Pekiti Tirsia Kali: The Deadly Filipino Martial Art

Ever find yourself hopping on YouTube to look something quick up, and then two hours go by and you’re waist-deep in martial arts videos with no clue where the time went? Yea, me too.

The other day I ended up landing on a video about the Filipino martial art “Pekiti Tirsia Kali,” became fascinated with it, and went seriously down the rabbit hole. Here’s what I learned…

What is Pekiti Tirsia Kali?

Pekiti Tirsia Kali, also known at PTK, is a complete fighting system that centers in edged weapons (mostly knives) and impact weapons (sticks and blunt objects) as well as empty hands or unarmed combat.

In addition to knives and sticks, the human body is considered as a weapon in Pekiti Tirsia Kali. Fists, palms, arms, knees, and feet are all used for striking.

PTK focuses on practicality over theatrics. This is a no-nonsense fighting system designed for survival against multiple opponents. The art was used for warfare during ancient times.

Unlike sport oriented martial arts, PTK uses unconventional fighting methods like biting, grabbing, and spitting: anything it takes to win the fight. It’s quick, decisive, and severe.

Overview of Pekiti Tirsia Kali

A Brief History of Pekiti Tirsia Kali

PTK was established in 1897 by Conrado B. Tortal. Back in the feudal era of the Philippines, communities protected their own land from intruders. Each family developed their own brand of fighting. These styles were kept inside the family, and not shared with outsiders. Everyone was tasked to protect their land and livelihood against raiders and opposing families.

During the Second World War, some of the family members were enlisted and fought the war as guerillas. Conrado B. Tortal is now succeeded by his grandson Leo T. Gaje Jr., and this is where it gets exciting. Families were secretive with their fighting arts; a select few outsiders were granted the opportunity to learn after a lengthy probation period.

This all changed in the 1970s when Grand Tuhon Leo T. Gaje Jr. decided to teach Pekiti Tirsia Kali outside their family. This was unprecedented that time but was soon followed by others. We can trace it back to three prominent figures that started this movement. They are Grand Tuhon Leo T. Gaje Jr., Guro Dan Inosanto and Grandmaster Remy Presas.

All of these martial artists became renowned for their contributions to the art. Each establishing and furthering their own brand of Filipino Martial Arts. Fast forward today, PTK is now an established fighting system. It’s especially popular in the military, law enforcement, and protection services.

Well Known Practitioners

Of course, the most prominent PTK practitioner is the man himself, Grand Tuhon Leo T. Gaje Jr. He has been awarded thrice in the Hall of Fame. He is recognized as a Weapons Master Instructor internationally.

Grand Tuhon Leo T. Gaje Jr. has appeared on covers for various martial arts magazines since the 1980s. The most recent were on Black Belt Magazine, recognized as the Man of the Year 2018. And in 2019 when he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award for that year.

He’s cheerful and spritely despite his advanced age. You’d be shocked to see him move and strike with precision. The man can still fight, and you would not want to be on the receiving end. He may not be a household name, but the man is definitely a legend around the globe.

Branches of Service That Use PTK in Training

Due to the versatility and effectiveness of the art, PTK became popular among the military, law enforcement and protection services – not just in the Philippines, but in several other countries all over the globe.

Agents would visit the country and train under GT Gaje Jr. They are also flown abroad to conduct joint training and seminars as well.

Practical Application of Pekiti Tirsia Kali

No one carries a sword or a stick with them at all times, so you might ask yourself is Pekiti Tirsia Kali truly useful in a self defense scenario? The answer is yes: PTK is not limited to long weapons, or to conventional weapons for that matter.

PTK practitioners like to talk about the concept of “Weapons of Opportunity.” These are everyday items a person can use in emergencies. The highest mastery of weapons training in PTK is called Empty Hands. Imagine being proficient enough not to use a weapon but to become the weapon yourself.


Despite the dangers of wielding a weapon, there are still sporting events centered around them. You have La Canne de Combat from France, Fencing from Germany, Kendo from Japan, and Arnis in the Philippines. The common denominator for each sport was the full body armor the competitors wear. I was surprised to see PTK fighters only wearing the minimum protective gear. But there are still the referees and rules everyone follows.

This propensity to duel it out with the barest minimum simulates the actual fight they train for. Much like the partners’ play in Muay Thai and the roll in BJJ. The closest thing they have to a sport is the sparring sessions done at regular intervals throughout the year. Safety is paramount during sparring. They have several formats used during sparring sessions.

Sparring Formats

There are various sparring formats done during gatherings. They are classified according to the rule type and implements available. The matches are simple enough to participate in. To ensure fair play, the instructors will either pair up people or have everyone draw lots. The weapon and the skills should pull you through. And the participants usually fight on any flat terrain. Grass and pavement make great arenas. Matches between beginners often look like brawls. But as they get better, the fights become more technical and refined. It is a spectacle to behold.

