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KBS System of Filipino Martial Arts

History of Eskrima in Cebu, Post-1900 *

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Before the 20th century, not much is known about specific styles of stickfighting. There were some famous fighters, and some of their exploits are legendary, but in the main, most eskrimadors were not known outside their own villages.
Eskrimadors took a big part in the revolt against the Spanish in 1896. Even those who did not fight were influenced by the Art. The greatest Filipino martyr, Dr. Jose P. Rizal, was said to have studied eskrima in his youth before he left for Europe. The first weapon used by revolt leaders like Andres Bonifacio was the itak (sundang in Cebuano), or bolo. Revolutionary generals like Gregorio del Pillar and Antonio Luna were known practitioners of the Art. An important aspect of many eskrimadors which made them men other men wanted to follow was the anting-anting. These were various charms and amulets which were said to protect the practitioner from harm. There are many stories of great deeds done by these men, which would have killed ordinary men. The stories of the anting-anting could fill an entire book by themselves.
After freedom from the Spanish was achieved in 1898, the Filipinos had the misfortune to be taken over by the US, who they thought had only been helping them in their struggle for independence. When the fighting ended, people got on with their lives, and the eskrimadors began to look at things more than just as something passed down from father to son. In Cebu, they formed the Labangon Fencing Association on August 14, 1910. The members of the group all practiced their individual styles of eskrima, but they recognized that they could benefit from coming together.
The style of eskrima most commonly used at that time was a blade-oriented style. The most famous eskrimadors at that time (in Cebu) were Teodoro Doring Saavedra, Estanilao Islaw Romo and an old man named Alicante, who lived in the mountains in what is today known as Toledo City. The Labangon Club was formed because there had always been some idea to unify eskrimadors into a single group, but this group was in constant conflict. They even called themselves iro ug iring (dog and cat), because as one practitioner was demonstrating his style, all the others would be making fun and criticizing him. When he finished, someone else would begin and suffer the same treatment.
The club was officially closed by a vote in a board meeting, according to Eulogio Canete (now deceased), who was secretary of the Labangon Club at that time. It was closed because the Mayor of Cebu had given a donation of 500 pesos to the president of the Club (a lot of money, at a time when a full days food could be had for a few centavos), and the members of the Club were asking where the money was. The President didnt want to discuss it and the vote to disband was held. The Association officially ended on August 14, 1920.
A few years after the Labangon Association ended, the Doce Pares Club was formed. The name was taken from that of a group of famous fighting men in France who were all expert swordsmen, during the reign of Charlemagne. It was to have begun in December, 1931, but they lacked the desired number of people to start, so it began on January 11, 1932. Most of the same people who had been in the Labangon Association were also in the new club.
The same three famous eskrimadors were still around at that time, Doring Saavedra, Islaw Romo and the man named Alicante. In 1933, an officially sanctioned match was held to determine the local champion. By officially sanctioned, it means that the Mayor and other local officials were involved and the fighters had signed injury waivers. Islaw Romo was to have fought Alicante, but at the last minute backed out, saying he hadnt discussed it with his wife. Since Alicante began bragging and saying how the others were afraid to fight him, Doring Saavedra stepped up and fought. Alicante won the first round, but Saavedra won the second and the third to take the match, and was recognized as the best eskrimador in the area.
The new club was formed to unite under one forceful leadership all the well-known Cebu eskrimadors, and once united, to work together to give new life and strength to the Art. Another reason for forming the club was to do research into other styles of eskrima. The members pooled their knowledge and ability and took pains in researching and studying the various styles of other groups, such as the Tagalog, the Pampango, the Ilocano and the Tausog.
The most common style at that time was a long range style, because it was blade-oriented, and was commonly used with espada y daga, although the system of the Saavedras was perhaps the favorite style of the time, because of the skill of its number one practitioner.
In a great many versions of the history of eskrima, the name Dizon is often mentioned. He was supposed to have been a close friend and/or teacher of Angel Cabales and Floro Villabrille. He was also supposed to have been a member of Doce Pares in 1932, and the story of his passing through some kind of Indiana Jones-type cave to prove his mastery of the art is well known. As can be seen from Doce Pares own records, Dizon was not a member*, and no one in Doce Pares ever went through any ritual like that described. It was just a group of men with a common love, who got together to work out and exchange ideas. There was never anything secret about it.

