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Atienza Kali:


Atienza Kali











Atienza Kali:


Guro Allain, Carl and Darryl Atienza



What is Atienza Kali?

Kali is the ancient fighting art of the Malay people of the islands now called the Philippines. Like many ancient tribal peoples, the Malay of the islands were warriors, as well as accomplished sailors. Throughout the archipelago and beyond, they sailed their ships, fighting or trading their way from shore to shore and establishing merchant routes throughout the Pacific.

There are numerous styles of Kali, hailing from many different areas, each with its own characteristics and fighting principles. Often they emerge as family systems, and sometimes they were the results of the sharing of varied techniques by a collective of groups or individuals.

Atienza Kali was developed by the late Edgar “Butch” Atienza in New York City. As a Kali practitioner and experienced street fighter he saw the need for a fighting system that addressed the challenges one encountered on the street, including defense against armed assailants and multiple attackers. He began to modify techniques and drills according to practical experience and refined his training methods for over three decades. The result is an extremely effective system that emphasizes intensive footwork and assaults against multiple attackers, with techniques in empty hand, blade, and impromptu weapons.

Kali Atienza practitioners are taught attacks and counter-attacks in single and double sword, single and double dagger, sword and dagger and the traditional single and double stick, as well as empty hands. A student will be introduced to the concepts of proper fighting range, Body Shielding Method and True Path tactics. Also, the use of proper body mechanics in conjunction with effective footwork is emphasized and reinforced at all times.

The Need for Training

Edgar Atienza began to train his sons at a very young age. The knowledge that he passed down was a combination of Filipino Martial Art Fundamentals and techniques and principles he acquired from many street encounters with multiple armed assailants. This was a system that he never really planned to offer to the public. The system was designed so his sons could get away from the increasing violence that he noticed in his neighborhood.

As conditions in the area worsened, robberies and gang initiations became common, and Edgar’s sons were witnesses to many violent events. Every couple of weeks the Atienza family would hear of friends who were victims of very violent assaults in the local neighborhood. The skill that was being passed down to them made it less stressful for them to walk the streets.

“I remember every morning my father would give me and my brothers money for lunch, money for the muggers and a knife or a lead pipe to keep in our jackets. If the muggers weren’t appeased by the money the blade or the pipe came into use” recalls Guro Carl Atienza.

This was a neighborhood where you can get assaulted by 5 or 6 attackers on the way to school.

“I remember the local shops and stores would close down for one hour when school let out to avoid trouble from all the high school students and local gangs” says Darryl. The youngest of the three, Darryl remembers, at the age of thirteen, fending off ten gang members while coming home from school one day.

The only way to stay free from harm was to carry a pistol, or join the local gangs. Many of the local kids did one or the other, or both. Edgar didn’t want any of these options for his sons, so he trained them constantly. It was his wish that his children would have the confidence to walk in the street and not seek the protection of the local gangs. Master Atienza designed and taught what would eventually became his personal family system, a combat system that is very street effective

A True Story-

This event happened right after the Bernard Goetz incident in the early 1980’s. Friends of ours had just arrived from the
Philippines and was taking the tour of the city. On the way home they had to come out of the 179th street station, in Queens, to transfer to the bus. A group of 10 –15 teens came up to them demanding money. Very frightened they handed over all they had, which was about $60 .They thought that they were clear from the danger and allowed to go home. The group of teens, after receiving the money, proceeded to beat them severely anyway which landed them in the hospital and close to death. Luckily they pulled through

Guro Darryl Atienza.

This was the type of violence that Edgar Atienza trained his sons for. The Atienza brothers can give first hand accounts of violent encounters that they experienced. Incidents always involved a large number of attackers, always armed, mainly with bladed weapons. Edgar created a weapons-based combat system rooted in Filipino Martial Arts principles that would help his sons escape these violent encounters with minimal harm.

This is where “Atienza Kali” was born- in this irrational environment of gang initiations and groups of muggers. This is why the boys were trained so hard. There was no plan to have a school or students, just to train and to keep from harm.

“Most of the time they were defending ourselves against psychos would loved violence” says Carl. “We trained because there was a need for it and all of the encounters we went through were done so with fear and left some kind of psychological trauma. People are never the same after encounters like that and my father’s teachings kept us level headed. This goes without saying, but you never want to get into these kinds of situations. They very scary and traumatizing and we did as much as we could to avoid these kinds of encounters.”

