Please, not ninjutsu again!


A new comment on the post #66 “Get it straight, people” is waiting for your approval
Author : Vivek Patel  (IP:
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I am curious, have you actually read Kacem’s book and his thesis?
And if you have, have you followed up on every reference given therein?


First off, let me say I’m pretty amazed that people still care what one man, who has not been part of a particular school for twenty years, thinks about its lineage. To answer your questions:
1. Of course.
2. Of course not.

The reason that I have not followed up on Kacem’s references is that, in those cases that are actually of interest, they are not legitimate references.  The historical components of his book were actually better put forth by Stephen Turnbull more than twenty years ago. When Kacem decides to deviate from history, he does so in a big way.

He begins this deviation by presenting the Togakure ryu scroll as a historical document. He uses the scroll’s style of the writing and its content to present it as dating to some author other than Takamatsu, specifically to some point in the Edo period (broad: 1603-1867). Radiocarbon dating would require 50 grams of material from that scroll to establish its date plus/minus forty years, effectively displacing any criticism – I would be happy to bear the costs of this testing myself if only to prove that the scroll was written by Takamatsu (though this can also prove disastrous – see my comment below **). In other words, if the scroll dates to 1750 plus or minus 40 years, it is clearly not Takamatsu’s work, but if it dates to the 20th century, it is. You see, Hatsumi told me so himself back in 1986 when he showed me the scroll: “Takamatsu Sensei writing” he said, in as clear English as he could. Yes, guys, most of us old timers have seen the source material, especially those of us who were cultivated as weapons to cement the foundation of the new business model. We did not have to wait for you enlightened scholars in the age of Youtube and Facebook to do the work for us. My assigned task back then as a Young Acolyte was to transfer Stephen Hayes’ business empire to Hatsumi by writing articles in magazines, and I did a pretty good job of it. In 1986, according to all the Japanese, Steve was Evil, probably pretty much the same way I am evil today.

So Kacem uses the style of writing to date the scroll as pre-Takamatsu, then goes on from there. He calls Takamatsu “a true ninja, descended from a ninja family in Iga, and heir of nine schools of ninjutsu, including Togakure ryu ninjutsu which has roots in the Kamakura period.” He provides not a single scrap of evidence to corroborate any of those statements. Please note that not ONE member of the supposed historical genealogy is substantiated – we are not talking about “one Toda” but generations of Todas who do not exist. In summary, the part of Kacem’s work that is supposedly original research, falls far from the standard of what could be considered original research under any type of legitimate peer review.

In fact, the most interesting part of the book is Kacem’s translation of a letter sent from Takamatsu to Hatsumi. In this letter, Takamatsu goes to great lengths to state that, even though Ikai came from China and taught Chinese arts, ninjutsu is the product of “evolutionary research” in Japan and not a Chinese art.  “Just as for the types of combat of the schools that emanate from Shorinji, they are technical points that seem to be taijutsu.” “They naturally developed the use of gunpowder and pharmacology as a ningu.”
Yeah right. Methinks Takamatsu is expressing his internal heart a bit more deeply in this letter than he would have cared to let on. I can’t, and don’t, know what happened to him in China. I know where he was employed, and it had nothing to do with Emperors or governments or the military or whatever. He was never a hero of the downtrodden. He was never the Emperor’s bodyguard. But somewhere along the line he picked up a very evident need to distance himself from the Chinese sources of whatever he came to be teaching.

In any case, Vivek, I’ve been very lucky as a historian (*), but I don’t see why it should matter to any of you what I think. I would be very happy if I was proven wrong at some date in the future, primarily because it would offer legitimacy to a method that I have spent a considerable portion of my life training in. But Pammachon only has as much to do with ninjutsu as, say, Takenouchi ryu jujutsu or Glima wrestling – they are all systems of combat that employ hip throws. I would not be overly concerned with what I think. And, as I have stated repeatedly, I would be very happy to be proven wrong.

Except that maybe what is bothering you is that you can’t prove me wrong. If that is the case, no worries – you are in the company of much larger, much more prestigious, much more legitimate and far more wealthy organizations. The U.S. Army for example.


