The Martial Arts of the Phillipines


The Philippines is a nation situated on an archipelago of over 7,600 islands containing 79 indigenous ethnic groups and an estimated 182 living (active) languages. This extreme amount of diversity is reflected by the number of martial arts and fighting styles which arose on these islands and partially coalesced under colonialism, only to begin to separate and evolve once again in the modern Filipino diaspora.

Since the complex evolution of the fighting styles of the Philippines led to the lasting creation of various traditional arts, each with names that will often change depending on which group of people you are talking to,  They are generally given the umbrella term of FMA (Filipino Martial Arts).

While there is definite similarities and overlap amongst the arts, most of them maintain their focus in a particular aspect of combat. Many modern FMA practitioners will study a number of the Filipino arts, and it is not rare for example to see a “Kali” teacher augmenting his lessons with Suntukan, Dumog, and Sikaran - this is another reason for the extensive use of a general FMA blanket term.

  • Kali, Eskrima, and Arnis - The most famous of the FMA styles. It is a system that focuses heavily on bladed weapons and stick fighting.

  • Sikaran - A kicking game which has developed into its own leg focused martial art.

  • Suntukan, Panantukan, and Mano-Mano - A “Dirty Boxing” style that emphasis the use of fists, headbutts, elbows, and limb destructions (striking of muscles and pressure points to disable a limb).

  • Dumog and Buno - Upright wrestling (grappling) art.

  • Kino Mutai - A focus on practical “Dirty fighting” utilizing attacks such as bites, eye-gouges, and fish-hooking.

  • Yaw Yan - "Dance of Death" An  extremely popular Kickboxing style developed in the 20th century.

  • Bultong - A belt wrestling, or festival sport wrestling style. Similar to Indian, Russian and Middle East competitions.

  • Kuntao -


Kali, Eskrima and Arnis

There are numerous names for the blade, stick and open handed art descended from the Filipino warriors who inhabited the islands before the arrival of the Spanish. In the West, the term Kali caught on, while in the Philippines the terms Escrima and Arnis are much more familiar. The popularity of the art, the rapid evolution of it in the last few decades, and geographically centered usage of different names has given many the wrong impression that these are related but separate arts. The truth is, though most western Kali practitioners today may have many stylistic differences from Philippine based Eskrima practitioners - there is no concrete division between the two. For all intensive purposes, Eskrima is Kali is Arnis.

The term Kali likely descends from the Tagalog word calis which means “use of weapons” while Eskrima and Arnis are descended from Spanish terminology. Arnés is old Spanish for armor and is used archaically to refer to weaponry as well. Eskrima/Escrima comes from the Spanish esgrima and French escrime - both of these words are still used in their respective countries to refer to the Olympic sword fighting sport of fencing.

There is debate around which aspects of the Spanish sword styles (such as the sword/dagger combo) and warrior ethos were eventually adopted into Kali and which predated the colonial period. Records are nearly non-existent from the time before the arrival of the Europeans. It is a safe bet that the martial culture of the Spanish Hidalgos would have a profound impact on Filipino fighting styles over the many centuries with which they co-existed, fought with, and fought against one another.

Unlike it’s European fencing counterpart or even other nations weaponed arts - like Kendo in Japan - Kali has remained a popular and practical martial art, mainly due the fact it emphasized both knives and sticks (the Spanish had outlawed swords amongst the Philippine populace, and they evolved along with the new law) which remain practical weapons to this day. Nobody walks around with a rapier or a katana today, but many still utilize knives. The practicality is two-fold amongst the people of the Philippines as they have a “knife-culture” in that most Filipinos eschew guns and rely on knives for their main mode of self-defense, and much of the country will still use knives in both daily farming and other forms of craftsmanship. This has given the knife, and the art that goes along with it, a central role in Filipino culture. Kali/Eskrima is the national sport and martial art of the Philippines.

Filipino knife wielders so devastated an American military force that the famous 1911 model handgun was developed to provide servicemen with increased stopping power. It is said that the soldiers fired a number of .38 rounds into their attackers without immediate effect and fell prey to the deftly wielded blades of the Philippine's warriors.

In a twist from other Asian martial arts, Eskrima practitioners will learn to use weaponry first, only moving on to the open hand techniques after they have mastered their weapon.

Standard Weapons used In  Eskrima / Arnis / Kali:

  • Baton (Rattan stick) - A stick made from a Southeast Asian vine.

  • Baraw / Daga (Filipino terms for knife or dagger) they have systems of Solo Daga (single dagger) and Doble Daga (double knives)

  • There are also techniques for various staves, scarves, and swords within the system.

  • The open hand - A boxing system that employs many of the same angles and techniques utilized while wielding the weapons.