**(In an interview with Tony Diego of Kali Illustrisimo in Manila, he mentioned that there was another club in the northern part of the country which also called itself Doce Pares. It is possible that the stories concerning Dizon may have involved this other club. This club was supposed to have been in the area of Mt. Banahaw. Further research needs to be done to confirm this.)

Even though the Doce Pares Club was set up to bring all eskrimadors under one organization, personalities and politics soon broke things up. One of the first to break away was the group of Anchiong Bacon, who was a student of Lorenzo Saavedra. He split from Doce Pares to create his own group and named it Balintawak, after the name of the street where their club was located. He split away because of some problems over money, but also for other reasons. One was because of the political fighting within the club, where one group was trying to ease out the others and take control. Another was that he didnt like the atmosphere in the club where people criticized and made fun of each others play. His Balintawak club became the largest and most successful of the other clubs, and nearly caused Doce Pares to fold in the 50s, due to their feud. Balintawak later also split into several branches, led by Teofilo Velez , Atty. Villasin and Boring Heyrosa among others. Boring Heyrosa, who passed away a few years ago, was one of the last students of Bacon, and a very skillful fighter. He was known to willingly accept challenge matches right up to the time of his death, and he didnt lose!
Delfin Lopez was a local tough guy and a balintawak member. He had been the head of the secret service of the Cebu police department, then when he left the force, he became the head of the Cuanco clans private army. He was a top fighter, perhaps the most feared, in the system. He was finally assassinated by a knife-wielding killer who jumped down on him from above and behind, because he was involved in breaking a strike and there was no one to face him directly.
Another group to break away was the Lapunti group, headed by Filemon Caburnay, a former student of Filemon Momoy Canete. When Bruce Lees movie Enter the Dragon came out, the local film community decided to do a spoof called Enter Garote, with a comedian named Ciquito,and they wanted some eskrima experts. They went to Doce Pares, and since money was involved, the Doce Pares people who were approached wanted to keep the number of participants low, so each would get more money. Caburnay was told not to go, but he had already been invited by someone else involved with the movie, and he showed up. When he arrived, the other Doce Pares people were not happy to see him and the resulting bad feelings caused him to pull out of the club and form Lapunti.
The Excalibur/Durex group, which was originally named DUREX, was founded by Grandmaster Gerardo "Larry" Alcuizar in 1959. As it has been confirmed by GM Alcuizar, Attorney Elias Ortiz, Fernando Candawan, and Grandmaster Alcuizar went to the house of Grandmaster Ciricao "Cacoy" Canete and advised him of their intention to affiliate the DUREX Club with Doce Pares. All three were employed at the Cebu Institute of Technology (CIT) at the time. In fact, it was Fernando "Nanding" Candawan who registered Grandmaster Alcuizar's name with Doce Pares, as GM was his understudy. This group also eventually withdrew from Doce Pares. GM Alcuizar had also been a student of Momoy Canete, and he was very skillful and liked to show off his skills, doing demonstrations, etc. He was always kept at arms length until the first national Eskrima Masters competition, when the Doce Pares people wanted their own fighters to win. They knew that GM Alcuizar would be a formidable opponent, so they approached him and asked him to be head refereee of the competition, thus eliminating him from competition. He was also made president of the Cebu Eskrima Association, which only lasted until the competition was over, and then faded away. The Doce Pares group later came to regret these splits, because the one with Balintawak in particular nearly forced the club to fold.
Although Cebu is known as the cradle of eskrima in the Philippines, there are some connections with the eskrima on other islands, particularly the island of Negros, to the northwest of Cebu. Vicente Inting Carin, one of the most famous Cebu fighters in the post- W.W.II era, had several teachers. One, named Poncing Ybanez, was from Cebu, but because of a family problem, was forced to go to Negros for many years. When he finally returned, he knew a different style of eskrima which proved to be very effective. When the Sri Visayans came to the central Visayan islands, some other Datus went to the island of Panay, where they also spread the Art. One famous eskrimador named Tatay Isko, who was a member of the Pulahan Rebellion against the Spanish at the end of the last century, moved from Panay to Negros and is rumored to have taught several of the better known Negros fighters. There is other evidence of this connection in the terms used to describe some techniques. For example, the term pit-al is used in the daga y daga style of Momoy Canete from Cebu, but the word is actually an Ilongo term from Negros, meaning to press together using the forearm.

