When we speak of martial arts and other methods of close combat, what immediately comes to mind are familiar Eastern disciplines like judo, karate, jiu-jitsu and taekwondo. In the Philippines, the martial arts discipline of arnis is popular and is taught in schools. But there are two lesser known martial arts disciplines that are slowly but surely being discovered by Pinoy martial arts aficionados: Pekiti-Tirsia Kali and Yaw Yan.
Pekiti-Tirsia Kali is a style specific to Filipino martial arts founded in 1897 and is the system of the Tortal family. The sole heir and guardian of Pekiti-Tirsia Kali is Leo T. Gaje, Jr. Pekiti-Tirsia Kali is strictly a combat-oriented system, as opposed to the common sport-focused style of judo, karate and taekwondo. It is a fighting system that focuses more on edged, impact and improvised weapons. Pekiti-Tirsia Kali has been adopted as the preferred combative training program by elite military and law enforcement units in other countries around the world.
Origin and history
Pekiti-Tirsia Kali’s movements are based on the traditional blade art of the Philippines—Kali—which involves slicing swords in a circular motion, symbolic of the orbits of the moon and the planets. It also includes triangular movements symbolic of constellations in the night sky. During ancient times, Kali was taught in rituals that were then used pragmatically to survive against adversaries and wild animals.
The Visayan datus established a state in Kalibo, Aklan—this is sometimes cited as the origin of the name “Kali.” Another reason is that a practitioner of Kali is trained in carrying a knife, which is called “kalis.” Pekiti-Tirsia Kali was a family system that goes back at least four generations, starting with Norberto Tortal. Pekiti-Tirsia Kali was further developed and improved during the years 1930 to 1936 by Norberto’s grandson, Conrado Tortal. The system of Pekiti-Tirsia Kali is currently headed by Leo T. Gaje, Jr., the grandson of Conrado Tortal.
Gaje, Jr. introduced his system of Kali to North America after visiting the U.S. in 1972. His style earned recognition and respect from major martial arts organizations such as the Jewish Karate Federation, the United States Karate Federation and the United States Karate Association International. The system of Kali has been an influence on the Dog Bothers, Dan Inosanto and other Filipino martial arts practitioners. Gaje, Jr. has since brought the Kali system to various European countries as well.
Pekiti-Tirsia is the only Kali system recognized by the Philippine government and is being used to train Force-Recon Marine Battalions of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Special Action Force (SAF) contingent of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Mick Alcaraz, a senior instructor of Pikita-Tirsia Kali Pilipinas Tuhon, has been practicing Kali for almost 10 years, said “meron kaming culture bearer, yung aming head teacher na si Leo Gaje, Jr. Yung unang kaalaman ay ipinasa papunta sa amin sa pamamagitan din sa aming mga unang guro. Kasi at one point in time we were also students.”
“It is not all about fighting. Yung Kali can also be expressed to entertain people. Puwede mo ipakita ang kakaibang likas na galaw ng Kali, how we handle the swords and the knives without really hitting or hurting people with these implements,” said Alcaraz.
Jay Bataclan, a senior student of Pikita-Tirsia Kali Pilipinas Tuhon, said this type of discipline includes training on how to get close and how to quarter a person and paano mo kukulungin ng malapitan ang kalaban mo.
“Hindi mo siya kailangan labanan ng malayuan but rather if you are familiar and you are confident na labanan siya ng malapitan, mawawala ang takot mo sa kanya. Malalaman mo kung paano siya ikukulong, alam mo rin ang ibang weak points at paano mo ikakapitalize sa mga weak points at weaknesses ng kalaban mo. Pwede rin kalabanin ang kalaban mo sa pamamagitan ng tools or kung walang tools yung empty hands,” Bataclan explained.
All fighting ranges are integral parts of the Pekiti-Tirsia Kali system. But special attention is given to closing in to injure or to kill in close-quarter combat. Integral to this is a coiled close-quarter stance that allows evasion and generation of a powerful strike even in close range. Pikita-Tirsia Kali is all about quartering an opponent or “cutting up into little pieces,” emphasizing on destruction and counter offense while not getting hit.
The Pikita-Tirsia Kali methodology originates from offensive and counter offensive principles against attacks from all ranges, angles and threat levels. There is less emphasis on purely defensive techniques per se as this is not seen as an effective strategy.
“Kali is a physical movement and if you compare it with arnis, arnis is a stick-based sport. Kali first and foremost is a blade art that is instructive and sharpens the mind. Our training tools also include the yantok katulad ng ginagamit kapag naglalaro ng arnis,” said Bataclan.
“Every time we teach Kali we always tell our students that we should be proud of our culture and our art. Kali was a tool used by our ancestors and forefathers to protect the country from invaders. Kasi kulang tayo noon ng modern weaponry and we had to rely on what we had then to defend our country from foreign oppressors with any tool that was available.
“Kali is also the Filipino’s best gift to the world kasi it is a language so to speak that is expressed physically, an energy that is imbedded sa kanilang dugo at laman ay lumipat sa ilang henerasyon hanggang umabot ito sa atin. Kaya kung papaano ang kanilang paggalaw noong araw, ang oras ng pagdigma iyon pa in ang expression mo sa ngayon. So it will always be easy for us, particularly Filipinos, to learn the art of Kali dahil atin ito,” Alcaraz explained.
“So itong philosophy ng Kali ay talagang buhay at katutubong kayumanggi. Sa mga forefathers natin ipinapakita nila noon through the blade art of Kali kasi wala talagang warrior class during pre-hispanic times. Noong unang araw, ang practice ng Kali ay napakatradisyonal. Yung tatay ang nagtuturo sa anak, yung lolo nagtuturo sa apo. Noong unang araw wala tayo mga gym, wala tayo mga facilities kung saan puwede mag-enroll ang isang Pinoy na gustong maging student sa practice ng Kali,” said Bataclan.
“Pero ngayon napakaraming exposure ng Kali sa pelikula dahil sa larangan ng pelikula na-introduce ang Kali in so many ways and so many times. On an international platform, kilala na ang Kali and there is a sense of universality dito na maganda at kinatataba ng puso ko na ibinihagi ito sa amin na malaman naming na sariling atin ito. In the large scheme of things, we have been a part of the spark para sa buong mundo na malaman ng tao na mayroon ganitong philosophy,” said Alcaraz.