What is Kali?

What is Kali?
By Grandmaster Ben Largusa

Kali is an ancient form of martial art of Indonesia and the Philippines.  Before Spanish colonization, the Philippine area was part of the old Indonesian empires.  It is traced back to the Sri Vishayan Empire in Sumatra in the 5th century with Hindu-Malayan influence by Arab missionaries.

Chinese records note that in 983 a ship owned or commanded by an Arab and loaded with valuable merchandise arrived in Khanlu (Canton) from Ma-i or Mo-yi (the Mayid of the Arabs).  Maj is an island in the Philippines, either Mindoro or Luzon.  Eventually, this led to Ma-i Nila or Maynila and on to Manila.

By tradition, the art of Kali always played alongside its counterparts, the other Indonesian martial arts of the Silat, Pentjak, and Kuntao.  Kali is a martial art practiced by the Indonesians during the Indonesian empires.  Tribal cheftains such as Sultans, Datus, and Rajahs and their warriors fought with this ancient art.  Magellan and his men were defeated by Lapu-Lapu and his warriors with Kali, not Escrima or Arnis as popularly known.  Kali is the forerunner and mother art of Escrima and Arnis.

One theory reveals that the name Kali come from Kalis, a bladed weapon; and the letter “s” was eventually dropped.  Another theory leads us to believe that Kali came from the names of the first syllable of Kamut (hand) and the first syllable of Lihok (movements).  The names of Escrima and Arnis came into existence during the Spanish colonization period.  Escrima came from the French word Eskrima, meaning to “fence” or “skirmish” and Arnis came from the Spanish word “Arnis de Mano” meaning to “Harness the Hands”.  Ancient Kali includes fighting techniques of empty hands, kicking, bladed weapons, hard sticks, rattan sticks, hard wooden weapons that are shaped like long side blades, lances and staffs, bows and arrows and explosive projectile weapons from guns to cannons.  Kali and other Indonesian martial arts were developed and influenced by the following migration:

  1. Primitive Negritos, came by means of land bridges from Central Asia during prehistoric times, were the first settlers.  Their favorite weapons was, and still is the bow and arrow.
  2. From 200 BC, the Malays from southeast Asia came to Indonesia and the area now called Philippines bringing with them the long knife.  They are expert fighters with the daggers, spears and the bow and arrow.
  3. A Second Malay migration, which began in the early years of the Christian era and continued until the 13th century, brought other bladed weapons.
  4. At the start of the 14th century, a 3rd Malay migration began and continued until the middle of the 15th century.  These people, the ancestors of the present day Muslim Indonesians and Filipinos were religious fanatics, steeped         in Muhammedanism.  They favored blade weapons but were skilled with sticks, bows and arrows of various designs, as well as explosive projectile weapons from guns to cannons.
  5. Extensive trade relations with China in the 9th century brought T’ang Dynasty martial skills.
  6. During the Sung (960 – 1127) and Ming (1368 – 1644) dynasties, migration to the Philippines were heavy and large Chinese colonies were established in coastal areas.

The foregoing reveals that Kali has classical roots and values; and it is therefore a classical martial art.  The mixed fighting methods resulted in efficiency and uniqueness.  Kali was well developed by the 16th and 17th centuries.

The late Great Grandmaster Floro Villabrille used Kali to fight in death matches in the Philippines, Australia, and Hawaii.  He took Kali to a high level and founded the Villabrille System of Kali.  On July 4, 1933, after having excelled himself in the National Grand Sports Competition, Martial Arts Division in Manila, Philippines, Floro Villabrille at 23 years of age was certified as Philippines’ Grandmaster of Martial Arts by then Governor-General, Frank Murphy.

The same martial art skills and techniques are taught today by the schools of the Villabrille-Largusa Kali System.  The late Great Grandmaster Floro Villabrille is the founder of the Villabrille System of Kali and designated Grandmaster Ben Largusa to systemize and break-down his style for public teaching.  Hence, the official name of the style: Villabrille-Largusa Kali System.  Tuhan (Master) Mel Lopez of California is the director of the Villabrille-Largusa Kali System and the Kali Association of America.  KAA member schools teach weaponry, empty hand (Kinamot and Panantukan) and kicking (Sikaran) techniques.  Kali is taught today for self-defense and fitness; but every aspect and characteristic of combat is maintained, regarded and practiced with the greatest honor and respect.