Filipino Martial Art: Escrima

Filipino Martial Art - Escrima

Exactly what is Escrima, the Filipino Martial Art?

Explore the origins, styles, techniques, and weapons of Escrima (or Arnis, its other name) as a form of Filipino martial art.

Roughly 200 distinct martial arts have been identified across the globe. Some are extremely popular and used by many people, such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Karate, and Muay Thai. Many of them, however, are underappreciated because their use is localized or they aren’t particularly helpful.

Escrima is an example of the former. It’s a powerful form of martial art that makes use of both weapons and empty-hand moves.

So, explain Escrima to me. The essentials of this fascinating martial art are laid out below.

History of Escrima

The Filipino martial art of Escrima has its roots there.

The origins of this art, which goes by several other names, including Arnis and Kali, can be traced back over 3,000 years. Escrima was used as a method of resistance by the Filipino people against the Spanish colonizers. The Spanish outlawed its use, but its practitioners persisted in privacy.

Escrima was revived after the American occupation of the Philippines. This was useful during WWII, when Escrimadors (those trained in the art) fought on the Allied side. Because of Escrima, the Japanese weren’t able to conquer the Philippines, so the martial art gained a lot of prestige. However, despite its efficacy, it is not widely promoted in the Philippines, and it retains a certain air of mystery.

Escrima is still taught all over the world, and its modern version is widely credited to Remy Amador Presas, who has become increasingly important due to the rise of mixed martial arts.

Escrima Equipment

Escrimadors, who practice a unique fighting style, need only a few simple tools. Bastons, which can be either single or double, are among the most common types of weapons. In Escrima, the baston takes many forms, but it is always a stick. Similar to Ninjutsu’s bladed weapons, other options include knives, daggers, nunchakus, and poles. Fabrics such as sarongs, handkerchiefs, and bandanas are also employed.

If none of these standard weapons are available during a real fight, an Escrimador may make use of a variety of improvised alternatives. Protective shields are a standard feature of conventional architecture. However, modern Escrima academies, gyms, and competitions all feature significantly more protective equipment.

Foam is used to line the sticks and vests, and there is protection for the head and groin as well. This is because during competition, attacks to almost any part of the body are perfectly acceptable.

Escrima Styles and Techniques

Different Types of Escrima

Today, you can choose from a wide variety of Escrima methods. The ones practiced in the Philippines are considered more traditional because of their regional origins. Many Filipino-American systems exist as well, with some emphasizing only a small number of weapons like knives. All of these methods have one thing in common: they all aim to make better fencers.

Filipino Martial art | Escrima Styles and Techniques

Upon completion of this step, the trainee advances to the next level, where they learn hand-to-hand combat skills. To avoid disqualification, competitors are not allowed to use violent tactics such as punching or kicking. Further, it prohibits any and all forms of grappling and throwing. Since its governing bodies (primarily the ARPI) are working to get Escrima into the Olympics, the sport has become much less dangerous to practice.

It’s common knowledge that anyone can benefit from learning escrima. Those with shorter limbs still have a chance at winning. The popularity of the art is also due to the fact that it can be used in conjunction with any fighting method. Because of its versatility, many mixed martial artists (MMA) like UFC strawweight champion Rose Namajunas choose to train in Escrima.

Specific Escrima Techniques

Escrima is a Filipino martial art that emphasizes the use of any available object for self-defense, rather than relying on the use of sticks. The sport’s fundamentals involve practicing dozens of different offensive and defensive positions. Different targets or parts of the opponent’s body are the focus of attacks from different angles. This is achieved with the aid of a stick, with a premium placed on quick eye movements and footwork.

The following are some of the most prominent techniques in escrima:

  • Solo and Double Baston- these require knowledge of single and double stick usages respectively
  • Kalis Ilustrisimo- this employs blades and all of their attacks
  • Espada y Daga- this method employs the usage of weapons like swords, sticks, and daggers
  • Mano y Mano- this involves hand-to-hand combat and is taught as a fighter grows in seniority
  • Baraw- this art is confined to defending against knife attacks. 

Exercises like these are great for fostering a sense of timing and rapidity in new recruits. Learning to twist and drop your body effectively is a prerequisite for developing strength. Due to the speed and nature of any oncoming strikes, the defensive aspect can be very challenging. In real life, fighters avoid actions that could seriously injure them, despite the aesthetic appeal of the arts depicted in movies.

Escrima Governing Bodies

There are two primary sets of rules used in escrima competitions, both of which are established by the sport’s governing bodies. The names of these two groups are:


The World Escrima Kali Arnis Federation operates under its own set of regulations. It prohibits striking anywhere below the thighs, as well as the head, neck, and groin. In this sport, competitors wear protective gear and spar for up to ten points. These are given for offensive moves, but a fighter can’t use the same move twice in a 4-second period.

Each round lasts one minute, and there is a thirty second break between rounds. This system has international recognition, but it is also seen as extreme by many.


In the Philippine martial art of Arnis, fighters wear heavier armor. However, aside from the back of the head, there are no restrictions on what rivals can shoot at. Points are awarded for successful strikes and for disarming an opponent.

This Escrima style is practiced in the Philippines as a less extreme alternative to the WEKAF system.

Escrima Ranking System

Similar to other martial arts, Escrima has a ranking and grading system. Committees charged with promoting members to higher ranks award belts as symbols of their accomplishments in the field. White belt is the lowest level and is awarded to beginners.

Those who have attained the highest level of expertise in their field are awarded the coveted black belt. The Karate ranking system is somewhat analogous to this, though it is obviously not as well known.

Major Escrima Events 

Numerous major events and competitions are held for escrima all over the world. In the Philippines, the ARPI National Encounter is used to select Olympic hopefuls, and the WEKAF World Championships are held annually.

The highest honor in this field is to win a medal at one of these events.

Famous Escrima Practitioners

Although many notable people have trained in Escrima, none have achieved the same level of fame as the late, great Bruce Lee. In his groundbreaking film “Enter the Dragon,” Lee famously employed the aforementioned double-baston technique. Film legend Chuck Norris and mixed martial arts (MMA) legend Anderson Silva were both students of his instructor, the legendary Daniel Arca Inosanto.

While Denzel Washington is known for his proficiency in Escrima, did you know you can bet on MMA fights? Check out our MMA Betting Guide for tips and tricks. Other celebrities who know Escrima include Lucy Liu, Forest Whittaker, and Steve Blackman. Escrima has also been featured in movies like “Quantum of Solace” and “Mission: Impossible III” have featured the artwork as well. Celebrities who know Escrima include, but are not limited to, Lucy Liu and Forest Whittaker, as well as the famous professional wrestler and martial artist Steve Blackman.

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