(*) I got lucky twice:
The first time was when I pointed out that Mycenaean hand to hand combat was probably based on submission grappling. Oxford historian Bettany Hughes went on to locate anatomical evidence that gave a high probability to that thesis.
The second time was when I took a stance pointing out that Pammachon was clearly something distinct from Pankration.  In light of their internal troubles during that period, the Greek Pankration Federation employed the Central Archaeological Council to state that all records show Pammachon as a Palaeo-Christian, Roman era word that referred to Pankration.  Lo and behold, Sofie Remijsen translated her now famous papyrus and proved without a doubt that Pammachon was something clearly distinct from Pankration. Today most experts are siding with my opinion that Pammachon was a word very much like the German “fechten”.

(**) “Mein lieber Hermann!” Back in 1996, I “took a bath” when I stumbled onto some “collectors” who had located a “trove” of “Nazi art”, including works by Gaugain, Van Gogh, Cezanne, etc.  I’m still a fairly decent chemist, so I took a work by “Gaugain” and had it analyzed. It had “old paint” dating to the turn of the 20th century at the latest. Starry-eyed and full of visions of the tens of millions I would acquire I took the “Gaugain” to a prestigious art museum in Germany, where the technical analysts confirmed it was “old paint”. I then triumphantly (sounds of Carmina Burana) marched into the office of the curator, who was an expert on Gauguin, and lay the painting reverently on his desk. “Where did you get this?” he whispered as he peeled back the newspaper covering the work, and my chest puffed up as I stood on the ship of my inherent destiny, roaming the world to engage in the betterment of mankind (but on a luxury cruise ship). The my hopes shattered. “Oh no no,” he said, “no, this is a fake!” “What?” I roared, you incompetent, you buffoon, you sniveling crawling worm “how can it be a fake? The paint is old!” “Why yes,” he answered  mildly, “it’s an old forgery. They made thousands of them back then.”

So it is with Kacem, except he cannot see it because he is emotionally entrapped.


Some Thoughts for 2014


Over the past year, I’ve been thinking a lot about why we do what we do. For me, the reasons are obvious, and I’ve written about them repeatedly – I’m seeking a means to change current trends in society, and believe history holds the answers to questions that are bothering us some. But I also have come to see that many people today are training in the martial arts for entirely the wrong reasons, and would therefore like to take the opportunity offered by the New Year to raise the mirror of internal deliberation to us all. Because, as martial artists, we must first hold the clear light of introspection up to our own selves before beginning to evaluate the motives of others- failure to do so simply means that we are not, in the end, martial artists, no matter how much we portray ourselves as such.

A friend of mine recently gifted me with Hank Reinhardt’s books (which I had not read), and  – gosh darn boy howdy – I came to realize that – yea verily – as it turns out I am indeed a student of Hank.

Reinhardt was a prolific author of articles on swords and knives, and wrote a column on “swords in the movies” for Blade magazine. He produced videos on the sword. He played an integral role in the modern day HEMA iconic documentary Reclaiming the Blade, detailing his experiences in the Historical European Martial Arts. He had a book on the history of the sword in progress at the time of his death at 73, which was published after his death by Baen Books as “The Book of The Sword” – I will quote from this book shortly.

I knew Hank between 1984 and 1986. He was in his early fifties at the time, younger than I am today, but at the time was already a cantankerous old f@®τ who did not suffer young fools lightly, a disposition which apparently improved (or got worse, depending on how you look at it) over time. There were many things about Hank that I did not come to understand except after the decades passed and I had matured myself.

One of my senior students, Stamatis, offered the following observation a few weeks ago:

“I noticed,” he said, “that you care nothing about technique or training; you look at how a student stands and how he moves, what he emanates, and you know where he is in seconds.”

“Well, yes,” I responded, “and not only me. Every senior martial artist is like that. It doesn’t matter what a student knows or more accurately what he thinks he knows. What is important is what he is. We can see that immediately; there is no need for him to do anything but stand there. That is how we judge each others’ levels as well.”

“I’m beginning to understand that.”

“I know.” (Stamatis recently completed Level Four.)

“So how do you get that across to students? How can you get them to understand what is important?”

“You don’t. You can’t. They will never accept it, which is why some leave, and why many think they know better.”

“So what do you do?

“Train the ones who stay. They are the only ones who are capable of grasping what we are discussing anyway.”

