A BRIEF HISTORY OF MARTIAL ARTS, ESKRIMA AND BALINTAWAK ESKRIMA
Each race or people had at one time or another developed their own art of self-defense system. The will to survive is a natural phenomenon and basic human need. As man thrived and survived within dangerous environments, he gradually developed what was then a crude method of self-defense. Over time, these crude methods of self-defense eventually flourished into the various martial arts systems that we know today. Self-defense is, therefore, as old as mankind.
Image: Early Man using crude tools to defend himself
Master Richard Chun of the Moo Duk Kwon classified in his book“Taekwondo- The Korean Martial Arts” the development of martial arts into four ages or periods:
The Instinctive Action Age– the first half-million years of man’s existence. It was a time before the invention of weapons.
The Conscious Action Age– from the stone age to the end of the primitive era; when mankind began to spread from the Central Asian Plateau, the Cradle of Civilization, Asia, Europe, and Africa. By this time, man acted consciously to develop methods of protecting himself and gathering food and other resources using tools and weapons for the first time.
The early Age of Systematization (Iron Age)– the period when techniques for self-defense were developed systematically and forms of martial arts became more advanced.
The Age of the Flowering of the Arts– from 2,600 years ago to the modern era, Martial Arts and Self-Defense reached their full metamorphosis and differentiated into various forms.
THE BEGINNING OF PHILIPPINE ESKRIMA
Image: The Epic Victory of Lapu-Lapu over Ferdinand Magellan; (Lapu-Lapu and his warriors used the combative art of Eskrima to win against Ferdinand Magellan’s troops in this epic battle at Mactan Island)
Eskrima, also known as Arnis, is called by other names depending on the region or province it is being practiced. Eskrima is derived from the Spanish word “esgrima” which pertains to a game that uses blunt weapons between two combatants. Arnis, on the other hand, also a Spanish word, means trapping or defensive armor.
Eskrima may have had its beginning during the Conscious Action Age when the Philippines was still connected to mainland Asia through a land bridge. During this time the club and heavy stick may have been used as traditional weapons. The art of Eskrima may have started to undergo a process of systematization during the Iron Age with new forms of style of the art emerging. Some of them are remnants of the older forms we see today.
During the Flowering age of the arts, long before the arrival of the Ten Datus of the Sri Visaya Empire, Eskrima may have already attained a status of its own. The already developed art of Eskrima fused with the fighting arts introduced by the Sri Visaya Settlers. Eskrima was further refined and improved by the art of fencing which was introduced by the Spanish Conquestadores. Eskrima, as a self-defense and combat art, accelerated further in its development as the need for the Filipinos to defend themselves against the oppression of the Spanish rule became detrimental to their peaceful existence and interest.
Image: Guardia Cebuano (they were highly trained in the art of Eskrima)
The 300 years of Spanish rule in the Philippines enhanced the development of Eskrima or Arnis as it is known today. Its development was concealed behind the facade of the moro-moro dance, depicting the conflict between the Christians and Muslim groups in the Southern Philippines.
THE METAMORPHOSIS OF BALINTAWAK ESKRIMA
In 1920, Lorenzo Saavedra organized the Labangon Fencing Association in Labangon, Cebu. It was the oldest recorded Filipino Martial Arts organization of its kind in the Philippines.
The Labangon Association played an important role in developing and propagating Eskrima in the Philippines and the world at large. It was here that some of the “would be Grandmasters” of the more popular Eskrima styles had their humble beginnings such as the Canetes of Doce Pares and Anciong Bacon of Balintawak; to name just two.
Venancio “Anciong” Bacon who was to become the legendary Grandmaster and founder of Balintawak Eskrima probably became a member of the organization in the early to mid 1930s. The Labangon Fencing Association lasted a decade when it disbanded in 1930 due to political, cultural, and social disagreements among its members. The faction which remained organized themselves into the Doce Pares Club in 1932, and the other group led by Anciong later formed the Balintawak Self-Defense Club.
Anciong’s instructor at that time was Grandmaster Lorenzo Saavedra who trained him in Punta y Daga (Stick and Dagger). Anciong was so proficient in the daga that he playfully used it against his sparring partners. When GM Lorenzo noticed the Anciong’s habitual undermining acts on his sparring partners, he was banned from using the daga.
This sanction imposed on the young Anciong incidentally led to the inception of a unique and now famous style of Single Stick Self Defense System. It was to become the most simple, practical, and effective Eskrima style now called Balintawak Eskrima.
Image: Original Balintawak club members from left to right: Atty. Jose Villasin, Johnny Chiuten, founder Venancio Anciong Bacon, and Teofelo Velez.
Anciong Bacon turned the obstacle of losing his daga into an opportunity. He developed techniques using his free-hand and turned it into an even more versatile weapon. It can not only stab or slash like a daga but also execute punches, grabs, pulls, pushes, etc. This gave the free hand an important function in balancing “vis-a-vis” the weapon hand. With his freehand, he also developed and perfected his limbs’ defensive and offensive maneuvers. These offensive maneuvers include kicking and boxing, take-downs, sweeps, and leg-asserted throws, and leg immobilization or sectoring techniques.
