Exploring Rizal’s training in martial arts, including Filipino Martial Arts.

Jose Rizal: The Warrior

Jose Rizal is best known as the National Hero of the Philippines. Through his intellect and passion, he wrote two of the most influential books in history, “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo,” and sparked the Philippine revolution. But is it possible that one of the most honored Filipino intellectuals was also one of the earliest integrated martial artists and even promoted the Filipino Martial Arts (FMA)? This article will explore Rizal’s training in martial arts, including Filipino martial arts.

During his early life, Jose Rizal “…was frail and sickly as a child.” As a result, Rizal began conditioning himself through buno, a Filipino-style of wrestling. Because of his size, others sought to take advantage of him. He writes in “Memorias de un estudiante” he tells his experience in grade school in which, “The son of the teacher was a few years older than I and exceeded me in stature… After beating him in a fight, I gained fame among my classmates, possibly because of my smallness” His martial arts training would carry into adulthood as he began cross-training in his travels.

While in Madrid, Rizal practiced fencing and pistol shooting. His reputation as a marksman is best illustrated in a letter he wrote to Antonio Luna which states, “Speaking of shooting, I am sending you a target containing 10 bullet holes; it was seven and a half meters from me. At twenty-five meters I can put all my shots in a twenty-centimeter target” In Japan, Rizal learned judo under the tutelage of Dr. Jigoro Kano. Rizal would eventually teach judo in Paris to the members of the Kidlat (Lightning Club) and would learn boxing while traveling to London from his friend Dr. Reinhold Rost. Rizal’s greatest passion and patriotism, however, came from the Philippines.

Despite being well rounded in many martial arts, Rizal made it a point to learn the marital arts indigenous to the Philippines and “arnis de mano” (stick fighting), dumog (wrestlng), suntukan (boxing)… became life long disciplines” for Rizal. Realizing that the marital arts were slowly dying out of the Philippines, he organized one of the first martial arts groups for Filipinos. “Rizal’s public gym in Calamba (circa 1887) combined classes in wrestling, weightlifting, fencing, marksmanship, and arnis de mano.” It is assumed that Rizal’s gym was the first integrated martial arts clubs in the Philippines. Furthermore, Rizal worked to integrate martial arts into the school curriculum. Over the course of his life, Rizal was challenged three times to put his skill to the test.

Antonio Luna was the first to challenge Rizal after he made remarks against Nellie Boustead. Luna would eventually apologize to Rizal, leaving the challenge untouched. Wencesalao E. Retana and Juan Lardet both wished to duel Rizal but once they learned about Rizal’s skill, withdrew their challenges.

With his accomplished background, there is no question that Jose Rizal is one of the earliest mixed martial artists. A poet, writer, painter and martial artist, Jose Rizal is the epitome of the Renaissance Man!



*Main Image courtesy of FMAPulse.com; Jose Rizal (right) fencing with Juan Luna (Left)



  • Salvador, Diego – Rizal in Duels & Martial Arts: More than Just your Ordinary National Hero
  • Navarro, Rene – Rizal: Zen Life and Zen Death
  • Mallari, S Gil Perry – Fightin’ Jose, The Manila Times, 12 June 2008