When I was training in the Bujinkan in the 80s, there came a time when students discovered “the ryu-ha kata.”  Gosh darn boy howdy, you were no one if you did not know that special Gyokko ryu kamae, or how many variations of Yama Arashi kata the Kukishin ryu densho had, or if Takamatsu Sensei was suffering from a particularly bad hangover on the day he decided to put a specific technique down on paper. All completely irrelevant, of course, and commonly expounded upon in Japanese philology (One is reminded of the lesson of the samurai who was taught by a master while working as his servant and getting smacked on the head with a piece of wood in the middle of the night). But it didn’t matter to students – gosh darn boy howdy, if you didn’t know all the details of the ryu-ha kata left and right, you had no business being in the teacher’s chair, and if you did, well – gosh darn boy howdy – you surely deserved the stripes you were wearing.


I mention this piece of ancient history simply for the reason that many students of HEMA today have come to view the fechtbuch like students of the Bujinkan viewed the ryu-ha kata back in the 80s and 90s –  as a holy gospel to be spread amongst the masses. Each particular exponent, of course, has been visited by the Holy Spirit in turn, and as such, is the Only One whose particular brand of dogma represents the Truth regarding the fechtbuch. (Can you give me an Amen? Can you give me a Halleluiah? Praise the Lord!)

Here is Hank’s perspective:

(From Hank Reinhardt (2009-08-11T04:40:21.645000+00:00). Hank Reinhardt’s Book of the Sword (Kindle Locations 3315-3329). Baen. Kindle Edition, )

“In the past several years these many European “fechtbuchs” have been translated and have been made available to those interested. I have read only a few of them and plan on reading more. However, I have a healthy skepticism regarding most of these books…

Let me explain my hesitancy in embracing these manuals with wholehearted enthusiasm. First, these books were written several hundred years ago. Language and convention have changed considerably since that time. It is quite possible that comments were not made in the books simply because everyone at that time knew what the author was talking about. It could also be that some things were left out deliberately so as to gain students where these things were explained by personal instruction. Above all, these manuals are not clear in their depiction of movements from one position to another and thus many of the movements are not fully explained.

However, many people today will look at one of these manuals and proceed to state that this is the way swords were used at the time of the writing. This is equivalent to reading a modern martial arts manual and drawing the conclusion that this is the way street fights are conducted, from someone who has never been in a street fight. Watching many of these drills and exhibitions taken from the manuals, I will admit that they look pretty good, but a close examination will show that these are well choreographed, and bear as much resemblance to actual combat as do fights in the movies.”

What he said. (Back in the 80s we only had 3 fechtbuchs that Hank had photocopied from museums in Europe: Silver, a version of Talhoffer, and a Dutch manual that showed wrestling techniques and joint-locks (don’t make me look it up)). But any book that shows a man half-buried in a pit fighting a woman, or people bashing each other with weird shields in order to establish which man God has decided is in the right, has to be examined with the proper degree of anthropological skepticism.  Fighting a woman while half-buried in a pit to establish whether or not she has had pre-marital or extra-marital sexual relations, for example, really has nothing to do with the battlefield – and yet such depictions are included in a manual purportedly dealing with life-and-death combat.

I am distrustful of such accounts precisely because of what happened with the popular perception of the samurai. I have often written of the Hagakure, compiled by Tsuramoto Tashiro from his conversations with the samurai Yamamoto Tsunetomo between 1709 and 1716. The problem with this book is that the samurai class had already been defunct for almost a century at the time of these interviews, and Tsunetomo himself had never seen combat – he was presenting his view of history the way that he wanted it to be.  The Hagakure forms the core of the established version of the samurai in both Japan and abroad – but Professor Thomas Conlan recently debunked much of the philosophy presented in the volume as inconsistent with historical reality.

And yet, in the 1920s and 1930s, the Hagakure was held up as a philosophical beacon in Japan by a fascist dictatorship that resulted in the death of millions and atrocities beyond recall. The military in Japan established almost complete control over the government in the early 20th century. Many political enemies were assassinated, and communists persecuted. In 1933, Japan withdrew from the League of Nations because she was heavily criticized for her actions in China. Indoctrination and censorship in education and media were complete. Navy and army officers occupied most of the important offices, including the one of the prime minister. The Hagakure, presented as duty to the Emperor in itscontext, played a critical role – a role such that simple working men and women, farmers and tailors, would view themselves as loyal samurai, self-immolating in service to the Divine Emperor.

