Firearms and the Filipino Martial Arts

Firearms and the Filipino Martial Arts

(Picture of Master Nene Tortal of Dekiti Tirsia Siradas. He is a friend of the Sayoc Kali organization. Look at what’s on his hip.)

The Filipino martial arts are known for being a highly-effective system of fighting with impact weapons and edged weapons. However, it needs to be said that firearms have had a major role in the Filipino martial arts, both in it’s history as well as in it’s current state. While it may be romantic to believe that Filipinos willfully fought wars with nothing more than a Bolo knife at their side, it must be noted that the firearm has had a distinct place in Filipino fighting history.

As the founder and Chief Instructor of Bayani Warrior ( I have come across nearly every major Filipino martial arts system that is out there. After researching, studying, and training in so many systems of the Filipino martial arts, one of the the most common stories is that the Filipino people willfully fought battles with nothing more than sticks and blades, and that to this day, bladed exchanges regularly occur in the Philippines. However, it seems that those who propagate these stories have failed to also explain how firearms have a place in Filipino fighting history as well. 

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to sit down and speak to an elderly Filipino gentlemen who served in World War II as a guerrilla and recon scout for the army of General Douglas MacArthur. Being a young, wide-eyed, idealistic Filipino-American FMA practitioner who had images of brave Filipinos fighting the Japanese with nothing more than a Bolo at their side, I was hoping to hear stories of him and his comrades drawing blades and fighting Katana-wielding Japanese soldiers. However, he looked at me and said in a monotone voice, “When in battle, I had my rifle, and two .45 caliber pistols.” I asked him, “Did you have a Bolo Knife?” He said, “Yes, but only for cutting brush. Why bother fighting with a Bolo when I had three guns on me?”

Later that year, I traveled to the Philippines and visited some relatives in what most people would refer to as a seedy part of town. I had the opportunity to speak to some friends of friends who lived in the neighborhood, and they were more than open to talk about the killings that occurred in the area. One of the men present recently killed a bandit in town. He told me, “When it comes to really fighting here (in Manila), you need a gun. Without a gun, you’re dead. I will always pull the trigger first.”

As my journey in the Filipino martial arts continued, I noticed that most of the contemporary masters of the Filipino fighting arts that I came across also had a great degree of skill with rifles, shotguns, and pistols. In fact, my training in Atienza Kali under Tuhon Carl Atienza has given me a lot of exposure to firearms training in addition to functional blade combat skills. This video shows how firearms can be integrated into one’s blade training. 

While bladed combat is as much a part of Filipino culture as the language and the food,  we cannot ignore the impact of firearms in the Filipino fighting culture, and we need to realize that Filipinos in the Philippines will gladly use a gun in most violent situations if the opportunity presents itself. As such, I encourage all practitioners of Kali, Arnis, and Escrima to learn and develop as much skill with firearms as possible if they truly want to expose themselves to the well-rounded nature of the Filipino martial arts.

In most cases, Filipinos will utilize blades and impact weapons as a means to get to a firearm. In World War II, a lot of the Filipino guerrillas used Bolo knives as a means to acquire a firearm, whether it was by killing enemy combatants and stealing their guns, or by buying time to get to their own gun. There are cases historically where Filipinos used Bolos against firearms in battle, such as during the Battle of Pulang Lupa, and I have met Filipino elders who served in World War II and utilized their Bolos in close-combat as well. However, it must be noted that Filipinos used firearms just as much, if not more, than Blades in recent wars, and that Filipinos are just as good with a gun as they are with a blade. 

(Picture of Filipina soldiers learning how to shoot rifles during World War II)

Despite their love and skills for the blade, Filipinos have always been fond of firearms. In fact today, shooting sports are very popular in the Philippines. They are so popular that Filipino TV networks cover televised shooting competitions much in the same way they cover Basketball games. In fact, my nephew in the Philippines, Jethro, is named after the legendary Filipino shooting competitor, Jethro Dionsio, who is my cousin’s favorite athlete. 

(Picture taken at a gun show in the Philippines, which are very, very popular events among the Filipino people)

During my visits to the Philippines, which usually occur every 2 to 3 years, I actually do more pistol shooting than Stick or Blade training! Now that I am regularly going to Dallas, Texas (a state known for their love of firearms) to train the Bayani Warrior Dallas-Fort Worth Training Group, I actually have gotten more involved with firearms training as well. I am no expert marksman, and I am not forsaking my skills with a stick and blade for skills with a firearm. The Filipino martial arts are my life. On a combative level, they are my delivery system when it comes to fighting, and functions as the base for any combative method I encounter. However, I am simply adding a new martial skill to my toolbox and integrating firearms work into my Stick and Blade training, which I feel makes me more well-rounded in my weapons skills. 

(Picture of a recent training session in Dallas, Texas. Definitely trying to get my pistol game up.)

A great example of how Filipino fighting arts and firearms can be blended is through Sayoc Tactical Group ( Sayoc Tactical Group is run by Tuhon Tom Kier of Sayoc Kali, and he trains elite military and law enforcement units in various combative methods. This video shows one of his recent training sessions in which he integrates blade training with firearms training.

So, for all my Filipino martial arts practitioners out there, remember to learn about firearms. Get familiar with them. It doesn’t mean you have to forsake your Filipino blade and stick work. It simply means that you will be adding a new skill set to your tool box, and you will be getting in touch with another facet of Filipino Kali training.

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