The “Ugly” Side of Kali

An exchange with a well-known Grand Master of the FMA (out of respect, I will not name him, we have not obtained permission to use his name). While respectful, it shows our Guro’s gutsy side and willingness to speak his mind, even when confronted by a well-respected GM:

Message: 1
Date: Sat, 5 May 2007 08:43:12 EDT
Subject: [Eskrima] Maurice, language (Re: Eskrima digest, Vol 14 #133 – 12 msgs)


The language you used re: the discussion on the explanation of the origin of
the word kali is out of line and has no place in an intelligent discourse.
You have referred to my statement directly. The explanation I presented was on the origin of the word not on the origin of the art.

I will give you an example about the phrase you used, “They WON’T explain.” Ben Largusa of Villabrille Kali, in an interview published in Inside Kungfu, gave theories, attempts to get at the meaning of the word that only winged an explanation. If they “know but won’t explain”, how come he was not able to when the question was put to him directly?

If you say they they know but won’t explain, how come there is complete
silence from the masters I referred to? The silence is deafening.

I have pointed out the names of systems that I said could not explain the
meaning of the word: one of them is Chris (of Sayoc Kali). I know Chris
personally, and had given a few lessons in his backyard in Queens, NY back in the mid 70s when his family were still very close to Leo (Gaje Jr. whom I consider a good friend). I also mentioned Kali Illustrisimo, yet I haven’t not heard from them. (By the way, Leo and I worked out together very frequently in Queens at the Flushing Meadows Park when arnis was “Arnis, what?” in the early 70s’. When I held a stick fighting tournament in Manhattan in December 1975, only my students and Leo’s competed.)

I know Rey Galang personally. At the time Mark (Wiley) was writing his book which later bacame titled “Filipino Martial Culture”, Rey came with Mark to my backyard (to interview me) in Queens, NY. Rey is the most well known Kali Illustrisimo practitioner in the US, yet I have not heard of any explanation from their end on the origin of the word.

I started writing because I read Philippine history being interested in the
Filipino martial arts. It is said that “If you don’t read history, you are
bound to repeat it.” There was very little to read so I started writing. I did
not want to repeat what my Filipino ancestors failed to do.

I had the option to use the word kali, since in my village where I grew up
in Pambuan, Gapan, Nueva Ecija, it was a common word. My granduncles sometimes will say kalis even if they mean gulok (bolo). I decided not to use the word kali for the name of my family’s system because it has a bad connotation and linked to the ugly part of kali.

You had just demonstrated the ugly part of kali. There is an intelligent
discourse going on and you introduced a language that should not be used. I had explained the ugly part of kali which you have just demonstrated in my article in Inside Kungfu magazine.

Perhaps, heads of systems who read this will come out with their explanation of the word kali. If they have a better explanation than mine, I would like to read it.

Guro’s Response:


just like the martial arts have their own styles, there own prefernce to fighting and teaching, we FMA people have our own philosophy about this martial arts.

some people are very intellctual and very friendly, and they consider this good martial arts, or good martial arts character, i was raised differently. to me, we will give respect to a man because of his age, his skill, his accomplishments, his character, etc. etc. which i do that, but i cannot approved of disrespect to the philippine martial arts, i dont care who did it. i might go farther, to say, i only respect good skill in fighting, because in the martial arts (any fighting arts) you have no choise but to respect a man who can beat you. you dont have to like him, you dont have to respect him, but in his face, you will _always_ respect that man.

but i’m not going to say this, we all know it. i respect our educated brothers who put the FMA in the world to see and read about. it helps us all out in finding new students when more people know, what is the filipino arts, and how effective they are. many of the people i criticise are very respected in the FMA world, and some are even old teachers of mine, but when i see something wrong, i owe it to myself to be true to myself, even if it makes me look ungrateful to those heros.

(i just deleted some stuff i was going to say), because i know how thin skin some martial artists can be, but let me say this: i am from washington DC. i been fighting in karate tournaments since 1981, many times in new york, new jersey, more times than you can know. i have friends who have black belts under almost every FMA guro on the east coast, and i been around this area since 1981, so i know when those arts was still being called arnis, TAE KWON DO, etc. please dont insult me to ask me to act like my memory is wrong. many people who criticise me actually know me, but dont remember that they know me for different reasons, and i prefer it like that. because i’m the kind of guy who will show up at their school.

speaking of thin skin. my grandfather use to say, as your fighting gets better your skin gets thicker. and he’s talking about words. when you can fight well, it takes more words to make you upset or feelings hurt. when your insulted easy, it says something about your fighting ability, and this is very important to my philosophy about “martial character”. i am from a place where people are not friendly, martial artists teachers question each others skill out loud, and true martial respect exists. my school is in a place where my students cannot be cheltered from rudeness and hostile, and that is not the kind of teacher i am. when the student is wrong, i tell him. when another teacher pissed me off i will go to his place and tell him in person. i consider this to be good martial character, not to smile in his face and talk behind his back, which is how women act.

so i will apologize for sounding disrespectful to my manong. i read all your books, and you are one of my childhood pinoy heros. but i will not apologize becuase i dont believe all i hear. and i would like to say to the FMA person in america, our philosophy will not allow a person to go unchallenged if he makes claims as a martial teacher. and even though you live in america, there’s still some people here who will call you to the door on it. this is the reason why you dont have filipinos back home talking about blind princesses, robots and “secret arts finally revealed”. about the history of some masters, i think respect for our older masters is the reason we dont talk much about it. (death matches?) if somebody wants to be a FMA teacher, you must be willing to be challenged on your words and style–even on the internet. many people will hide behind reputations, popularity, big organizations, STUDENTS, and tough talk. but a person can always be reached, if he wants you.