The lesson is that, as Westerners, it is our obligation to constantly shine the cold light of reality first and foremost on ourselves. Hank was waaaay ahead of the curve. It is a pity I was too young to realize this at the time.

Hank goes on in his Book of the Sword to establish what is truly important and useful in historical close-quarter combat. And ironically, despite what I’ve stated previously regarding the Hagakure, much of what is useful in armed combat today was indeed recorded in Japan during the 17th century:

“The Japanese manuals that I have read (always in translation) rarely, if ever, deal with any of the physical aspects of swordplay. Instead they deal with the mental side. They stress the development of the mind and the spirit, and to the Westerner, this is rather confusing, as it is stated in terms of Zen and many of the other spiritual concepts. It is sometimes stated that these concepts cannot be properly explained in writing, but require a teacher. Now, a cynical person might say that this was done in order to encourage individuals to enlist in the school that the writer favored or even taught. I have no doubt that this was true in some cases, but I also feel that many merely wished to share knowledge. It is also true that some things have to be demonstrated and even explained in person. Therefore, it is up to the individual to draw his own conclusions on the works that he might encounter whether they be Western or Eastern. There is no question that the most difficult manuals to understand are those written in the Far East. There is the real poetic terminology which, when coupled with Zen Buddhism, can present quite a challenge for the Westerner. Terms such as: Moon in the Water, Beating the Grass to Scare the Snake, The Empty Mind or The Stillness of the Placid Pond. These are lovely phrases, and once you understand what is meant, why, they all make sense. But it can require a great deal of effort to learn what is meant, while in the West information is imparted in a much plainer fashion.”

(Hank Reinhardt (2009-08-11T04:40:21.645000+00:00). Hank Reinhardt’s Book of the Sword (Kindle Locations 3334-3345). Baen. Kindle Edition.)

Stance. Movement. Mind. Philosophy. Martial arts all come down to these Four Cornerstones. There is nothing beyond them.

In Pammachon we progress along four levels. I first became aware of these levels in the 80s while studying Buddhism and meditation, martial arts, combat sports, and literature.  They have been referred to in both Eastern and Greek philosophical texts, and I will not dwell on them overlong in this post.

The first stage is simply physical. In this stage, the fechtbuch indeed play a role, because you are learning how to stand, how to move, how to engage an opponent tactically, how to protect yourself. But there is no real threat level involved – it is all theory. Hence, the only part of your nervous system that you use, is your neocortex, the conscious part of your brain, the “Angel” in our terminology.

The second stage is emotional. You engage your limbic system and learn how to control yourself and others when influenced by your amygdalae and hypothalamus. You come to terms with your emotions and they no longer run the show during combat or altercation. This is the “Monkey.” (For neuroanatomical purists, forget about McLean’s model for a second and work with me:  consider the fear circuit and the pleasure circuit as specific neuronal circuits that form what might best be called our “emotional neural network.”)

The third stage reflects the purity of Mind. You engage your basal ganglia and react to an exterior threat with stillness of mind and purpose, without pause and without the burden of suppressed emotion. This is the “Dinosaur.”

The fourth stage reflects our entire being; this is the Mollusk. Neurologically you learn to control and employ your enteric and autonomic nervous systems. Like a mollusk, you are flooded by the sea of Being around you, the smells and tastes of your surroundings washing in and out of you and imparting information, data with cause and effect.

These are the foundation of martial arts. Nothing else matters.

This is what Reinhardt was trying to say. This is what I have been saying all along.

I know it is difficult. To accept the above, you must, as Hank says, accept that there are teachers out there who “merely wish to share knowledge.” You cannot judge them, and they can defeat you without working up a sweat. You know this, whether deep down inside or right up front, and it gets your gall, because in the Epoch of Information that is the Internet, you may have even been so bold as to state “well – gosh darn boy howdy – I have the same books in my library as he (or she) does, who do they think they are?” But it doesn’t work that way. You can look at Picasso and Gauguin and say “wow – genius” if you are at a level aesthetically to comprehend their work, or you can say “dude, yuck yuck yuck look at that yuck he scribbles like a kid yuck yuck” or “titties uhuh yuck yuck.” Your opinion will not have altered Picasso or Gauguin’s portfolio one iota – what will have transpired is that you will no longer be in a position to enjoy their inspiration. Your choice. Your decision, and it is a binary one.