After WW II, there was a style shift away from the longer range, blade styles to the closer range, stick styles. With a blade, targets tended to be the arm and hand of the opponent, because with a blade you dont want to get too close to open yourself to a cut. With stick fights, however, the whole body can be targeted, because better defense is possible since the stick can be grabbed, parried and moved by the live hand to a much greater degree than can the blade. There was also a revival of interest in the arts that grew along with the entrance of Japanese judo and karate in the 1950s, and later with Tae Kwon Do. Ciriaco Cacoy Canete combined the arts of eskrima and judo. The result was called escrido, and it still exists today.
Another important reason for the revival of the Art was when Philippine nationalism grew in the early 1960s. Initiated by a group called Samahan sa Arnis ng Filipinas (Association of Arnis Practitioners), former secretary of education Alejandro Roces praised the revival in a speech at the meeting launching the movement. In his speech, he described arnis as a :

neglected aspect of our cultural history as a people..... arnis is as old as the Philippines. It is germane to the Filipino, his culture and temperament. During pre-historic times, it was indulged in as a form of recreation. Filipinos learned it together with reading, writing, religion, cantation and Sanskrit. It was not, at the time, purely fencing, as we now regard that term. It had its variations in the form of dance and combative art known as sayaw or sinulog, which was both artistic and entertaining.

After martial law was declared in the Philippines in the early 70s, NARAPHIL came into being, headed by General Fabian Ver, chief of President Marcos Presidential Security Command. It was given the sole responsibility to preserve, popularize and propagate the Art, not only throughout the Philippines, but also in other countries around the world. In 1976, arnis was supposed to be put into the school system as a required subject in physical education, by Presidential decree, but never actually made it. It was also at this time that people like Remy Presas and Leo Gaje arrived in the US and began spreading the Art.
In the 20th century, after the Philippines became part of the American sphere of influence, many Filipino people came to the US, mainly in Hawaii and California. Among these people are many names already well-known to the US eskrima community. Names like Villabrille, Cabales, Lacoste, Emperado and many others too numerous to mention are famous today.
By the middle 1970s, when Remy Presas , Leo Gaje and others arrived, eskrima or arnis had already been in America for many years. Filipinos had been coming to the US since the early part of the century, and there were large communities of mainly farm laborers. Among these people were many eskrimadors, although they rarely taught anyone but Filipinos. Some people, like Angel Cabales in California and Baltazar Sayoc in New York City had opened schools in the 60s and accepted western students, but the Art mainly remained among Filipinos.
The opening of the Art was done mainly through the seminar and the summer camp method. The stick techniques of eskrima were often taught as add-ons to other arts, with the idea that it was the quickest way to make the Art known. It worked, to a fashion, but created additional problems by giving people the wrong impression about eskrima. It has often been misunderstood as being only a weapons art, with little or no empty hand component. This is not true, of course, but this mistaken idea still continues today.
Another area that has worked to the detriment of the Art in the modern era has been the tournament system that has grown up around it. Since only the stickfighting aspects of the Art are used in tournaments, they have helped propagate the misperception about the Arts empty hand component.

