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.

Bruce Lee's "10,000 Kicks" Challenge – Complete 10,000 Kicks in 10 Days and Feed The Children

Bruce Lee's secret to self-mastery is hidden in the following quote, "I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times." Discipline, dedication and perfect repetition over time are the keys to mastery. To get results like Bruce Lee we need to train like Bruce Lee.

Keep Reading Show less

If there's a martial artist in your life who's hard to shop for, look no further than this list of the best holiday gifts from the world's leading magazine of martial arts.

The holidays are right around the corner and there's no better time to shop for the ninjas in your family! Black Belt Magazine doesn't just provide the history and current events of the martial arts world, we can equip you with all the best products too. From beautiful belt displays, to stylish gloves, to collector's edition books, keep reading to check out this list of the top five gifts to kick under the tree this year.

Keep Reading Show less

Half human. Half vampire. Experience the sharper, darker, and slicker Blade now in 4K Ultra HD! Click to see more!

The martial arts action classic Blade is back in 4K Ultra HD, and it will make you feel like you are watching Wesley Snipes in person! The film is available for purchase TODAY (December 1st), but you have a chance to win the Digital Movie courtesy of Black Belt Magazine. All you have to do is share this article on your social media page and tag Black Belt Magazine and the appropriate page for Blade or Warner Bros.

On Facebook, tag @Black Belt Magazine and @BladeFilmsOfficial. On Instagram, tag @BlackBeltMag and @WarnerBrosEntertainment. On Twitter, tag @Black_Belt_Mag and @WBHomeENT for a chance to win! You must also include the hashtag #Blade4K to be eligible to win the FREE download.

Keep Reading Show less

A thoughtful question from Mitch Mitchell, an affiliate coach of American Frontier Rough and Tumble, prompted me to commit to paper some observations regarding two common tools/weapons of the frontier. First, the exchange that led to all this:

Question: "Am I on the right track or holding my danged knife wrong?"

My reply: "Bowie designs are manifold. My personal preference falls toward a flat-spine knife with a half-guard because a spine-side guard or broken spine jams up my thumb on a sincere stab in a saber grip. For me, anyway, a nice, straight, full-power stab with a hammer grip on the high line is impossible, and anyway it is a wrist killer."

Mitchell's question is a common one that can lead us one step closer to weapons wisdom. First, I will point out that discovering that certain tactics and grips are wrist killers is possible only when we invest time in hard training with hard targets. If we stick with mirror play, shadow play or tit-for-tat flow drills with a partner using mock weapons, we likely will never stumble on the realities that make certain tactics ill-advised. As they say, train real to find real.

Keep Reading Show less
Free Bruce Lee Guide
Have you ever wondered how Bruce Lee’s boxing influenced his jeet kune do techniques? Read all about it in this free guide.
Don’t miss a thing Subscribe to Our Newsletter