How can you tell if a teacher is legitimate? He will have discussed the things I am referring to in this post repeatedly, long before you read them here. He will not be predatory – where there is smoke, there is fire.  If a teacher is charging inordinate amounts for “certification,” or is (routinely) sleeping with teenagers, or even is inordinately “glamorous” and vain (for reasons I will not get into here), then run. If the show is all about the teacher, then run. If the teacher does not question himself constantly, run. If the teacher does not hold his own teachers and his own self up to moral standards, run. If the teacher justifies his own failings or the failings of his own specific interests for whatever reason, run. Demand perfection, though you will never achieve it. The universe is binary, you see: you cannot be a little bit pregnant, and you cannot make a baby in one month by making nine women pregnant. Things either are, or are not.

And trust me on this: neither the specific application of Yama Arashi, nor whether the foot is placed left or right as described in one of Liechtenauer’s verses has anything whatsoever to do with it. Liechtenauer himself knew this.

Happy New Year.


Shadowboxing Movement Number One (or, how to link primordial ritual dance to martial arts)


In the course of teaching Pammachon, I occasionally provide glimpses of the sources I used to reconstruct the art. I will never reveal them in their entirety nor even partially – my reasoning is simple: whatever products result from my creativity are, per the Berne convention, my intellectual property and may not be used by others without my expressed permission. Whatever lies within the archaeological record belongs to humanity and is, as such, common domain, and may be used by everyone. I don’t want “smart” people to capitalize on my efforts.

That having been said, every so often I enjoy being petty and rubbing other people’s faces in it. This is one of those times, driven by something entirely unrelated to this post.

When originally presented to the public, detractors squealed that the first movement in Pammachon (of eight movements) was based on Chen tai chi chuan’s Parting the Wild Horse’s Mane (Ye Ma Fen Zhong), which I had learned from Chen Xiaowang, and evilly re-interpreted from Bujinkan ninjutsu’s sanshin no kata, or maybe I had seen it in a video sent to me by David Eisenberg featuring Master Shi Ming, or somewhere else, but in any case the movement was “oriental, dude, just like your made-up martial art” (insert frothing at the mouth, tween gossip, and increased levels of testosterone here).

Then I intentionally misled (sort of) a bunch of people (mostly for fun) with Fiore Dei Liberi’s posta longa. Actually the reason I chose that particular depiction was that it proved the historical continuity of the movement in medieval Europe, right on schedule.

Recently a senior student of mine stumbled onto a depiction reflecting an original source of pammachon’s first movement. He found this one, and what it shows is ancient Greek sacred dance, used in rituals.  Interestingly enough, it depicts sea nymphs, an important distinction for reasons I will not get into.

In fact the movement derives from this depiction, and shows Metis, primal goddess of the Greeks, wife of Zeus and mother of Athena, using this movement in her dance. Metis is the daughter of two deities of the sea, and represents intuition, a hunter’s guile (allowing prey to fall into traps); she is a primal goddess from primal times. This is the only known depiction of Metis that survives. And, since Metis correlates to level four (the Enteric Nervous System) in Pammachon, it is good that the student begin work towards achieving this state from the very beginning, which is why it is the first thing he or she is taught.

But that movement exists all over the world, you cry. Precisely, that is the whole point. Every step in Pammachon, every movement, every technique, every principle, though founded in  Greek culture, exists in martial arts and spiritual disciplines all over the world. It is truly pan-machon , all combat. Remember, to prove veracity, what is needed are reproducible results. Our premise is that, if something exists in different geographic regions around the world throughout 4000 years of recorded human history, and is used by unrelated cultures again and again, it has been proven through repeated use and “survivability”, i.e. there is something to it. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, and why would we want to anyway? It took me twenty years to do the work back in the day (no databases on the internet), and I have been offered a PhD for its publication – parts of it went into my book “The Martial Arts of Ancient Greece.”  But the entire thesis will never be made public – I put its material into Pammachon.

