Eskrima, arnis, kali, kalirogan or garote as it is variously know in a polyglot country like the Philippines, is an art indigenous to the Filipinos. It is not copied, rehashed or borrowed from anything foreign. It was developed. by ancient Filipinos, who fought with rattan sticks, balisong, kris, pinute, kampilan and bolo knives. That was before the advent of gun and European cannons. Its history is imbedded deep way back into the pre-historic Philippines.
Eskrima was used to repel early Spanish invaders including battles with Ferdinand Magellan's forces, as recorded by Magellan historian and chronicler Pigafetta. It was a sport of Philippine national hero Jose Rizal and other heroes like General Gregorio del Pilar, Marcelo H. del Pilar, Antonio Luna and Andres Bonifacio. In Bobby Taboada's exposure to the Masters, he learned the history of the BALINTAWAK CLUB in relation to the other eskrima clubs in Cebu. That it was the Great Grandmaster "Ansiong" Bacon who was the acknowledged master of the art way back in the 1930's and that the latter-day masters were his students.
In Balintawak eskrima the stick is used as the primary training tool to familiarize the students with weapons and blows. It is believed that familiarity in confronting weapons reduces fear and panic in actual combat. It is a combat both with weapons and bare hands. The theory is that the stick is only an extension of the arm and that the human body can only move in so many normal ways. This the development of certain basic blows to illustrate the source and direction of blows. Beneath the wide swinging, flashy and visible blows are the sophisticated secret moves, dynamics in balancing, holds, parries, clips, ruses, feigns, tripping, sweeping, kicking, trapping, reversals of motion and direction, blows with simultaneous offense and defense and a myriad of combination blows with the stick, fist, elbow, knee, foot or head butt. There is no limit on where and what to hit except in friendly workouts where injury is avoided and safety is imposed. As a matter of fact, what is considered foul in many arts, is what is taught and mastered in Balintawak. It is combat, street fighting and self-defense. In Balintawak, the student is taught that there is a counter to every counter and that continuous research and discovery is the basis of knowledge. The comes the training and workouts, where only those with the fastest reflex, coordination and agility will prevail. There is no emphasis on acrobatic, strenuous and abnormal movements of the human body. It is an art that can be practiced by children, women and older men. Eskrima does not claim to know it all. Bobby strongly believes that it has something to contribute to the world of martial arts. He advises to "pick one good move from any art, master it and make it a part of your arsenal at any instant and you will grow and mature in your knowledge." It is easy to hit but difficult to defend. Thus he emphasizes a strong defense for all beginners, mastery of the defensive stage of the art and then the incorporation of speed in the hand-eye coordination through reflex and flexibility in the body movement.
Balintawak, also known as Balintawak Eskrima, is a style of Filipino martial art developed by Venancio Bacon in the 1950s from earlier tuteledge of Lorenzo Saavedra. It is named after Cebu City's Balintawak Self Defense Club, where it was originally taught. In turn, the club took its name from the street of its location, Balintawak Street.
Early in the 20th century, the colonizing Spaniards left the Philippines, ending their 300-year rule. In their place, came the Americans. It was during this period of change that Venancio Bacon was born in 1912 in Carcar, Cebu. He grew up in San Nicolas town outside of Cebu City. Bacon would become one of the Philippines’ most influential eskrimadors. He learned eskrima in the 1920s as a teenager. His formation as an eskrimador began in San Nicolas. This would later lead him to death matches, attacks, and eventually jail.
Bacon's only teacher was Lorenzo Saavedra, of San Nicolas, who during this time had established the Labangon Fencing Club. At a time when many different styles of eskrima abounded, Saavedra’s was called the Corto Linear, although he was known to have mastered other styles. His best students were Teodoro Saavedra, his nephew, and Venancio Bacon. The Labangon Fencing Club, however, eventually dissipated into oblivion.
Doce Pares influence
In 1932, the Doce Pares Club was formed. Headed by Lorenzo Saavedra, the club was composed of three Saavedra eskrimadors and nine from the Cañete family. This constituted the original twelve needed to symbolically actualize the title Doce Pares, which was named in honor of the Frenchman whom Saavedra befriended and who he shared combat techniques with while in jail. Doce Pares also symbolized the Twelve Peers mentioned in the Matter of France - the knights or paladins of Charlemagne. Venancio Bacon was among the first members in the club.
