Q & A for FMA Newspaper
FMAI: Guru Andrew P. Obon while growing up you studied the arts of Taekwondo, Moo Duk Kwon Tang Soo Do, and eventually APKO and was involved with the Philippine Karate Association coaching and also receiving the Best Fighter Award by the APKO in 1972. With all this experience what really led you to the art of Eskrima and why Balintawak, and not another style of Eskrima, Kali or Arnis?
Guru Andrew P. Obon: Thank you for the inquisitive question. Well, it had always been my desire to learn, master, and promote the Filipino Martial Arts. This desire started since my early years of studying other Oriental fighting methods. The reason behind this was that I wanted to strengthen my Filipino identity. Although I was born in Iloilo, Philippines, of Filipino- Malaysian parentage, I spent almost 17 years growing up in Sabah, Malaysia. I started my training in Eskrima in Dumaguete City in 1973. This was a year after I returned to the Philippines. I first learned the double stick (doble baston) and the traditional single stick (solo baston). I studied under Masters Casimero Espina and Col. Filisisimo Bulfa, a Granduncle and an uncle by affinity, respectively. Back then, I was searching for a more versatile and practical but effective System of Eskrima- one system which I could integrate the fighting techniques of the other martial arts which I had attained proficiency. Then one day in 1974, a schoolmate friend whose father was, at that time, learning Balintawak Eskrima, opened to me the opportunity of a lifetime. Through my friend, I met the late and notable Master Tinong Ybanes. He was a victorious death match fighter. I met Master Ybanes during one of his training sessions. He held his training in the resident-cum clinic of Dr Carlos Bueno; one of his students. After some impromptu demonstrations together with his senior students, I immediately saw the significant merits of Balintawak Eskrima over the other methods I had learnt and heard about.
FMAI: in 1979 you met and trained Melicio “Mel” Balberde who became a notable and Founder of the CASASAI (Combative and Sportive Arnis System Association, Inc.) Did you support Mr. Balberde in this endeavor and are you associated in the Organization?
Guru Andrew P. Obon: I did not directly support Mr. Balberde in the founding of CASASAI. However, I helped lay down the foundation by being his first Eskrima Guru for several years. I left Iloilo in 1986 and returned to attend the funeral of my aunt (my father’s sister), in January 2011. It was during this visit, the CASASAI through its Founder and President GM Balberde formally recognized me as one of its Grandmasters, among few others from Panay. CASASAI had to innovate with its curriculum in order to adapt and be more competitive in the Sports arena. As such, CASASAI is the current Grand Slam Champion of the Olympic Festival National Arnis Championship, sponsored yearly by the Philippine Olympic Committee.
FMAI: What are some of your experiences in training with Master Tinong Ybanes?
Guru Andrew P. Obon: Some of my memorable experiences in training with Master Ybanes are as follows: My fondest memory was his jovial approach during our training sessions. Whenever I found difficulty in coping with his series of offensive maneuvers, during the Corridas drill, he would smile. He would sparingly integrate fast and strong blows to challenge me to develop my full potential. Even his seemingly controlled and light blows were fast and heavy. The qualities of his striking power came from his well developed arms. Master Ybanes lifted weights daily. He jokingly said that he eats iron for breakfast. Once he asked me to test the power of his arm. I hung and tried to pull down his extended arms and failed. Master Ybanes used to end each round of Corridas (give and take) drill with a slash strike to the abdomen or a snap blow (witik) to the upper or lower limbs. Master Ybanes advised me to first master the Basic Skills and the rest of the techniques would come in due time. After our training session, our group together with Master Ybanes would go for some Chinese Noodles (pansit lumi) in a restaurant nearby. While eating, he would share to us stories about his training with Grandmaster Anciong Bacon and his death match fight. I personally learned a lot from his experiences.
FMAI: Master Nicomedes “Nick” Elizar took over the Dumaguete Balintawak Chapter when Master Ybanes became busy. Was there a difference in teaching methods?
