What is Balintawak Arnis?
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.