Cadena de Mano : Filipino Martial Art of empty hand and knife combat system

I hesitated for a long time to write a post on the Cadena de Mano (often written Kadena de Mano) because there are few sources on this art.

I have been practicing Cadena de Mano for more than 15 years and I learned it through Latosa Eskrima which brings together several Filipino Martial Arts systems (FMA), mainly ; Cabales Serrada Escrima, Larga Mano Giron Escrima and Cadena de Mano (or Sarmiento Kadena de Mano) [1]. The Latosa Escrima system was widely distributed in Western Europe from the end of the 1970s, in schools attached to the EWTO (European Wing Tsun Organization) in parallel with the teaching of Wing Tsun. I touched on this in the article on the Cabales Serrada Escrima.

Left picture : (from the left to the right) Bill Newman, Keith Kernspecht, Leung Ting, Rene Latosa.
Right picture : Rene Latosa. Source : Escrima, p6 and p77, 1979 [2]

“Cadena de Mano is a very unique hand system, is actual transition from stick to empty hand.”

Rene Latosa [3]

Cadena de Mano, which literally translates to chain of hands, is a generic term that is used by several styles of FMA to refer most often to a practice of bare-hand combat, access to striking, trapping and locking techniques. The Cadena de Mano that I practice, also called Sarmiento Kadena de Mano, is a combination of bare hand and knife techniques.


Max Sarmiento, one of the precursors of the development of Filipino Martial Arts in the US

The Max Sarmiento’s Cadena de Mano is a Filipino combat system, with bare hand and knife, originating from the Sarmiento family. We know very little about Max Sarmiento. Everything we know comes from the testimony of his direct students like Mike Inay or Rene Latosa.

Max Sarmiento (1929-1982) was in a US Marine Corps and served in the Korean War. Then he moved to Stockton, California, and he was one of the first Filipino Masters, like Angel Cabales and Leo Giron, who pooled their practice in the 1960s. [4]

Training group in Stockton, 1970s. Standing : Angel Cabales and Max Sarmiento. Kneeling : Jimmy Tacosa, Remy Estrella and Mike Inay.

Stockton was the largest Filipino community outside the Philippines, with a first generation of Filipinos, called the Manongs, arriving in the 1920s and 1930s. Max Sarmiento was instrumental in gaining the approval of the older Manongs of Stockton, so that Angel Cabales is openly teaching Filipino Martial Arts to non-Filipinos. [5]

According to Mike Inay, in 1965, Max Sarmiento was employed as the manager of the Defense Depot near Stockton. One day some workers were practicing Karate during their lunch break and one of them jokingly attacked Max as he passed by. Max defended himself quickly and effectively using his Cadena de Mano. The Karate students were amazed at how easily Max defended himself and they asked Max to teach them his style. Max was given permission to set things up, so he convinced Angel Cabales to open a FMA school. Angel Cabales’ school, opened with the help of Max Sarmiento, is considered the first Filipino Martial Arts school in the United States. [5]

In 1979, Max Sarmiento founded the West Coast Eskrima Society with Mike Inay, one of his students, to preserve and promote Filipino Martial Arts in the United States. Several Filipino Masters have joined this organization such as Sam Tendencia, Dentoy Revillar, Gilbert Tenio, Leo Giron, Richard Bustillo, Narrie Babao or even Dan Inosanto. [6]

“Max Sarmiento taught me the proper use of the empty hand skills of escrima and to appreciate all the systems of escrima. I consider him especially adept with empty hand, dagger, knives and counter staff attacks.”

Dan Inosanto [7]

Jimmy Tacosa and Max Sarmiento practicing Cadena de Mano

The Inayan Eskrima created by Mike Inay draws its main influences from the Cadena de Mano, as well as the Cabales Serrada Escrima. Mike Inay promoted his system in the US and also in Europe in the 1990s. [8]


Cadena de Mano, chain of hands

The main work in Cadena de Mano consists of performing different cycles of Hubud Lubud, a Tagalog term (one of the Filipino dialects) that can be translated as “tie and untie”. This type of cooperative exercise between partners makes it possible to work on the continuity of defensive movements against an angle of attack.

Hubud Lubud, or more commonly abbreviated as Hubud, consist of performing sequences of techniques with a lot of repetition. As with the different sinawali drills, the hubud also allow you to focus on coordination and timing. In turn, the partners are either attacker or defender and repeat the same movements during several cycles. Different hubud can chain and combine with each other, all creating a harmonious flow.

Hubud can be practiced with weapons (sticks, knives) or bare hands.

Hubud with bare hands. Source : FMA Pulse (click on the picture to watch the video).

