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The Filipino Martial Art Principle & Philosophy
Grand Maestro Jon Bais
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The Origin of Filipino Martial Arts: An Interpretation by the Bais Family

It is said that all nations have their own fighting method and self-defense systems to protect their families and their beloved country.

Philippine Map
Native Aetas
Native Aetas

Around 800 A.D. in the land of Maharlika (now called the Philippines), long before the arrival of settlers, foreign traders and invaders, Kalis Martial Art is believed to have been practiced by the ancient Filipinos. This type of martial art is said to have been brought to the Visayan Island by the first inhabitants of the Archipelago who were the Llyans-Malays. They came from Kalimanta, the Indonesian part of Borneo. This tribe was among the first generation of the Kayumangin Kaligatan (Brown Race Malays) who migrated with the Aetas-Negritos (Dark Filipino) and settled in the Visayan Peninsula, particularly in Panay, Negros, Cebu, Bohol and the neighboring Islands of Visaya. This group of settlers became part of the native Filipino civilization with several other immigrants of the Philippines.

Llyan-Layan Warrior
Llyan-Mayan Warrior

Some of martial arts historians believe that the philosophical secrecy of Kalis was lost during the domination of the European and Western civilization in the land of Maharlika. However, the Kalis Fighting Art remained hidden in the spirit and culture of the Filipino practitioner, even as foreign religion and educational methods were being introduced to the Filipinos.

It was said that the first record of Filipino fighting arts was written in 1250 A.D. The martial art called Kalis was recorded in the code of Maragtas. This body of evidence stated that the Bothoan School of Martial Arts training and academy was established by Datu Sumakwel. Kalis was practiced by the Bornean, led by Datu Puti and their tribes when they settled in Panay around 1200 A.D. Other Filipino martial artists theorize that it may have been the Ten Datus (chieftains) who learned the art of Kalis from the first settlers and that the Ten Datus adopted and developed the fighting art for their own (tribe) as protection against the Madjapahit and other Muslim warriors.

In the early 1900's there were several published research articles in regards to the sources and history of the Filipino Martial Arts (FMA). There is a conspicuous absence of reliable and consistent facts in the recorded history. This lapse of records leads to confusion as to the true origin of the Filipino Fighting Art. There have been numerous claims about the location and tribe origin as well as the foundation of the art. During this period the perspective and the accuracy of the history becomes even more complicated due to the numbers of different groups of earlier tribes who settled with the original Filipino natives. In spite of this, the Filipinos continued to practice and develop the martial art that branched into the many systems and methods that became part of their culture. To this day, the evolution of the FMA is passed on from generation to generation as part of the Filipino heritage.

Ferdinand Magellan

The Spanish Introduce Christianity into the Philippines
March 16, 1521, the Portuguese commander, Ferdinand Magellan, and his armed soldier (suldados) first landed on the Island of Samar. Within two days of port, Magellan had encountered friendly islanders and offered them European goods in exchange for friendship. Magellan believed it would be in his best interest to become familiar with the native people and to learn about their culture. Magellan and the Spanish missionaries were able to convince Raja Kulambo, the chieftain of Samar, and Raja Humabon, the chieftain of Cebu, to be baptized into Christianity and swear their allegiance to Spain. However, long before Christianity was introduced into the Philippines, the native Filipinos already worshiped God, called Bathala, the Aetas tribe called their God, Anito and the Muslims, Ala. The spiritual understanding of Filipino's in modern times is that they were never Christianized; rather that Christianity was Filipinized and embraced for the good of spiritual faith.

The training of Raja Lapu-lapu in his preparation for a duel fight against Raja Humabon is the most significant event in the 1500's which contributed to the development of different forms of the Filipino martial Arts.

Ancient Filipino Performing "KALIS-SAG"
Ancient Filipino Performing

According to legend, Lapu-lapu accused Humabon of claiming a portion of his father's land and challenged him to a duel. Because Lapu-lapu and Humabon were from the same ethnicity and trained in similar fighting techniques, Lapu-lapu had to prepare and develop another way of fighting using the KALIS-SAG and the Pangamut logic to become proficient in using his shield and hardened Olisi. (KALIS is equivalent to Olisi, and SAG is for the Shield). However, the duel fight never occurred due to the invasion of Mactan by the Spaniards and Magellan.


Raja Lapu-lapu Inspired Native Filipinos to Develop FMA

Hero Lapu-lapu defended his land
Hero Lapu-lapu
defended his land

On April 27, 1521, Portuguese Commander Ferdinand Magellan, and his soldiers were involved in tribal disputes with the Marharlikan warriors and made their first attempt to colonize the land of Maharlika, the Mactan Island. Magellan's skilled soldiers heavily armed and dressed in their full armor gear were well prepared for the attack. Raja Lapu-lapu used Kampilan and Kalis-sag to defend the Island.

