The Philippines is an archipelago of 7,107 islands and is divided into 3 major subgroups, Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Luzon is the largest landmass and has the most homogenous terrain geographically speaking. The Visayas is the middle group of islands and is the most diverse in terms of subcultures due to the islands being separated by water. Mindanao is the southernmost of the three and is mostly coastal with inland mountains and jungles. The particular geography and topology of the Philippines has led to a diversity in its sub-cultures, norms, practices and beliefs.
A generally accepted assessment of early Filipinos is that we are a tribal culture. Early Filipinos forming themselves into small communities or tribes to share labor, food resources as well for their common good and common defense. They were generally governed by a tribal chieftain or a village elder. The knowledge of warrior skills did not always start in wars. Children usually learn the skills of hunting early on and fighting did not necessarily mean fighting against fellow tribesmen or enemy tribes. Wild animals that threaten the tribe were often the early threats and adversaries. The concept of Cities was unfamiliar.
As individual tribes, there was always some form of competition with other tribes over food, resources, goods, wives and slaves. Able-bodied men were usually called into service to defend their tribes. And it is in these battles that we believe the Filipino Martial Arts came about. Crude but practical beginnings.
The latter sophistication of the FMA as it is now called is the product of games played early on by youths and also as part of Festivals and other major occasions. The codification of heroic deeds, adventures, mis-adventures and rights of passage may be found in the indigenous epic poetry of some tribes.
The "professionalization" of the "Warrior Class" was an inevitable step as eager warriors survived to become veterans of local Tribal wars. This led to the codification of effective techniques, imitated, tested and passed on to younger warriors who would add on to this codex as they gained experience. This growing repertoire are the early formalizations of tribal fighting styles as every fighter favors particular techniques over others branching into specializations – the beginnings of a technical repertoire.
The warriors role has always been that of the protector. A protector of tribal property, prestige and honor. Sometime they are called upon to protect a noble, particularly during trading forays and diplomatic missions. A warrior then had many opportunities to meet other cultures and peoples and also possible share and exchange experiences with other warriors.
It must be realized that warriors are not mindless fighting machines. The warrior is a fully independent individual who has dedicated his life to his craft and duty. This includes studying and improving his repertoire and skill. It has been heard that some Chieftains were so proud of their warriors that they would hold games to test the skills of their warriors versus that of other Chieftains. So it is very possible that early warriors would take any opportunity to improve their knowledge and skill of their craft. These games and contests have become opportunities for the cross-pollination of fighting techniques.
Exposure is not limited to the other local tribes as early Filipinos did practice trade with the neighboring islands as well as the local coastal marketplaces where foreign traders who had their own "bodyguards" exchanged goods and information with the locals. There is some evidence that some forms of foreign martial arts did have some influence on the indigenous fighting technology in terms of techniques, style and weaponry of early Filipinos.
It will have to be accepted that the true test of warrior technology is in combat and that some other aspects other than skill will come into play. Metallurgy and tempering techniques for iron weapons, weapons classes and types, the development of armor and shields and other forms of protection. The level of sophistication was initially dependent on the availability of indigenous materials and the tribal craftsmen's skills. Time and successful trading for foreign materials gave local craftsmen opportunities to heighten their craft.