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The deadly Art of Kali Knife fighting

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We can't think of many martial arts techniques as exciting and lethal as Kali knife fighting. This traditional Filipino martial art has been passed down through the ages, honing the fighting and self-defense skills of warriors who have used it. If you train and know how to do this art well, you can show grace and power in both the smooth moves and the complicated techniques. But take heed—Kali knife fighting is not a practice for the feeble-minded. The history, philosophy, and methods will be examined in greater detail in this blog post as we examine what makes this art form so distinctive and alluring.


Kali knife fighting in Filipino history


Because bladed weapons have been such an important part of Filipino history, the term "blade culture" is often used to describe Filipino culture. Filipino history has always had bladed weapons, from the native warriors who invented kali to the Spanish conquistadors who brought swords and daggers to the American colonial forces who brought modern military technology. 

The first European settlements were established in Cebu in 1565 by Spanish explorer Miguel Lopez de Legazpi

During the Spanish colonization of the Philippines in the 16th century, the practice of kali was banned by the Spanish rulers, who feared its potential use against them. However, the Filipino warriors continued to practice Kali in secret, adapting their techniques to include everyday objects such as knives, sticks, and even umbrellas.

During World War II, the Filipino people once again had to defend their land, and the practice of Kali was a big part of why they were able to do so. Filipino soldiers used what they knew about Kali to fight as guerrillas. They would sneak into enemy camps and use quick and deadly attacks to disable Japanese soldiers.

After the war, the art of kali began to spread beyond the Philippines, with masters of the practice traveling the world to teach others. Today, kali knife fighting is done in many different ways all over the world. People use the techniques for self-defense, to get in shape, and even as a sport. 

The history of knife fighting in the Philippines shows how strong and resourceful the people there are. Through centuries of colonization and warfare, the practice of Kali and knife fighting remained a vital part of their culture, helping them to defend their land and preserve their way of life. 

The emphasis on blades in Filipino culture can also be seen in the art and literature of the region. Filipino folklore is full of stories about legendary warriors and heroes who used magical swords, daggers, and knife fighting to defeat their enemies and protect their people. Overall, the term "blade culture" shows how important bladed weapons have been to the history and culture of the Philippines.


Why is Kali knife fighting so effective?

In FMA knife fighting styles like escrima, kali, arnis, and others, it is emphasized that getting cut is part of the game. Whoever says they can fight with knives without getting cut is just not being honest. Ask to see his scars if a teacher ever claims to have been involved in numerous knife fights, because if he doesn't have any, he didn't actually participate in the fights.

The techniques and movements are designed to be simple, direct, and effective, making them easy to learn and apply in real-life situations. This means that even a relatively inexperienced practitioner of Kali can quickly become proficient in the art of knife fighting.

Secondly, Kali knife fighting places a heavy emphasis on footwork and positioning. This means that practitioners are trained to move in a way that puts them in the best possible position to attack or defend while also avoiding their opponent's strikes. This can be particularly useful in close-quarters combat situations, where footwork and positioning can mean the difference between life and death. In Kali knife fighting, you will predominantly use open triangle footwork.

Thirdly, Kali knife fighting incorporates a wide variety of techniques and strategies. Practitioners of Kali are trained to use not just their knives but also their empty hands, as well as other bladed and non-bladed weapons. This versatility means that Kali practitioners are equipped to deal with a wide range of combat scenarios, from unarmed attacks to armed assaults.

Finally, Kali knife fighting places a strong emphasis on the development of situational awareness and the ability to read an opponent's movements and intentions. This means that practitioners are trained to be constantly aware of their surroundings and to quickly assess any potential threats, allowing them to respond quickly and effectively to any attack.


Different blades are used in FMA knife fighting

Kali knife fighting is a highly versatile martial art that can be practiced with a wide variety of knives and bladed weapons. The type of knife used in kali can vary depending on the style and practitioner, but there are a few common bladed weapons that are often used.