Key Facts of Modern Eskrima / Arnis / Kali:

  • The evolution from a mindset where a single wrong move could mean your death means that an extreme emphasis has been placed on footwork and distance control. Escrima footwork is one of the most commonly adopted elements of FMA by hybrid self-defense and MMA practitioners.

  • Escrima is widely considered amongst the best, if not the best, system for both knife attacks and defense. It is taught to special forces units all over the world by Filipino masters.

Eskrima in Modern Media

In the last couple decades, thanks to prolific master like Dan Inosanto and the influence he has had both in the wider martial arts world and on screen, Kali (and in general all of FMA) has seen a surge in usage and popularity. Many of the modern badasses on screen, including James Bond and Jason Bourne, have fight scenes directly choreographed around FMA, and specifically Kali.



It isn’t known if the refined art or the competition came first (there is very little known of the area before the Spanish arrives) but it is a leg based martial art & competition that revolves around kicking. Sort of like a Filipino Tae-Kwon-Do. In the competition, the hands can only be used to parry. The word Sikaran itself means “to Kick.” and both the sport and the style are derived from the Rizal province of the Philippines.

SInce any art that is 90% leg based will have very refined kicking mechanics, yet limited practical viability in self defense, Sikaran kicks are often pulled from the sport and used to augment more well rounded FMA styles. It is common to see Kali/Arnis teachers implementing Sikaran attacks and training methods into their style. Sikaran-Kali is a common term used in many schools.

In my research I would see Sikaran sites occasionally mentioning weapons  in their training, but this seems to be an adaptation of other FMA systems and Filipino culture into Sikaran schools rather than something inherent to the particular art.


Suntukan, Panantukan, Pakamot and Mano-Mano

Another art with too many names. Suntukan, is the western adopted name and in the Philippines simply refers to either punching or boxing. Filipino’s are more likely to refer to the art as either Mano-Mano (from the Spanish word “mano” for hand) or Pakamot  depending on where you are. Panantukan is a name popularized for these methods by the Dan Inasanto lineage in America - Panununtukan means "the art of fistfighting".

Whatever you want to call it, Mano-Mano is a fist and hand based art in the same way Sikaran is based around the legs. The major difference though is that Panantukan has a direct evolution from street brawling and life and death struggle and thus many of the techniques and methods can be directly incorporated into a hybrid self-defense system. There has been no competition or rule set that have watered down the deadliness of the art.

It is best described as “Dirty Boxing” and many MMA practitioners will recognize a number of similar clinch methods. As a street art however, eye, groin, knee and throat attacks are commonly practiced. Elbows and headbuts are also primary weapons.

Suntukan has been heavily influenced by, and in turn influenced, large aspects of other FMA styles. In many cases a Kali system will seamlessly integrate Mano-Mano methods in with their knife and stick drills. It can be hard to argue where one FMA style begins and another ends, and panantukan is probably the the most blurred of all since it lacks any codified structure.



Dumog and Buno

Both the name Dumog and Buno are used depending on where in the Philippines you are. Apparently Buno is technically a different art, or perhaps a variant of Dumog, but the resources on the subject in English are severely limited. Buno means “To Throw” so it stands to reason it may have a larger focus in the throwing and takedown techniques.

As with all the other FMA arts, the origins of Dumog are not entirely clear. Though aspects of it likely existed centuries ago, it is also just as likely that arts like Judo and Western wrestling were incorporated into it in both the pre and post- WWII era. Dumoguero (as practitioners call themselves) claim the roots come from Mindoro area tribes and was refined during skirmishes with Spanish soldiers. A story goes that Filipino warriors would lie in wait for a lone sentry to pass by and would yell “Dumog!” to signal the ambush. One man would grab the sentry and control him while the others quickly stabbed him and disappeared back into the brush. These tactics came hand in hand with Kino Mutai, the next art on our list.

Like Judo, Dumog it is based around pushing, pulling, grabbing and controlling your opponent through leverage, locks and control points on the body. It incorporates stand up grabbling, ground fighting, strikes, throws and submissions.

Like most Filipino arts, Dumog techniques have been incorporated into a number of FMA styles and syllabuses and it can be hard to draw the line between strictly Dumog techniques or another FMA style.

There are also Dumog competitions which are won by pressing your opponent's upper back to the ground.


Kino Mutai

Alternative Names: Kinamotay, Kinamutay,  kino mutai and kina mutay

Rather than a martial art, this seems to be a general term for dirty fighting tactics employed by many of the FMA styles. In real life combat, there is no referee coming to stop the fight, so in the jungles and battlefields of the Philippines where they faced off against other warriors and colonial superpowers - dirty and effective tactics for disabling your opponent were preferred. Kino Mutai tactics involve eye gouging, muscle pinching, groin strikes, heabbutts, scratching, and most famously - uninterrupted biting techniques. That is, to pin your opponent and bite into his artery.

