According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, “Martial arts” are “any of several arts of combat and self-defense that can be practiced as sport.”
Filipino Martial Arts, or FMA, is the style of martial arts that comes from the Philippines. The Philippines are a group of over 7,000 islands in Southeast Asia.
The islands were conquered by the Spanish and named after their King Phillip in the late 1500s. It was a Spanish colony for 300 years, before becoming a United States territory.
Because of these two occupations, Filipino Martial Arts contains both Western and Eastern fighting techniques.
A lot of the elements of Filipino Martial Arts are common to the surrounding area, too. Malaysia, Borneo, and other nearby areas use similar weapons and fighting styles.
The three main Filipino Martial Arts disciplines are:
Arnis, which comes from an old Spanish word meaning “armor.”
Escrima, which comes from the Spanish word for “fencing.”
Kali, which comes from an Old Filipino word meaning “blade.”
FMA focuses on survival and self-defense, in some cases using smaller weapons that can be easy to hide.
When some people hear the phrase “martial arts,” they think of karate or kung fu. These disciplines do not use weapons, unlike Filipino Martial Arts.
Filipino Martial Arts Weapons
Let’s look at some of the common weapons used in the Filipino Martial Arts. There are four main types: edge, flexible, projectile, and impact.
Type One: Edge Weapons
The first category we’ll look at is the edged weapon. It includes any weapon that has a sharp edge, like a knife or a sword.
These weapons are used to stab enemies, but also have other uses. The act of fighting with swords is called fencing and is a big part of the Olympics.
Knives have been a big part of Filipino culture for hundreds of years. They were one of the first weapons ever invented. The first sword was inspired by the dagger and was first created around 1600 BC.
The Gunong is a knife with a curved handle and a straight blade. Outside of combat, it is also useful as a blade to cut food, ropes, and other things. In combat, it was used in close combat, as a last resort.
The Kalis is a sword that usually has a “wavy” section close to the hilt, with the rest being straight. The curves of the wavy section make it easier to slash, which makes chopping easier.
The curved section also makes it easier to pull out after stabbing. Some traditional swords can get stuck in or between bones.
A Gulok is a large broadsword that is like a machete and is also used for farming. The blades are usually about 10 to 20 inches long and they are heaviest at the center. They also have a slight upward curve leading to a sharp tip.
The gulok serves as the model for British Army machetes. This tradition started in the 1950s.
A bolo is a type of knife or sword that has many uses. It can cut trees, either to clear a trail or for farming. It also
The handle is made of either an animal’s horn or hardwood and the steel blade curves and widens, which changes the center of gravity and makes it easier to perform a chopping motion.
In World War II, the First Filipino Infantry Regiment was famously called “The Bolo Battalion” because its members all carried and were expert users of the knives.
Ginunting and Pinunting
Ginunting and Pinunting are short swords that are usually used together, one in each hand. The Ginunting is the official sword of the Filipino Army and looks like a beak, curving downward. There is specific training for this particular sword, which can be very deadly in the hands of a trained professional.
The Pinunting is a smaller sword that looks a little bit like a cutlass, the famous sword used by pirates.
This is one of the most famous Filipino weapons because it was used to kill the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan during his mission from Spain to circumnavigate the globe.
It is a long sword, with a single cutting edge about 30 inches long. It is most recognizable by the branched handle, which looks like a crocodile’s jaw. It can be used either as a one-handed weapon or two-handed, depending on the situation.
Type Two: Flexible weapons
The second type of weapon we’ll look at is the flexible weapon. It gets that name because they aren’t rigid and can change shape.
A Tabak-Toyok, also called a tsako, is made up of two wooden handles connected by a chain. They are like nunchucks, but with smaller handles and a longer blade, which makes them better over longer distances and allows the user to have more control.
Since they are small and easily fit in most pockets, Tabak-Toyoks are often used today in street brawls in the Philippines.
Fun fact: Dan Inosanto, author of the book “The Filipino Martial Arts,” posed with one of these on the cover of that book and introduced it to Chinese Martial Arts legend Bruce Lee, who loved them so much he used the similar-looking nunchucks in his movies.
A Sarong is a traditional sash worn on clothing and is mostly just a long piece of fabric. It can also be used for whipping, choking, or tripping up opponents.
It is a great improvised weapon since it is usually worn around the stomach and can be taken off at any time.
A De Cadena is a long chain that is primarily used for tripping opponents and keeping them at arm’s length, making it harder for them to attack. Since a large metal chain is very heavy, it doesn’t make a good striking weapon.
