Filipinos Using the Name “Kali”


Just came across something too hot not to share! If you are familiar with the controversy around the use of the name “Kali” for Filipino Martial Arts, this post will need no introduction. The first person I heard say that Kali was not the Mother Art, nor was it even an art found in the Philippines was thekuntawman–before I even knew who he was. Those of you who have been around for a few years (in the FMA online community) know what I’m talking about. But I never saw anyone say what Guro says here… I love it.

Without further stalling:

part of the problem with “Kali” is that we now (actually we BEEN) have filipinos at home using the word, as a way to say “my art is older and better than those other guys”. they are getting lots of foreigners to study with them, because the story they tell sounds pretty good, even that the instructors himself, is good too. but lets call a spade a spade, and name them, huh?

* leo gaje
* nene tortal
* yuli romo
* tony diego
* all the other guys who jump on the wagon of kali, muslim clothing, and mysterious art. (how about wrestling with buffalo?)

i am a muslim, born and raised. i even read those stories, and argued with my own family, that our art should be called “kali” instead of eskrima, and “silat” instead of kuntaw. after all, were muslim, so it must be true! so lets start with me, i used the name myself about 10 years ago.

part of the reason, some of us do not criticise other filipinos, is that we do not want to be in public against our countrymen. but like i said, spade is a spade…

kuya abon, i am curious to see what gaje will say to you about his use of kali. his argument is pretty good, and he uses lots of big words.

A response to this post:

Date: Tue, 19 Jun 2007 12:30:45 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Re: [Eskrima] Filipinos using Kali

Guro Maurice:

I agree with the point you are making. That is the ugly side of
kali. I condemn the practice, but I personally would hesitate
criticizing anybody in particular, having been far removed from
the Philippine scene for a long time now.

Take Yuli Romo, for instance. I do not know if he belongs to that
group. Although one of the pillars of Kali or Kalis Ilustrisimo, he
now flies under his own banner of Sugbu Baraw. I am not sure
if that banner is still cut from the same cloth as kali, or Kali
Ilustrisimo, or muslim or indigenous tribal Filipino. And he
seems to have been forever wearing those Muslim-looking
clothes (could be indigenous tribal).

In the interest of full disclosure, I happen to know and like
Yuli Romo–a very down-to-earth, engaging individual. I do
not personally know the others in your list.

The other point I like to make is, I make a distinction between
the kali believers in the Phil. and the U.S. I feel that most of
the American kali believers in the U.S. are those that have
always known their FMA as kali. I consider them as honest
and true believers of kali, but a few of them have gotten
suckered into defending the kali claim in the Phil. and as
a result, gotten tarnished with the same brush.

Guro’s Response:

some people might call it prejudice, or national pride, but i dont like to be seen arguing with a fellow filipino, just like i wont do it with a muslim, or even a family member or member of my school. but that does not mean i wont tell him face to face, that he is wrong. i believe in the importance of showing strength by keeping in-fighting behind close doors. many of my friends know this, that even though someone is friends with me, i will argue him about thinks like seminar, 3 year black belts, even non-martial arts things like disrepecting his wife or something. i agree with the pro-war people, that protestors weaken the country. but there is always times that we need to weaken to get rid of something that hurts us.

i believe that some of these filipinos using KALI might be nice guys. but i have to question the honesty of one who is twisting facts and history, even words to support something they know is not true. example, kali ilustrisimo. i remember i read somewhere, maybe in the philippines, that antonio ilustrisimo said his students been asking him to call it “kali”, this was about 1990. well, he said his art is arnis-eskrima in this interview. guess what, he died and everyone is saying “kali ilustrisimo”. the bullshit bout “KALIS ilustrisimo”, this came years later, and we all know the story about that. wonder why the name change?

money. pride. arrogance.

i agree with what you said about american students who defend kali, especially when they start telling things about language that i guess because i am not educated i cant possible know about my own culture and language. but you know, i dont want to blame the students. a good student will defend his teacher no matter what, unless the teacher is doing illegal things nothing wrong with that. especially when somebody criticise his own teacher your not going to get anyone to listen. the teacher, of course, convinced the student that “i am the best, and the most knowledgeable, dont listen to those guys”. this might sound like garbage to somebody who does not understand martial philosophy, but nothing wrong with that either. i think the students of KALI _should_ defend it, because it is what there teacher told them, and what they believe. and this is what the martial arts is about–somebody else trying to disprove what you been taught, and you defending it. apply that to fighting technique, philosophy, history, reputation, even stupid things like what to call the art. 😉

but the Kali argument is not really about what to call the art, is it? no for me its about truth in history. i will accept the argument of a guy like mark denny, who was TAUGHT kali, then i will from, like the sayocs or gaje, who came up with it.


Author: thekuntawman

full time martial arts teacher, full time martial arts philosopher, and full time martial arts critic

5 thoughts on “Filipinos Using the Name “Kali””

  1. Placido Yambao’s book from 1957 used ther term Kali as the name of an ancient art.

    Rey Galang brought many portions of the book back recently. it is called Classical Arnis.

    Arguing about names, yuk. The time is better spent practing.

    1. one mention in a book does not “proof”. arguing is not about a name, but a history. history to the foreigner is not important. but to the one who is part of that history it is important.

      instead of history, too many people are making up stories to “fit in” the history they think is there. untruth is untruth, that is the big “yuk”.

      the whole kali argument is “you cant prove it did not exist, so we are going to use it”. this is puts all of the practicing of the art, all of the effort to build the respect of the art, to waste. but it is not really arguing over, do we use this name? but the history of each person use of the name. say, “this art is arnis or eskrima, but i call my art Kali” this is better than saying, this is the art of kali you read about, its different from arnis or eskrima. that is not honest.

      if you look at the article FMA in the west vs philippines, you will see something very true, that the art is only a tool for the westerner, but part of culture and heritage for the filipino. the filipino cares about integrity and history, the westerner only cares about technique. this hurts your growth in the art when it is nothing but a tool to you.

  2. Which “filipino” tribe are you referring to? King Phillip’s people?

    There are many distinct groups historically in the islands with distinct languages. To lump them together as Filipino can be just as big as an insult to them and to their history and their traditions.

    Yes the many Manongs all have their own take on the name of their art including the ones you mentoned. I accept their word on the name their art and what they have experienced in the name thing.. Their art (or anyone else’s art) is not every art in the FMA tradition. Some call it kali for reasons other than “marketing” to “westerners”. I’m off to practice my art of no name from many different strands of FMA tradition. Practice in your taraditions.

  3. filipinos are now buying to western hype about our country’s martial arts. GM gaje, despite all his knowledge and skill, for some reason feels like he has to be the gatekeeper of the ancient art of kali. and now that we have this word that sounds so good, westerners will do all they can to defend this false history, because rewriting another culture’s history is as american as apple pie.
    for those of you who want to know why fuss over a name, its more than a name, it is about the legitimacy of an entire culture and history connected to this name. its easy to say when its not your culture being hijacked.

  4. One thing I never understood were the differences in FMA. It seems that people make the distinction that many Filipino Muslims practice arts that focus more on empty hands such as silat and kuntaw, where else the more Christianize Filipinos focus on a more weapon aspect of fighting (eskrima/arnis/kali).

    I don’t know if panantukan/suntukan or whatever is really an “ancient” Filipino martial art or if kuntaw was widely practiced by Filipinos back than? I’m sure the reason why people make up these “false history” of names such as kali is because not to many people actually know the history of FMA to make such a distinction.

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