The Fighting arts of the Philippines are deeply rooted in the history and culture of the Filipino people. They are the products of a highly developed civilization which flourished long before the arrival of the West upon its shores, and of centuries of warfare against a variety of oppressors. Both these factors are responsible for the highly technical and pragmatic outlook of the Filipino martial arts.
The Maharlikas was the original name of the Philippines before the coming of the Portuguese and Spanish in the 15th and 16th centuries. The general consensus among scholars is that the first settlers in the Philippines were the Negritos of prehistory. It is theorized that these small dark-skinned people traveled by land from Central Asia, perhaps via an ancient land bridge. They brought with them the short bow and later developed the long bow.
This process was followed by a series of Malay migrations from what is today Southeast Asia and the Indonesian Archipelago. The first of these began before the birth of Christ. These taller seafaring people brought with them the first bladed weapons.
In the 5th and 6th centuries in Indonesia and Malaysia a huge empire was formed due to the migration of the Hindu tribes of India to Sumatra and Java. The Srividjayan Empire, as it came to be known, eventually spread as far as the Philippines. Their martial arts skills, advanced weaponry, and superior organization made it possible for them to conquer the earlier settlers. Some fled to distant islands, others stayed and the two cultures merged. The Srividjayans were the ancestors of the Tagalogs, Ilocanos, Pampangos, Visayans, and Bicolanos. The area of the Central Philippines where these people first landed is today known as the Visayan region. It is thought by many Filipinos that the island of Panay, the most western part of the Visayan Islands, was the birthplace of Kali – as the Filipino martial arts were known at that time. The Srividjayans brought the influence of Hindu and Indonesian religion, philosophy, arts, and combative forms to the Philippines. They introduced laws (the famous Code of Kalantaw), a calendar, written alphabet (Sanskrit), new religion, and a system of weights and measures. This new culture developed a social unit called the barangay each independently headed by a Datu (leader or chief). These were the first to leave a written historical record.
The next major incursion of foreign ideas and culture occurred in the 12th and 13th centuries. The Majapahit Empire of Indonesia, which eclipsed the Srividjayan Empire spread throughout Southeast Asia and into the Philippines. At its height the Empire included areas that are today Burma, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, the Philippines and Madagascar. Deeply influenced by Moslem culture, the Majapahit brought Islam to the Philippines where it settled most heavily in the South. Today the Southern region of Mindanao remains a Moslem stronghold, fiercely independent and at war with the governing Christian majority. By the 12th century thousands Chinese had migrated to the Philippines following the Manchurian invasion of China. They brought with them the martial arts of the Tang Dynasty, which came to be known as Kuntao throughout Southeast Asia. The Chinese and their arts were assimilated into the Island culture.