Philippines consists of over 7000 Islands and they speak over 83 dialects and due to scarcity of written records makes it difficult for researchers to establish any chronological line of decent to modern times. To this day the ancient art of Eskrima remains a mystery. One theory postulates that the ancient Filipinos came from India and Persia and worked their ways through Indonesia Islands and into Philippines. A group called the Brahmins came to India to Sumatra around 5th. Century AD and created the famous Hindu- Malayan Empire of Shri Vishayan. On conquering and colonizing many territories they invaded Philippines with their superior weapons. The Shri Visayan Empire had a great impact on the development of the Filipino culture.Shri Vishayan people settled in central Philippines. The early records of Malay Shri Vasayan empire dated 8th. Century A.D. contains references to Kali as the Martial Arts of Philippines.
The word “Kali “is Indian in origin, referring to the mother Goddess Kali. It has been said that in ancient times there was a great exchange of trade and culture existing between Indian Hindu kings and Phillipines.Thus one can still see the influence of Indian art, culture and historic Hindu temples exist today in Philippines. When one compares the Filpino Stick fighting along with the Indian stick fighting, one can see many common similarities between the two arts. As we all know that the birth place of martial arts was from India from where it spread and influenced martial arts in different countries such as China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Burma, Vietnam, Indonesia Thailand and Philippines where it mingled and mixed with their culture and each countries formulated their own style of Martial arts and fighting systems.
Some historians believe that Kali must have been derived from Tjakalele, a neighboring country of south of the Phillipines.Tjakalele is a native of Indonesian fencing closely related to Eskrima / Kali martial art skills was taught in schools as part of the education system to every one. Around 12 Th. centuries A.D. Madjapahit Empire formed in Java, due to influence of Arab missionaries spreading the Muslim faith, soon took over the Shri Vaishayan Empire into the Philippines and the southern islands of Philippines became known as the More (Muslim) Filipinos. The Chinese also had a tremendous influence on Filipino culture, as thousands of Chinese immigrated as traders and merchants during the Manchurian invasion in 12 the. Century. This led to the Chinese cultural penetration in Phillipines.The influence of Chinese on Filipino life was mainly economic as they were merely traders whose interest laid on profits.
The traditional Filipino Martial arts known today as Arnis existed long before the Spaniards colonized in Philippines the Filipino art was deeply rooted in History & culture amongst the Fillipino people. In other places this art was known as “Eskrima / Kali / Arnis.” whose actual origin and beginning is still shrouded in mystery. In the early part of 16th. Century .A.D. the Spanish invaded Philippines. The Spanish expedition under the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan reached the island of Cebu in central Philippines on 7 Th. April 1521, which were quickly welcomed by the King Humabad & Queen Juana as the sole representatative of the king of Spain. But in the small island of Mactan a local chieftain Lapulapu an expert of Kali refused to pay tribute to Magellan.
Enraged Magellan led a striking force invading the small island of Mactan. But the fiery Chieftain Lapulapu along with his brave warriors managed to defeat Magellan’s professionally trained force of soldiers equipped with the latest weaponry. Magellan the first to circumnavigate the world lost his life in this historic battle in 1521 and was destroyed completely. Underestimating the strength of Lapulapu’s man where the more modern Spaniards with armors & weapons were defeated by the primitive weapons of fire hardened Eskrima fighting sticks. The Elliptical motions and reversals fluctuating angles and constant motion made the Eskrima sticks very tough to deal with, instead of the cut the stick shattered bones, the tip end of the stick moves ten times faster than the hand. They also used primitive weapons such as Kampala’s a bladed weapon, lances, poisoned arrows, bolos and other crude weapons to defeat the Spaniards. Lapulapu instantly became the local Hero after this historic and impressive victory. Kali soon became very popular and became the sport for kings and Royal blood.
Eventually the Spaniards gained control of the country and ruled for 400 years. During this time the art of Kali declined as early as 1596 A.D. when the Spanish authorities discouraged and eventually banned the practice of the art in 1764, as they felt that the practice of the art led to serious injuries and even death. However the real motive as they found out that the Filipinos were exceptionally skilled in their ability of blade, sword and stick. By 19th. Century the natives found convenient ways to resume practice of the art right under the nose of the Spaniards. As the natives of Moro-moro staged plays and dances woven into it, they continued to practice their skills by way of dancing, and carried on their training in secrecy without arousing any suspicion, using training pieces of wood called “Bali.” or “Kamagong.”, or bamboo materials earlier known as Rattan, or Oway.
