About Balintawak

What is Bal­intawak Arnis?

Venan­cio ‘Anciong’ Bacon

Bal­intawak Arnis is a com­bat sys­tem devel­oped by Anciong Bacon in the 1940s. Believed to be named after a small street in Cebu where its first club was founded, it was devel­oped by Anciong to enhance and pre­serve the com­bat­ive nature of arnis which he felt was being watered down by other styles.

Var­i­ous forms of the art of Arnis, which include Doce Pares, Doce Musa, Punta y Daga, and Amara, uti­lize long range fight­ing skills and are geared more towards an offen­sive style of fight­ing. Bal­intawak varies from most mar­tial arts in that it uses close range fight­ing exer­cises, apply­ing all the known foul blows con­ceiv­able to street fight­ing. It was con­ceived to sup­ple­ment and cor­rect the miss­ing defen­sive fun­da­men­tals of Arnis.

Its pri­mary train­ing tool is the sin­gle olisi or garote — eschew­ing the tra­di­tional dou­ble sticks and espada y daga. How­ever, it is not just a stick– or blade-fighting art. Bal­intawak fight­ers are equally adept at both weapons and empty-hand fight­ing. In Bal­intawak, the arnis or gar­rote is only used to enhance and train the indi­vid­ual for bare hands fight­ing, and to achieve per­fec­tion in the art of speed, tim­ing and reflexes nec­es­sary to acquire defen­sive pos­ture and flu­id­ity in move­ment. Bal­intawak aims to har­ness one’s nat­ural body move­ment and awaken one’s senses to move and react. It guar­an­tees that its prac­ti­tioner will expe­ri­ence a rev­e­la­tion in the fun­da­men­tals of street fighting.

Prac­tice of the art is inde­pen­dent of body-type, be it fat or thin, big or small. It’s goal is to elim­i­nate the nat­ural human instincts in fight­ing and replace it with pur­pose­ful reflexes refined with speed and tim­ing. Bal­intawak also pro­motes well being and good rela­tions among practitioners.

Bal­intawak is battle-proven. Fights of Bal­intawak prac­ti­tion­ers against fight­ers of other styles and mar­tial arts, whether empty hand or weapon-based, are usu­ally over in sec­onds. Its strikes are direct and fast, its foot­work nat­ural and short, almost like walk­ing, for mobility.

It has no fancy move­ments and assumes at once that an adver­sary is skilled and has a strong attack, thus neces­si­tat­ing a strong defense. For this rea­son, defense is taught first to all Bal­intawak practitioners.

Why Defense First?

Bal­intawak aims to develop a defen­sive pos­ture because one should always assume that one’s oppo­nent is skilled. Most prac­ti­tion­ers of other arts are taught speed and tim­ing in offen­sive moves, with the ideal of down­ing an oppo­nent with suc­ces­sive attacks, whereas only a few arts prac­tice speed and tim­ing in the realm of defense. Bal­intawak bridges the gap between offense and defense. Once speed and tim­ing in the defense are devel­oped, the offen­sive attack fol­lows auto­mat­i­cally. The con­trary is true when one only prac­tices offensively.

Since Bal­intawak is defen­sive in nature, it allows men­tal, as well as motor move­ments to develop and syn­chro­nize. It also con­stantly places the prac­ti­tioner in high-pressure sit­u­a­tions, by means of defen­sive spar­ring, which also makes for good car­dio­vas­cu­lar exercise.

What makes Bal­intawak Arnis dif­fer­ent from other Arnis, Kali, Escrima?