Guru Andrew P. Obon: Yes, there were some differences between the teaching methods of the two Masters. Master Ybanes was first trained by GM Atty. Villasin and was also personally coached by GM Anciong Bacon in preparation for the death match. Thus, as a result, Master Ybanes adopted the teaching method of the latter. The original method used circular footwork and mixed application of techniques. Master Elizar being a student of GM Velez taught me the linear footwork and the group techniques. This training method is the trademark of the Balintawak International version which was put together by GM Atty Villasin in the late years of GM Bacon.
FMAI: in the Balintawak that you are teaching does it differ in any way to the Balintawak that Grandmaster Venancio “Ansiong” Bacon taught? Have you had to make some kind of change due to today’s society?
Guru Andrew P. Obon: Basically all Balintawak Eskrima versions have more similarities than there are differences. The basics we are teaching are similar to the two versions. We adopted the circular footwork of the original and group techniques of the International version. Our group gave strong emphasis on the Value System to balance the deadly combat aspect of Balintawak Eskrima. It functions just like the principle of the Yin and Yang, complimenting one another towards a rational and balanced development of a martial artist. We go a step further by teaching our students not only to be proficient in offensive and defensive maneuvers but above all, to be able to win without fighting. But first you must know how to effectively fight and defend yourself. Another distinct feature of our version, we integrated applicable kicks, knees, and elbow strikes; also throws and takedowns. We have also developed our bare hands defense against bladed and blunt weapons. We apply all of these in Corridas drill fashion. We also go beyond the corridas drills; we teach our students controlled free style sparring with the strikes. We are able to do this because we instill in each practitioner a strong sense of our Value System.
FMAI: since having extensive knowledge of other Martial Arts, have you incorporated it in APO-Balintawak Eskrima or have you kept them separate?
Guru Andrew P. Obon: I believe in the improved quality and effectiveness that comes out of integration as long as it is selective and compatible. Our footwork is slightly longer to add more power behind our kicking techniques and also to facilitate more effective takedowns and throws. We also integrate elbow, knee and palm heel strikes for stronger close quarter offense and counter maneuvers. For mental strengthening we include meditation and breathing exercises as part of our training. This will help in the attainment of spiritual level.
FMAI: with you being a seasoned tournament competitor, has the competition changed from when you competed compared to today’s competition?
Guru Andrew P. Obon: Yes, there is a significant change in today’s bare hands tournament as compared to those days. I used to compete in full contact tournament under the Tang Soo Do style, wearing protective gears. Today, most martial arts have adopted the sportive approach to their training. Hence more emphasis is placed on point system rather than fighting skills and knock-down power.
FMAI: What are your thoughts on teaching women and children? If favorable, do you modify your teaching?
Guru Andrew P. Obon: At our gym, we cater to both sexes and all ages. We train them the same way in that they go through all the training routines. Soon, we will be teaching pupils from a private school in our locality. We strictly instill our values system among our practitioners. Hence, we have not encountered major problems with our women and children practitioners. In fact, we encourage the opposite sex and younger ones to partner with each other and older practitioners. This would allow them to better adjust to different personalities in training. Thus, they would better adapt to real combat situation outside. We believe that the way you train is the way you fight.
FMAI: in being approached by new students what is the advice you may give them in starting Balintawak?
Guru Andrew P. Obon: For new Filipino students, I would say, be proud of your heritage. You have made the right choice and I appreciate your genuine nationalism. Our Filipino Martial Arts is comparable or even better than that of other countries. For non-Filipino students, I would say welcome and thank you for appreciating our Filipino Martial Arts- possibly one of the best the world could offer. Welcome on this journey and make it your way of life.
FMAI: What is your opinion on the Filipino Martial Arts today compared to when you first learned Balintawak?
Guru Andrew P. Obon: The Filipino Martial Arts today have already established a significant presence in the industry throughout the world. Many of the elite military forces in the USA and even Europe have made Filipino Martial Arts as part of their training curriculum. They have also made significant inroads into the cultures of other countries particularly in the USA and Europe. Mabuhay ang Filipino Martial Arts!
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