Eskrima: A Beginners Guide


Eskrima is one of the best yet relatively unknown martial art styles in the world.

With a rich history packed with culture, in this article we delve into Eskrima to give a beginner the background and information they need. 

Ready...let's do this.

What is Eskrima?

The word Eskrima derives from the Spanish esgrima, meaning fencing.

Generally, it is the name most popularly used in the northern Philippines for various styles and systems of Filipino martial arts.

However, the most popular word used in the islands, especially in the island of Cebu which has acted as the martial centre of the region, is Arnis.

Another popular name for the Filipino martial arts amongst westerners is Kali.

The History Of Eskrima

Historically the various styles are a combination of local tribal indigenous fighting systems that survived the colonial period camouflaged in various cultural activities like dance and folklore.

Many propagate the myth that it was once exclusively bladed arts that replaced steel for rattan as their primary teaching tool under colonial pressure, but increasingly it has become evident that local wood varieties were always used by locals for combat.

The northern styles generally seem to have integrated more from European fencing techniques, whilst the southerners of what is known as Moroland (Muslim majority areas) such as Mindanao show much closeness to Malay arts such as Silat.

For the most part Cebu has been the main engine for the propagation of Filipino combat arts, where in 1932 twenty-four masters came together to teach their various styles under one roof in the Doce Pares club.

Later many offshoots from the club would appear as the various teachers specialised in some areas and assimilated aspects from other arts such as western boxing, judo, grappling and many others.

One of those offshoots, developed in the shanty towns of Balintawak street in Cebu city as the preferred close quarter style of local thugs.

This has generally reinforced a negative image of Eskrima as a street fighter skill, and the current governing body for the sports version of Eskrima, WEKAF, is fighting hard to re invent the art as a national sport.

How Is Eskrima Different From Other Martial Arts?

Unlike other martial arts, the Filipino arts are usually taught from the weapon down to the empty hands.

Usually rattan sticks, single or double are the initial weapon of instruction, followed by various blunt bladed weapons of varied sizes, weights and ranges.

Each style concentrates in a certain area more than others, reflecting their founder's preferences and physiques.

But generally we could say the styles divide into Eskrima de Campo (long range) and Eskrima de Salon (close range).

Increasingly new styles are being born to cater for the growing interest in the empty hands expression of FMA (Filipino martial arts), recognisable by its striking manipulations, limb destructions and quick flow to grappling, usually juxtaposed on a conventional western boxing/kickboxing format or in a more exotic combination with Silat.

As the FMA grow in popularity most legitimate styles have representatives in most of Europe and the USA.

What Is The Difference Between Eskrima and Kali?

To the outsider, it might be tough to understand the difference between Kali and Eskrima because they look so alike, but they are different arts.

Klai, Eskrima and Arnis fall under a bracket or family of arts known as Filipino Martial Arts or FMA for short.

All of the arts feature a lot of the same techniques, sticks and blades. So what is the difference?

Well, in reality, the difference tends to be very subtle and down to the instructor and the style they associate themselves with.

There might be additional differences with the sticks, some stances and technique variations. 

The differences might be small, but to the student those differences are important.

Is Eskrima Any Good For Self-Defence?

Eskrima is an interesting Martial Arts with superb self-defence applications. 

It starts with the use of sticks to train an individual. This is actually a superb way of doing things. 

By using the sticks to train you will understand how to use your core, hips and feet to generate power. And this use of a weapon is a great skill because it allow you to have the ability to pick up an item to defend yourself, even a stick can be a powerful weapon in the hands of the Eskrima student.

From the stick you will graduate to the empty hand techniques where striking, grappling and joint/ limb destructions are taught.

This combination makes Eskrima a great system for self-defence.

Why Choose Eskrima

Like in any art there is no easy checklist to distinguish the gems from the rubble.

But as you join a club and become familiar with Eskrima you will surely fall in love with their hybrid nature where it simply adds value and improves on whatever combat system you were learning previously.

Eskrima is an intelligent Martial Art with modern day self-defence applications and a rich culture.

If you are looking for a martial art and self defence style then Eskrima is an excellent choice. 

Thanks for reading.

This article was written with the help of Omar Ali Grant

(Omar is the head instructor of the CMS Academy and an experienced practitioner in Eskrima)

Andrew Holland

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