Thus the interest in art of Kali was revived once again.
The art soon came to be known as “Arnis De Mano.” due to the influence of Spanish, derived from the word “Arnes.” Meaning trappings or defensive armor. It also acquired other names such as ““Estokada.”, “Estoque.”, “Fraile”,” Arnis de Mano.” Or simply ARNIS. However some Philippines retained the word Kali. Thus we have Pagkali to the Ibanags, Kalirongan to Pangasinense, Kaliradman to the Visayans , Eskrima or Garote to Cebuanos, Baston to the people of Panay and negroes occidental and Sinawali to the Pampangenos. The word “Eskrima.” derived from Spanish word “Esgrima.” meaning a game between two combatants with the use of blunt instruments. Eskrima or Arnis today is popularly played with the use of the cane assumed to be the extension of hand, it being less lethal than the bladed weapon like itak or broadsword. The stick being the major weapon made from rattan or hardwood called either “Olisi.” or “Baston.” Or “Garote.”. The art has been traditionally referred to and identified as a stick fighting art mainly because in practice and training, the use of the sticks and wooden daggers are normally used. Substantial part of the students training either either in lower or higher level involves use of the blunt instruments. Bladed weapons are allowed only as soon as the student reaches a certain level in his training. Only after they become proficient in weapons that they are introduced to punching and kicking skills in the art. This is the peculiar distinction of Arnis as compared with other martial arts, teaching weapons first than move to empty hands.
The arrival of Americans following came to Philippines proved providential for the Filipino Martial Arts. Banned by Spaniards for more than 300 years, Eskrima resurfaced and began to blossom once again. The Eskrima became popular when the Americans ruled Philippines and the First Arnis Organization was formed in Cebu city in 1920, and the Canetes and Savedros families joined together to form the first Doce Pares Club, as their friendship strengthened. The name Doce Pares was taken and adopted in reference to the famous twelve bodyguards of Emperor Charlesmagne of France (768 – 814 A.D). These twelve bodyguards were top swordsman who was recorded in history to have fought and killed hundreds of enemies in battle. Doce Pares in Spanish means twelve pairs and were also meant to honor the twelve masters who founded the Eskrima Organization.
The revival of Arnis popularity was credited to National Arnis Association of Philippines (NARAPHIL) to provide and popularize the Filipino Art in 1975. The First National Arnis open championship was held in March 1979 inCebu and the First World Eskrima Kali Arnis Championship was held in Cebu City in August 1989. Where more than ten countries participated and the Art soon became popular all over the World.
In the olden days many of the top masters were involved in “ Juego Todo.”, death bout matches, where one of the masters resulted in death. The Golden years of the art was regarded more chaotic in Eskrima, underwent radical changes and development as masters competed in introducing, inventing, and formulating more fighting techniques to best the opponents and reign supreme in challenge matches. By 1970 the tension brought by rivalry between many groups eased down conserably and the Cebu Eskrima Association was born. CEA spearheaded by the lawyer Dionisio “Diony” Canete, the youngest son of Eulogio, all the fourteen Eskrima group / organization in Cebu joined as members. Diony was elected as President and Joe Villasian of Balintawak as vice President, this event ended bitter rivalries amongst Eskrimadors in Cebu city. Grand Master Diony Canete averred the best and fastest way of promoting Arnis and made the ever popular sparring matches in a sporting event. Rules were set and approved and enforced in WEKAF, World Eskrima Kali Arnis Federation and adopted in the first Worlds Championship held in 1989.
Diony designed various protective gears such as headgears, body protective jacket, hand gloves and arm pads which made the historical event FWAC in Cebu a grand success. The Doce Pares system continuously swept various gold medals in the National Championship. This formal organizes tournaments put an end to the traditional Death Matches. The last death match was fought on September 1983 between Ciriaco Canete and Crispul Artillo which virtually resulted in a draw and neither had made a clean victory. A rematch was arranged after 4 days but Artillo was found medically unfit to go for the match. hence it did not materialize. The bout totally ended closed chapter of Death Matches in the history of Eskrima.
