This is definitely one way to stick it to the opposition.
Kali Filipino Stick Fighting. This martial arts form is gaining popularity, as it becomes more and more prevalent in media — from movies and TV shows.
At the Wesley Chapel Recreation Complex, Grandmaster James Berdal is teaching this form of self-defense that came to the mainstream during the 1970s, taking its place next to other major martial arts.
“From Day One, a stick, or two, will be in your hand,” said Berdal, who was trained in stick fighting by Supreme Grandmaster Floro Villabrille and Grandmaster Ben Largusa. “Unlike other systems, the weapons training is not until after a certain level. With the use of the sticks, the hands develop and become ambidextrous with (all the) drilling.
“The main purpose, for me, is to perpetuate this very beautiful and deadly art form, and its cultures, and to instill awareness of self-defense to my students.”
Berdal, originally from the Philippines, teaches the Kali form, which is what he learned from Villabrille-Largusa teachings. It emphasizes weapon-based fighting with sticks, knives, bladed weapons and various improvised weapons, as well as “open hand” techniques without weapons. The method can be used in any fighting system, defensively or offensively, through the use of angles and zone concepts by rhythm and flow.
“Why stick fighting?” Berdal asks. “It gives individuals a well-rounded application of weapons and a strong base core to multiple weapons with simplicity.”
Students of the twice-weekly class work with long sticks that resemble bamboo poles, but they also work with actual deadly weapons.
For the most part though, and for safety reasons, participants — who must be 13 or older — will use a rubber-knife weapon with their stick to practice moves and flow.
“In a nutshell,” Berdal adds, “it’s a cultural art that is just now getting recognized — no one knew it was a part of the Philippines. Most everyone thought it was part taekwondo or judo or just karate.
“Stick fighting is coming out and it’s in demand. It’s in the movies, it’s on TV, and now it’s requested by many stunt operators and military-combat training advisors.”
Kali Filipino Stick Fighting is very controlled. While the students do pick up weapons very quickly, they are taught discipline, which is evidenced by Berdal’s use of a drum to instruct and coordinate precise moves, both with weapons and empty hands.
Those who take stick fighting classes are surprised by its good, low-impact workout and that it teaches how to use weapons in a controlled manner.
“I thought it was just like, you know, swinging sticks, especially after listening to them talk about it,” said student Marley Galan. “But then I actually tried it, and I’ve been really enjoying it. … At first, it was really hard, and they just taught me the basics. Even to this day, I still get a whole bunch of stuff wrong, but I’ve seen progress.
“For me, I like the idea of learning a new skill, and this skill seems like it’s pretty useful, and I know it’s a good way to keep active.”
As for Berdal, it is important to teach the culture behind Kali Filipino Stick Fighting. That’s definitely what one might call, a “sticking” point, for him.
In his classes, he shares stories about his teachers to honor their legacy and to teach the Kali system to the community.
“The movements can be like a dance,” Berdal added. “This is a very controlled, very slow martial art that’s not as aggressive as some others. There’s balance that comes with the movements, but then also the points of finesse and accuracy. Very Ying to the Yang.”
Kali Filipino Stick Fighting Classes
Where: Wesley Chapel Recreation Complex, 7727 Boyette Road
When: Mondays and Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Cost: $60 per month
Details: Learn the finer points of Kali Filipino Stick Fighting from Grandmaster James Berdal. This class includes weapons and is for participants ages 13 and older. Register online at secure.rec1.com/fl/pasco-county-fl.
Info: Call 813-345-3145.
Published July 27, 2022