Pekiti Tirsia Kali is one of the better known systems of Filipino martial arts around the world because of the promotional efforts of its head, Leo Gaje, Jr., and Dan Inosanto, best known as a protege of Bruce Lee. Gaje’s expertise with blades made him a sought-after instructor, and Inosanto’s influence in the martial arts community bolstered Gaje’s reputation that much farther.
The system is best known for its blade training but, like most systems of Filipino martial arts, it also teaches other weapons, including empty hands, and develops well-rounded practitioners. Its focus on combative functionality has brought it to the attention of many in the law enforcement and military communities around the world. It is, in fact, the only Kali system formally trained by the Force Recon battalions of the Philippine Marine Corps and the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police.
The system originated in the provinces of Panay and Negros Occidental and was developed by the Tortal family. They spent generations refining it during the late 1800s and early 1900s, a time when bladed combat was still commonplace in the Philippines. According to the oral history of the family, the first established practitioner was Norberto Tortal, but the system may have been formulated in a rough way before Norberto.
Norberto trained his son Segundino, who passed it on to his five sons: Balbino, Tedoricio, Francisco, Quirino, and Conrado. Conrado was chosen as inheritor of the system, and Balbino was his primary training partner. Balbino died in 1945, shot by Japanese soldiers after he disarmed a Japanese officer and killed two soldiers who tried to bayonet him.
Leo Tortal Gaje, Jr. was born in 1938. In short order, his twin sister and their mother died. Conrado took custody of Leo and raised him. When Leo was six, Conrado began teaching the boy the family system. Before Conrado died, he named Gaje the leader of the system.
Gaje continued to develop and refine the system as his forefathers had done and, over the next ten years, he only taught family, as his predecessors had always done. In 1972, Gaje emigrated to New York City.
In his new home, Gaje decided to open the system and share it with people he trusted outside his family. This decision helped make Pekiti Tirsia Kali one of the best known Filipino martial arts systems in the world today.
Pekiti Tirsia Kali teaches a variety of weapons and develops students competent in all ranges of fighting. The name, Pekiti Tirsia, literally translates as “cutting into little pieces,” and the system embraces the idea that, “The best defense is a good offense.”
The training focuses on five main weapons:
- Solo Baston – Single stick, sword, or spear
- Doble Baston – Double stick or sword
- Malayu Sibat – Spear
- Espada y Daga – Sword and dagger
- Daga y Daga – Knife vs knife
It also teaches both striking and grappling with empty hands.
Students train with each weapon and learn to attack and counter attacks in a wide variety of ways. The system also teaches a vast array of variations to the basics. The curriculum is designed to give students a structured understanding of the realities of fighting with and without weapons, then works to get students to see beyond the structure so they can function in the dynamic chaos of a real fight.
As mentioned previously, Pekiti Tirsia Kali has been adopted by various military and law enforcement units to train their people. It has also been sought out by martial arts reality shows and was featured on both Fight Quest and Human Weapon. You can see the Fight Quest episode here:
Pekiti Tirsia Kali has also influenced other well-known martial artists and systems. Notably, Dan Inosanto trained with Gaje and the two often taught together. Many of the founders of the renowned Dog Brothers had backgrounds in Pekiti Tirsia.