Bal­intawak uses a unique method to train its prac­ti­tion­ers. After learn­ing the basic offen­sive and defen­sive tech­niques, the Bal­intawak stu­dent is, from day one, placed in harm’s way. He is given ran­dom and con­tin­u­ous attacks/strikes by his instruc­tor, gen­er­ally at a speed just beyond his (or her) cur­rent abil­ity to defend against. The student’s mis­sion is sim­ple: to defend and counter the attacks. The result is an instructor-led train­ing frame­work — called agak — that immerses the stu­dent in a dynamic state of attack and coun­ters that he must strive to over­come. This free-flowing duel pro­grams the stu­dent to respond instinc­tively to ran­dom attacks, with crisp, effec­tive offen­sive and defen­sive tech­niques exe­cuted flu­idly and, if called for, con­tin­u­ously. Quick­ness, power, and econ­omy of move­ment are empha­sized. As the stu­dent improves in this counter-to-counter play, the attacks become stronger, faster and more com­plex, pro­gres­sively “pulling” the student’s skill level upward. At all times, the instruc­tor guides the stu­dent, from the most basic, to the more advanced, tech­niques. Even­tu­ally, the student’s defense, tim­ing, speed, body mechan­ics, and tech­niques improve to a level where he is able to over­come his instructor’s attacks. How­ever, as the stu­dent improves, so does the train­ing level. The higher the skill of the instruc­tor, the higher the stu­dent can go. A good Bal­intawak instruc­tor con­stantly keeps the stu­dent in a state of jeop­ardy, chal­leng­ing — but with­out over­whelm­ing — him to strive to match the instructor’s inten­sity and skill level. At the high­est lev­els, the dis­tinc­tion between instruc­tor and stu­dent dimin­ish as both attack and defend with equal vigor and skill. This is known as cuen­tada. Because of this, Bal­intawak can only be taught one on one, by an instruc­tor more skilled than the stu­dent. It can­not be taught ‘en masse.’ It is this per­son­al­ized tute­lage that dis­tin­guishes Bal­intawak from other arnis/kali/eskrima and mar­tial arts styles. Prac­ti­tion­ers of other styles might think this is equiv­a­lent to what other styles call freestyle or laban-laro. This is not so. It has been observed that the freestyle and laban-laro exer­cises of other styles are chore­o­graphed. In Bal­intawak, the “give and take” is truly ran­dom. There are no pat­terns. More­over, it is taught from the very begin­ning, unlike in other styles where spar­ring and “pseudo-freestyle” drills are usu­ally reserved for advanced stu­dents. In Bal­intawak, there is no such thing as a foul blow. At advanced lev­els, all con­ceiv­able attacks are allowed, includ­ing punch­ing, elbow­ing, head butting, trip­ping, kick­ing, push­ing, pulling, grab­bing, butting, trap­ping, spit­ting, etc.

What are Balintawak’s Sys­tems of Instruction?

The group­ing sys­tem of instruc­tion was devel­oped by Atty. Jose Vil­lasin in an effort to sys­tem­atize the ran­dom teach­ing style of Anciong Bacon. Under the group­ing sys­tem of instruc­tion, a stu­dent is taught twelve basic strikes, and the cor­re­spond­ing twelve basic blocks and coun­ters. Once the stu­dent is famil­iar with these basic move­ments, the instruc­tor attacks the stu­dent with a series of basic strikes, first in sequence, then later ran­domly, to which the stu­dent must respond with the basic blocks and coun­ters. As the student’s abil­ity to defend and counter pro­gresses, the instruc­tor increases the speed of the attacks, varies the tim­ing, intro­duces feint­ing, foot­work, twist­ing, etc. and intro­duces more sets of attacks, coun­ters, coun­ters to the coun­ters, and so on. This advanced set of attacks, coun­ters, and coun­ters to the coun­ters which are called “groups” are what char­ac­ter­ize this method of instruc­tion. The “groups” address the vari­ables that arise in com­bat, the “what ifs” such as “what if the attacker holds your hand,” or “what if he moves left,” etc. At the higher lev­els, the groups form a cor­pus of move­ments that can be com­bined in an infi­nite num­ber of ways, allow­ing the stu­dent to express him­self in com­bat in his own unique way.

As its name sug­gests, the ran­dom method does not use groups. In this sys­tem, after a stu­dent is taught the basic strikes, blocks and coun­ters, the instruc­tor ran­domly deliv­ers a series of attacks with no par­tic­u­lar order in the way the stu­dent is guided through the attacks and coun­ters. This is the tra­di­tional method of teach­ing Bal­intawak and is favored by the older masters.