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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

Should FMA's Be "Branded" as "Filipino Stick Fighting"?

On Sundays, on the Stick Chick Blog's Facebook page, I usually post a funny martial arts meme image. Recently, I posted this one:

This image stars yours truly, by the way, but the idea is that it's me being... dismayed... at the idea that all I do in the FMA's is boiled down to the phrase "stick fighting".

However, when I posted it, my good friend Skip Todd took exception to my dismay, and argued that it'd be better for FMA's in general if it WERE generalized as "stick fighting". You can see the original post on Facebook HERE.

Skip is a very knowledgeable martial artist, a good guy, and a training partner and friend in real life, by the way, so I respect his opinion on the matter.

So invited Skip to participate in a blog post on this topic - should the FMA's (arnis/kali/escrima/eskrima) be popularly known as "stick fighting"? He's taking the pro side (in favor), and I'm taking the con (against).

Skip's our guest, so he gets to go first.

The question is: What should the collective Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) be called in order to popularize them more easily?

In 1989, I was looking through Martial Arts – Traditions, History, People [reprinted as The Original Martial Arts Encyclopedia (1993)] and noticed several that seemed to call to me. One of those was “arnis, the stick-fighting art of the Philippines.” This book lists the following as names for the art from various parts of the Philippines:




arnis di mano,


kaliradman – Visayans,

kalirongan – Pangasinese,

pagkalikali – Ibanags,

garote – Cebuanos,

baston – Penay and Negroes Occidental,

sinawali – Pampangenos,

estocada – Tagalog provinces,

estogue, and


Clearly, this art had something of an identity crisis. So what should it call itself? My suggestion is Filipino Stick Fighting.

When YOU think of Arnis-Escrima-Kali, what comes to your mind that is uniquely Filipino? While the various FMA are a complete fighting system with empty-hand techniques, punches, kicks, throws, ground work, knife, and machete (and even staff), the rattan sticks are what really set the FMA apart from the myriad other martial arts. India has its walking stick art that uses rattan, but they are much longer than our sticks. Likewise, the French sport of Canne de Combat uses long chestnut wood sticks and silly rules (need I say more than “right-of-way”?)

So when I tell people that I am going to my martial art class and they ask what I am studying, I usually say Filipino Stick Fighting. I then tell them that it has lots of different names in the Philippines, and that the particular variety that I study is called Modern Arnis. I say we study empty-hand techniques and knife fighting too.

If I lead with the Modern Arnis, the befuddled look they return also generates an opening for me to exploit, but Filipino Stick Fighting just sounds cooler and seems to peak their interest a bit more and leaves them less dazed than the unfamiliar Arnis (or Kali or Escrima).

Though I had the opportunity to study Aikido back in 1989, I wrote Filipino stick fighting down on my bucket list for someday (I’m still saving T’ai-Chi Ch’uan on the list for when I’m old). Twenty-four years later I finally achieved that bucket-list item.

Pros: (1) instant mental image of fighter with one or double sticks ready, (2) doesn’t conjure up images of gang hoodlums knife fighting or crazy guy rampaging with a machete, (3) doesn’t leave one with a blank screen wondering what an FMA practitioner looks like.

Thanks, Skip!

Here's my argument for the "con" side:

I sympathize with the frustration of having literally dozens of terms for what we generically call the Filipino Martial Arts. As a marketer by trade, I know that it's very bad branding and it's very difficult for the broader martial art style to penetrate the martial arts consciousness, much less be well known in the wider martial arts world.

We don't have a single, easy to remember, catchy term for what we do, and yep, that's annoying as all get-out, speaking as a student and as a instructor.

However, I would argue that "Filipino Stick Fighting" (or even just "Stick Fighting", even though, as Skip mentioned them, La Canne and Jogo do Pau and other styles from a variety of cultures are certainly stick fighting as well) is not the right overall term for the FMA "brand".

First, it is an overly simplistic description of what we do and train.

Stick fighting, for those variants of the FMA's that do it at all, may or may not be a large or very small part of what they teach. Many of our styles don't "stick fight" at all, because the stick is always a stand-in for the blade. It just implies we don't do other stuff, when we certainly do.

We already have a branding problem in this regard. I have had more than one experienced martial artist from other styles ask me why study Arnis because what happens if you don't have a stick in your hand? Every FMA player on this earth read that and nodded because they have had it happen to them, too.

Dumog (grappling) is not stick fighting. Panantukan or Pangamot or Suntukan or mano-mano (boxing or empty hand fighting) is not stick fighting. Using blades is not a stick fight. What I learn in stick fighting - which is really just one of our versions of sparring, depending on the rule set in use - is and can be applied to self defense, and that's the only reason I do it at all, personally.

Second, "Filipino Stick Fighting" removes all of the flavor of the culture - or rather, culture(s) - of the Philippines, and I don't think we want to do that.

I believe we need that cultural component - and that includes terms - as much as the JMA's need Japanese terms and culture for their styles, KMA's need Korean words and culture for their styles, CMA's need Chinese words and culture for their styles, and so on.

It is one of the (many) things that differentiate us from the others, and emphasizes the rich martial culture of the Philippines, which should be respected on the world stage.

I wish we could get leaders of the FMA's in the Philippines to get together and decide on a single term that they actually use in real life, from their native languages, and call it a day. It could be a brand-new term that all of us adopt if we can't get agreement on existing terms (and I suspect that'd never happen).

But it MUST be a Filipino word, and it needs to be flexible enough to contain the entirety of what we do, not just the (relatively minor, not universally practiced) stick fighting part.

Finally, I want to say we do have a generic term for the Filipino Martial Arts in use.

It's "Filipino Martial Arts".

Sure, more often than not, we have to describe what we do and that often includes the term "stick fighting", but I figure that just starts the conversation that's sort of required anyway. The FMA's are NOT as well-known right now and that education is just required as a side-effect of that fact.

It's on US - you, me, and every other person who trains any Filipino Martial Art style - to market ourselves, get out in the public space both online and offline, and to educate the martial arts world and the masses on our favorite hobby.

I rest my case.

I want to thank Skip Todd for taking the pro on today's topic. Well done, sir!

Do you agree with Skip that "Filipino Stick Fighting" is an acceptable overall generic term for the Filipino Martial Arts, or do you agree with me that it isn't? We'd love to know what YOU think!

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