Filipino Martial Arts: A Return to Being Maharlika

Text By Flordeliz Samonte, Photo Courtesy of Lester Ledesma


Awed by the moves of Matt Damon in Bourne Identity? Lapu Lapu, the Datu of Mactan and the First Filipino Hero and his stronghold of Kali warriors, defeated Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 with the same fighting skills which have worked their way into Hollywood movies today. The story has been heard several times but the role of the Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) has been kept in the sidelines waiting for another warrior to take up the art once again.

FMA known to many in various names like Arnis, Escrima or Kali is a warrior art which is now being rediscovered by Filipinos. Known by different systems as varied as the 7,107 islands of the Philippines, FMA is a complete package. Before Spanish conquerors came to the archipelago, Filipinos already had their own fighting system used as defense during tribal wars. During the Spanish regime, it was banned, giving rise to the popular use of the rattan stick as a weapon. Driven to secrecy, FMA was secretly passed down from father to son and Kali movements were disguised as folk dances such as tinikling, maglalatik and sakuting.


In Singapore, I was one of those who gathered for the Philippine Independence Day 2009 celebrations where a demonstration of our native martial arts was held. Guro Fred Evrard, a Frenchman, awed and inspired the Filipino crowd with FMA fighting skills which he touted as “the best.”

Guro Fred and his wife Katulong Guro Lila, founded Kali Majapahit, a school focused on teaching FMA and “Hilot.” They have traveled the world for four years learning different martial arts before settling in Singapore to establish their third school; the first being in Tahiti and another in the Philippines. The school’s curriculum is influenced by Kali Sikaran founded by Punong Guro Jeff Espinos and the Inayan Eskrima founded by Mangisursuro Mike Inay.  The two masters who have mentored Guro Fred.

Kali is practical and efficient, and this is the main reason why people are attracted to the art explains Kadua Guro Ben Boeglin of Kali Majapahit.  From a technical point of view, FMA is a complete martial art which uses sticks, punches, knives, or other weapons. Kali Majapahit is significant in promoting Philippine culture through FMA. “Four years ago, there was no FMA in Singapore and people were looking for something more. Today, we have 150 students and there are now three clubs doing FMA in Singapore,” he added.

Twenty percent of their students are Filipinos. “We tell them Hilot the healing system is very powerful and your [Filipino] martial art is very good. They realize other people are interested so they get interested. Even though it’s not ours, we promote it because we believe in it. It has to continue being taught because it would be sad if it is lost. We have to spread it so people will know how rich it is.”

The US Army, Police Force as well as the Philippine Military and Police are well trained in the art. Some learn it for self defense, others for personal growth and coordination but to Filipinos like Kathleen Hazel Lacsina and her daughters, Isabelle (12) and Aira (11) it is to stay connected to their country while in Singapore.

Kathleen, a Landscape Architect, was surprised there is an FMA.  They enrolled in the school which offers the first FMA for kids program. “Parang natutuwa ka na maging Pinoy kasi sikat tayo. My kids are more disciplined and inspired to do better in their schooling. It’s an opportunity for them to be conscious about their culture. They see that Filipinos are something special,” says Kathleen.

In Singapore, the school serves as a welcome connection to Filipinos and their country with the school teaching much the same styles as the masters in order to continue the tradition. “The only thing that changed is the structure because there are different systems, tools and weapons. So Guro Fred organized it in a curriculum that makes sense, which is easy to learn and has structure. So people can come in at any point in time without being lost and the martial art is efficient and easy to learn. It’s always evolving.” As Guro Fred has stated once, the role of foreign instructors is to remind the masters of FMA that the world is interested in FMA and that its time for them to open up.


“FMA is more than just a sport and a combat skill, FMA has been an arena of learning and understanding of the bravery of our ancestors, their ingenuity and unyielding spirit to protect their family, community and their motherland. An important part of our history and a very part of me,” sums up John Leyson, a 37 year-old Magtuturo of FMA at the FMA School Dugong Maharlika (noble descent) in Manila. They practice the Kapampangan system of Grandmaster Bart Figueroa and the Otsotiros System of Grandmaster Pepito Robas and the Sikaran system of Grandmaster Melliton Geronimo.

His Master, Oscar Raymond T. Molina, a 32 year-old has been skilled in the art since childhood. At the age of 13, he turned to FMA for a higher purpose “I wanted to learn about a great nation which forgot that it was great. I wanted to learn FMA, because I wanted to be part of a legacy of nobility, of honor, of sacrifice and love of country.” Unfortunately, he shares the same discontent that there is a need to bring FMA to Filipinos, “I believe Brazilian Ju-jitsu is popular in the country today. But FMA is slowly experiencing an increase of followers, because of the Hollywood films today which are FMA.”

“The Chinese have their Win Chun, the West has boxing and the Indonesians have Silat, FMA has Panuntukan-Filipino Boxing. Koreans have Taekwondo, the Japanese their Karate, and the Chinese their Wushu, FMA has Sikaran- Filipino Foot Fighting. If the Greeks have Greco-Roman Wrestling, the Brazilians their Gracie Ju-jitsu, FMA has its Dumog- Filipino Wrestling. Aside from the popular stick fighting,” explained Master Oscar.

As the journey of our nation has not yet ended, there are still lessons to be learned, “It is important to learn about Martial Arts especially our own because it will teach us that it is not about killing but about living. We should learn FMA in the right perspective that this deadly martial art was practiced by noble Filipinos in defending the honor of a nation. It was used by warriors who would die to protect the banks of an archipelago. We are all Maharlikas, wherever we go in the world, we as a people should carry ourselves in a noble manner.” Master Oscar is one in propagating FMA sending out his students as ambassadors of FMA.

It is true, that discovering FMA is discovering yourself as a Filipino. It is a journey back to our roots, a long history of a proud nation and its people. It is time to make FMA global and the Arnis Law declaring Arnis as the national sport is a start. After all, we are of warrior blood and its something we should be proud of. As John says, “FMA is part of my being. It is there, it just has to be “awakened.”