“Hubud could be described as a sister to Chi Sau”

Terry Gibson, JKD and Kali instructor [9]


“Some exemples of cooperative fighting drills are the Filipino ‘Hubud’ drill, Wing Chun ‘Chi Sau’, and Silat ‘Pelampas’. Many of this drill incorporate checking, trapping, pinning, blocking, and striking, all of which are performed at close range.”

Chad McBroom, Close Combat instructor [10]

Hubud are built according to a sequence of techniques ;  block, parry, check.

Against an angle of attack, the defender receives the attack and uses a block. This defensive move is not hard and static, rather it is a first contact followed by an immediate redirect (parry or pass). This redirection movement aims to deflect the attack from its path. Then comes the control movement (check), often performed with the palm of the hand (like paak sau in Wing Chun) or a C-shaped grip. Then the defender in turn becomes an attacker and launches an attack on his partner who is led to repeat the same defensive cycle.

The block, parry, check sequence is most often used, but some hubuds are made differently. For example, during hubud practiced with a knife, cuts can be inserted. See the video below, Mike Inay presents the first drill, hubud, of Kadena De Mano.


Hubud lubud training is an important basic in Cadena de Mano to acquire the necessary technical background and good motor reflexes. At the same time, scenarios allow you to reinvest the techniques learned by confronting them in attacks at full power and high speed.


Cadena de Mano is trained primarily for empty hand and knife combat (or any other short weapon). The coordination of movements is identical whether you are armed or not, which makes this system very adaptable. Bare hand method of Cadena de Mano is very similar to the principles and techniques used in the various methods of Panantukan, the Filipino boxing.

“It [Cadena de Mano] can be played with bare hand, dagger, dagger vs dagger… whatever you can grab to either defend yourself or to apply to your opponent.”

Tony Somera (Giron system) [11]

For my part, as a practitioner of Wing Chun focused on empty handed combat, I learned Cadena de Mano precisely for knife against knife and knife against empty hand combat.

Concerning the knife fighting, versus bare hands or versus knife, I measure the complexity and the extreme dangerousness of such a situation. Defending an opponent with a knife is one of the most difficult situations in self-defense and it will always be better to flee than to face the opponent. Self-defense isn’t about heroism, it’s about survival. I make this speech to all the students to whom I teach knife fighting.

Contrary to theory, nothing works 100% in reality. And even a small cut with a knife can be deadly.

It must be assumed that the chances of survival are very slim against an attacker armed with a knife. Good training in this type of situation increases the chances of survival in situations where escape is not possible. See my post on the elevator situation on this.

When talking about an aggression with a knife, we must differentiate between two types of situation, threats and attacks :

  • Threats are situations where the aggressor puts the knife on his victim, often accompanied by a grab, to intimidate him and get something from him. These are static attacks, there is no attack with movement.
  • Attacks are situations where the attacker has engaged in a movement with the intention of stabbing or cutting their victim.
Left, a knife threat situation. Right, a knife attack situation.

Threats are more defensible than attacks. Even if for that you have to show incredible calmness and master your technique to perfection. Attacks, on the contrary, are very difficult to defend against. Especially since sometimes/often we don’t see them coming. One of my brother in arms who was a security guard in a nightclub was once stabbed in the back during a melee, he didn’t see anything happen, luckily for him, he got away with it.

The FMA makes it possible to realize how difficult these attacks are to defend. It is necessary to make the difference between the single predictable attacks and known in training, where there, any experienced practitioner can do something according to the techniques of his style and the reality which can be much more sneaky with repeated all-out attacks, unpredictable and elusive… “good luck!”

It is necessary in training to reinvest this type of behavior on the part of the attacker, to realize how difficult it is to get out of such a situation unscathed.

Predictable attack, amateurish…😁🔪. Source : Scream, by Wes Craven, 1996.


[1] FMA pulse interview and

[2] Escrima, p6 and p77, LATOSA Rene and NEWMAN Bill, Wu Shu-Verlag Kernspecht, 1979

[3] Rene Latosa interview

[4] Filipino Martial Arts, Cabales Serrada Escrima, p27-28, WILLEY Mark. V, Charles E. , Tuttle Pubilshing Co. , 1994

[5] Filipino Martial Arts, Digests, Ray Terry interview, special edition 2008


[7] The Filipino Martial Arts as taught by Dan Inosanto, p19, INOSANTO Dan, Know Now Publishing Compagny, 1980


[9] Black Belt, february 1988, p60, Rainbow Publications

[10] Solving the Enigma: Insights Into Fighting Models, McBROOM Chad, ed., 2016

[11] introduction Giron Escrima vol-2 Cadena de Mano by Tony Somera


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