Kali, Escrima and Arnis are umbrella terms for the weapon based traditional martial arts of the Philippines. Arnis is a Northern Term, Escrima more Central, and Kali is from the South. Many believe that Kali is older a more comprehensive "warrior's art" than Escrima or Arnis.

Generally speaking the terms just refer to indigenous weapons fighting systems of the Philippines, every village and often every master has a distinct style, however all share similar fighting concepts and methods. The intrinsic need for self-preservation was the genesis of these systems. Throughout the ages, invaders and evolving local conflict imposed new dynamics for combat in the islands now making up the Philippines. The Filipino people developed battle skills as a direct result of an appreciation of their ever-changing circumstances. They learned often out of necessity and simple practicality how to prioritize, allocate, and use common resources in combative situations.

The weapon categories are edged, impact, flexible, and projectile, there are a wide array of weapon taught in Filipino martial arts but the emphasis is on stick and knife. The empty hand training includes striking and grappling stand up and ground.

Kali students traditionally start their instruction by learning how to fight with weapons and only advance to empty-hand training once the stick and knife techniques have been sufficiently mastered. This is contrary to most other well-known Asian martial arts. Perhaps the reason is to condition students to fight against armed assailants since armed conflicts are common in the, in addition to the obvious fact that an armed person who is trained has the advantage over a trained or untrained unarmed attackers as well as a advantage over trained but unarmed person. Another explanation used by the old masters that is the principle that bare-handed moves are acquired naturally through the same exercises as the weapon techniques, making muscle memory an important aspect of the teaching. Most systems of Kali apply a single set of techniques for the stick, knife, and empty hands, a concept sometimes referred to as motion grouping. Since the weapon is seen as simply an extension of the body, the same angles and footwork are used either with or without a weapon. The reason for this is historical since tribal warriors went into battle armed and only resorted to bare-handed fighting after losing their weapons.

Many systems begin training with two weapons, either a pair of sticks or a stick and knife in order to develop the ability to use both hands independently and together, a skill which is valuable even when working with one weapon. A core concept and distinct feature of Filipino martial arts is the Live Hand. Even when a practitioner wields only one weapon, the extra hand is used to control, trap or disarm an opponent’s weapon and to aid in blocking, joint locking, and manipulation of the opponent body or, other simultaneous motions such as limb destruction with the live hand.

Kali is usually considered to have the following 12 areas of study:

  1. Single Stick (or long blade)
  2. Double long weapon
  3. Long & Short (sword & dagger, e.g.)
  4. Single dagger
  5. Double Dagger
  6. Palm Stick/Double-end Dagger
  7. Empty Hands (punching, kicking, grappling)
  8. Spear/Staff, long weapons (two-handed)
  9. Flexible weapons (whip, sarong, etc.)
  10. Throwing weapons
  11. Projectile weapons (bows, blowguns)
  12. Healing & Meditation

A distinctive feature of all of Filipino arts is their use of geometry. In strikes/defenses and movement, lines and angles are very important. In addition, the independent use of the hands, or hands and feet, to do two different things at the same time, is a high-level skill sought after a fair amount of experience.

Filipino styles normally classify attacks not by their weapon, or their delivery style, but by the direction of their energy for example line or angle of attack. Students learn how to deal with the energy of the attack, and then apply that knowledge to the variations that come with different lengths and types of weapons.

Filipino arts place great emphasis on footwork, mobility, and body positioning. The same concepts (of angles of attack, deflections, traps, passes, etc.) are applied to similar situations at different ranges, making the understanding of ranges and how to bridge them very important. The Filipinos make extensive use of geometric shapes, superimposing them on a combat situation, and movement patterns, to teach fighters to use their position and their movement to best advantage.