i will give an example of a well respected FMA master who is protected from challenge because he is loved and respected: remy presas. my closest friends come from modern arnis, but you will never hear somebody say, modern arnis is mcdojo. but for FMA styles, the worst arnis people i have seen comes from modern arnis. i am the person who will say it, when nobody will. there are good fighters in modern arnis, but when we are talking about poor arnis teachers, you will find many, many unqualified teachers in modern arnis.

so which one should we respect? the guy who tells a students, oh yeah, go study from that MA guy down the street? or the one who speaks his mind and says, no you should travel to the next town over and look up that doce pares guy. as FMA, we are suppose to be the REAL world martial arts people. we cannot live up to this if we are to political to call a spade a spade.

“ugly part of kali”: the ugly part of kali, i believe you are talking about the feud. isnt this the reason why FMA is so great? was all the masters friends? i have to say, what is worst, one eskrimador challenged the story of another, cussing him, or killing him in one these “death match”? you have to agree with me, the ugly part of FMA should be killing another master, right? where are the students of these dead masters? i believe the ugly part of KALI is teachers who promote masters and teachers who cant fight his way out of a paper bag. another ugly part of KALI is to learn from a master and claim his art as your own when you dont give him credit. ugly part of KALI–lie about the history of your art. i advertise kali, karate, ect, but i dont teach those things. when the students come in i tell them, this is generic word, and kuntaw, eskrima, jow ga kung fu is what i teach. the student can leave if he is disappointment, but not after i have to de-program all the garbage he read about in the magazine and internet. now, that is ugly, me, a man who been doing FMA for 30 years, and i get called “ignorant” by some non-FMA who been reading dan inosanto articles about pananjakman and he looks down on arnis. no, i disagree with you, master marinas, my words are not the ugly part of ARNIS, they are the part of ARNIS that keeps most of us on our toes. you know from the philippines, a fight might always be around the corner if you teach, so only the best teach. but here in the US, when people are afraid to challenge and disagree? so the result is, teachers who get certified in 3 days, “Master’s exams” “tapi tapi masters” guys like “punong guro roger marsh” (google him on bullshido), study-by-clips-websites. that is ugly. people who know me, will say i am very friendly and nice guy. but if i think your talking bs, i’m going to say, your talking bs. we have great fighting arts, because masters before us stayed on their feet to improve, compare (challenged) and improve some more. how many times did those masters hear, bullshit, i’m better than you. rivalry, enemies, feud, and grudge match. this is the ture history of FMA, i dont care what the books say, we owe our arts to these things, and they are not ugly.

The Response was to this post. I’m sure it got plenty of folks all worked up:

old sources, filipino sources, etc. KALI

i was watching a television show about the history of religions, and they talked about old “scrolls” and books they found in greece, italy and some other places. people are now challengins the bible and religion because what is said there, is different to what people been believing for years. now you have two people, the ones who believe the new “old books”, and they will never believe anything else, and the ones who believe the old “old books” which was the religion already in place for years.

a scholar said, you have to be careful not to believe every document you finded is true, just because it is 1,000 years old. but you also have to be careful you dont believe everything this scholar said, just because he is historian. and you have to be careful you dont believe everything that came from greece, just because the bible is written in greece.

many historians, even the ones who are around 500, 1,000 years ago, might be wrong. you repeat a false story enough, and people will swear it is real. how many people believe the “leathernecks” story is orginated in the philippines. how many people believe all martial arts comes from shaolin? how many people believe that kenpo is really “chinese karate”??? i remember as a boy i saw a school who says that his arnis, came from lapu lapu himself…

filipinos, in the philippines, didnt have too many books and magazines to read about the martial arts 20 years ago, so they read the american books and magazines. many filipinos, even filipino “grandmasters” saw that “kali is the mother art” so they began to say, my art is the mother art. well here we are 20, 30 years later, and they have to defend the use of it. its too late to say “i read it in danny inosanto’s book”, so they have to come up with bs to support their use, even when they debate with another filipino.

to answer why some “masters” have KALI in their name, and they cant explain it. i say bullshit. they can explain. they WONT explain. in 1970 most of these ex-eskrimador, probably never heard of placido yambao’s book, but they dam sure heard of danny inosantos. book.

Author: thekuntawman

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

4 thoughts on “The “Ugly” Side of Kali”

  1. Kali is a fabrication to appeal to the US Market as a mystical art sorry folks its just escrima or any arnis no fancy scmanzy terms or secrets

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  3. Good read and it does bring to a lot if questions about the word kali . As a long time ilustrisimo practioner all i can say is what my master told me and no offense to anyof my fellow stylists the kali in kali illustrisimo was put there simply to make the art attractive to the u.s. Market because Kali was how they called it for most part due to dan inosanto’s promotion if it as a mother art as far as I know the old man tatang did not have a name for his art it was his students who came up with it he just called by his name because it wax his style .

  4. Imho based on what my instructor in kali ilustrisimo, the late Christopher Ricketts told me the reason there they used kali is because it ithat term is known and attractive in the usa… Again other ilustrisimo folks may disagree but this is what I was told. Just sharing my two cents… Now it is kalis ilustrisimo… I just call it ilustrisimo…

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