From the long and deep stances of the Punta y daga style, Ansiong skillfully integrated Western boxing footwork and dynamic free hand maneuvers into the new system of Balintawak.
To enhance balance and put the whole system into proper perspective, Anciong redefined his blocking and striking principles. He found out that short or stemless strikes and short blocks were faster and more effective than long stem strikes. Unknowingly, Anciong had attained true refinement of his art by applying simplicity in movements.
THE FOUNDING OF BALINTAWAK ESKRIMA
Image (Center): Grand Master Venancio Anciong Bacon (Founder of Balintawak Eskrima)
During his time, Grandmaster Bacon was invincible. Some even referred to him as The Legend. He fought more than a hundred death matches and won all of them. He fought with all kinds of opponents who were experts in their own Eskrima styles.
At one time, someone tried to ambush him amidst the darkness of the coconut grove, hoping to defeat him at last. Once again, Grandmaster Bacon proved his skill in Eskrima. This time though, it was fatal. He was forced by circumstances to exert more force than necessary and the encounter resulted to the death of his assailant. He was imprisoned for the alleged crime of murder for using his skills to defend himself.
While in prison, the “Mayor” (head of the prisoners) plotted on beating Anciong up. He was placed in a cell together with the “Mayor.” The jail guards heard beating sounds and thought Anciong was beaten up by the Mayor. But when they opened the cell, they saw Anciong holding the club and the Mayor sprawling helplessly on the floor.
As a result of good conduct, Anciong was granted parole even before his prison term was completed. The Jail warden found him as a disciplined, self-controlled, and respectful person.
When he returned to Cebu, he found it difficult to find a decent job. In order to have a means of livelihood, he opened the Balintawak Self-Defense Club in Balintawak Street, Cebu City. The style that Anciong developed became officially known as Balintawak Eskrima named after the Street where his club was first established. It must be noted that the street got its name from the famous Cry of Pugad Lawin (Eagle’s Nest), in Balintawak Quezon City. This was the cry which ignited the Philippine Revolution of 1896 against the imperial rule of Spain
According to Master Tinong Ibanes, the club was located behind a watch repair shop bordering a pig pen along the backyard. It had a small open ground which may have influenced the circular footwork of the original Balintawak style; “vis-a-vis” its later versions.
It was only after his art was officially named that he was known as the grandmaster of Balintawak Eskrima. Some of GM Ansiong’s early students were Delfen Lopez, Jesus Cui, Timoteo Maranga, Isidro Bardillas, Ationg Abella, Jose Villasin, and Teddy Boot.
THE FUTURE OF BALINTAWAK ESKRIMA
Image: Eskrima Weapons (stick, bolo, daga, etch)
Today the leadership of Balintawak Eskrima is like a fragmented glass. Each fragment of the glass represents the various groups which sprouted after the death of Grandmaster Anciong Bacon. This may be attributed by the fact that GM Bacon failed to appoint his successor. Hence, the Second and Third generation lineages have established their own version or brand of Balintawak Eskrima.
This is the only martial arts at present which has several living Grandmasters at one time. The much older Martial Arts have only one living Grandmaster at a time. And their succession is not based on status or rank recognition, not on affinity, as in most cases – in the Philippines.
The author would like to give an unsolicited advise; instead of splintering into insignificant pieces, the different Balintawak Groups should unify into a bigger, stronger, and more significant organization in the martial arts community. This way it can create a critical mass that would impact on its sector.
To make Balintawak Eskrima acceptable to all current individual leadership, and to be administered by a council of leaders, the council shall then establish standards and policy-guidelines for the federation.
There must be a prime mover to initiate and follow through this unification process towards its full realization. For it to succeed, we must set aside one’s individual pride and ego.
Image (Front row from 1st left): Balintawak Eskrimadors Tinong Ybanez, Teofilo Velez, Johnny Chiuten, and Jose Villasin with Students.
The author further challenge the leaders of the various Balintawak groups to work together towards the realization of One United Balintawak Eskrima Organization. This could be the dream of each Balintawak Arnisador- Unify in diversity.
Once the unification is realized, Balintawak Eskrima shall establish its success similar to the other better known and more established martial arts like Taekwondo.
The future of Balintawak Eskrima is very bright. It is expanding fast in the World. However, it lacks the spirit of unity behind the individual success of each independent groups. It is like a family where its members are competing with each other. May the strongest and more powerful group take the initiative towards unification.
The author is an advocate of unification and is willing to be an affiliate of any Balintawak Eskrima Group who would offer an invitation. Once Balintawak Eskrima is unified into a federation, it will follow a similar path of success experienced by the Korean martial arts of Taekwondo.
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