Eskrima System History

Eskrima, also known as Arnis or Kali, is a weapon based martial art of the Philippines. It is not only our national sport, it has a long history of use in conflicts going back though the long history of our island nation. Some of the major episodes when Filipino martial arts were used was during the Spanish Colonial period (1573-1899), the American occupation (1899-1946), and Japanese occupation during WWII. Among these episodes, some notable events are as follows:

  • In the late 13th century, Srivijayan refuges from the island of Java in modern day Indonesia fled to the Visayan islands of the central Philippines. These refugees were displaced due to the expansion of their rival, the Madjapahit Empire (Eastern java). The Srivijayans brought their technology of forged metal blades to the Visaysas along with organized systems of combat
  • In 1521, The Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan met his death by the blade of Datu Lapu Lapu on the shore of Mactan Island.
  • During the American occupation, the U.S. military changed the duty issue pistol from the .38 to the .45 based on countless encounters with Moro warriors in which the .38 lacked the stopping power to prevent them Moros from closing the distance and dispatching the U.S. soldiers with their long blades.

Only recently have the Filipino Arts become more conspicuous around the world. More and more frequently, FMA is beginning to experience the popularity of other traditional Asian arts. Eskrima is different from other Asian martial arts in that the student is taught to fight with and against weapons first. This type of training improves manual dexterity in the practitioner and also builds fast reflexes and correct conditioned responses to a variety of attacks. Although it is weapons based, Eskrima uses punching, kicking, and grappling techniques.

The Applied Eskrima Saavedra System is part of the larger family of arts that developed in the Balintawak club in Cebu City during the 1950’s. The founder of the Balintawak club, Venancio Bacon sought to create better fighters than anywhere else in Cebu and focused his training and teaching on perfection of the single weapon fighting methods (stick, sword, and knife) in close quarters. By freeing the off hand, the Balintawak fighters were able to implement various strikes and trapping methods against opponents. In fact, the level of sophistication of the trapping and striking methods of our style lead to Guro Dan Inosanto comparing it to Wing Chun with a stick.

The history of Balintawak goes back even further to the Doce Pares and Labangon Fencing Club before it with the teachings of the Saavedra family. The Saavedras are arguably are among the most famous practitioners of the arts in the last 100 years. However, they are not as widely known outside of Cebu.

Lorenzo “Tatay Ensong” Saavedra was a Senior member of the Saavedra clan. He taught his nephew, Teodoro “Doring” Saavedra. He helped organize the Labangon Fencing Club in the 1920’s and was a member of the original Doce Pares Club, founded on January 11, 1932. Teodoro “Doring” Saavedra also taught, Momoy Canete, Eulogio Canete, Vincente Atillo, and Venancio Bacon. He was the vice-president of the original Doce-Pares club when it was founded on January 11, 1932. Teodoro Savadera was executed by the Japanese military police in Basak Elementary School during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during WWII. Before he was killed he broke free and managed to kill a few Japanese using his skill in Eskrima.

Vincente Atillo studied Eskrima/Arnis with Teodoro Saavedra and Venancio Bacon. Later, Vincente Atillo while training with the original Balintawak club in Cebu City began instructing his son Crispulo. Crispulo was also a frequent fixture at the club practices with Bacon and other members. Master Virgil Cavada was taught by both Vincente and Crispulo Atillo in their interpretation of the styles taught to them by Saavedra and Bacon. This is why our system is called Applied Eskrima Saavedra System of Balintawak, in order to pay proper respect to the original sources of our art as well as demonstrate our fundamental training principal which favors realistic application over theoretical methodologies.

With its rich history, combat effectiveness, and growing popularity around the word, one thing is clear, Eskrima is here to stay!

Mabuhay FMA!
Mabuhay Eskrima!