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Black Belt Essays

Eskrima, Arnis, Kali Terminology Essay

Eskrima Essay

Research the meaning of Filipino terms used in the Art of Eskrima

Second Degree Black Belt research essay by Instructor Scott Thackrah

Looking into one's Martial Arts history, gives one a view into the past, unravelling the folklore and the truth, finding the quirks of the culture. Within the South China Sea lies a group of islands known as the Philippines.

Hundreds of years of foreign invasion have brought many forms of the Martial Arts to this small group of islands. From this melting pot comes the Martial Art known as Eskrima (also known an kali or Arnis), studied as Cobra Eskrima at the Cobra Martial Arts Dojo today.

The Colonial Superpower of Spain invaded the island nation over three hundred years ago. Within their time of rule they outlawed all martial weapons and the practice of Martial Arts in an endeavour to keep the natives under their rule. During this time the Spanish language and religious beliefs were forced upon the people. Combined with the English and American influence during the nineteenth and twentieth century, as well as the many native languages on the islands (Tagalog, Cebuano etc), we are today left with a rich and vast language that has been an influential tool in the teaching of the Filipino Martial Arts (commonly abbreviated as FMA).

The creation of words that have come out of other words that describe a motion that is similar is interesting. This would seem logical if teaching someone whom does not speak the same language very well, or not at all. There is also the creating of words from joining two words together, such as the word Ardigma. Indeed, the language barrier has been one of the fundamental reasons behind the creation of many words within the Martial Arts in general.

The Filipino arts are known for their use of the stick, knife and machete. The stick comes in many shapes and sizes; and made from different materials, such as the vine-like Rattan. The stick used in Eskrima training has many names, Rattan stick or Kali stick being two names commonly known. The knives and machetes have taken many forms over the years. The most famous of the Filipino blades is the Machete called the Bolo (or Itak in Tagalog), which was originally used to clear vegetation. Depending on whom you train with and where you train, will dictate the language and words used.


The name of our art is Eskrima, a word that is derived from the Spanish noun esgrima [es-gree'-mah], which translates to 'fencing'.

Much of the Spanish influence on the Filipino culture includes the language and the word Eskrima is no different. The word was adopted due to the use of the stick in a fencing-style which over time developed into the word Eskrima. Eskrima uses stick, knife and machete in its training. A practitioner of Eskrima is called an Eskrimador, the simple addition of the suffix 'dor'. There are two ways of spelling the word, with either a 'k' or a 'c' – Eskrima or Escrima.


Maestro is derived directly from the Spanish noun maestro [ma-e-stro], which means 'teacher' or 'master'.

The spelling and meaning are the same as the Spanish equivalent and is also used in the Italian language. In Western culture it is most known for its use in the Opera; when referring to composers or conductors.

In our art it is used as a respectful way of referring to one's teacher.


The term Abenico is used to describe a double strike to the temples in which the stick is propelled by a sharp wrist twist. This technique is not in the syllabus as Abenico, but is seen in the Drop Canes (White belt) technique. While an Abenico has the stick horizontal, a Drop Cane has the stick vertical, thus an Abenico strike can be found in Amara (number 6) and in Stop Blocks.

The word Abenico is derived from the Spanish adjective Abanico [ab-an-inco] which means 'fan'. This refers to the motion of the strike, resembling that of a fan.


The word Punya refers to the butt of the stick. Punya is derived from the Tagalog word Punyo [pun-yo] which means the rear end of a swords handle. A common occurrence in Filipino is for words with the same meanings to be spelt with a different letter, 'Punya' and 'Punyo' are examples of this.

The punya can be used to disarm or as striking tool. It usually targets pressure points and can shatter bones.


The word Plansa refers to a horizontal strike, which are seen in the Modified Seven Strikes series (three and four) taught at Blue belt.

The Spanish noun Plancha [pla-n-cha] means 'iron' (device for pressing clothes) or the verb 'iron' (to press clothes with an iron), from this the Tagalog word Plantsa is derived. Over time, the 't' has been removed and today the term Plansa is used to describe a horizontal strike. The logic behind this meaning is that the strike is like the horizontal motion of ironing. Some FMA styles use this term for a horizontal strike since it is similar to the motion used when ironing clothes.


