Flow into the Filipino martial art of Kali

Inside of Maelstrom Martial Arts on East Broadway

As you head down the stairs, the hypnotic clack-clack rhythm of the rattan sticks gets louder. Once your eyes adjust from the dark stairwell into the basement studio, you can make out several pairs of fighters swinging and thrusting their 30 inch sticks at each other. Stab, counter-punch, parry, swing at the legs. The smell of burning wood from the friction of banging sticks fills the crowded room as the Kali students practice the dukup y punyo flow drill. Their circular footwork is known as “the dance of death”.

Maelstrom Martial Arts is located downstairs from the Ache Brasil capoeira studio at 341 East Broadway near Main Street in Vancouver. Head instructor, Loki Jorgenson, has been teaching the Kali Pekiti-Tirsia form of Filipino martial arts since 1994 and started Maelstrom in 2001. Now there are about 30 regular members taking various classes, not only in Kali, but Pencak Silat from Indonesia or Krabi Krabong of Thailand. At first glance, you might think of Kali as simply stick fighting, but Kali is much more than that. The stick can be a weapon on its own, but is also a stand in for a bladed weapon, such as a sword or machete. The potential curriculum range covers single stick, double stick, stick and knife simultaneously, double knife, knife and empty hand. Classes are roughly divided into Basics, Fundamentals, and Applications. 

Beginners generally start in the Saturday Basics class taught by Edwin Tam. Although most techniques are accessible even to beginners, some moves need to be absorbed first. “The body mechanics need to be mastered before the more advanced techniques. The footwork is a huge part of Pekiti, so, there’s usually a large emphasis on mobility, maneuverability” Tam says. The triangle plays a great part in the logic of the Pekiti-Tirsia system of Kali and often the sticks will be placed on the ground as a visual aid for the students to step around the triangle, even imaging a small sapling in the middle to avoid stepping through.

New students, Taran and Anna Rallings, are getting used to the drills after a couple months. “Having a way to visualize and having it laid out as clearly as it has so far has been super helpful for me in understanding how to approach footwork and movement”, says Taran. 

Although the footwork is the first step in learning Kali, for many, the attraction is learning a system that can be adapted to multiple weapons. The Rallings were walking along Broadway in front of the capoeira studio when an ad in the window for Maelstrom, with an exotic Karambit knife, caught their eye. Taran remembers, “I’m not sure I had a clear idea of what I was expecting exactly. Just because it was so different and I had no exposure to it.” He did have previous experience with European swords at Academie Duello downtown. “Doing weapons stuff clicked with me better, so that was a big part of it.” Even Tam recalls his first attraction to Kali similarly. “I guess the idea of Kali interested me. I guess the whole weapons aspect. You get to kind of use weapons a lot earlier in Filipino martial arts as opposed to most other martial arts.”

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