The 1970 to 1980 saw a new breed of masters, thus Doce Pares System became a Multifunctional and Multi style system whose programmed was introduced by Dionisio Canete who assumed as the Dean of the Doce Pares System, a comprehensive teaching of all the component styles of Doce Pares was introduced and taught based on the teachings of the founding Masters which gave a complete understanding of the various styles of Eskrima covering all philosophical and theoretical concepts of the principle advocate, giving a broad knowledge & skill to the students.
The Organization lost its guiding light Master Eulogio who died of natural causes in 1988 at the age of 87 years and Master Felimon in 1995 at the age of 91.Master Eulogio was the founder of the Doce Pares system passed on the legacy into the safe hands of Eulogio Junior as President and the younger brother Diony was elevated to the rank of the Grand Master and assumed the position of chairman, the post previously held by Master Felimon Momoy until his death. Today Doce Pares has branches all over the world and India being one of them.
(The Indian Connection)
In 1983 a Merchant ship sail’s out to the port of Manila and the young Chief Officer of the ship Sensei Cyrus Rustomji had the opportunity to learn the Art of Modern Arnis and underwent training under the brothers Ernesto Presas and Roberto Presas, they were brothers of the famous Late Remy Presas, known as the father of Modern Arnis in America. Sensei Cyrus was promoted to Lakan Isa in Modern Arnis equivalent to a First Degree Black Belt, studied single and double sticks and became an expert in the use of the famous butterfly knife or the sing song knife called Balisong in 1983. Armed with the knowledge he came to Mumbai India on leave, soon news spread around about th3e art he had learned and the late Guro Arif Sheikh wanting to experience this art approached Cyrus and requested to give a short seminar. Soon a two day intensive seminar of 12 hrs each was given at the Y.M.C.A. Bombay Central with Arif along with senior brown belt students of Ketsugo whom he was teaching, in Modern Arnis Stick Fighting which he trained in Manila…
Arif gathered the knowledge of Arnis and set across the Cebu city and underwent training along with his wife Radhika in Doce Pares System under Grand Master Dionisio Canete and was promoted to First Degree Black Belt and came back to India. This was the beginning of the long years of friendship between Arid and Cyrus. In 1990 three friends got together Sifu Homi Chothia who studied Wing Chun in Honkong, Guro Arif Sheikh in Doce Pares Arnis from Cebu and Sensei Cyrus who than studied Ninjutsu with various Ninja Masters in U.S.A. got together and gave the Mumbai’s First ever combined Masters seminar for three continuous days which had over 100 students attending the seminar at Y.M.C.A. at Bombay Central, each of them taught the basics of the the art that they had studied. And the monopoly of teaching only Karate & Judo in Mumbai was broken. Amongst the 100 who came for the seminar, today a few of them are Masters of different arts in their own new system and are also teaching Arnis , Wing Chun and Ninjutsu after the 3 days seminar training they has attended.
It was the Late Guro Arif Sheikh the pioneer who carried the torch of teaching Arnis, Eskrima, and Kali of Doce Pares System. Conducting seminars and teaching in different parts of India along with his wife Radhika Sheikh and spread the Filipino Art of Stick Fighting until the untimely death of Guro Arif Sheikh. In the memory of her husband Radhika invited Grand Master Dionisio Canete and his son Gerald once again to Mumbai to conduct a four days intensive seminar which were attended by several Masters, to name a few were Sensei Suresh Gopi of Pankrathion, Sensei Cyrus of Ninjutsu, Noel Gilchrist and Ajay Marwa were amongst the few whom were Promoted to First Degree Black Belt in Doce Pares system and were felicitated with a beautiful mementos. Radhika was promoted to six degree Black Belt presently heading the organization in India.
Incidentally a group of over 200 girls and ladies from different schools participated in the all Woman Arnis Competition Championship held under the supervision of Grand Master Dionisio Canete along with the seminar simultaneously at the University Stadium at Marine Lines. The girls who represented were undergoing self-defense training in Doce Pares System of Arnis stick Combat today. As it is part of the schools curriculum.
The Doce Pares System is open to all who wish to join and become a certified practioners of the Art of Filipino Stick Fighting. Of Arnis / Kali / Eskrima. People beware of training under unqualified teachers teaching this art, taking you for a ride.
.This article is compiled by Sensei Cyrus Rustomji.
9th. Dan Black Belt. / KUDAN
The Combative School of Martial Arts.