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Filipino versus Spanish Knife Fighters and a Duel in New York City, 1931

October 30, 2014

On July 18, 1931, the following account of a “knife battle” between Filipinos and Spanish Americans appeared in a column of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle:


The immigration of Filipino people to America had seen a large spike during the early twentieth century, when the Philippines was ceded to the United States by Spain as part of the Treaty of Paris. The above article demonstrates that Filipinos brought their knife culture with them to New York City, although it is uncertain how much formal instruction in Kali, Arnis, or Eskrima may have existed in America at that time.

Above: Filipino Moro warriors with their barongs

Above: Filipino Moro warriors with their barongs. From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jan. 24, 1933

Spain was also known for having a vibrant edged-weapons culture, which included knives such as the navaja, cuchillo, and punal. According to nineteenth century accounts, schools offering instruction in the use of these weapons were numerous in Spain. In 1853, Theophile Gautier reported that “The science of the navaja has its professors like fencing, and navaja teachers are as numerous in Andalusia as fencing masters in Paris.” Likewise, in The Spanish Navaja and its Use in Spain (1881), Charles D’Avilier describes how he “had the curiosity to take lessons from a professor [of fencing with the navaja], who disclosed the secrets of his science, aided by an ordinary cane in case of the bare blade.” And again, in the Travels of Samuel Parsons Scott (1886), the author noted that “Defence with the navaja has been reduced to a science, which has its regular school of instruction. The teachers give lessons with wooden knives, and the most noted among them have their private strokes, which are kept secret for cases of emergency.”

A duel with Spanish navajas. Source:

Above: A duel with Spanish navajas. Source:

This tradition continued in Spain well into the twentieth century, as documented in various articles and news reports. By 1908, knife fighting in Spain had become so widespread that the Spanish government passed severe measures against navaja use, citing the fact that “cutting affrays were becoming increasingly common throughout the peninsula.” (New York Times, Jan. 19, 1908) This same article goes on to note that “every rowdy in town and country carried his knife, and, it would seem from police statistics, was ready to use it…the navaja constitutes a particularly dangerous weapon and the wounds inflicted with it are often fatal.”

It is perhaps not in the least surprising, then, that immigrant Spaniards (and their descendants) would continue the use of these knives in the Americas, as well as in New York City. This fact is again vividly illustrated by the following account of a knife duel between Spaniards that occurred in Brooklyn in 1910, and was reported in the Dec. 14 issue of the Daily Eagle:


Today, there are several schools in New York City which teach Filipino knife technique. As to Spanish knife instruction, only one school exists—the Raven Arts Institute in Brooklyn, run by Maestro James Loriega, who was instructed in these methods in Spain by one of the last surviving masters of the art.

So, nearly one hundred years later, both Spanish and Filipino knife culture is still well alive in New York City.

If you enjoyed this article, see also: Filipino Martial Arts Reported in a New York Newspaper, 1900


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