the Japanese occupation, stories of Filipinos going head to head against Japanese soldiers wielding nothing but rattan or bahi sticks or bolos became the stuff of legend.

Filipino Martial Arts were traditionally never written in a book. Instead, they were passed down from generation to generation through mentoring from a father to his son. As Filipinos were finally allowed to start teaching martial arts openly, it became necessary to assign words and names to the once secret fighting techniques and forms.

Moro Moro

A scene from the Moro-Moro play. Image from The Philippine Islands (1895)

Our past, under Spanish rule, is still evident in terminologies used to describe our martial arts. For instance, the technique of hitting an opponent with the side of the blade (or stick) with a whipping motion of the wrist is called “abanico” in some systems and “witik” in others.

The words Arnis and Escrima are rooted in Spanish — a remnant of a time when Filipinos were required to be polyglots — fluent in Filipino, in Castilian Spanish, and even in English, in addition to the native language of their province! Arnis comes from arnes, Old Spanish for armor. Escrima (also spelled Eskrima) is derived from the Spanish term Esgrima that is the term for fencing.

The word Kali, meanwhile, has many theorized origins. It is said to be derived from words in several Filipino languages which referred to martial arts in different regions such as kaliradman in Visayas and kalirongan in Pangasinan. It could also have been derived from the kalis sword (aka kris sword), or from the word kalis which means, “to scrape” in some Filipino languages.

Depending on who you ask, the word “escrima” is sometimes used interchangeably with the term “arnis.” When escrima techniques are used with bladed weapons (instead of rattan sticks), the art becomes known as kali. Others say the difference in the names either implied the region from which the art originated or the time period when the art was developed.

Regardless of the exact etymology, it was Dan Inosanto who popularized the word “Kali” to refer to the indigenous Filipino Martial Arts of blade and stick fighting.

Escrima and Arnis are the names commonly used in the Philippines. The name Kali is seldom used locally because the term is more recognized outside the Philippines than the other two.

Nowadays, all three terms (kali, arnis, escrima) are simply known under the umbrella of “Filipino Martial Arts” or “FMA.”

Filipino Martial Arts in America

In the past, Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) were taught to direct blood relations and fellow tribe members only. Changes began when the Philippines gained independence after World War II. The first group to formalize FMA as an institution were the founders of the Doce Pares Association in 1930′s who were based in Cebu City.

FMA spread to the States due to the efforts of Max Sarmiento. The story goes that in the mid 1960′s, Max worked in the Defense Depot near Stockton, CA. A few of the workers were practicing karate and one jokingly attacked Max. Max quickly and effectively defended himself with his own FMA, Kadena de Mano (Chain of Hands).

The karate students were impressed and asked Max to start teaching them his style of FMA. Max didn’t want to, but did ask other local FMA Masters around Stockton, a city full of Filipino immigrants.

Max was able to convince Angel Cabales to openly teach his style of Escrima, Serrada Escrima, to all those who wanted to learn. The school was the first example of FMA being openly taught in the USA. Angel Cabales is famously known as the “Father of Escrima in the US.”

Angel Cabales and Max Sarmiento

Angel Cabales and Max Sarmiento

Another man who helped change the closed-door mindset is Leo T. Gaje Jr. of the Pekiti Tirsia Kali System. In 1972, he migrated to New York and, inspired by the efforts started by Bruce Lee to break from the mold and teach Kung Fu to non-Chinese, saw the potential of teaching Kali to students outside his own family for the first time ever. Not only as a sport, but as a reality-based combat system, as it was taught to him by his grandfather. His first students, whom he fondly calls his “Originals,” were eager young men from all over the United States and Canada.

The efforts of Dan Inosanto, the original Doce Pares Association, Angel Cabales, Gaje, and other Filipino Martial Arts masters, allowed FMA to shine and be appreciated by the worldwide martial arts community. Another huge step forward in the Philippines was when Arnis / Kali / Escrima was declared the National Sport in 2009 and became a required Physical Education subject in schools.

FMA Training in the Real World

FMA is distinct from other martial arts in that a weapon (training stick) is placed in a student’s hands from day one. Most martial arts withhold weapons training until the higher ranks are reached. With FMA, empty hand techniques are taught when proficiency with the stick/sword and knife has been mastered. FMA is particularly well-liked among fight enthusiasts because it allows flexibility with using either long or short blades, blunt weapons, empty hands, or even improvised weapons.

