Escrima: An overview
Monday, 21 January 2008


The Filipino martial arts could be classified into 3 territorial arts: the northern, the central and the southern Filipines. At its core, these has developed from the ancient art of sword fighting which evolved as far back as the stone ages.

Centuries ago, the people of the Filipines used highly developed sword fighting skills and weapons such as the Bolo, Kriss and Kampilan to defend themselves against Spanish conquistadors.

Due to the fact that there are many islands in the Filipine archipelago, there are as many fighting styles. The different races who settled in these islands came from different Eastern countries. They blended their heritages since a long time, producing methods for employing swords, daggers and fire-hardened sticks in combat.

The Filipino warriors dubbed the native stick style Escrima ( "skirmish" ).

We will go back to the time where Magellan , the Portuguese explorer, under service to God and Spain's quest for riches wanted to conquer the Filipines in the early part of the 16th century. It was supposed to have been an easy battle, but it turned into a rout.

Magellan, found himself confronted by the Datu ( chieftain ) Lapu Lapu, whose island he had invaded. It was on that small island of Mactan ( actually known as the province of Cebu ) where Magellan was stopped by the fierce Lapu Lapu and his men. Spanish arrogance cut down through the use of Kali, an ancient indigenous martial art, and the mother of Escrima. It was the first demonstration to the western world of the archipelago's rich indigenous martial arts tradition and systems.

The Spanish came back with guns,... and conquered finally a biggest part of the Filipines.

Though the Filipino fighters were defeated, the Spanish were impressed enough with their sword techniques that they named this fighting style "Escrima" and its fighters "Escrimadors". During over 300 years of Spanish reign, the Filipinos had the occasion to fight a lot with their Spanish exponents and observed carefully the Spanish swordsmethods.Especially the Spanish sword and dagger systems had the greatest influence on the evolution of Escrima. This was automatically combined with the Spanish culture and language.

They came to the conclusion that the art of Kali was altered. Many training methods were dropped and many new concepts and techniques were added.

During this following period of Spanish colonization, the practice of Escrima was outlawed and the practice of the native martial arts promptly banned. To insure the survival of the art, they had to keep it close to the family and hidden away.

To continue practicing the techniques of the footwork and hand movements so essential to its physical flow and speed, these were incorporated into dances to entertain the Spanish, who never imagined that these happy dancing presentations, were in fact traditional fighting forms.

The only area of the Filipines that the Spanish could not absorb, was the South. The Spanish called these Muslims people they found in the Filipines Moros or Moors, reflecting their old Muslim enemies in Europe and North Africa. Though rich with the promise of gold and other natural riches, the Spanish had learned to leave them alone.

Mindanao is home to the Philippines' Muslim population. With 780 square kilometers, the Filipines is considered a medium-sized nation, about two- thirds the size of its first colonizer, Spain, and a little larger than the British Isles. Blessed by nature, you will find extraordinary dive sites, forests to roam, mountains to climb, caves to explore.

The Muslims undertook a rebellion to resist the Spanish conquest. Attempts over the 300 years of Spanish rule to subjugate theses Muslims only led to an increase in their fervor of launching "juramentados", holy wars against the Spanish. Moro resistance continued until 1898, when the United States defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War.

When the Filipines passed into the hands of the United States, the American marines found themselves face to face with these Moros who had no respect for a .38 gun. They would fire round after round into the oncoming Moro, whose kriss would just keep flailing, killing any soldier or civilian in his path, until he finally would collapse. The .45 caliber revolver was issued to knock the attacking Moros backwards and keep them from hacking one more victim as they fell forward... . Moros ferociously resisted Japanese occupation during World War II, only to find themselves incorporated into the Republic of the Filipines in 1946

As invaders came many times to their country, their fighting styles were studied by the islanders who developped new styles and methods to combat them. Methods were named after their tactics ( such as riterada or retreating style, largo mano or long hand, abanico or fan,.... ), their inventor ( such as Toledo or Villabrille,... ), ... .

The old Filipinos preferred to hit the bone and choosed a stick to a blade. Instead of a clean cut, the stick left shattered bones. The business end of a stick can travel many times the speed of the empty hand. And it feels nothing, whether it hits hard bone or soft flesh. Little wonder the vicious, swift elusive sticks of the Filipinos were feared.

Their elliptical motions, reversals, fluctuating angles and constant motion made the Filipinos very tough to deal with.

It was the savage art of a savage land.

It was thanks to the legendary Bruce Lee that the double sticks and nunchaku became popular all over the world.

The origin of Bruce's weapon prowess was taught as weapons of the Filipino art of combat.

Escrima today has developed from a complex combination of fighting with blades, sticks and empty hands.

The influence of the Spanish is still so big, that many top Escrimadors still teach their arts in Spanish, although Tagalog is the national language of the Filipines.


In Skirmen or the art of armed combat, sticks and edged weapons are used. The student will learn the programms in a structured way and by means of universal principles and drills he will attain rapidly a good foundation in this armed combat method.

The programms enable the student to practise in a spontaneous way.

Pre-arranged drills are a part of the system, to learn the different patterns and possibilities. The student has to learn through these drills, but these will be replaced after a certain time by the more free combat exercises which will lead to the development of spontaneity.

The learning phases, which will increase in difficulty, will allow the student to get an insight in this art where the different types of drills will become more and more spontaneous. The many exercises have all the the same in common, namely the " principles ". Mastery of these principles ensures a faster and easier understanding of the system: the student doesn't need anymore to memorise purely and the exercises aren't seen as separate parts within the system.

In the beginning much attention is spent to the correct transfer of force: namely learning to "open" and "close" of the body. There exists a basic form, stationary or in movement: these will lead to exercises such as "sumbrada", "escapo"... . A puzzle is built, where each exercise emphasises a certain part of this puzzle which will develop a certain important facet of the art. The basic programm is very extensive, where the many drills will lead the way to a next 'bigger' level: the difficulty will increase as well as the degree of effectiveness.

Sifu Heinrich has thus built a method where his vast theoretic knowledge concerning the " weapon art " is woven into the practical exercises. He has persuaded many practitioners- novices as well high level escrimadors and people of police forces - of this martial art which is not only extremely efficient and useful but above all it's a fascinating art.

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