The term Arko refers to a double diagonal (or looped) strike. Although this technique is not taught in the syllabus as a separate technique, it is hidden in warm-up drills and other techniques.

The term Arko is directly derived from the Spanish language, the noun arco [ar-co] translates to arch or arc. In the Tagalog dialect it can also be called Balantok; in Cebuano dialect it translates to arch or arc, and both the Tagalog and Cebuano are spelt with a 'k'; whereas the Spanish word is spelt with a 'c'. The arc refers to the curved nature of the technique.


One of the main and principle techniques taught in Eskrima is a technique called Redonda. There are three variations of this technique: 4 count, 6 count and Advanced. There are also Reverse versions of the 4 (Orange belt) and 6 (Probation Blue belt) counts. This figure-8 circular shape movement is hidden within many techniques, and forms the core of some principles. Taught at white (4 count and 6 count) and Probation Yellow (Advanced) belt, it is used as a double cane warm-up exercise.

The word Redonda is derived from Spanish word for 'round': Redondo [ray-don'-do]. The reasoning for this translation relates to the circular or round motion of the technique.

In some styles of Arnis the word Redonda refers to the same technique. In other styles of Arnis and Kali the technique is known as Sinawali (see Sinawali). This is referring to the weaving motion of the technique rather than the round/circular motion.


Taught at Probation Yellow belt is a technique called Untol. Untol is a six strike horizontal combination, it could be called a horizontal version of the six count Redonda.

The word untol [un-toll] is Cebuano for 'bounce' or 'rebound'. The bounce/rebound refers to the nature of the combination; the movements can be seen as 'bouncing' off the opponent's weapon.


The first fighting combination (or pattern) learnt in the Eskrima syllabus is called Amara [a-mar-ra]. A set of seven, these increase by one as they go higher in number. Thus, when drawn they create a pyramid, known as the Amara Pyramid (see below).

Amara is taught at Probation Yellow (one to four) and Orange (five to seven) belt. Amara is done in a stationary fighting stance and all seven can be done as one sequence. Tuhon (master) Pat O'Malley of the Rapid Arnis system states "Amara is a set of striking patterns much in the same way as a boxer builds up striking patterns on the hook and jab... you are given a set of movements much like Jab, Cross, Hook, Upper Cut, or Double Jab, Hook Cross, Jab etc and from that you build your combination skills in striking." [1]. Similar to kata from Japanese Martial Arts, Amara is designed to be done as fast as possible without sacrificing technique. Taught at first with a stick; it can also be done with a blade, and comes from the Filipino warriors who once fought with their Bolo's (machetes) on the battlefield.

According to Amara Arkanis founder, Louelle C. Lledom, the word Amara "means balance or positive/negative" [2], much like the Ying/Yang and in essence; is the fighting style within the warrior. The Spanish verb amara [a-ma-ra] translates to 'love'. This has come to mean in my opinion the general term of the 'essence of the warrior' – his heart. This combination series reveals that essence of the warrior as they train and evolve.


Taught at Orange belt is a series called Eskrido [es-cree-doe]. This series has seven variations within it; all that work off a number one strike. Number four, five and six have holds/locks that all flow off each other.

The term eskrido [es-cree-doe] can be traced directly back to Grandmaster Ciriaco 'Cacoy' Cañete (see right), whom named his system Eskrido. Cañete's system is a formation of Doce Pares (a Filipino Martial Art based from Eskrima), Aikido, Judo, Ju-jitsu, boxing and Kara-te. The use of basic stick and knife techniques with the addition of locks and holds using the stick; make up Eskrido's techniques. It is the locks and holds of the Art of Eskrido that give name to the Eskrido series that we know today within the Art of Cobra Eskrima.

There are two derivations of the name Eskrido. In Cañete's book entitled "Eskrido", he mentions that "One is the martial arts components of the style, namely Eskrima, Jiu-jitsu and Judo. The other is from the terms Eskrima and Doce Pares." [2] Personally; I have known Eskrido as Eskrima and Judo combined (Eskri + do). All seven variations of the Eskrido series can be modified to be done unarmed, as is the case with all Eskrima techniques. This modification gives the student an understanding of these locks and holds, firstly with the stick, and then unarmed.