World War II
World War II broke out in the Philippines in the early 1940s. With the onset of Japanese occupation, many eskrimadors became guerrilla fighters, employing their art for the defense of their nation. It was during this time that Teodoro Saavedra died at the hands of Japanese soldiers.
After the war, in 1952, along with Vincente Atillo, Delfin Lopez, Jesus Cui, Timoteo Maranga, Lorenzo Gonzales, Isidro Bardilas, Andres Olaibar, and a few others, Bacon established a new club, calling it Balintawak. The newly formed club started training in the backyard of a watch shop owned by Eduardo Baculi, one of Bacon’s students. This shop was located in a small side street in Colon, called Balintawak Street.
The 1950s and 1960s saw the "Golden Age" of eskrima in Cebu. Eskrimadors from various camps, mainly the two already mentioned, tested each other’s skills in all-out challenges. These resulted in injuries and sometimes deaths. Some were under honorable circumstances, while others treacherous. Vincente "Inting" Carin of Doce Pares found himself attacked by multiple assailants, incurring various injuries, while reciprocating lethal injuries on his attackers. Delfin Lopez was knifed from behind, resulting in his death. Venancio Bacon was ambushed in the dark while walking to his home in Labangon. He killed his assailant.
Incarceration and parole
Bacon was incarcerated for killing the attacker, who was armed with a knife, in self-defense. The judge ruled that Bacon’s martial arts skills could be considered a lethal weapon and should have been used with restraint. Bacon was paroled from prison in the mid-1970s. When he returned to Cebu, he continued to check on students, making sure the quality of Balintawak was still up to his standards since he left. Bacon regularly attended training sessions conducted by GGM. Atty. Jose Villasin and Teofilo Velez. A few years after, Bacon died.
Balintawak principally teaches single stick fencing, in a dueling format. Sometimes a small second stick is used to simulate a dagger. Bacon developed single stick techniques, as during his work-outs and training with other members of the Doces Pares Club before World War II, he would stab people with his wooden training dagger. Some say his dagger was taken from him by Saavedra, while others say he was simply asked not to train with it. Either way, Bacon developed and optimized his techniques based upon single stick work.
Balintawak is composed of twelve basic strikes because the human body is limited in movement. These twelve strikes form the basis from which a practitioner can develop, basic, semi-advanced and advanced movements.
There are only two formal ranks awarded by GM Bobby Toboada in Balintawak Arnis Cuentada. He has further expanded the techniques in these ranks into eight levels:
- Completion of the Art
- Level 1 - 12 basic strikes
- Level 2 - Defense and counter
- Level 3 - Grouping Systems
- Level 4 - Butting Techniques
- Level 5 - Disarms
- Level 6 - Semi-advanced Techniques
All techniques must be demonstrated with power, control, and body mechanics. A student will automatically fail the "Completion of the Art" test if they drop their stick, swear or make accidental contact with their partner.
- Fully Qualified Instructor
- Level 7 - Advanced Footwork
- Level 8 - Fully Qualified Instructor
Generally, a practitioner would need to teach for two to three years to achieve a fully qualified instructor status because a student of their teaching would need to pass the "Completion of the Art", and they need to develop twenty-four techniques that are both unique and effective.
Many Balintawak eskrimadors have become notable. These include Timoteo Maranga, Arnulfo Mongcal, GGM. Atty. Jose Villasin, Teodoro Buot, Teofilo Velez, and Bobby Taboada. They would also be responsible for spreading Balintawak around the world. The two most prolific teachers, as well as fighters, of Balintawak were GGM. Atty. Jose Villasin and Teofilo Velez.
Some of the better-known current instructors are GM. John Villasin (son of GGM. Atty. Jose Villasin), Sam Buot, Sergio Arcel, Ted Buot, Arturo Sanchez, Bobby Tabimina, Nick Elizar, Chito, Monnie and Eddie Velez, Nene Gaabucayan, Bobby Taboada, Crispulo Atillo, and Henry Jayme.