Elements used in Combat Arts training – Part 2 – Kali

This article about Kali, is the second in a series of articles to give you an insight into the martial art elements that Combat Arts founder, Gordon McAdam, specialises in and uses in his training courses.

What is Kali?

“Kali” also known as ‘Arnis’ or ‘Eskrima’ is an ancient martial art form from the Philippine’s that pre-dates the Spanish conquest of the island nation in the 16th century.

It is the Philippines’ national sport and martial art style and the three are roughly interchangeable umbrella terms for the traditional martial arts of that emphasises weapon-based fighting with sticks, knives, bladed weapons, and various improvised weapons as well as "open hand" or techniques without weapons.

Throughout the Philippines history, Kali has helped Filipinos defend themselves against invaders. The art has even been practiced by a variety of Special Forces units worldwide.

But one thing is certain: if you want to know how to use weapons to protect yourself and devastate an opponent, Kali is a very efficient way to go.


Filipino Kali is the art of stick fighting using hard bamboo sticks to strike and defend. Filipino Kali students are taught weapons fighting before bare hand-to-hand combat.

Filipino stick fighting was entrenched in the island’s culture long before the Spanish arrived in 1521. When the Spanish arrived, they saw a wavy-edged sword about 30 inches long made of wood called a “kalis.” During Spanish occupation, they forbade the practice of Kali. The Spaniards called the art Eskrima or Arnis. That is why all three words are used to describe this art. Kali practitioners can also be called “Eskrimadors” from the word eskrima - meaning skirmish.

Among the three terms, Kali is the oldest, originating from the southern part of the Philippines. The name itself comes from the local native dialect, Cebuano. “Ka” stands for kamot which means “hand,” and “Li” stands for lihok, which means “movement.” When joined together, Kali can be translated to mean “movement of the hand.” A Kali practitioner is known as a Kallista.

Martial arts are taught and practiced by both men and women in the Philippines. Combat was used among neighbouring tribes and warlords. The Filipinos have a long history of women fighting in battle, wars and combat. The Filipinos pride themselves in believing that the martial arts of their nation was a self-originated art, not borrowed from the Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, or Spanish.

Always assuming the use of the blade, whether it is the sword or knife, Kali employs many techniques, including strikes, stances and weapon handling. It draws on influences from China, Arab missionaries, Indonesia and Spain due to immigration, invasion and occupation.

Goals of Kali

Kali is primarily a weapons-based style of fighting to inflict bad, often fatal, damage to opponents with the use of weapons and empty hand techniques as quickly as possible.

It focuses on the ability to transition from fighting with weapons to empty hands smoothly, as there is always the possibility of losing or being without a weapon. Most Kali students are taught elements of weapons: fighting, striking, grappling and throwing/ takedowns.

Some popular combinations of weapons used are the single stick (solo baston), double stick (double baston), and sword/stick and dagger (espada). Along with this, the most frequently used training weapon is the rattan, a stick about the length of its wielder's arm.

In the end, Kali practitioners are known for their lightning-fast movements and efficient footwork in wielding weapons.

Is Kali good for self-protection?

Kali helps you connect the dots in your self-protection training as it focuses on versatile concepts rather than a different technique for every situation. You will be taught about angles of attack rather than specific attacks. And, once you’re able to discern whether an attack is coming from the inside or the outside and whether it’s from the left or the right, you have the base you need to deal with it. Once you’ve learned the basics, your training will be about progressions and combinations involving those basics.


If you are interested in getting in shape and back to feeling like you could take care of yourself, if the need arose, contact us now to check availability in our small groups classes, or book your FREE 1-2-1 session.