The Art in Present day-
Eskrima still has a strong base in the Philippines, but is at a critical time. The last generation of the old men who learned the Art in the traditional way, and who had the opportunities to actually use it are passing. The growth of the tournament styles, and the lack of competent instructors who have actually completed their own training means that each succeeding generation of stickfighters will be less and less capable of real combat. Also, as a culture reaches a certain economic level, interest in things like the martial arts naturally fades, to be replaced by video games, computers and making money. This happened in Japan, Taiwan, Korea and other places, so we shouldnt expect it not to happen in the Philippines. We can just try to preserve as much as possible and hope for the best. There are many groups that are trying to maintain the Art, or even help it expand.
Arnis Philippines is a group that was formed when President Ferdinand Marcos fell from power. General Ver left the country with Marcos and NARAPHIL fell along with the government. Arnis Philippines is still the nations Olympic connection. Unfortunately, eskrima lost an excellent chance to get international exposure because of political infighting. In the early 1990s, the Philippines hosted the SE Asian Games. The host country has the right to decide on demonstration sports that are not regular events, and the Philippines selected arnis. The problems began when other nations began asking for trainers, coaches and advisors to help them learn enough to be able to participate in the event. Because of the money involved (training fees, travel allowances, per diem, honorariums, etc.), the people within Arnis Philippines could not agree on who went where and who was responsible for which countries, so the end result was that only three other nations were able to field teams for the demonstration event, and everyone in the Art looked bad. Because of that fiasco, there never was any real chance to get eskrima into the Olympics as a demonstration sport. Arnis Philippines still exists, but is not given much respect. There are still many excellent eskrimadors around the country, but many want nothing to do with the various national groups, because they cant accept the political maneuvering.
Another national organization, TEKAC- Traditional Eskrima-Kali-Arnis Confederation, has been spearheaded by Christy Jalasco, the daughter of former President Fidel Ramos. It was created because, as former Pres. Ramos stated: I dont want to learn our native arts from foreigners. Unfortunately, many of the same carpetbaggers who have messed up NARAPHIL, Arnis Philippines and WEKAF have been trying the same thing with TEKAC. Any time an organization has friends in high places, the group must be taken seriously, but so far it has not really gotten off the ground.
The most famous eskrima club, Doce Pares, is still around, but as the old members pass, and the original members give way to younger people, the group has changed. It has become, for the most part, a tournament-oriented style. The skill levels of the modern members has rarely reached that of the original group. This is due to many reasons, including increased educational opportunities for the young, with the resulting decrease in training time put in, the western influence where a low level of skill can still make money teaching unskilled foreigners, and the diluting of the Art itself by training for tournaments and seminars instead of real fighting.
The umbrella organization, WEKAF, is still in place, and is perhaps the best placed to make a difference. Unfortunately, there is so much political in-fighting, and the thirst for ever increasing amounts of money has grown so large, that most objective observers dont think the organization will be the answer.
Where will the Filipino arts be in the future? Hopefully, eskrima will be able to overcome its problems, will continue to grow and will eventually reach a position of stability within the martial arts community. Only time will tell.


According to Fortunato Penalosa, who was the club secretary from 1932-1941, there were 12 original members, followed later by twelve more to make a total of 24 (12 pairs, or doce pares). They are as follows:
President: Eulogio D. "Ingko Yoling" Canete
Vice President: Teodorico "Doring" Saavedra
Secretary: Fortunato Penalosa
Treasurer: Marcelo Verano
Auditor: Deogracias Nadela
Historian: Pio Deiparine
Sergeants-at-arms: Filemon "Momoy" Canete, Rodolfo
Directors: Florentino Canete, Federico
Saavedra, Strong Tupas, Juanito
Lauron, Magdaleno Cabasan
Members: Lorenso Saavedra, Amancio Saavedra,
Maximo Canete, Silvestre Canete,
Tirso Canete, Rufino Canete, Andres
Canete, Ciriaco "Cacoy" Canete
Advisors: Atty. Cecilio De La Victorio, Atty.
Margarito Revilles, Dr. Anastacio

-Note: Out of the original 24 members, only Ciriaco "Cacoy" Canete is still with us. It must be remembered that there were 12 original members, and the other 12 were added later. Since Ciriaco Cacoy Canete was only 13 years old when Doce Pares was formed in 1932, he was almost certainly one of the ones added later.

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