Commonly referred to as "iták" in Filipino or Tagalog or in other regions and dialects, it may have different names, such as "bolo" in some areas. The machete is a commonly used blade weapon. It also has significant cultural importance in the Philippines and is commonly used as a tool for various tasks such as clearing vegetation, harvesting crops, and chopping firewood. As such, it has become a symbol of Filipino identity and is deeply ingrained in the country's history and culture. Its long blade allows for powerful strikes, while its weight and heft make it ideal for chopping and hacking motions.

Balisong aka butterfly knife

The Balisong aka butterfly knife

The most commonly used knife in kali is the balisong, also known as the butterfly knife. This knife features a distinctive folding design that allows the blade to be concealed when not in use. The balisong is favored by many Kali practitioners due to its quick deployment and ease of use.


Another commonly used knife in Kali is the karambit, a curved blade that is designed to resemble a tiger's claw. The karambit is typically used in close-quarters combat, where its curved blade can be used to hook and tear at an opponent's flesh.

Watch our video demonstrating a few Karambit techniques to see the use and applications of this blade:

You can learn Karambit Striking Patterns in our online course: online Solo Silat at Home course.


The barong's distinctive leaf-shaped blade allows for a wide variety of techniques, including thrusting, chopping, and slashing. Its unique shape also makes it an effective weapon for disarming an opponent's knife. The barong's size and shape can also be intimidating to opponents, which can help to give the practitioner an advantage in combat situations.

The tantō was designed primarily as a stabbingweapon, but the edge can be used for slashing as well

Other knives used in kali include the Japanese-style tanto, which has a straight blade and the kerambit, which is a smaller version of the karambit and is often used as a hidden weapon. 

In addition to knives, Kali practitioners may also use other bladed weapons such as swords and even umbrellas or pens. The versatility of kali means that practitioners can adapt their techniques to a wide range of bladed weapons.

Our thoughts and conclusion on the topic of Kali knife fighting

Knife drills and sparring in a safe training environment are fun and are a vital part of your martial arts training.

  1. Knife sparring requires a high level of physical fitness because it involves quick movements, balance, and agility. Consistent training can improve overall fitness levels and endurance.
  2. Improved reflexes and coordination: Knife sparring requires quick reactions and precise movements, which can help improve reflexes and hand-eye coordination.
  3. Focus and concentration improve: Knife sparring requires a lot of focus and concentration, which can be good for martial artists who want to get fight smart and more disciplined.

It's important to note that while knife sparring can offer the above benefits, even in the gym it is also a dangerous activity that should only be done with proper training, equipment, and safety precautions.


You won't win a real life knife fight; you can only survive it.


Our best advice for any real life knife thread situation is to try to escape it. Don't engage unless it's impossible to run away from the situation or if beloved ones are being threatened.

To learn Kali knife fighting with your friends and students in your martial arts gym, I have created an Online Course "Kali Knife Drills"

This course was seen by over 500 students already. This course I am giving you completely FREE OF CHARGE. You can access it forever and I will never ask something in return.

--> Click here to get your free access to "Kali Knife Drills"

Fernando B.T. told me after he finished this course:

I have had no previous experience with knifes but I can tell by the overall experience that core combat is the real deal, very professional, friendly and eager to help out, clear and easy to follow instructions and the atmosphere of honor and respect that you would expect from a true martial arts academy. A++

More Ressources for Kali Practitioners

Kali Medio Mano Contradas of Kali - click the link for an extensive article

Panantukan Open Triangle Footwork - click the link for an extensive article

The 3 essential Strikes of Kali - click the link for an extensive article

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Which is why we offer a series of effective and easy-to-follow online courses, to give you the opportunity to study in the comfort of your home or anywhere you choose, at your own time and pace, with no training partner or special equipment necessary!

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Sakan Lam
Head Instructor

Sakan Lam is a certified instructor in Jeet Kune Do and the Filipino Martial Arts, with over 15 years of martial arts experience.

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