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Another kali rant


I’ve been thinking of the Philippines this weekend for obvious reasons – my heart goes out to those suffering, weather patterns created by humanity’s greed and ignorance. But my thinking of the Philippines brings me back to kali whether I want to or not; and so here we are with another kali rant that actually has a point, and is a continuation of my previous post. Much of it is a translation of an earlier article of mine in Greek.

To be honest, this rant came up because my wife was right. We bought a new TV, so we moved the old one to another place in the house and hooked it up to a satellite receiver. My wife wanted the TV to go into a specific nook in the kitchen. I measured everything very carefully, and said no, it wouldn’t fit. She insisted. I complained. She insisted. I whined. She insisted. I GROWLED. She insisted. I capitulated and put the TV into the nook.

The damn thing fit perfectly. I was wrong. See, no matter how much something looks good in the lab, you never know if it really works until it works in the field.


Proponents of Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) typically base the superiority of their art on the amazing victory of chief Lapu – Lapu against the Spanish conquistador Ferdinand Magellan. This has always driven me crazy. The Philippine government has even erected a statue in his honour on Mactan Island that fans of Filipino kali never fail to visit (they have also renamed the town of Opon in Cebu to Lapu-Lapu City). I would like to provide a description of this battle, based on the autobiography of naval officer Antonio Pigafetta, who was present, so that the reader can see for himself that things were not the way they are presented at all.

Magellan left Spain on 20 September 1520 with five ships. Before passing through the eponymous straits, he previously had to deal with a mutiny that began under Commander Juan Sebastian del Cano (who was convinced that Magellan was leading them to certain death), sparing the rebels’ lives in the process. In March 1521 Magellan arrived in the Philippines, and the following travesty was enacted.

Magellan was a fanatical Catholic and was convinced that God had chosen him to bring His True Message to all mankind. On the island of Cebu, Magellan was able to convince Rajah Humabon (note the title, which tells us his true culture) that the Catholic Faith was the One and Only. Humabon was christened Carlos in honor of Charles I of Spain, while his chief consort Hara Humamay was given the name Juana, after Charles’ mother, Joanna of Castile. Humabon also made a blood compact with Magellan, as a sign of friendship; according to Pigafetta, Humabon requested that Magellan kill his rival Lapu Lapu, the Datu (chieftain) of nearby Mactan Island. Magellan accepted the task with pleasure (being such a good Christian).

Now, Magellan’s most experienced Marine officers had no desire to traipse off into the jungle on an island where there were thousands of natives armed with bows, bamboo spears, and iron swords. The Marines expressed their objections, unwilling to engage the rival chieftain on his home turf – their expedition had been chartered to purchase spices after all, and not to fight bloody battles so that the natives could be baptized as quasi-Christians. After the Marines refused combat, Magellan recruited all the untrained deckhands, cooks, and carpenters he could finagle, confirmed to them that God’s hand was upon them, and readied them for battle.

On April 27, 1521, Magellan’s motley crew disembarked on the island, where circa 1500 natives were waiting for them on the beach. The total number of Spanish “troops” were 49 men, of which 11 decided to stay behind to guard the boats when they understood the odds. The original plan was for the armada to bomb the shores (a good plan), allowing the armored Spaniards to sift through the wreckage and kill the wounded. But the ships could not approach the coast because of coral reefs, so the natives were out of range and the bombardment didn’t take place. However, with faith in his destiny, Magellan surged forward with his deckhands, convinced that God’s blessing would protect them.

It’s worth reading the translation of Pigafetta’s original account:

“When morning came, forty-nine of us leaped into the water up to our thighs, and walked through water for more than two cross-bow flights before we could reach the shore. The boats could not approach nearer because of certain rocks in the water. The other eleven men remained behind to guard the boats. When we reached land, the islanders had formed in three divisions to the number of more than one thousand five hundred men. When they saw us, they charged down upon us with exceeding loud cries, two divisions on our flanks and the other on our front.