When a student reaches Probation Green belt they begin to learn what is called 'Palakau Amara', learning the first four combinations, then the last three at Green belt. Like Amara, Palakau has seven sets of combinations; increasing by one move as you go down the pyramid (see Palakau Pyramid below). 'Palakau Amara' is the 'form', from Purple Belt; the student learns to apply that form in a form of fluid sparring known as Palakau, which is done with a partner.

The word Palakau comes from the Cebuano dialect, which is spelt palakaw [pal-a-cow]. According to the Balintawak system, the root word of palakaw is lakaw, which translates to 'walk' or hike' [3]. Thus palakaw means 'to walk through' or the action of doing the walking. My understanding for this term is that before you walk, you learn to crawl. Thus, when you do Palakau you are learning to apply the basics to a combative situation. You have learnt to crawl by learning the basics, now with Palakau you a 'learning to walk'.

When Palakau is first taught it is kept strictly to the Palakau form, placing the strikes within their partner's movement. As the student evolves their understanding grows deeper. The form is no longer as strict and free forming is allowed, or more accurately, expected. Applying all their knowledge of striking, blocking, stepping and transferring, Palakau is the drill in which our training blends itself together.


The term Sinawali [sin-a-wa-lee], like many terms within the FMA has different meanings to different styles. Within the Cobra Eskrima syllabus; it is a partner drill that involves a number five, six and seven strike, it is then followed by a high-low strike. The drill is done with one person attacking and one defending. Once complete, it begins again; with the other person attacking instead of defending and so on.

The term Sinawali translates to 'woven' or 'to weave' and comes from the root word of 'sawali' [sa-wa-lee] which is Tagalog dialect for the woven bamboo mats used for constructing walls in the Philippines (see right). It is used to describe this technique due to the weaving pattern the sticks make. Interestingly, other systems use this term to describe the technique we know as Redonda. Both can be seen as a weaving motion, and thus the name suits both.


Ardigma is a set of twelve striking combinations (or patterns). These twelve combinations are taught in sets of four at Purple, Probation-Red and Red belt.

Ardigma, unlike Amara or Palakau does not increase by one movement as you go up in the numbers of combinations. The first seven have three moves, number eight has four, number nine and ten has three, eleven has five and number twelve has six. The addition of the students own personal choice of a joining move makes this combination series more advanced than Amara or Palakau. Thus the reason it is taught at a higher level in the syllabus.

The Filipinos are known for creating words from other words, such as joining two words together. Ardigma is an example of this, with it being created from the words Arnis [ar-nis] (another variation of the word Eskrima) and the word Mandirigma [man-drig-maa] which means 'warrior' in the Tagalog dialect. Thus Ardigma means 'Arnis warrior', and is seen in these sets of fighting combinations.

The term is used by Grandmaster Nap Fernandez from his Yaw Yan system of Arnis. It is likely that the word has filtered down through the years from the people whom have trained with each other and adopted the terminology, a common occurrence within the Filipino Martial arts.

Le Punte Abinenco

Le Punte Abinenco is a single stick form taught at Probationary Black Blet (Black-White). Unlike the other forms that come before, it contains footwork and is performed four times in four different directions.

The term Le Punte Abinenco comes from the Lapunti Arnis de Abanico style, which translates to Lapunti Fan Stick Style. The Lapunti Arnis de Abanico style was founded by the Caburnay family, which began with Arsenio "Seniong" Caburnay (1882-1962) [4]. The word 'Lapunti' is the combination of three terms that the Caburnay family used to describe the surrounding suburbs (or villages) where they lived. Labangon translates to 'step', and give us the "La" of Lapunti. Punta Princessa gives us the "pun", in which Punta translates as 'to go to', and Princessa translates to 'beautiful woman'. Finally, the term Tisa, this translates to 'brick' or 'brick wall' gives us the "ti" of Lapunti. Thus:

La + pun + ti = Lapunti

Over time Lapunti was adopted by other practitioners of FMA who trained with the Caburnay descendants. These practitioners came from walks of life and had different native languages, thus the name and spelling, over time, was naturally going to change. The 'a' became an 'e'. The 'I' was also replaced with an 'e'. Thus:

Lapunti = Le Punte

This form or kata was developed by the coming together of two masters. Felimon "Mooney" Caburnay (right) of the Lapunti Arnis de Abanico system, a master of the FMA and Johnny Chiuten (left); a Kung Fu Master of Filipino-Chinese decent. According to a source on Lapunti Arnis de Abanico, "Master Feilmon Caburnay's fighting style was now evolving further, particularly his belief in the effectiveness of Abanico strikes combined with the cross legged fighting footwork of Master Chiuten [5]. It was Master Chuiten that helped Fielmon develop his system.

