What Makes an Art a “Filipino” Art?

This is a question that seems to reappear every once in a while… but can an art be truly or purely a “Filipino” art?

This is like calling an ethnicity or race a “truly American” race; you really can’t define some things in the culture as being purely Filipino. Everyone knows that the Filipino culture and history has been infused so much with foreign cultures and influence, we really cannot denote something “pure” or originally Filipino. There are many things that are uniquely Filipino, but more than often, they are just combinations of other cultures that spell F-I-L-I-P-I-N-O. Like Filipino food, a combination of Malay, middle eastern (yes, middle eastern), Chinese, and Spanish tastes. Together, those flavors are distinctly Filipino–like the combination of sour and peppery or salty and sweet–but their origin came from some place else.

Have you ever heard a native Indonesian “sfeek inglis”? Day sound barry motts like a peenoy win day sfik inglis. Becows ob dare ak-scent. Eats barry close to ours.

But the Filipin0 martial arts have some things that really spell Filipino well. Like the absence of forms in our arts. Or the tendency to want to show off or best the next guy. The emphasis on the application of the art, rather than the demonstration of it. Or the preference to keep things simple… but then we have many things that are very flashy!  As uniquely Filipino as our arts may be, there are some things that we own that actually came from some place else. For example, check out how Filipino karateka perform kata. I can always look at a kata from a distance, and tell if the performer is Filipino trained or not. I really can’t describe it; but you can tell if you know your Filipinos. Regardless of whether he is demoing a Japanese, Korean or Okinawan form, there is a certain look.

Filipino styles often have Karate, Judo/Jujitsu, Aikido or Tae Kwon Do blended in. And they don’t always tell you that they’ve added foreign elements to the styles. I’ve seen so much of it, I am skeptical when someone tells me that they have not added anything in, or that they’ve learned the art “from their Lolo”. I learned from my Lolo, and his art is very simple, as is most grandpa arts I have seen. So when these Lolo arts (LOL) have “pormas” that look like Shotokan kata… 😉

So to answer the question I think there are several things that would make an art “Filipino”:

  • if the art was compiled or developed in the Philippines
  • if the art built its reputation in the Philippines
  • if the art contains FMA
  • if the art was created by a Filipino and used some Arnis/Eskrima techniques
  • if the art is using FMA philosophy
  • if the art was created by a non-Filipino, but the developer calls it “Filipino MA”

Wait, did I just say “created by a non-Filipino, but the developer calls it ‘Filipino MA’?”

Yes, I did.

If some guy wants to give credit to the Philippines, then I say, more power to you. Just don’t give it a fake history and don’t “steal” ideas from another teacher. That means a Filipino who has never been to the Philippines can create an FMA. That also means a White guy who’s dating a Filipina and has never been to the Philippines (and doesn’t eat balut) can create an FMA from seminars/video tape learning. The only thing that matters, is does your art work, and if you are called to the carpet–will you show up or make excuses? This is a free world, and who are we to say what is or isn’t Filipino? Hell, most of don’t even know our history that well to even judge. I mean, how many people really believed that there was a Filipino Muslim art called Kali that was the Mother of the FMAs? I know I was one of them!

I don’t have energy for arguing origin or names. But I will argue telling the truth all day long. There is a difference. In the Philippines, we have unique Filipino Kung Fu styles which have no Arnis, just like we have Filipino Aikido. But some guy here in the US can’t call his new Arnis/Eskrima/Jujitsu blend “Filipino” because he doesn’t speak Tagalog? Really, some of us should get a grip and get a life.

In a future article, I’d like to discuss some of these non-Filipino foreign arts. In the next decade, I’d like to import an art to the “Fphilippeens” (lol) that is not an FMA, but will be when I get there. I’m pretty excited about it too. But in the meantime…

Thanks for visiting my blog!

Author: thekuntawman

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

12 thoughts on “What Makes an Art a “Filipino” Art?”

  1. I like some of your blogs, however,

    The problem I have about this is that your allowing foreign martial arts to replace what FMA is and calling it fma. How would you feel if a guro did 100 % shotakon karate and claimed it originated in the Philippines and is indigenous to the Philippine islands, because that is literally the equivalent of having people incorporate Filipino styles with Karate, Judo/Jujitsu, Aikido or Tae Kwon Do blended in. pencak silat is practiced in the Philippines, I guess that makes it a fma and not a indonesian martial art, or how about kung fu, thats a Filipino martial art to because its practiced their, or hell judo and karate is a Chinese martial art because its practiced their!!