The system of Leo Gaje Jr., Pekiti Tirsia Kali, is concerned with real life street and combat fighting where “ring rules” don’t apply. They adopt fighting stances that trade off some power for speed and agility against multiple opponents. But the combination of power, timing, speed, precision and accuracy is stressed by Gaje to all who study the PTK system in order to truly master the techniques.

Grandtuhon Leo T. Gaje Jr.

Grandtuhon Leo T. Gaje Jr. teaching in the Philippines

The Philippine Recon Marines train in PTK for when they fight against rebels where proficiency in hand-to-hand combat is essential to survival. In the United States, Gaje and Inosanto are featured as knife fighting experts in the critically acclaimed video Surviving Edged Weapons (1988) used for law enforcement training. One of the highest ranking teachers in the Pekiti Tirsia System, Tuhon Jared Wihongi, currently trains military and SWAT teams in Tactical PTK in Utah, Singapore, Germany, Latin America, and other cities around the world.

Pekiti Tirsia Kali Global City

Pekiti Tirsia Kali

Core team of PTK Global City, Philippines

One FMA club, Pekiti Tirsia Kali Global City, that is primarily based in Bonifacio Global City is dedicated to teaching classical PTK to preserve the teachings of Grandtuhon Gaje to his “Originals” in the 70′s and 80′s. Pekiti Global City also teaches PTK as a reality-based tactical system that is well-suited to urban street survival, as well as warfare.

Head teacher, Guro Christophe Verdot also conduct seminars in France and other parts of Europe to promote FMA. At the first PTK Convention in France in May 2014, he was hailed as an expert in Pekiti Tirsia Kali history and methods. PTK Global City is growing a worldwide network with a branch in Bordeaux, France and will also be offering PTK classes at Ninja Academy – the Philippines’ first indoor Parkour facility. All in an effort to maintain the high standard of training that PTK is known for all over the world.

Bordeaux Team

Guro Christophe Verdot with the PTK Global City – Bordeaux team

Just like Bruce Lee was able to popularize Kung Fu in Hollywood, Kali is the martial art of choice for many cinematic fight choreographers for its rapid, fluid, and brutal yet graceful movements. Most recently, the movie I, Frankenstein (2014) featured a new kind of monster who was adept at using Kali sticks to fight demons. That film was choreographed by husband and wife team Ron Balicki and Diana Lee Inosanto – the daughter of Dan Inosanto and named after her godfather, Bruce Lee.

No longer a martial art taught in secret through stage plays, or in back-alleys by goons, or in far-off provinces by ageing masters to their proteges, FMA now represents the Philippines in numerous blockbuster action movies and used to train law enforcement and even military special forces like the U.S. Navy SEALs.

This last video demonstrates how much FMA has become so popular that it’s now taught around the world, not just by Filipinos, but by people of all backgrounds.

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About The Author

Jan Dizon

Jan is a freelance writer and storyteller who is working on her first children's book series. In her spare time, she enjoys martial arts and yoga. She keeps a personal blog of her kali, yoga, and healing journey at Kape Kali Karma.

  • http://savipra.tumblr.com/ Savipra Gorospe

    Interesting article. Encourages me to pursue the way of Kali!

  • Jay K.

    can the jedi force be also used in kali? I’m sure those of high repute in this system must have a high
    Midi-chlorian count, whether used by the jedi’s or the sith

    • EJ dela Vega

      Haha this cracked me up. :))

      • Agulto Keisam Bautista

        starwars is actually a westernized samurai movie. lets keep it like that I guess.

    • Hernan Villanueva Fortu

      I would love to see this MA style using two lightsabers in the next Star Wars episode.

  • Atingoy Vedua

    I am glad that Filipino Martial Arts is getting more and more exposures through Hollywood Films. Our culture is very rich and it shows not only through this fighting system called Arnis, Kali, Eskrima or Balintawak. I know an Eskrimador who has been practicing arnis since his early 20′s and now he is 64 and he has developed his own style called Askal Hybrid Arnis formerly called Askal Hybrid Balintawak. This style was developed through his experience living on the streets and his career as a personal bodyguard of government officials here in our city of Cagayan de Oro. So if you guys want to see a more practical and realistic approach in Arnis visit their facebook page https://www.facebook.com/AskalHybridBalintawak

    • Data Grab

      oo. pero nag sasalita parin ang karamihan sa atin ng ingles. para na tayong indian. tingnan mo mga pelikula ng mga korean, thai, jap. halos 1 o 2 lang ang ingles. eh panoorin mo mga pelikula natin. puro ingles. walang kwenta.