This form comes to be taught at Cobra Martial Arts via the Diamondback Eskrima system, founded by Maestro Greg Henderson, who was the trainer of the Cobra Eskrima founder, Master Instructor Sensei Craig Monie. It must be stated that what we learn today is not exactly how it was created many years ago. It has evolved over time. According to Tuhon (master) Pat O'Malley, both he and Maestro have trained with the Caburnay family [6]. It is this lineage that brings this form to be part of our syllabus today.


I guess one may ask "Why would you still use these words?"

In an English speaking country, where we teach using the English language, it is a valid question. However; to me passing on the art, not only the techniques but the culture and philosophy behind those techniques brings validation to using these terms. By giving the student words to attach physical movements to, cement in our minds a set of patterns that the muscles remember through muscle memory. These words will sometimes be the ones explored in this assignment, and as such are used to cement our knowledge of the past.

By using these words, we remember the root of our Art, the source of Eskrima. Its beginnings and fruitions come from a past far away from us now, to understand that its journey to us was one of trial and error – of continual growth. In using the words to pass on the Art, we honour and respect the past, as well as ensuring a bright future; where it may continue to grow and expand well beyond after we are gone.

In the end, these are just mere words. What matters most is how we train and the philosophy behind our training, which makes the Eskrimador.


[1] – Tuhon (master) Pat O'Malley of the Rapid Arnis system states "Amara is a set of striking patterns much in the same way as a boxer builds up striking patters on the hook and jab... you are given a set of movements much like Jab, Cross, Hook, Upper Cut, or Double Jab, Hook Cross, Jab etc and from that you build your combination skills in striking."Available:[2010, June 6]

[2] – The word Amara "means balance or positive/negative"Available:[2010, May 22]

[3] – "One is the martial arts components of the style, namely Eskrima, Jiu-jitsu and Judo. The other is from the terms Eskrima and Doce Pares."Available:[2010, May 29]

[4] - The Lapunti Arnis de Abanico style was founded by the Caburnay family, which began with Arsenio "Seniong" Caburnay (1882-1962).Available:[2010, June 4]

[5] - According to a source on Lapunti Arnis de Abanico, "Master Filemon Caburnay's fighting style was now evolving further, particularly his belief in the effectiveness of Abanico strikes combined with the cross legged fighting footwork of Master Chiuten."Available:[2010, June 4]

[6] - According to Pat O'Malley, both he and Greg have trained with the Caburnay family.Available:[2010, June 8]


Eskrima Logo, n.d. [Online image], Available: [2010, March 14]
Arnis Dragon, n.d., [Online Image], Available:[2010, June 7]
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History of the Philippines - WikipediaAvailable: :// [2010, February 10]Philippine On-Line DictionaryAvailable:[2010, May 3]Maestro Greg Henderson, n.d. [Online image], Available:[2010, March 21]
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Amara Arkanis – About Us, Available:[2010, May 21]
FMA Terminology Archive – Martial Arts Planet, Available:[2010, March 10]Amara Pyramid, n.d. ImageScott Thackrah[2010, May 16]
Palakau Pyramid, n.d. ImageScott Thackrah[2010, May 16]
Ardigma, n.d. ImageScott Thackrah[2010, May 16]
About – Yaw-Yaw ArDigma, n.d., Availbale:[2010, May 8]
Webster's Online Dictionary, n.d., Available:[2010, May 3]
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Ciriaco Canete, n.d. [Online image], Available: [2010, May 21]
Filipino Martial Arts Museum, 2004, Available:[2010, May 29]
Teovel Balintawak U.S.A., n.d., Available:[2010, June 1]
Filipino Flag, n.d., [Online Image], Available:[2010, June 6]
Old fashion Planchas, n.d., [Online Image], Available:[2010, June 6]
Johnny Chiuten, n.d., [Online Image], Available:[2010, June 8]
Felimon Caburnay, n.d., [Online Image], Available:[2010, June 8]
Sawali matting, n.d., [Online Image], Available:[2010, June 2]