Kali or Eskrima is a martial art style native to the Philippines known for its unmatched instruction with blades. A practitioner of Kali is referred to as a kalis. Filipino Kali is a highly effective weapon-based martial art which utilizes the power and reach of blades and staves. The Philippines’ traditional blade art is symbolic of the orbiting of the planets and the movement of the constellations. Historically, Kali was a form used primarily for survival against enemies and wild animals, but has now become an offensive self-defense art.
Kali trains the kalis to use both sides of their body equally, to improve balance, coordination, and overall motor skills necessary to defend oneself against an armed attack regardless of the defender’s armed or unarmed state. Kali instruction not only improves movement, but also speed and strength. Kali instructors train students to build tactical skills often needed in high-risk situations.
The angle of attacks, the mobility of the artist, and the ability to calculate movement and anticipate a strike is critical to Kali. There are no fixed positions in Kali. Unlike other martial art disciplines, there are no forms. Footwork is the key to phasing between movements to keep from being caught off-guard.
Kali schools often train students to fight against multiple opponents rather than mediated one-on-one fights. By simulating real world scenarios, Kali better equips students to deal with potential situations. Through a process known as “defanging the snake,” or severely damaging opponent’s limbs as they attack, Kali prevents an attacker from retaliating.
Regardless of whether the kalis has a weapon, a weapon will always be present, if not seen, on an opponent. Kali training enables students to perform as if the weapon was drawn.
There are many substyles, each of which have their own Kali school. Some of the most notable include Pekiti-Tirsia, Kali Sikaran, and Latigo y Daga.
The system known as Pekiti-Tirsia Kali was founded in 1897 and belongs to the Tortal family, whose sole heir is respectfully referred to as the Grand Tuhon. This style is not a sport-focused discipline. Rather, Kali instruction is provided as a fighting system focused on knife and sword techniques. Its most prominent use is among Philippine military and law enforcement officials.
The Pekiti-Tirsia Kali system has spread across America and into European countries and incorporates a variety of attacks and defenses but continually emphasizes the importance of close-quarter kill combat. This system is about “quartering,” or cutting opponents into little pieces; there is no mercy found in failure. Because defense is seen as an ineffective survival tactic, Kali focuses on the offensive.
Kali for kids classes are available; younger classes focus on balance, movement, and how to manipulate the body to be continually in motion. These classes emphasize helping the student gain confidence. Older children often focus on self discipline and mindset. Adult Kali classes are focused around beginning techniques and weapons. They are the precursors for the heavy combat-based instruction found in intermediate and advanced classes. As one travels higher into the ranks, new weapons and techniques are learned. After hours of dedicated practice, a kalis can attain the rank of black belt.
The Pekiti-Tirsia Global Organization’s goal is not just to continue to teach the Pekiti-Tirsia Kali discipline, but also to improve relations with other groups and teach the potentially interested. Although there are many other organizations through various disciplines of Kali, Pekiti-Tirsia is perhaps the largest and most geographically encompassing.
Kali is also widely popular in movies with close quarters combat. In the Bourne series, Bourne confronts his attackers by turning objects like pens and books into deadly weapons. Star Wars also incorporates the fighting style, as does Mission Impossible 4 and the Resident Evil franchise.
Kali is used in such movies for realism. It looks good on camera, but is also effective in real life. Viewers can get a sense of the power and control behind such forms even through a digital screen.
Kali is not purely for sport. It is an offensive style of self-defense great for application in real world scenarios. It is richly rewarding for those who wish to dedicate themselves to improving themselves. Great for all ages, Kali instruction trains the mind and body to defend in stressful environments. Kali is for travelers or stay at home individuals.
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Kali, as well as Arnis and Eskrima, are all overarching names for a suite of traditional fighting techniques to have originated from the Philippines. The emphasis of Kali training and techniques – or the Filipino martial arts – is on the mastery of weaponry, such as blades, knives and sticks. Having said this, some of the older martial art traditions of Kali don’t focus on weaponry at all and instead teach students to master hand techniques, self-defense and striking.
Kali is believed to have been a martial art form developed and practiced by the lower classes. Because these people were illiterate, little written record exists explaining the history and teachings of Kali, but anecdotal evidence abounds. Kali, Arnis and Eskrima are said to have been developed by the lower classes of the Philippines in response to the threat of numerous internal conflicts, as well as external threats from traders and settlers.
Those learning Kali will come to master the use of the above-mentioned equipment and weaponry. They will also be taught how to engage in close range hand-to-hand combat, how to effectively disarm an opponent and proficiency in a suite of grappling, ground hold and joint lock moves.
With its focus on the use of weaponry, it becomes important for students to invest in their own Kali equipment, which will enable them to practice at home. Hand-in-hand with this equipment and the skill to use it comes the need to adhere to the utmost safety, as Kali, albeit a competitive martial arts today, was traditionally a form of hand-to-hand combat that would typically see one or both opponents wounded, if not mortally so.
Kali uniforms typically consist of a black T-shirt and black pants, although other colors are available, with customized detailing that varies from martial arts school to martial arts school.
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