Long before the 7,100 islands was called Filipinas, the inhabitants of these islands already had a history of trade with its neighbours with the rest of Asia. Numerous archaeological artefacts have been found to provide evidence that a culture flourished well before the Spaniards landed in the Visayas.
Rulers already existed with their own territories, and steel was already in use for implements, including weapons to defend each ruler’s territory.
Museums in the Philippines and in the United States have collections of pottery, weaving and artwork, both aesthetic and martial.
Like all cultures around the world, the inhabitants of the Visayas already had a martial system. Magellan and his crew, who wore armours of steel, confidently took on Lapu Lapu and his men, who only wore cloth. Early scribes reported that the natives were proficient with “esgrima”, fencing.
Systemic Spanish colonisation took place not long after Magellan’s skirmish with the natives. Eventually, the Spaniards continued northwards from Cebu in the Visayas, to the Luzon area. The Visayas and Luzon back then did not have a common language or a united kingdom so it was relatively easy for the Spaniards to overpower the region.
Mindanao was a different story. Its kingdoms were already united and the terrain didn’t make it easy for the Spaniards. It was too costly for the Spaniards to wage war with the people of Mindanao. Outposts were maintained mainly for trade and to discourage other European nations from colonising Mindanao.
For fear of being attacked, the colonial Spaniards banned weapons hence prompting the Filipinos to train underground. Sticks were used because blades were illegal. Forms or katas were disguised as dances. This continued on even through the change of colonizers from the Spaniards to the Americans.
Balintawak Arnis is a form of Filipino martial art whose inception started in the early 1950’s by Venancio “Anciong” Bacon. In Balintawak Escrima, the “olisi” (rattan stick) is used primarily as a training tool to familiarise students with weapons and blows. The olisi represents a Filipino sundang or bolo. The theory is that the stick is an extension of the arm and that the body can only move in so many ways.
In Balintawak, the student is taught that there is a defense and counterstrike for every attack and subsequent counterstrike delivered by the opponent. In short, a counter for every counter.
Anciong’s style was known to be a “cuentada” system. Cuentada comes from the Spanish word “contar”, to count. Cuenta in Bisaya means to calculate or count. In effect, Anciong’s style was calculating and like maths, precise.
Balintawak can be like a dance – elegant, balanced, and sometimes baffling. The techniques are direct and fundamental. He taught “suyop” a visayan word for “sucking” which means to draw in your opponent.
Anciong also believed in continuous research and discovery and he was often seen walking along Colon Street in Cebu, ducking and weaving. He was shadow fighting, constantly thinking of scenarios of possible attacks and its counters.
Balintawak is reaction based, training the body’s reflexes and balance thus wonderful for developing agility, flexibility and coordination. Anciong’s catchphrase was, “Simhota ko dong!” verbally translated it means come and smell me. It actually means, “Come and sense me!”
Balintawak focuses on learning defense rather than offense. An offensive attack is inherent in everyone. Even a two year old kid knows how to hit.
Reacting in a protective manner is something that needs to be refined. After all, we go out in public without the intention to attack anyone. More often, we don’t expect to be assaulted and it is vital to know some form of self defense.
Balintawak practitioners, in its early days, were taught to be fighters. Part of the knowledge imparted to them was psychological warfare. And they were taught to ignore the pain if they were hit.
Back then Balintawak training was shunned by some because it was considered to be a brutal way of learning a martial art. Only the patient and strong took part. Daily practice at Balintawak Street produced blood and welts.
It was also at the time a closed system, where only family members were taught. Non-blood relatives who did get invited or accepted became part of the family. Family and Christian values were upheld especially respect for the elders.
Balintawak was considered to be “sagrado” or sacred. A divine art given to Anciong and learning Balintawak was a privilege. Some teachers of Balintawak refused payment from devote students.
Anciong disliked stick twirling. He considered it unnecessary and impractical in real fights. He further developed his style which dealt a simple block for an attack followed by an immediate counter. Anciong Bacon started his own group because he thought that training should concentrate on defense, one block followed by one counter, rather than attack. There is no limit as to what part of the body may be hit, and control of power and technique is taught in order to protect the training partner. Injury is avoided and safety is imposed.
Balintawak is not a sport. There are no rules when a person is being attacked in the street. What is considered foul in other arts is taught in Balintawak.
The word “Balintawak” also refers to the area in Luzon where Filipinos, in the late 1800’s first started their revolution against Spanish rule. The “Cry of Balintawak”, was understood to refer to the first skirmish between the katipuneros and the guardia civil. It is now taken to refer to the tearing of the cedulas, or community tax certificates, followed by patriotic shouts, to mark their withdrawal from Spain.
The Filipinos fought with what they had, their bolos and sticks. The few guns and little ammunition they had were mainly captured from the Spanish forces.
Little by little, the revolutionary forces gained ground in Visayas and Luzon. At one point, the revolutionary leaders were reported to have written to the leaders of the kingdoms in Mindanao only to be told that they have been fighting the Spaniards for the last 300 years.
The spread of Balintawak to the world was made easier when Attorney Villasin broke down Anciong’s system to groupings. These levels of skill ensured that students became increasingly adept with Balintawak.
Teofilo Velez embraced this form of education and to his credit, students of “Teovel”, notably Bobby Taboada and Nene Gaabucayan, primarily introduced this form of Filipino Martial Art to Europe and the United States. Bobby Tabimina is also currently introducing his form of Balintawak to the rest of the world.
Anciong taught at the back of a barber shop at Balintawak Street in Cebu. Anciong’s Arnis being a non-conformist art fittingly became christened Balintawak.