  • LBchild

    wow! I did’nt know that. thanks!

  • shamgar100

    For more information about FMA. Check-out Sayoc Kali in Google.

  • tenryneryery

    wee! pinoy pridists, come forth!

    • Itto Okami

      Actually, why not? This martial art form is a historical legacy. This is one legacy any Filipino, brainers or non brainers, rich or poor from all walks of life should be proud of. This is history dude. And I am very happy and honored that many of our kind sought to preserve it by passing it on to other ethnicities, like a Filipino legacy being taught so that the world could benefit.

      If you can’t be proud of these old masters and of an element of your history then you must be a miserable orphaned swine. Just saying. Have a good day.

      • Anton Bautista

        Escrima, Arnis, Kali, is not practiced widely in the Philippines anymore. Back in my days, it was taught in schools as part of the daily Morning exercise. Today they don’t even have daily morning exercises anymore. So you can forgive the ignorance of the younger generations.

    • dudung10

      FINOYFRAYD! #PROUD2BPINOY AMERICASUcKS

  • Itto Okami

    The Spaniards banned the proliferation and propagation of this priceless legacy. And they must have had good reason to fear it. There are some people who have suggested that Magellan was actually killed by a Kali expert named Lapu Lapu. Not that it echoed thru-out the Spanish era, but it must have been observed by the Spaniards to be truly effective that they should ban it.

    In retrospect, the Revolucionarios paid a high price for their ignorance of the art for I’m sure, battles could have been won if they knew and practiced it and used it against the Spaniards and even the Americans of Dewey’s time.

    • Anton Bautista

      Lapu lapu was a practitioner, to be sure, and so were his warriors but Magellan was killed by a poisoned arrow in his leg, as much as his arrogance.

      The Spaniards thinking their weapons and armor gave them an unbeatable edge found out the hard way how quickly an advantage can turn into a disadvantage. The Spaniards in full armor came down along a seaweed filled bay which was almost waist deep. They were easy pickings for the local warriors who attacked with light but lethal fire-hardened sticks.

      The Spanish soldiers could not bring their heavy weapons to bear and were easily tripped, trapped and clubbed into the waters where their armor kept them down till they drowned.

      in future battles the Spaniards employed the use of Local tribal allies equally skilled in local warfare. Divide and Conquer was how the Spaniards took the Philippine Islands. For Centuries the Spanish ruled the conquered people with the use of Filipino troops under Spanish commanders. Spanish Galleons and Man of Wars were filled with Filipino troops trained at melee combat, under the command of Spanish captains.

      WE WERE A CONQUERED RACE BECAUSE WE UNWITTINGLY CHOSE TO REMAIN SO.

      That OUR OWN Filipino fighters were used against us is an ironic twist of fate. Our greatest advantage became our greatest disadvantage as well.

      In the end, when we finally chose to throw off the yoke of Spanish Rule, it was too late, the Spanish had realized the danger of having a warrior race as serfs and banned the practice of warfare. We had to relearn the art again, and luckily a few practitioners still remained. I learned my skills from Negros farmers who learned it from their fathers, who learned it from their fathers. The reason they were allowed to practice the art was because they were sugar cane plantation workers and they used machetes in the fields, so when they practiced the deadly art in secret, to unknowing eyes, it looked like they were mimicking the slashing action of harvesting sugar canes.

      IN THE SAME VEIN, the Art of Kali was transported to the US by Sugar cane workers who were “drafted” to work the sugar cane fields of Hawaii. the rest is history.

      • Itto Okami

        Hi Anton, thanks so much for sharing that valuable historical fact and details of Magellan’s demise. It was never taught in my school back then. Your insights are much appreciated particularly on how Kali reached American shores via Hawaii plantation workers
        . A relative of mine was married to a plantation worker who was probably part of the second wave of migrant workers but he hails from the Ilocos region. Do you think they might have had Kali practitioners there in that province too? Thanks again.

