Few people in the world can truly be called a grandmaster of arnis. Fewer still have studied with the original Filipino masters or fought in stick "death matches." Crispulo Atillo is one of those rare people.

Few people in the world can truly be called a grandmaster of arnis. Fewer still have studied with the original Filipino masters or fought in stick-fighting challenge matches. Crispulo “Ising” Atillo is one of those rare people.


History

Crispulo Atillo was 14 years old when he began his formal training in 1952 under arnis legend Venancio “Anciong” Bacon, but his first fighting experience came at a much younger age.

During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in the early 1940s, Crispulo Atillo’s father was a member of the resistance, and more than once both father and son narrowly avoided capture. It was also during these war years that he witnessed Venancio Bacon and another legendary balintawak master, Teodoro Saavedra, fight in challenge matches.

These early experiences left a deep impression on the young Crispulo Atillo and made him a lifelong devotee of the original style of balintawak arnis.

After World War II, the only surviving balintawak master was Venancio Bacon. It was from him that Crispulo Atillo learned most of this single-stick style. But Crispulo Atillo’s father was also a student of the late Teodoro Saavedra, and the senior Atillo passed those skills along to his son. The result was a style of arnis that made the junior Atillo one of the best ambassadors of arnis in the Philippines.

Technique

Crispulo Atillo’s balintawak arnis is a single-stick style. The free hand is used for controlling the opponent’s stick. When a student begins training, he starts with basic blocks, strikes and stances that are common to most styles of balintawak. The stick is held vertically and directly in front of the face while the practitioner swivels from side to side to block attacks. 

Atillo then teaches stick-to-stick drills, followed by stick-and-hand drills — all of which lead up to his specialty, sparring.

In the Philippines, Crispulo Atillo is famous as a fighter, and his style reflects this. It emphasizes simple techniques and footwork. In fact, like many boxing coaches, Atillo believes that mastering stances and footwork is the most important part of fighting. They, along with the vertical-stick defense, are given a great deal of attention in his style of balintawak.

Crispulo Atillo claims that his fights are what really make him a master of arnis. He has fought in four full-contact challenge matches with no protective gear and banged sticks with some of the biggest names in the Filipino martial arts. In fact, he fought doce pares grandmaster Ciriaco “Cacoy” Cañete in the last officially sanctioned “death match” in the Philippines in 1983.

While the fight ended in controversy — both sides claimed victory after less than a minute of fighting — it was the kind of encounter that most arnis practitioners never even come close to experiencing.

Future

Crispulo Atillo said his goals include sharing his art with stick fighters in other countries. He has a special fondness for the United States because of childhood memories of his father fighting alongside American soldiers during World War II.

Atillo is truly interested in teaching his style to the world, and he now has students in Europe and the United States. His dream of spreading his art is an admirable one.

In a world that seems bent on making everything contemporary and overly complex, Crispulo Atillo is one of the last remaining masters of original balintawak trying to pass on an uncomplicated but powerful martial art as he enters his twilight years.

About the author: Keith Vargo is a martial artist and author who lives in Japan.

SUBSCRIBE TO BLACKBELT MAGAZINE TODAY!
Don't miss a single issue of the world largest magazine of martial arts.

Do you want to maximize your self defense skills? Learn the game of combat chess and most importantly the queen of all moves.

Allow me to intercept those who would object to the title of this article. I'm not claiming that there's a secret move, shortcut or hack that will give you the edge in any fight. Even if there was an ultimate weapon or strategy, you likely would avoid it because you
Keep Reading Show less

Training in Hapkido, Watching Billy Jack and becoming a sheepdog

On the East Coast and West Coast, schools had been emerging and multiplying since the mid-1960s, but those of us who lived in "flyover country" had few opportunities to broaden our understanding of arts like karate, kung fu, judo and taekwondo.

At Union University in my hometown of Jackson, Tennessee, I'd been fortunate to train from 1969 to 1970 in the then little-known art of hapkido. In a field-house basement, a Korean student and former captain in the ROK Army known only as Mr. Suh organized and taught the system to a small group of dedicated students. Suh ran a no-nonsense traditional class, and for 10 months, we couldn't get enough of his instruction. Despite the bruises and the blood, we always looked forward to our next session.

Keep Reading Show less

Learn the mechanics and do the drills, then unleash the beast that is your round kick!

Because of its versatility and power, the round kick — known to some martial artists as the turning kick, the saber kick or the roundhouse kick — is one of the most common leg techniques in our world. No matter your particular interpretation, the basics are the same: You swing your leg along an arc until your foot or shin strikes the target.

Keep Reading Show less

How it stacks up agains 3 other go-to responses to an attack

In hand-to-hand combat, you face a constant and undeniable danger. Among other injuries, you can sustain broken bones, torn cartilage and ruptured organs. You also can be knocked unconscious or killed.Over the millennia, various cultures have developed their own techniques and strategies for dealing with such threats. One of the most pervasive is punching. That's the case because in most unarmed encounters, a properly thrown punch is the most efficient and effective tool a martial artist can use.

Keep Reading Show less
Don’t miss a thing Subscribe to Our Newsletter