    What makes judo/jujitsu or kung fu and wing chun native to those respected countries like japan and China is that their styles/fighting/moves/techniques originated from their region. I didn’t know karate originated in the Philippines, considering its used in fma <—- that is the idea your are implementing in people whether you realized it or not.

    In conclusion, don't call a style FMA if it heavily incorporates what another style uses, Thats why styles like modern arnis and yaw yan are modern fighting systems, not martial arts, because they have no indigenous history to the population, almost 70% of their fighting is foreign unless proved other wise

    after all in one of your blogs your against the idea of joining martial art school and than dropping it for another.

    1. yes it does. do you call brazilian jujitsu a “brazilian” art? is boxing “american”?

      every country can have is own tradition on a martial art. there is nothing wrong with that. jeet kune do is an american art–and the chinese can claim it if they want. filipino kung fu is unlike most chinese styles, but its clearly a chinese origin style. same as in malaysia, and in vietnam…

      1. Whats makes an art un-claimable to others is where it originated from. I never said that a country can’t have its own tradition on a martial art, I’m saying that you can’t claim an art that didn’t originate from your country, and then call it your countrys art no matter how much of a “traditoin” it is. If you look up the origins of brazillian ji-jutsu, it orignated in Japan. It may be a tradition in brazil, but it did originated in japan, so its not necessarily uniquely brazillian or is it a brazillian martial art.

        boxing is universal, so thats pretty much moot. I know BS when I see it, Kajukenbo isn’t anymore a Filipino martial art than Judo being a Chinese art.

      2. Ok, I understand but, Filipino martial arts are known for being armed as opposed to being armed, my question as a pupil of Filipino martial arts, is if there are any Unamred Filipino origin styles that can be applied to competitions such as MMA. Sikaran is one but it seems the Filipino lacks an art that does “punching”

  2. I think this relates to my previous post about empty hand Filipino martial arts, what exactly is an empty hand style that is of Filipino origin?

  3. None of these arose out of thin air, of course. The Philippines were populated a very long time ago by various Asian peoples and they would have brought with them whatever fighting styles they had developed prior to migrating to the archipelago.

    As well, there is a long history of trade/exploitation before any large-scale invasions (such as the Spanish) took place and these cultures would have been influences as well.

    So the argument that any martial art created or used by Filipinos is a “Filipino martial art” is somewhat true, however its just not indigenous which is why nobody calls kung fu a Filipino martial art like how karate is indigenous to Okinawa/japan or kung fu is to china.

    The Philippines is such a melting pot of many different cultures, one might easily find any of these arts/styles there. But none of them are “indigenous” arts. That is, arts developed by the people who lived there prior to any great contact with other civilizations. These would be the various Filipino styles of Arnis, Escrima, and Kali.

    But the million dollar question is what “indigenous” Filipino martial arts are there?

    1. thank you for the comment! I think i will write an article about this subject, because its a question/comment that many people have lefted on the site lately. i dont believe there is a right or wrong answer, just opinions. but look out for it in the next day or too!

      1. Just curious, would mean its a straight rip off ( like an entire style and it was effective) would been given the same credit.

        Correct me if I’m wrong. They didn’t make it, they improved upon it. Also it’s the Gracies not many communities like what Filipinos did with Kuntao. improved the art (by adding more) if anything it’s a style, there’s not much difference it’s like Aikdio styles and Karate styles. 

  4. I’m going to have to recap your logic before addressing it. I think your argument is that when an art is practiced in a nation it becomes fused with that nation’s culture. You are trying use Brazilian jiujitsu being off shoot of Japanese judo and kind of American jeet kun do being born of Chinese kung fu influence to claim that since these style has nationalized itself why can’t other styles be renationalized by the practicing member there. Then you make the jump that since Philippines practices this, this, and this martial art, then that means Filipinos should be able to claim these martial arts as their own as well.

    Few flaws in logic, and for my entertainment sake let me address them in reverse order because if I address the first point first then it would make the second point rather pointless.

    Should Filipinos be able to claim the art theirs for having practiced it? No. If we follow the logic up to this point it would lead the martial arts being an international culture that transcends nationality. We would have to claim these art to be all of human culture. Either that or just claim that these art belongs to the nation of origin. You can’t just give the claims to any nationality of choice randomly.

    But Brazilian jiujitsu and American jeet kun do are claimed by other nationality than the nationality of the arts that they originated from. Yes, and this is because these arts evolved from their origin arts. They reached a point where if they claimed to be the origin art then a practitioner from the origin art will deny that its the same art due to so many numerous differences in the practices. So essentially they are a new art and they claim the area of their creation as their nationality.

    Lastly, boxing is British not American. Americans didn’t fight two wars for you to just bunch the Brit and ‘merica together.

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