The weapons-based art of kali, a term used to describe the Filipino martial art (FMA), has gained wide acceptance among martial artists, security professionals, civilians, and even fight choreographers. For many in the Marine Corps, their very survival depends on how well they know this indigenous fighting art.
One of its adherents is Technical Sergeant (TSgt.) Manuel Prado Jr. of the Philippine Marine Corps’ Force Recon Battalion. A devoted practitioner of FMA since his early childhood, Prado followed his veteran father’s footsteps and entered the Corps as a teen. There he found use of his FMA skills in the field as a soldier, and at the barracks as a teacher.
Prado also gained a reputation in the martial arts community as a master blacksmith of the ginunting, the Marine’s standard issue sword. In an interview with FIGHT Times, he discussed the role of FMA in the military and how he is passing this knowledge to future generations of soldiers and civilians.
FIGHT Times: Please tell us about yourself and your duties in the Marine Corps?
TSgt. Manuel Prado Jr.: I have served the government for 25 years now. From the start I’ve been part of the Marines. I’ve done plenty of work as a marine, though I cannot mention them here.
I started as a regular rifleman, or foot soldier. Next, I served as a point man and radioman. I also became a machine gunner and explosive ordnance disposal specialist. After three years, I joined the Marine Force Reconnaissance. In 1994, we became the pioneer force reconnaissance troops of the Philippine Marine Corps. I served at the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force but my longest assignment was with the Force Reconnaissance Battalion, where I was assigned for almost 16 years.
I’ve been practicing kali since I was a child and during all my years in the Marine Corps. Because of this I was assigned to become an instructor. When I toured Golan Heights, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, and Israel as a United Nations Peacekeeper, I was able to teach kali to Allied soldiers.
Upon returning to the Philippines, I was appointed Chief Master Instructor of the Philippine Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. I serve as course director and ran the Tactical Combat Kali training of all deployed marine battalions and battalion and brigade headquarters staff.
FT: Why did you study kali? What style do you practice and teach?
MP: I hail from Mindoro where I learned espada y daga and arnis de mano from my father, who started teaching me when I was five years old. We are a family of blacksmiths and the practice of kali is common. It has been a tradition among my clan, especially with my father who used kali when he fought the Japanese during World War 2 in the early 1940s.
I continued to practice even as I entered the Corps at 17. One of the things we learn in kali training is perseverance under difficulty. In the military, we call that “adaptability and improvisation”.
Integrating kali into my military training was easy in my experience and Tactical Combat Kali is the result. Here we have included everything we have learned in the field as soldiers. In our experiences we saw the necessary modifications to kali that we can utilize for close quarters combat in contemporary warfare.
I’ve personally utilized our style in various field engagements in Maguindanao, Basilan, Jolo, Tawi-Tawi, Bicol, Quezon, and Mindoro.
FT: Why did the Marines decide to include kali in their martial arts program?
MP: Because this is what we have found useful in a close quarters battle. It is effective as a backup to firearms in our experience.
FT: What aspects of kali did you find useful in a real combat scenario?
MP: In my experience, bolo versus bolo, hand-to-hand, and knife fighting are the things that we have been able to use in field operations.
FT: How do blade training complement firearms training?
MP: You must always ready your bolo, knife, or dagger in a patrol. In the event of an ambush, the blade is preferable to a firearm in a close contact scenario where quick reaction is needed.
FT: Do you also train civilians? Why?
MP: I learned kali as a civilian and in my retirement I will return to being a civilian. The discipline taught by kali as a martial art suits both soldiers and non-combatants.
With the help of fellow practitioners, I started the Summit of Kali Brotherhood (Kataastaasang Kapatirang Pang-Kali) in 2012. Our goal is to propagate Tactical Combat Kali with discipline, resilience, and humility.
FT: Can you share any incident where you (or one of your soldiers) were forced to use your kali skills in battle?
MP: There have been many instances where our knowledge in kali has saved our lives. In the chaos of war (what we call the fog of war), firearms can jam, soldiers lose their weapons, and ammunition can run out.
Kali was also the method we used in the battle at Camp Abubakar in Maguindanao in 2000. Combining swiftness and stealth, we were able to use kali to finish the fight up close.
FT: What is the story behind Panday Gear? How did you learn to forge bladed weapons?
MP: I’m part of a family of blacksmith and it is our tradition to forge blades. Prado Blades is my own brand and Panday Gear market and sells them in the Internet.
FT: What lesson would you impart to other kali practitioners in order to improve their technique or training?
MP: I require all my students to have discipline, resilience, and humility. These qualities are needed to improve and deepen one’s understanding of kali. For their practical needs, practical techniques are what we continuously train in Tactical Combat Kali. But whether we practice it for sports or fighting, the goal is the same: respect to our ancestors and love of our country.