It is easy for sportsmen like BJJ practitioners and shoot wrestlers to forget just how sanitized much of their arts have become. One of the most incorporated tools of Kino Mutai is biting into your opponents artery while you have him in the guard, or preferably half guard, biting into his abdomen while you are in the North-South position and a number of other intense attacks like fish hooking and face tearing that add a whole new deadly and painful element to many of our common wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu positions. It is especially effective for escaping from a larger opponent.

Kino Mutai is often paired up with Dumog to control the opponent and then to gouge his eyes or remove his ear/nose or severe his artery with bites.

Just as a tie in to the whole idea of combat based fighting as opposed to sport, One of my best friends and fellow U.S. Marines entered a house in Iraq in 2009. An insurgent was waiting for him, but the AK failed to fire (a miracle in itself) and my friend had enough time to grab and wrestle with the man before he was able to pull the trigger again (the angle of the attack and the close quarters prevented my buddy from being able to present his own weapon), their hand to hand combat lasted only a few seconds. It ended when my friend, overtaken by the adrenaline and fighting for his life, tore the cartilage of the insurgents nose half off his face. The brutality and intensity of those life and death moments should not be underestimated - and to properly prepare to do whatever is necessary to survive is a key aspect of Kino Mutai.


Yaw Yan

The "Dance of Death"

This is a style of kickboxing developed in the 1970’s that similarly uses the 8 points of contact (Hands, Feet, Elbows, Knees) for their strikes, and puts a large emphasis on kicking. It seems to resemble a mixture of Muay Thai and Tae Kwon Do. Alternatively, the sport of “Hybrid-Yaw Yan” seems to be much more similar to modern MMA, though I may be mistaken and Hybrid-Yaw Yan is a single school that trains Yaw Yan fighters for various MMA competitions.

The founder was a Filipino named Napoleon Fernandez and he had trained in various arts previous to his creation of Yaw Yan. Although in competition it seems to be more or less a Muay Thai style rule set, many Yaw Yan schools will incorporate grappling and weapons into their syllabus. A common theme for Filipino arts in general.

I want to go into more detail about Yaw Yan, but unlike many of the other items on this list, I have no actual personal experience with the style and at the surface level it seems to be more or less a Filipino cousin of Muay Thai and Kickboxing. There is obvious variation in the striking style and preferred distances, but past that it would require actually getting your hands dirty to see how it really differs.

The clearest comment I could find on the differentiation was “It is a form of kickboxing just like Thailand’s Muay Thai but differs in the hip-torquing motion and downward-cutting nature of kicks.”




Bultong is a belt wrestling system that comes from the Luzon region of the Philippines. It is more of a competition sport than a martial art, but easily falls under the term “belt wrestling.” It is along the lines of Japanese Sumo or Turkish Oil Wrestling. Though the age of the art is unknown, if it dates back nearly as far as other belt wrestling forms, it could be over 500 years old.

Bultong is very popular and common amongst market festivals in the region - Each wrestler traditionally sports only a loincloth (more clothing has been added in recent times) The aim is to pin your opponent's upper back to the floor or throwing from the competition ara.

Like duels between knights in medieval Europe, participants and viewers assumed the gods or spirits would ensure the most just and deserving of participants would win. For this reason, it was an often a method of resolving local disputes.


Kuntao and Silat

Both of these arts are not primarily Filipino, rather they have been promulgated throughout South-East Asia. Kuntoa is a general term that refers to the Martial arts of the Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, and encompasses a large amount of Chinese styles from both North and South China. In many regions it has become mixed and blurred with local styles, and in places like Bali has overlapped so heavily with SIlat that no real distinction is made. The origins of the Chinese community as well as the local styles it has been infused with with color the form of Kuntao. It goes without saying that there is no single Kuntao style.

Silat has a similar backstory in many ways, although it is much older. Silat is a general term for the martial arts of Southeast Asia the evolved from over a thousand years of contact with Chinese and Indian weaponry and fighting styles - as well as later influences from Japanese forms. There are hundreds of variations of Silat, though its recent adoption as a part of the  Southeast Asian Games has given it a more concrete structure and meaning in recent years as can be seen in the growing popularity of specifically Pencak silat.

Silat places a heavy influence on weapons training, specifically the dagger, and is known for its multi-level fighting and unique movements. One interesting quirk is the ability to fight from the ground or a seated position. This likely comes from South East Asian cultures penchant for sitting and eating on the ground - and it was practical to learn to defend yourself from that position in case of a sudden attack. Kali involves weapons, unarmed strikes, grabbling, striking and its variations are considered fully rounded martial arts.


This is a fun example of it being used in MMA