Arnis: The Filipino Martial Art that Defeated Ferdinand Magellan

A brief history and background of Arnis, the National Sport of the Philippines.

Ah, Arnis…the bane of all non-active students in every Physical Education class.

But did you know that this Filipino martial art existed hundreds of years ago? Apparently, our tribal ancestors used Arnis in fighting long before the colonial era.

And quite formidably so! Because it is exactly how Lapu-Lapu was able to drive away the Spaniards in their first Philippine expedition – and to slay their leader, Ferdinand Magellan, at that!

So what exactly is Arnis, and how much has it impacted the history of the Philippines? Let’s find out!

Ancient Art

The indigenous population of the Philippines developed the martial art Arnis, also known as Kali or Eskrima. It was used for an assorted range of weaponry, encompassing both simple impact and edged weapons for combat and self-defense. Arnis traditionally involved rattan, swords, daggers, and spears.

Moreover, the poor or commoner class usually practiced it. Arnis originated from the native “Pintados” fighting techniques used during conflicts among ancient tribes and kingdoms.

Most notably, in 1521, Filipino islanders defeated Ferdinand Magellan’s armored, musket-bearing Spanish conquistador forces with nothing more than bladed weapons and their fearsome Arnis abilities. This is the story of the Battle of Mactan.

Of course, as old as it is, the sport’s modern forms have been influenced by various colonizers like the Americans and the Japanese. In 2009, the government declared Arnis to be the martial art and national sport of the Philippines.

Big Screen Recognition

Close-quartered, fast-paced fights look great on-screen, and no martial style involves the speed of Arnis!

In fact, the 2021 film “Dune” used Arnis as the primary style of fighting due to the use of ‘personal force fields.’ In this case, it was necessary to best someone in a knife fight, as only slow-moving objects may penetrate shielding.

Moreover, in “Enter the Dragon (1973)”, Bruce Lee demonstrated Arnis in a fight scene with guards where he used their own weapons against them. Apparently, he was using doble baston (double sticks) to subdue the guards.

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Prosperity in Fighting

Today, Arnis in the Philippines serves as a reminder of the struggles pre-colonial Filipinos faced during our time under Spain. It was created by our forefathers for self-defense and combat – a shining product of creativity despite meager resources.

Over the years, Arnis has become less of a combat tool, and has turned into a developing sport practiced around the world. But for us Filipinos, it will always invoke discipline and inspiration, which we still need when we fight our everyday battles. It is more than a sport, but rather a significant symbol in Filipino culture, and a manifestation of our values as a people.

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