By the time the Atienza sons were in their teens, friends and friends of friends came seeking lessons from Edgar. They had been victims of these kinds of crimes and heard of Edgar’s reputation as a teacher. As a result if this demand Edgar began been giving knife defense classes to friends of his sons. Enough knowledge was taught to escape the violent situations that they encountered. After a few years all request that came to Edgar were passed on to his sons.

The Atienza brothers had a few students under them, instructing them in the basics for self-defense purposes and shortly after that made a name for themselves in the local Filipino community.

“Teaching taught me more about the Filipino arts than I would have learned as a student.” Says Carl. “Everything became clear and my skills got progressively better. “

The Start of the Atienza Kali Name

There was no formal name for the system being taught. Edgar introduced it as “Kali- Filipino Combat System”. The local Filipino community started to associate the Atienza name with Kali and began to call it Atienza Family Kali just to differentiate it from other Filipino Martial Arts schools. However, the Atienzas were not yet interested in establishing a school with their name. They were simply the Atienza family that taught Kali.

This wasn’t a formal school. They trained in of backyards and taught effective fighting tactic based on Filipino Martial art strategies. They had a formal salutation and respects were always given to instructors, yet for the most part it was more of a family environment. Students became friends and friends became students. For the Atienza family, teaching is like letting someone into their family. Most people who came to them were victims of very violent attacks and Edgar was just giving them an option outside the standard solutions in the neighborhood at the time such as joining gangs or carrying a gun.

The Atienzas have been doing it like this ever since. Their training groups never get much larger that 6 people at a time and students received the private personal attention they needed to develop the proper skill. The Atienza family oversees all development of all of their students.

The Atienza sons began to take on more and more students. Edgar decided to give the name “
Katipunan Ng Kalis” (which translates into “Brotherhood of the Blade” in Tagalog) to the group who consisted of his sons and their students. This solved the problem of an organized name for their group and it made the students feel better that there was a name attached to the skill they were receiving. They taught a few different groups of students and trained out of dormitory lounges, rented gyms, living rooms and backyards. The students didn’t care where they trained, they just wanted to keep learning.

Tuhon Chris Sayoc has been a very close friend of the family since the mid seventies. He aided the AAO in the spreading of the Filipino Martial Arts and Filipino culture. Edgar also acted as a mentor to a young Tuhon Chris Sayoc (at the time was in his teens) for any problems he found himself in. In return Tuhon Sayoc acted as a protector and a “Big Brother” figure to the Atienza family. There have been occasions when Tuhon Sayoc came to the aid of the Atienza brothers (then in their teens) with trouble from organized crime groups. The Atienza brothers owe much to Tuhon Sayoc.

In June of 2002 Tuhon Chris Sayoc, invited the Atienza brothers and any affiliated students to a stick seminar he was holding in Media, PA. The response to their skills was excellent. They have been exposed to very few martial artists and to get good marks from Tuhon Sayoc’s students was a great honor. Most of the members of Sayoc Kali come to Tuhon Sayoc with expertise in many forms of combat, so to get such supportive response from his organization was very exciting. Tuhon Sayoc introduced the system as Atienza Kali and that is how it is being presented.

Atienza Kalis, the system.  Katipunan ng Kalis, the practitioners.

Katipunan in Tagalog means a fraternity or brotherhood. Kalis refers to the blade or sword in relation to the Filipino combat arts. Katipunan Ng Kalis roughly translated means “Brotherhood of the Blade”- the name of the organization, given by Edgar Atienza, consisting of his sons and their students.

In 1991, Guro Carl began attending S.U.N.Y Stony Brook for his undergraduate degree. Being so far from home he couldn’t easily train with his father, so he spread the word that he was going to make lessons available to the student body. The first to answer this offer was Rue Reynolds. After seeing a short demonstration, Rue immediately signed up and would prove to be one of Carl’s most industrious students. Running or cycling three miles to Guro Carl’s off campus house, Rue would put 100% into training. Training 4 to 5 days a week after classes, Rue quickly excelled in the knowledge Guro was passing to him. Rue Reynolds would be the first to receive the rank of Instructor in Atienza Kali under one of Edgar Atienza’s sons.

