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Filipino martial arts absolutely work in street fights and real life self defense. Filipino martial arts contain practical and devastating techniques. Eye jabs, throat punches and knee strikes make up the bulk of the striking techniques. 

In particular, the knee and elbows thrown while in the trapping range are highly effective, largely because the majority of people will not know how to defend against them.  

Kali / Escrima / Wing Chun

In addition to having strong striking techniques, the Filipino martial arts also strike the vulnerable points of the human body are targeted. For example, soft, vital areas like the throat, eyes and the groin, are the first targets you will be taught to hit when you start learning Filipino martial arts.

What are the Filipino martial arts?

Filipino martial arts is a term that encompasses all of the different styles practiced in the Philippines and is commonly referred to as Escrima, Kali, Arnis. This style of hand to hand combat is most effective when dealing with a real life threatening situation. It is not as well suited for combat sports like mma.

When most people think about the Filipino martial arts, they might visualize two guys fighting with sticks. However, stick fighting is just a small portion of the techniques found in the style.

The various components of the Filipino martial arts


Sinawali translates to "weaving" You learn to weave your two sticks together.


Counter for counter flow drill

Single stick counters (lock and block)

Counter for counter flow drill

Knife attacks

How blades can be used in fighting

Knife vs. knife

Knife dueling

Knife disarms

Stripping the weapon from the attacker

Knife vs. knife

Knife dueling

Sweeps, and throws

The throws are not as big as Judo throws but are effective nonetheless.

Knife vs. knife

Wristlocks, Elbow Locks And Footlocks

Before we go on, I must address real fighting vs. combat sports

When someone asks me “What is the best martial art for self defense?" My answer is always "Track" In other words, the best strategy is always to get the heck out of dodge by running away.

I do what I can to avoid fights and will de-escalate every time if possible. That being said, if I had to resort to just one style of fighting in order to defend myself I would pick the Filipino martial arts because this style Is devastatingly effective  in close quarters fighting. 

Let’s not forget that your opponent only has to get lucky once. The longer the fight goes on the more likely it is you'll get hurt. There will be a referee around to stop them from stomping on your head while you are on the ground. Also, there's nothing preventing his  buddies from helping him. Finally, there is nobody to stop him from pulling a knife or even a gun.

You start with weapons training on your first day

Arnis, Escrima and Kali incorporate a number of weapons, including sticks, knives and swords. Unlike karate, the emphasis isn't just on punches and kicks, but also includes a variety of weapon-based techniques.

Most people don’t understand the process of why weapons training must come first before empty hands training.

I once had a parent come up to me and flat out say, “Stick fighting is impractical”. This is a common misunderstanding. I believe that it is 99.99% likely that you will never get into a fight where you and your opponents have sticks. However, the coordination gained from working with weapons directly translates into skills with empty hand self defense.

Once you have coordination and rhythm, it makes learning any other martial art immensely easier. You will be able to progress in other systems faster than the average person.

One of the most famous Filipino martial arts instructors, Dan Inosanto once had a student named Randy White. Randy played professional football for the Dallas Cowboys between 1976 and 1988. When he was inducted into the Hall of Fame he credited learning Filipino martial arts as giving him the agility and skills he used to become a top notch player.

Stick training is not meant as a simulation of what would happen in a real fight but rather a way of building coordination, rhythm and timing. It is also a tool to develop and familiarize yourself with lines of attack.

Building your coordination

Let me explain -

The way you apply the stick is almost identical to the way you apply the sword and knife. The way you apply the stick is also how you apply many of the empty hands techniques. In other words, the gross motor skill or movement stays consistent between ranges and weapons.

This translates to less time learning “techniques,'' and more time in drilling and refining. The emphasis shifts to making drills more realistic and practical.

Principles that apply to dealing with weapons make sense in unarmed self defense. For example, when defending against a knife, evasion of limb destructions become very important. Stepping offline, flanking  and changing angles are concepts that not only work against an armed attacker but also against an unarmed confrontation.

Every art has a personality

If the Filipino martial arts would have a voice it would say “I need to train in weapons because my opponent could be armed.” or perhaps “All weapon techniques are extensions of my empty hand techniques.”

Whereas Kung fu would say “The purpose of training is to have a sound mind and fit body, but in case I have to defend myself I have techniques and strategies I can use.”

Finally, you should keep in mind that the martial arts style matters less than you think. Instead, focus on finding a good teacher who understands the ins and outs of multiple styles. They will be able to give you both the pros and cons of the different strategies employed by the various arts.

Your skill will ultimately be determined by how knowledgeable your teacher is, the environment of the school you are attending and the effort and practice that you put into it.

Effective self defense

As you can see the Filipino martial arts is one of the most complete martial arts in that in encompasses the four major types of techniques (Striking, Locking, Throwing, and Kicking)

Like any martial art, the effectiveness of Escrima, Arnis and Kali  is largely dependent on the skill of the practitioner.

Think of it this way, who would be more likely to win a fight; someone who has been practicing MMA for 6 months or someone who has been practicing FMA for 12 years?!

In reality, it's not about how effective the art is, but rather how skills are drilled within each class. Any martial arts technique can be effective if drilled realistically.

If you really want to be able to functionalize your training to the point where you can handle any situation, having a good guide or instructor is by far more important than the style itself. It is of utmost importance to find a school where the culture or general attitude of the class is to explore what works in real fighting. A talented instructor would facilitate this culture.