Homeland Art Training: Kali Kollective Reintroduces Long Beach to Filipino Martial Arts

Dante Mapanao’s love for martial arts began during his childhood in Long Beach, but as a young Filipino American, it took him years to find a place to learn Kali, a fighting style indigenous to the Philippines.

“I discovered that Filipinos had their own art, their own indigenous art called Kali, but the problem was that it was very difficult, and in many ways it’s still difficult to find a place to train Kali for people. Filipinos,” Mapanao said.

Mapanao has been training in Filipino martial arts for about 20 years and founded Kali Kollective in Long Beach in June 2021, which holds classes every two weeks at Mission Muay Thai’s studio near Somerset Park.

Bent at the knees and moving their feet in complex ways, with a stick in each hand, a single blade, or empty-handed, his students practice different strikes and blocks as they move across the padded floors.

Merril Garcia advances with his black training blades while performing a series of moves in the Filipino martial art of Kali at Kali Kollective on May 31, 2022. (Richard H. Grant | Signal Tribune)

“It took me a long time to learn and train him because he’s so hard to find,” Mapanao said. “So one of the goals I have set for the training is to, at some point, give it back to the community to make it easy. Back in Long Beach where I grew up, I didn’t want other Filipinos and this next generation to have this difficult time forming the art of the motherland.

Mapanao became interested in martial arts when a friend introduced him to Jeet Kune Do, a martial arts philosophy developed by Bruce Lee. But his attempts to convince his parents to pay for karate or taekwondo lessons failed.

“They just wanted me to study, to go into the medical field, like a lot of Filipino families, and I kind of rebelled against that,” Mapanao said.

In college, he began looking for ways to connect with his heritage and began researching indigenous fighting styles in the Philippines.

“I struggled with my identity,” Mapanao said. “For some reason, I didn’t really fit in with Filipino groups. I tried to get into the UC Irvine Filipino club and just didn’t fit.

While surfing the web, Mapanao came across a Facebook post advertising Kali classes at a church. Before he could start learning, he had to pass an interview so that the instructors could determine if he was the “right type of person” to practice Kali.

“Back then, traditionally, you were always interviewed before you even became a martial artist,” Mapanao said. “But it’s become very particular with Filipino martial arts because you learn to use a blade. You can’t train anybody because you’re going to train them to use a blade and kill somebody.

While anyone can join Kali Kollective classes, Mapanao puts its students through a three-month probationary period before officially joining the school. Students practice using two short sticks that replace blades.

Sticks clash in unison as Kali Kollective students practice the indigenous Filipino martial art on May 31, 2022. The Kali martial art incorporates the use of sticks and blades into the fighting style. (Richard H. Grant | Signal Tribune)

“We will not officially rank you or make you an instructor until we feel that you are a good candidate, that you are a good person, a good representation for the school,” Mapanao said. .

Long Beach has a unique connection to Kali as the first city it was introduced to in the United States. Grandmaster Ben Largusa performed Kali’s first known demonstration on American soil at the International Karate Championship held in Long Beach in 1964.

Mapanao shared that Kali’s origins can be difficult to trace due to the impact of various waves of colonization on the history of the Philippines.

“Much of the history has been lost. So depending on who you talk to, you might have a different story,” Mapanao said.

During the colonization of the Philippines by Spain, the Spanish authorities banned the practice of Kali. The indigenous martial arts style only survived generations of colonization because Filipinos continued to practice and teach it in secret.

“The more I do it, the more I delve into its history and in doing so, I find out more about the Philippines, the culture and where I’m from. I think that’s a big part of that – it’s is why I feel so connected,” Mapanao said.

That sentiment was echoed by Kali Kollective instructor Francisco Taruc, 45, who has been training in the art since he was 16.

“Not only has it helped me feel connected with the homeland, where I’ve never been, but it’s very convenient and fun,” Taruc said.

Carol Fruto holds a stick and dagger at the ready while performing moves for the Filipino martial art of Kali during a Kali Kollective class on May 31, 2022. (Richard H. Grant | Signal Tribune)

The public is invited to Kali Kollective’s first anniversary celebration on June 11 from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., which will include vendors, martial arts demonstrations, and food in the parking lot near their classroom.

“I want to make sure people like me, Filipinos or anyone interested in learning, the art of Kali is accessible to them,” Mapanao said.

Kali Kollective holds classes Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. at 4102 Orange Ave., Unit 115. Those interested in taking classes can register at kalikollectivefma.com.

Kristen T. Prall