A latigo is a bullwhip and is the most popular type of weapon of flexible weapon used in FMA. It was famously used by Snookie Sanchez of Hawaii, who was so talented that he could put out candles with the whip while blindfolded!
A buntont pagi is like a latigo and is also known as a stingray tail because the dried tail of a stingray is traditionally used. According to Filipino tradition, the wound that it creates on the target is very difficult to heal.
Since a live stingray’s tail has a pair of grooves that can inject an enemy with a protein-based toxin, there is a scientific explanation for this belief.
Type Three: Projectiles
The next type of weapon we’ll look at is the projectile, which means something that gets thrown. They were not used very often against the Spanish, because of the thick armor they wore.
Instead, the projectiles saw combat against either wild animals or rival tribes.
A blowgun, also called a sumpit, is a wooden tube with a dart inside of it. The user blows into one end of the tube and the dart goes out the other side with enough force to stick into the target.
The dart would usually be made of fishbone and would have its tips dipped in poison. The dart itself was too small to cause damage, hence the poison. Sumpits are often used for hunting and animals killed this way are safe to eat.
American visitors to the Philippines in 1912 found the sumpit quite amazing. They wrote that a dart from one could fly 150 to 180 feet. That’s half a football field!
A sibat is a type of spear that is usually several feet long and is either whittled down to have an extremely sharp point or given a sharp metal cap on the end.
These were considered one of the best weapons for several different reasons. First, they can be fired from a distance or used in close combat. Second, if an attacker came close with a sword or a knife, the spear could not only block the enemy’s weapon but could be thrust into his stomach or neck right after.
Grandmaster Ramiro Estalilla used a technique that involved having two spears at once. After the first one was thrown at a target, the user could pull out a sword or other blade and use it as the main offensive weapon, while using the spear as a shield to block the opponent’s attacks.
A pana is a traditional bow and arrow, like the ones used by many cultures around the world. The arrows, like some of the other weapons listed above, often had their tips coated in poison.
When the Spanish forces sailed to try to take over the islands, many were scared off or killed by the pana.
A lantaka is a small, handheld cannon that was very popular during the Spanish invasion. They were long tubes that were often made from bamboo and were powered by kerosene.
They could also be made of bronze and mounted on a ship. These guns usually faced forward and could be moved left or right to aim.
The word Luthang now usually means a toy gun, but used to refer to a powerful weapon. It was like a lantaka, but a little bit smaller.
Type Four: Impact weapons
Lastly, we’ll look at impact weapons. These are usually blunt objects like sticks that don’t have sharp edges and aren’t intended to stab the enemy, but merely to either knock them down or prevent a strike.
A baston is a stick or rod, usually around two feet long, that is often used in sparring and can be used to knock away the opponent’s weapon. If the user chooses, it can be used one-handed, with the empty hand available for blocking, punching, or trying to take away the opponent’s weapon.
They can also be doubled, where the user has one in each hand. This technique is often used in training exercises, but can also be used while fighting.
The dulo dulo is also called a palm stick because it’s designed to fit in the palm of the user’s hand and extends past the palm about an inch on both sides. It usually has ridges or another type of carved design that allows for an easier grip.
A lot of the time, but not always, both edges have a sharp point, which allows the user to stab an enemy at close range. They are mainly used for self-defense and traditionally as a last resort after all other options had run out.
Saltik is a Tagalog term for a slingshot, but occasionally the Spanish word tirador is used. During the Siege of Marawi in 2017, the Filipino Army’s elite soldiers, the Scout Rangers, used slingshots to throw grenades at the terrorist invaders.
Street gangsters are also known to use slingshots to throw darts in a discipline called kana.
Although there are others, these are the most popular and well-known weapons used in the Filipino Martial Arts. Many of them have been around for thousands of years and have improved over time.
Quite often, a Filipino martial artist will combine two of these weapons, such as a sword and a spear, two swords, a whip and a sword, and other combinations.
In jungle warfare, most soldiers carry a gun in one hand and a ginunting sword in the other. Soldiers of the Filipino army often carry an M16 rifle as well as one of the swords mentioned earlier on this list.
Depending on the battle conditions, some fighters may find it preferable to keep one hand open. The open hand can be used to take a weapon away from an opponent who hasn’t been properly trained.
It can also block blunt strikes from an impact weapon and prevent them from hitting the fighter’s head, or for other purposes.
Hopefully, you have found this informative and now have a greater understanding of the Filipino Martial Arts.