When the captain saw that, he formed us into two divisions, and thus did we began to fight. The musketeers and crossbow-men shot from a distance for about a half-hour, but uselessly; for the shots only passed through the shields which were made of thin wood and the arms [of the bearers]. The captain cried to them, “Cease firing cease firing!” but his order was not at all heeded. When the natives saw that we were shooting our muskets to no purpose, crying out they determined to stand firm, but they redoubled their shouts. When our muskets were discharged, the natives would never stand still, but leaped hither and thither, covering themselves with their shields. They shot so many arrows at us and hurled so many bamboo spears (some of them tipped with iron) at the captain-general, besides pointed sticks hardened with fire, stones, and mud, that we could scarcely defend ourselves.

Seeing that, the captain-general sent some men to burn their houses in order to terrify them. When they saw their houses burning, they were roused to greater fury. Two of our men were killed near the houses, while we burned twenty or thirty houses. So many of them charged down upon us that they shot the captain through the right leg with a poisoned arrow. On that account, he ordered us to retire slowly, but the men took to fight, except six or eight of us who remained with the captain.

The natives shot only at our legs, for the latter were bare; and so many were the spears and stones that they hurled at us, that we could offer no resistance. The mortars in the boats could not aid us as they were too far away.

So we continued to retire for more than a good crossbow flight from the shore always fighting up to our knees in the water. The natives continued to pursue us, and picking up the same spear four or six times, hurled it at us again and again. Recognizing the captain, so many turned upon him that they knocked his helmet off his head twice, but he always stood firmly like a good knight, together with some others.

Thus did we fight for more than one hour, refusing to retire farther. An Indian hurled a bamboo spear into the captain’s face, but the latter immediately killed him with his lance, which he left in the Indian’s body. Then, trying to lay hand on sword, he could draw it out but halfway, because he had been wounded in the arm with a bamboo spear. When the natives saw that, they all hurled themselves upon him. One of them wounded him on the left leg with a large cutlass, which resembles a scimitar, only being larger. That caused the captain to fall face downward, when immediately they rushed upon him with iron and bamboo spears and with their cutlasses, until they killed our mirror, our light, our comfort, and our true guide. When they wounded him, he turned back many times to see whether we were all in the boats. Thereupon, beholding him dead, we, wounded, retreated, as best we could, to the boats, which were already pulling off.”

Magellan actually fought with worse odds than Thermopylae, and was able to hold his opponents off for an hour of hand to hand combat with untrained personnel at this back. Delightful. There are 19th century engravings of the scene, drawn at a time when people were still encountering natives who were outside what we term as modern civilization:

It is obvious that anyone who uses the case outlined above to demonstrate the superiority of FMA is intellectually challenged. The irony of the situation is that, following Magellan’s death, Humabon and his warriors plotted to poison the remaining Spanish soldiers in Cebu during a feast. Several men were in fact killed, including the then-leaders of the expedition, Duarte Barbosa and Joao Serrao. Leadership of the expedition fell to the rebel Juan Sebastian del Cano, who returned to Madrid with a ship full of spices and became rich. Indeed, for 200 years, historians believed that del Cano was the one who had made the first circumnavigation of the globe, until Pigafetta’s hidden diary was unearthed.

One could question whether there were any indigenous Filipino martial arts in the first place; when I first read Pigafetta’s account, I discounted modern interpretations because of the obvious references to shields and spears. But there is that intriguing mention of iron cutlasses. Rajah Humabon’s title suggests a Majapahit influence. On the other hand, the word kali is Malaysian. The word escrima is Spanish. Arnis also comes from the Spanish arnes. So? Can a martial art exist without having a local name?

Apparently yes, it can, if it is so ingrained in local tradition it does not need a name. I’ll explain as we go on.

I did look for kali, and even my detractors at this point have been forced to admit I’m a bit above the cut as a martial arts historian. I mean, I liked kali back in the day when I had a Filipino girlfriend – I even have an original Jody Samson butterfly knife. So I reckoned that if kali existed, it would be evident in 19th century records in duels. I mean, Greece has thousands of 19th century knife duels on file as court cases because, well, people died or got hurt, and so other people went to court, and the government said, bad boy, which meant that somewhere somehow a clerk filed a record. So we know that knife fighting and dueling was pervasive in 19th century Greece, just like it was in the States (all those records of Bowie duels, right?). Come to think of it, just like dueling was all over Europe. AH, but the Filipinos were Asians, you say, and did not keep records. Sorry guys. The Spanish were in the business of being in business – and so kept records on everything. Just like the Turks did in Greece. Just like any colonial power did everywhere.