Most of Lakan (men) of the Island were skilled in the Kalis-Silat and Kuntawan way of fighting. Most native fighters were armed only with bamboo spears (sibat); hardened sticks (Olisi), bows and arrows (pana). The Tuhon (ranking) native defender used bladed weapon called Kris, Kampilan and Kalis.

Battle in Mactan
Battle in Mactan

The Islanders out numbered the Spanish conquistadors. The invaders, even with their skilled and majestic ability in fighting and equipped with muskets, swords, spears, bows, arrows and firearms, underestimated the fighting ability of the Islanders. In the end the invaders were bloody and defeated. Magellan and many of his soldiers died in the battle of Mactan. This is the first recorded battle in history of the Filipino warrior (Mandirigma) dedicating their lives out of their devotion and love for their land.

Kampilan Sword
Kampilan sword that Lapu-lapu used
to defeat Ferdinand Magellan

It is from the pride, bravery and honor of this battle that the Filipinos continue the cultural practice of their own native martial art. The battle of Mactan is the most crucial episode. This battle contributed to the Filipinos developing the current, and still evolving, different systems of martial arts for self defense which have spread internationally.

Filipino Martial Arts Banned by the Spaniards

On November 1, 1542, Ruy Lopez de Villalobos named the archipelago Felipinas after King Felipe II of Spain and the Spaniards claimed discovering the Philippines.

Spanish SoldadosIn 1565, the Spaniards returned with their superior weapons: fire arms, cannons and numerous soldiers. Desperate and with no choice, many Filipino tribes had to convert to Christianity. The promises for a better life from the Spaniards influenced some of the tribes to join the Spaniards in attacking and conquering neighboring islands. With the help of converted natives, the Spaniards were able to control the majority of the Luzon and Visayan Islands including Mactan. The Filipino Muslims from Southern Philippines were never quite defeated and kept their faith and their fighting skill intact.

The Filipino allied to the Spanish learned the fighting art called Espada y Daga' (Sword skills with knife). The inherited fighting ability from Spain was then adapted by the Filipinos which became the birth of Daga' y Daga' method (Filipino Knife Fighting Skill) or BARAW. This is among the combative knowledge that the Filipinos gratefully acknowledge and is honored by Filipino martial artists from Spain.

Spanish Coat of ArmsBy 1583, the Spanish laws, under the Royal Decree of King Philip II, were imposed upon the islands. All forms of martial arts were completely outlawed and the carrying of any bladed weapons was forbidden. Kalis, Silat and Kuntaw and other forms of martial arts were banned and not permitted to be practiced. According to the Bais family interpretation of history, this could be the possible reason why the synonym word KALI vanished from the native Filipino literature as being the source of their martial art KALIS.

SAYAW - The training that the Filipino incorporated the movements of the fighting art into a dance to hide the secret practice of their martial arts such as: Singkil, Tinikling, Sagayan, Nilatik, Sinulog, Sakuting and Batbat of Ilocos Region along with other forms of Sayawan (fighting dance). These dances illustrate the fighting spirit and demonstrate a devotion of love for their country and in the simplicities of freedom of life. The speed beating of sticks makes rhythm for a practitioner to maneuver in and out into different a pattern of dances like in a triangular shape of steps or figure eight direction, which is common in the Filipino stick fight training to speed up the same practice for preparation in a battle encounter with the invader.
Singkil Dance Of Mindanao Dayang in Kalis Sinawali Of Luzon Visayan Eskrimador

In the mid 1880's two Filipino heroes, Dr. Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio awakened the spirit of the Filipinos who and been ruled by the Spanish dictatorship for over 300 years. The patriotism, nationalism and the idealism of the Filipinos once again bloomed in their souls inspired by the powerful words of freedom used by Dr. Rizal and by the power of the Filipino bolos (swords) led by the brave Bonifacio. With the sharp edge of the Filipino's bolos and their valor they jointly fought to claim their independence through revolution and rising up against the government of Spain which ended in Philippine Independence on June 12, 1898. This was after Dr. Rizal was executed by a firing squad in front of the Filipino community in Luneta. From that day forward the Philippine flag proudly waves.

Revolution Flag
Revolution Flag

Andres Bonifacio
Andres Bonifacio
Independence Seal
Independence Seal
Dr. Jose Rizal
Dr. Jose Rizal