It has been said that there are as many fighting styles in the Philippines as there are islands. While that’s not strictly true, Filipino Martial Arts – also known as FMA – is a diverse and exciting group of fighting styles developed over centuries in the Philippines that use everything from a fist to a machete to defeat opponents. FMA combines the best of Western and Eastern fighting styles to create a stunningly aggressive and effective hybrid.
Like Krav Maga, FMA’s core philosophy emphasises practical fighting, with techniques that can be used in the streets to defend one’s life. FMA practitioners are renowned for their hard-hitting techniques using just the body, and for their deadly knife fighting skills that can also turn just about any object into a fearsome weapon. No wonder then that FMA styles have been taught all over the world, including for the United States military and in Russia’s special forces.
FMA’s origins in rebellion
For thousands of years, the Philippines was targeted by foreign invaders and was a tough, often violent place to live with warring tribes and rival islands. This gave rise to a complex society that developed a strong warrior culture to protect its possessions and pass on knowledge.
Even when they were conquered, the Filipinos found ways to continue their practice of what is now known as FMA. The Spanish outlawed the practise of self-defence training for Filipinos, so it went underground. Machetes – known locally as Bolos – doubled as swords and the techniques used to train with them became incorporated into everyday life.
When the Philippines gained its independence from its last colonial ruler the United States, FMA flourished, having never lapsed, even while a foreigner determined to quell any rebellion ruled the nation
Arnis, Eskrima, and Kali – FMA’s main style
FMA’s main style that dominates its practice in the Philippines and worldwide is most commonly known as Arnis, though it can also be called Eskrima and Kali. These are largely interchangeable terms that cover the stick, knife, sword, and unarmed fighting techniques common to FMA.
Arnis is the national sport and martial art of the Philippines, which has what’s known as a blade culture where people are commonly armed with knives, with even farmers carrying large blades that can double as weapons. For this reason, it’s vital that people know how to defend themselves, and FMA emphasises disarmament, grappling and joint locks as much as it does offensive techniques like striking and thrusting.
As a sport, Arnis tournaments are now widespread with practitioners wearing body protection as they engage in stick fighting duels, as well as unarmed combat and the use of swords.
FMA in Australia
FMA is rising in popularity in Australia and has deep roots in the nation, having been brought here with Filipino immigrants. FMA is a vital part of traditional Filipino culture and is widely practised by Filipinos as part of everyday life and the teaching of traditions.
In the wider community, FMA is being embraced for its practical self-defence techniques, important in the streets where violent crime is rising in Australian cities and people are seeking ways to counter it. There is also a fitness benefit to FMA, with its fast, explosive style being embraced by Crossfit gyms for an extra challenge and everyday people for fitness and self-defence.
FMA’s deep traditions will ensure it continues to grow as a vital part of local Filipino culture, and its no-nonsense self-defence techniques will surely win new adherents across Australia as its popularity grows.