Arnis History

What is Arnis?

Arnis, also known as kali or eskrima, is an indigenous martial art from The Philippines. The terms arniskali and eskrima all refer to Filipino stick based martial arts. While the terms are more or less interchangeable, they tend to describe similar martial arts from different parts of The Philippines. This article will use Arnis to refer to all of these.

Arnis is a stick based art, but the movements taught using the single stick can be translated to other weapons including sword, knife and open-hand. Once the basic movements are understood, these can be easily applied to other weapons. Practitioners therefore do not need to learn a new set of techniques for each weapon, or open-hand: they can apply their existing techniques to any any weapon or open-hand.

Ancient Origins

Arnis is originated in antiquity The Philippines and was developed by local people in the region. It is likely that Arnis was influenced by martial arts from other areas of South East Asia, India and China. However, the Arnis systems that we see today have been steadily refined within The Philippines and are clearly distinct and different from martial arts from other regions.

Spanish Colonial Rule (mid-1500s to 1899)

In the mid to late 1500s, the Spanish made serious attempts to colonise The Philippines. Ferdinand Magellen had discovered and claimed Cebu for Spain in 1521, but it took a few decades before the Spaniards attempted colonisation. During the period of Spanish colonisation, Arnis and related indigenous arts were banned in The Philippines by the Spanish authorities. However, Filipinos incorporated Arnis training into the scripts of  moro-moro plays. These depicted melodramatic battles betweens Christians and Muslims and were often performed during fiestas. This allowed the tradition of Arnis to survive underground, even though its practice was banned by the authorities. One notable influence of this period is the development of complex stick fighting systems in many parts of The Philippines. As blade training had been banned, the blade was often substituted for a rattan stick. It is believed this led to the development of stick fighting as opposed to sword or knife fighting which had been dominant prior to this period.

The 1898 Treaty of Paris transferred Filipino sovereignty from Spain to the USA. In 1899, the Spanish left The Philippines.

Americans in The Philippines (1899 to mid 1900s)

American influence in The Philippines began with the Philippine-American War of 1899 to 1902. During this time, Filipinos proved themselves to be formidable guerrillas and it is believed American soldiers were exposed to Arnis  during the conflict. Ongoing American military presence in The Philippines is thought to have influences the Filipino Martial Arts (and Arnis) with the introduction of boxing-like strikes. Boxing was a common sport for US military personnel based in The Philippines and it is believed this in turn attracted the attention of Filipino martial artists. Elements of Arnis have since been incorporated into military and police training regimes around the world.

In 1932, The Doce Pares school was established. Many contemporary Arnis schools trace their origins to this school.

Post World War II to Present

Arnis continued to develop and flourished in the decades immediately after the conclusion of the war. Many of the most well-known schools and practitioners hail from this era. Filipino migrants took the art with them to Western countries where it began to be commonly taught outside of Filipino migrant communities from the mid 1960s onwards. The Filipino Martial Arts benefited from the increased Western interest in the Martial Arts in general which occurred after this time.

While still somewhat less well known than major Japanese, Chinese and Korean styles, the Filipino Martial Arts and Arnis have become well entrenched in Western countries including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, The USA, UK and Europe.

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