General Rules

These are a few basic rules for PTK sparring sessions. They are a lot easier to remember. Most of the rules are handled by the officiating body. You can just focus on wearing safety gear and fighting. There is generally no need for a simulated sparring opponent like a BJJ grappling dummy, or a Wing Chun wooden stick dummy.

  • All participants must wear an appropriately sized fencing mask and a pair of hockey gloves
  • Women may wear football armor for chest protection
  • Additional padding may be worn on the joints for extra safety
  • Mouth guards and groin guards are optional
  • Thinner Rattan sticks are used during matches
  • Rubber knives are used during matches
  • Use of the third hand or off hand is allowed
  • A minimum of an instructor rank will officiate the match
  • Referee resets the fight once a weapon is dropped
  • Matches will be two to three minutes long
  • No scoring
Blade Rules

The Blade Rules in PTK simulate a real knife fight. Live stick matches are the staple of sparring to prepare for these encounters, and the sticks are treated like blades.

A well–placed stick strike means you’ve caused significant damage to your opponent. But for the sake of duking it out, the fight continues.

Pekiti Tirsia Kali with Grand Tuhon Leo Gaje and Tuhon Leslie Buck

Rubber knife matches are also used in training. These matches allow sparring partners to get up close and personal. The matches here are more tense compared to stick matches. This is a simulation of a real knife fight, where you’ll need to get closer to strike.

One popular variation of Blade Rules is 3 vs 1. You can either be the attacking team or the victim. It’s a safe method to practice self defense against multiple trained and armed opponents

Another Blade Rules variation is known as Sword and Dagger – in this sparring scenario you get both a stick and a rubber knife (one of each). This looks a lot trickier since you’ll have both short and long weapons to move around with.

The Blade Rules format does not allow take downs, clinching or kicking. Getting too close to a blade during a fight will spell disaster. Grappling is not allowed, if one person drops or disarms the other, the fight is reset.

The All-Out Rules

The last and most deadly PTK ruleset is All-Out Rules. Everything is allowed including takedowns, clinches, and kicks. The referee will not separate the fighters. If the fighter drops the weapon, the fight goes on. It’s up to him to pick up his weapon.

All-Out Rules incorporates all the principles from weapons training to empty hands. These fights are rarely done, as they are risky and dangerous.

Winning a Pekiti Tirsia Kali Match

So how do you know who won? We don’t. Referees don’t declare winners or losers, but everyone will know who dominated and performed well during the bout. It’s just fighting for fighting’s sake. Everyone gets to evaluate their performance objectively without any bias.

Self Defense

Pekiti Tirsia Kali is a favorite art among the military, law enforcement, and protection services. It’s a great complement to unarmed training for law enforcement officers.

Earlier, I mentioned “Weapons of Opportunity.” These are everyday items that may be used to counteract against an assailant. Will you fight back like John Wick and his pencil? A weapon can only be as good as its wielder. PTK trains a fighter to be proficient with anything with a handle

Pens, flashlights, water bottles, umbrellas, and even magazines may be used for self defense in the PTK combat system.

Effectiveness in MMA

Most mixed martial arts fighters have a striking and grappling foundation: for an MMA fighter to be effective, he needs to cover all bases.

In MMA, the less dominant side is your lead and your dominant side is safely cocked away from the opponent (think Chuck Liddell’s devastating overhand right). This is the opposite in PTK, your weapon hand is your lead with either leg upfront.

Every MMA fighter learns the ground game early, with almost all fighters at least becoming proficient in defensive Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. But in PTK, grappling is largely ignored until the higher ranks. Naturally, PTK fighters will seldom bring the fight to the ground.

In the cage, Pekiti Tirsia Kali’s viscious ruleset will render many of it’s techniques unsuitable for competition. This is the same criticism that is leveled at Wing Chun. You’ll be hard-pressed to find an MMA fighter with a PTK base, or a PTK purist participating in the MMA scene.

Outside the cage, MMA and PTK will complement each other nicely in a self defense situation.

Should You Train Pekiti Tirsia Kali?

Training in Pekiti Tirsia Kali may be a good choice for people who want to learn self defense but can’t handle the inherent intensity of MMA. The initial training in PTK is less intense relative to MMA. You start with foot work and basic striking deployment, then progress from there.

PTK is also not as joint intensive as other martial arts like BJJ. You don’t have to strike with your limbs or wrestle with another person. The basic footwork allows adjustment according to the person’s capacity. Eventually, once the joints get stronger, then you can go harder.

Finally, you might consider Pekiti Tirsia Kali if you’re just looking to mix it up. There is a reason MMA is called mixed martial arts. Whether you find yourself in a street fight, octagon bout, or are just trying to lose weight, the more techniques you have in your arsenal the better.

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