Balintawak: The Combat Art of Cebu
Ah, close your eyes. Visualize a world where you are fully immersed in the culture of your chosen martial art.
Imagine you were born and raised in the motherland of your martial art and have had the opportunity to train with some of the most preeminent teachers in the system from an early age.
For many of us, this sounds like an idyllic dream. For martial artist Jemar Carcellar, this is more than a distant dream, this was his life growing up in Cebu City, Philippines, the birthplace of Balintawak.
The Style of Practicality
"There are no secrets in Balintawak, just well developed skills."
This one phrase encapsulates much about the unique Filipino fighting style named Balintawak and also much about the man who teaches it in Atlanta, Georgia.
Look to the stance of a Balintawak practitioner and you will see a stance akin to Jeet Kune Do with a stick in the hand. The practitioner stands with feet kept roughly shoulder width apart and ready to move, dominant side held in the front to maximize capabilities.
While at first it seems that they are fencing with only one weapon, it is more apt to say they are always training with two. The typical Balintawak stance finds you ready with a single stick in one hand and the other hand empty yet prepared to engage. The empty hand is considered "live" and ready to block, strike, push, pull, and help maneuver as you manipulate distance.
At the end of the day, most martial arts can draw more similarities than true differences. Like a boxer working tactics in the air, then hitting the mitts, before getting in the ring with sparring drills and freestyle rounds, Balintawak has progressive levels to its training.
The Balintawak student first learns how to strike, then how to defend against the strike. After this is taught, everything else is learned in motion. Working with a partner, new concepts and movement patterns are seamlessly introduced while moving around and blocking and countering.
In Balintawak, anything not tested in motion is only theory.
Attitude Before Skill: The Teacher's Role
"In Balintawak, there are twelve strikes," Jemar explains. " If I am the teacher and you are the student, I can throw one of twelve strikes your way. You must defend and respond with one of two different strikes. The purpose is so that we can go fast and work on reflexes without hurting each other.
What do you do with the other ten strikes? Those are for when you become an instructor and are now feeding and are now looking for opportunities for offense."
Like a growing plant carefully tended by a gardener, the student is being fed and has parameters. This can lead to Mara-Mara (guided freestyle) and eventually evolves into Sana-Sana (freestyle). The goal of any patterned and guided process is to ultimately become free-flowing and adaptable. The standardization of blocking and countering is to maintain safety and give an environment where you can appropriately grow.
With safety comes growth in confidence, with confidence comes the ability to better pressure test and develop appropriate reflexes. If you train harshly and in a manner that quickly and consistently leads to injury, your training can actually regress. Though your body will eventually heal physical injuries, your mind will accrue scars from the experiences. A bad bruise may heal in a week or two, however improper habits (such as excess tension or flinching) will take much longer to fully heal.
The student and the teacher both have a fair share of responsibility. Whether training or teaching, an intelligent approach is a must.
The True Legend
The founder of Balintawak, Venancio "Anciong" Bacon wasn't the largest or strongest eskrimador in Cebu, rather his strong suit was found in his quickness, strategic pressure against opponents, and adaptability.
On January 11th , 1932, Bacon's teacher, Lorenzo Saavedra joined with others eskrimadors to create Doces Pares, a group of twelve accomplished fighters promoting their systems. The association became a place for techniques and ideas to be traded as each eskrimador was a master of varying styles and weapons.
Shortly after the founding of this association, Venancio Bacon joined the ranks. While acting as a representing member of the group, he taught and continued to develop his own style. When World War 2 came to the Philippines in 1942, it changed many things. By the end of the war in 1945, many of the Doces Pares had lost their lives for their homeland and Bacon's teacher, Lorenzo Saavedra, had also died at the age of 93.
All of this took a great toll on the Doces Pares and changed many things, ultimately leading to Bacon leaving the group in 1952. That same year, Bacon opened a new club in the backyard of a watch shop his student owned. Taking the name of the street they were located on, the group named themselves the Balintawak Self Defense Club.
Even after Venancio Bacon's death in 1981, Balintawak has continued to advance and spread. The legacy of honest training open to evolution continues today.
Integration of an Art
"Balintawak is additive," Jemar states after recounting his days spent also training other martial arts such as Yaw-Yan (Filipino Kickboxing), Tat Kon Tou (a system born from Eskrima and Chinese martial arts) and Wing Chun (in the Moy Yat and Lo Man Kam lineage). "It is there to add to what you are already capable of doing."
Attributes such as speed, timing, and accuracy are universal. Whether you decide to train Bei Shaolin Kung Fu or Shotokan Karate, you are working with the same weapon: the human body. In a style that actively works to improve these essential attributes, you can learn to integrate your own movement patterns.
"We can use anything as a weapon because the weapon is truly just ourselves. We are learning how to generate power and move tactically, while expressing it through whatever is in our hand."
"If you can block a stick coming at you at random, whirling around at 55-75 MPH , the hand doesn't seem as fast. It will give you reflex training and additional opportunities to bridge the gap [of distance between you and your opponent]."
Keeping your training honest can mean asking yourself if what you are working on is integral to the type of martial artist you desire to become or if it is an auxiliary tool to reach further goals. Neither is wrong, unless you are deluding yourself.
Honesty to ourselves and to our teachers breeds respect and respect is the foundation for any important relationship. Without the people we respect, we would hardly be who we are.
"I don't care if I have a hundred students, but if I can have four or five people I can call family [then I am happy]. Otherwise, I am wasting my time. If I am teaching and teaching but I don't develop those relationships, what do I have to show for my legacy?"
Ready to join a legacy and begin your Balintawak training? You can click HERE to see where Jemar Carcellar's group trains!
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