They would train in the main gymnasium on the Stony Brook campus in the view of many other students. Many campus students would watch what they were doing and develop an interest in the Filipino Arts. As a result, Guro Carl would steadily gather more students. This would be the first group to hold the name Katipunan Ng Kalis and the group that Guro Carl considers the “Original Katipunan”. Guro Carl held classes 3 or 4 times a week in the main gymnasium or in dormitory lounges, training his students with the intensity that was reflective on his own training. He trained them in all aspects of Atienza Kali such as Atienza Kali Punyal, Isang Kalis and special weapons. In return Guro Carl would use his developing students as training partners further advancing his own skills.

Leo Manalo heard many stories of the Atienza brothers and their “real” approach to teaching and began to seek them out for instruction. Through mutual friends was able to meet Guro Carl but was not allowed to join the Katipunan Ng Kalis because of certain activites he was involved with that Guro Carl did not approve of. Instead, Guro Carl gave an introductory course to Atienza Kali to Leo, with the hope that the training and education of Filipino culture would pull him away from his current activites. Leo gave his full attention to Atienza Kali and had abandoned his other activities. He was then allowed into the Katipunan Ng Kalis.

Leo was fascinated by Guro Carl’s skill and his approach to street fights through the Filipino Martial Arts. He would take trips on the weekends to Stony Brook from Westchester County just to train with Guro Carl. Leo was the second student of Guro Carl that had a passionate appreciation for Atienza Kali. He had taken Filipino Martial Arts in other schools but none of his previous training was like Carl’s. He had heard of the street encounters that the Atienza family had faced and finally got to see their skill first hand. Leo was a Filipino American and was never really educated in Philippine history. Long talks with Guro Carl after training sessions would open his mind to true Filipino culture. Leo Manalo would become Guro Carl’s second student to become a Full Instructor in Atienza Kali.

Spending only two years in S.U.N.Y Stony Brook, Guro Carl transferred to C.U.N.Y Hunter College. At this time Leo worked at Hunter College and helped Guro Carl start another training group. This was a group of about 10 students (including his original students who traveled from Stony Brook) that met 3 days a week to take lessons from Guro Carl. They would meet at the end of the day after classes and train for a few hours. The students from Stony Brook would come up once every two weeks to keep the skills fresh. Most of the students left the Katipunan Ng Kalis after graduation to pursue their respective careers. The only two students that stayed were Rue Reynolds and Leo Manalo.

Right now they hold the highest rank in Atienza Kali under Guro Carl and have kept very loyal to Guro Carl over the years. Currently Leo Manalo lives in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, but takes trips back to New York once a month to train with Guro Carl. He is also the second student to have Guro Edgar oversee his ranking tests. Rue Reynold lives in Connecticut and once a month attends Guro Carl’s Sunday training sessions in Jersey City to keep his skills fresh.

Currently Guro Carl runs training sessions 3 days a week in Jersey City. Ten new members have joined the Katipunan Ng Kalis since his arrival to Jersey City and have trained loyally for almost two years.

“I always try to start training groups every time I move, which was a lot over the last 10 years. It’s the best way for me to keep my training active. All of students come from referrals from friends or current students. Sometimes students leave. What can I say, that is the nature of martial arts. That’s really no problem for me because the students that stay train hard and receive high quality instruction. In return, I also learn. That’s what it is all about.”

Guro Carl Atienza

Like most FMA systems Atienza Kali is a blade-based combat system with a heavy emphasis on footwork. This means all training and combat techniques originate from the movements of the Atienza Kali sword or dagger in conjunction with footwork. Edgar believed that live blade training enhanced a fighters reflexes and attention to detail of combat techniques. This training in conjunction with extensive footwork drills made for a powerful combat system. This is no an uncommon path as far as the Filipino martial Arts goes. There were many stories we heard when we growing up of the old grandmasters developing their systems based on their own combat experiences. This is no different from what Edgar experienced to organize his system. By utilizing from his knowledge of the Filipino martial arts and his street encounters he created a systems that reflects combat experiences.

Edgar understood that it was essential to constantly keep moving when confronted with multiple attackers. Also the targets that you choose to attack while in combat made a difference. You had to hit extremely effective targets on the human anatomy in order to stop the attack.

When students begin to show development of the basic body mechanics they are introduced to specific combat strategies and exercises.