So. No 19th century Filipino knife duels. And yet, their reputation pervades the islands. I mean, bolo duels were supposedly prominent in the North and Central Philippines, common to Spanish-influenced areas, farmlands, and places where machete-like bolo knives are commonly used. But darn, a duel occurred on 14 April 1920 which was reported internationally by Prescott Journal Miner as “The First Bolo Duel in Manila since the American Occupation” (the US occupied the Philippines in 1898). The duel happened when Angel Umali and Tranquilino Paglinawan met with friends in a vacant lot near the city centre before dusk to settle a feud; Paglinawan lost his left hand. With no law against bolo fights, Umali was charged for a petty crime. Now this is important – if knife fighting had been so pervasive, there would have been laws against it, just like there were all over Europe. No, the Spanish didn’t care, you cry! Sure they did. Lost workers meant lost income. They cared. No laws against knife dueling simply meant there was not enough knife dueling to matter to the bosses. Sorry guys, common sense must overrule desire, even if desire is more fun.

Bolo fights have become part of Filipino rural culture, however. On 7 January 2012, two middle-aged farmers were wounded after a bolo duel over the harvest of rice in a village in Zamboanga City. Geronimo Alvarez and Jesus Guerrero, were drinking, and at the height of their arguing, Alvarez allegedly pulled out his bolo and hacked Guerrero. Guerrero also pulled his bolo and repeatedly hacked Alvarez, and their relatives immediately intervened and rushed them to hospital. So we have a record of it, you see? Just like we have a record of most of the duels fought with bowies in the US. Dueling is all about making a name for yourself, young ones – people WANT a record to be kept. Who be da baddest MMA fighter, homes? Dat’s right.

Sadly, we must ponder reality, because lack of same has gotten many a young man killed. So let’s look at “kali”. Does it exist? Yep, right in front of our eyes. Dan Inosanto actually pointed it out years ago.

Southeast Asia is filled with dances of Indian origin and influence, the legacy of their empire in the region in ages passed. The keris derives from them. The dances derive from them. The music derives from them. Hell, there is even a Greek influence in some regions – in Java, the word for city-state is “kraton” (it’s kratos in Greek, hence pankration), while Pegasus and Medusa have been the symbols of kings.

Inosanto pointed out repeatedly that martial movements are retained in traditional Filiipino dances. He’s 100% right. Are they Filipino? Is MMA American? If you ask a Brazilian, he will say we created it with BJJ and vale tudo. But it grew and prospered in the US. I have talked about “trade-ition” before, and it is time people understood it.

The Philippines have been trading with India as far back as the 10th century, while in the 13th century actual kingdoms based on Indian culture were founded. With this trade came influence in language, music, dance, and writing (Baybayin is based on Sanskrit; a quarter of Tagalog is of Sanskrit origin). Some common words such as guro/guru (teacher), mukha (face), likhain (to write), and putong (turban) are Indian. Could weapons use have been left out?

So, kali has been in the Philippines since the 13th century – BUT NOT THE WAY IT HAS BEEN PORTRAYED TO THE PUBLIC. It was present as traditional Indian dances and movements. It was present as the effect of Indian martial arts and weapons on the local populace. It was present in many other forms. But “kali” the martial art DID NOT EXIST until the 20th century, when it was formed for political reasons, just like taekwondo. There is no history of knife dueling in the Philippines evident before the 20th century. What does this mean? It means that what is taught within kali’s syllabus must be placed under careful scrutiny and not taken for granted; look at US Army Combatives. Everything seemed like a good idea at the time – until it was tried in the field. Ten years later, the US Army was forced to announce it would be “revising” its syllabus.

You can accept my viewpoint or reject it; my obligation is to put it in print, so that lives can be saved whenever possible. I mean, there are still people out there looking for Shinryuken Masamitsu Toda, so I don’t expect many people to listen at this time. But the words will remain as part of the record, and who knows? Maybe 200 years from now someone will find these diaries, and like Pigafetta’s, say, hey look at this! Way cool!  But for now, please remember that, don’t make comments on whether a TV screen will fit into a specific nook until you’ve tried it – you’re wife may turn out to be right….

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