The origins of Arnis, Escrima or Kali are difficult to trace, primarily because there are nearly as many styles of Filipino stick fighting as there are islands in the Philippine archipelago—more than 7000!
The races that settled in these islands came from India, Southwest Asia, China and Indonesia. These diverse races and cultures blended their heritage’s over the centuries, producing a common method for employing sharp swords, daggers and fire-hardened sticks in combat. These highly sophisticated fighting styles have grown in popularity in the international martial arts community. One of the earliest known forms was called “tjakelele” (Indonesian fencing). “Kali” is another term familiar to stick fighters around the world today. When the Philippines were invaded by the Spanish, the invaders required guns to subdue their fierce opponents. The deadly fighting skills of Filipino warriors nearly overwhelmed them, and they dubbed the native stick style “escrima” (skirmish).
Arnis, Escrima or Kali was subsequently outlawed, but the techniques did not disappear. The were preserved in secret, sometimes under the very noses of conquerors, in the form of dances or mock battles staged in religious plays know as “moro-moro”. These plays featured Filipinos, sometimes costumed as Spanish soldiers, wearing “arnes,” the harness worn during medieval times for armor. The blade-fighting forms and footwork were identical to those used in escrima. The word “arnes” so became corrupted to “arnis,” and the name stuck.
Historically, Arnis, Escrima or Kali incorporated three related methods: “espada y daga” (sword and dagger), which employs a long blade and short dagger; “solo baston” (single stick); and “sinawali” (to weave), which uses two sticks of equal length twirled in “weaving” fashion for blocking and striking (term is derived from sawali, the bamboo matting woven in the Philippines).
Nowadays most people tend to train with the Rattan sticks which help prevent injuries, also most styles of Arnis, Escrima or Kali will use armour especially hand and head protection, but body protection is also quite common. Competition in armour and limited rumour are common, so people can compete to help home their skills and technique.