        • Anton Bautista

          historically the practice of Kali was mostly done by the Visayan Islanders who were believed to be the descendants of the Fallen Shrivijayan Empire (thus the term Visaya). They brought their culture and their fighting arts when they fled their downfall and continued to practice and develop it because of constant contact with coastal Marauders and tribal conflicts.
          Northern tribes who found their way and settled the highlands of Luzon might have carried the art with them but the terrain and climate forced them to adapt to highland fighting tactics. But if they had it, then it did not survive to the present day.
          The current crop of practitioners trace their origins from 12 masters from the Visayas and Mindanao region who decided to revive the lost art of “Kali” right before the start of World War 2. By the way “Kali” is not what the art is called in the Philippines. In Luzon its popularly known as “Arnis” while in the south we call it “Escrima”
          They put up a school called DOCE PARES (Twelve Pairs). Practice spread but not like wildfire, more like a creeping vine. Eventually the fighting skill was developed and improved on but the biggest and most common users were underground fighters and shady characters because Kali is less a martial Art and more a Fighting System that employs any and all manner of styles that gets the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible. with sticks, knives (preferred weapon) or empty hands.
          I remember in the early seventies we would hear of “death matches” where one style would challenge another style and usually end up with one or both challengers severely injured or dead. This practice was stopped when, in the 70′s, Cacoy Canete turned the fighting art into a sport called “Arnis” with rules and more importantly, safety gear.
          Sadly today, the art is practiced more diligently by foreign students than locals. It is taught in the military and the police forces but for me its more of a fast food type of teaching, the practitioner is not ingrained with the spiritual aspect of the fighting form.
          Still the advantage of the Fighting art of Kali is that it is very easy to learn since it employs the body’s natural progression of movement which we call “The Flow”. (different from Chi or ki). and you will not find Kali in MMA because it is a fighting system not a sport, although you will find some MMA techniques in Kali. Besides you can’t bring a knife into the octagon.

    • Ross Randall Recoter

      As with current politics, internal affairs had taken its toll within the Revolucionarios.

  • badconscience

    it just revives my interest again in filipino martial arts.
    i am holding my arnis again now after its been in hiding for years in my tools cabinet

  • jun

    A more evolve eskrima for combat also known as Balintawak. Look into it. Hand to hand combat is very effective on my experience.

    • Anton Bautista

      I love the Balintawak style although I trained in the the Styles of Doce Pares and Ernesto Presas. I try to study all styles that will suit me. Karate, aikido, tae kwon do. However I find that the free flowing styles of Kali suit me best.

  • Nash Maulana

    Great!!… Though, I recall Bruce Lee died, unable to finish shooting “The Game of Death,” in 1973. So it’s not a 1978 movie…

    • Anton Bautista

      they shot several scenes with a bruce lee stand in

  • http://www.myinfopreneursolutions.com brilliantphd1st

    Great blogs a very good information about Filipino Martial Arts and hope that is not only a history but preserve to many people in the Philippines and globally.

  • curatolo

    Any body heard of Levy Ignacio?

  • Pedro Binangkal
  • Johnny Derpp

    There is a training for the Philippine Marines Recon (airborne) using bolos to counter the Abusayaff insurgents. I watched it on History channel. Perhaps it’s some sort of Kali training?

    • Anton Bautista

      Its called Pekiti Tersia. A form of Kali more focused on fighting as a practical ends to a mean, It employs whatever is available in the environment, usually the same environment a recon marine would find himself in. Close quarter combat, knives even guns are employed, because that’s what you will find in the field, guns and knives, and sticks and stones and uneven terrain. Pekiti Tersia strives to be practical and economical. No need to kill when maiming is enough.

      • Johnny Derpp

        much obliged!

      • Rodel Gabiana

        sir anton i heard that there is also filipino deadly martial arts.One is called Yaw yan and the Other is called Alamid.Is this martial arts exist?If it is exist is it originate in Kali?

  • mang_tomas

    kali stick, is a stuff of martial arts which is unique and strongly identifiable only with filipinos. it soars high up in the international arena of self-defense comparable to popularly known karate…

  • Ryan Artajo

    In Arrow episode 14 “The Odyssey”, during a flashback Slade Wilson, Deathstroke, trains Oliver Queen, the main character of the series, in escrima.

  • SharesUCCesS

    Looking for FMA / Kali in Chicago area? Check out RFA. These guys are the real deal! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8RuWnm5riI

    • Anton Bautista

      fundamentals are there, the footwork to begin with.

  • MVTicsay

    check this out.. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8vdmVrJg24
    That’s my Dad on mark 2:09 and 4:17. He is now 82 years old.

  • mabinibonifacio

    There is one famous self defense loss in sight of computer technology that is “Bato Lata” game.

  • Sheen Ray valdez

    This is one of the best blogs I’ve ever read. Very detailed and informative!

  • James Sandoval

    mahabang praktisan pa yan, isang bala na lang.