Before we go into the main topic of this post, let us first take an overview of Balintawak Arnis.
What is Balintawak Arnis?
Balintawak arnis is mainly a defensive art that focuses on close-range fighting to counter and employ various offensive tactics against the opponent. It utilizes only the single stick with the free hand used to employ defensive and offensive tactics to complement the stick.
Balintawak always assumes that the opponent knows how to fight back and therefore focuses on defence during the early stages of training. Further training on proper body coordination, speed, power, and timing are done at the later stages.
With training, you will be capable of blocking an opponent’s strike from different angles and deliver a fast and decisive counter-strike. The free hand is used to engage in tactics such as striking, locking, grabbing, grappling, and disarming for a dynamic offence.
Overall, it is a Self-Defense System designed for combat, with emphasis on simplicity, speed, and practicality. Balintawak fights never last for more than a few seconds. The fights are always fast and decisive. It is one of the best Filipino Martial Arts near me to date.
This is the story of how the deadly art of Balintawak was created through the ingenuity of skill of Grandmaster Anciong Bacon.
How to be a Grandmaster
This epic story will inspire you to learn Eskrima!
The evolution of Balintawak Arnis history began with the first ever Filipino Stick Fighting Club in the Philippines – the Labangon Fencing Club. The Labangon Fencing Association, the oldest recorded Philippine Martial Arts association of its type in the country, was organized by Lorenzo Saavedra in Labangon, Cebu in 1920.
The Labangon Association played an important role in propagating and developing Eskrima in the Philippines and the world in general. Originally, ‘Labangon Fencing Club’ was one of the original main Escrima schools in Cebu during the 1920’s.
The family Saavedra, especially Lorenzo along with his nephews, Frederico and Teodoro Saavedra, and their older brothers were the major force and influence of the association. Anciong was a student of Saavedra and was a close friend as well.
During the 2nd World War, the Saavedra’s were all but eradicated by the Japanese. Following the war, the Escrima school was the last thing the remaining Saavedra’s could even think of. Anciong, an instructor of Saavedra’s old school, decided to start his club. Anciong taught and maintained the pure and old techniques he learned as a student.
Arnis History – Eskrima’s Grand and Bloody Past sheds light on Eskrima during the World War II Era.
Creation of Balintawak Arnis
In 1951, he established his first club in Balintawak Street located in Cebu City.
Venancio was an expert in various Escrima styles. Moreover, he was skilled in Filipino ‘Dumog‘ or grappling and JuiJitsu or ‘Combat Judo‘ and Boxing. He believed that by combining the concepts and theories of these various fighting styles, a very effective type of martial art can be created.
His teaching style, however, was rather different from that which the Balintawak schools are teaching today. Anciong’s technique has no clear instruction. His trainees were taught with fighting principles and techniques at random.
Grandmaster Lorenzo Saavedra was Anciong’s instructor at that time. Saavedra trained Anciong in Stick and Dagger or Punta y Daga. Anciong was so expert while using the daga that he’d playfully use it against his partners in the sparring sessions. When Saavedra noticed Anciong’s usual undermining actions towards his sparring partners, Saavedra banned him from utilizing the daga.
The sanction towards the youthful Anciong lead to the creation of a currently famous and exceptional technique of Single Stick Self Defense Art. It was turning into the simplest, effective and practical Eskrima technique now known as Balintawak Eskrima.
Anciong Discovers the Role of the Freehand in Balintawak Arnis
Anciong Bacon’s problem of losing a daga became an opportunity. He created techniques utilizing his free hand and developed it into a more adaptable weapon. Not only can it slash or stab like a daga; it can also execute grabs, punches, pushes, pulls, etc.
This provided the free hand a major function in balancing the use of the weapon hand and the bare hands. With his free hand, he also perfected and developed the offensive and defensive maneuvers of his limbs. These offensive exercises include boxing and kicking, sweeps, takedowns, and sectoring techniques or leg immobilization and, leg-asserted throws.
From the deep and long Punta y daga stances, Ansiong proficiently included dynamic free-hand maneuvers and western boxing footwork into Balintawak’s new system.
To improve balance and set the entire system into good perspective, Anciong characterized his striking and blocking principles. He discovered that short blocks and stemless or short strikes were more effective and faster than long stem ones.
Anciong had accidentally attained true mastery of the art by making its movements simple and direct. Anciong was invincible during his time. Some even say he was The Legend. He fought over dozens of death matches, and he triumphed in all of them.
Venancio Bacon felt that Filipino Arnis was being mitigated by other Arnis martial arts styles. That’s why he developed a Balintawak Martial Art or Balintawak Eskrima during the 1950s to preserve and enhance Arnis’ combative nature. It was named after a street found in Cebu.
Venancio Bacon, who was becoming the renowned founder and Grandmaster of Balintawak Eskrima, became part of the association in the early-mid 1930s. The Labangon Fencing Association existed for ten years then it disbanded in 1930 because of cultural, social and political disagreements among its members.
In 1932, the group who stayed put themselves together into the Doce Pares Club, while the other faction led by Bacon later started the Balintawak Self Defense Club.
Ambush, Imprisonment, and Parole
At one time, someone attempted to ambush him in the dark, hoping to beat him finally, but once more, Anciong proved his ability in Eskrima, although with serious consequences. He was sent to prison with a charge of murder crime for utilizing his skills to protect himself.
Bacon was imprisoned for self-defence and murdering an assailant with a knife. The judge decided that Bacon’s martial arts abilities could be regarded as a deadly weapon and could have been applied with self-control. In the mid-1970s, Bacon was paroled.
During, Aciong’s imprisonment, the “Mayor” (head of the prisoners) conspired on beating up Anciong. He was put in a small room alongside the Mayor. The guards heard clattering noises and thought Anciong was being beaten up. But, when they unlocked and opened the room, they witnessed Anciong holding the club while the Mayor sprawled weakly on the floor.
Due to good behavior, Anciong was granted a parole even before completing his prison term. The warden thought of him as a respectful and disciplined guy.
Balintawak Arnis Disciples
One of Anciong’s Balintawak successors, a dear friend of his, is a lawyer named Jose Villasin. Anciong taught and trained Villasin all the styles from arnis’ advance lessons to an unarmed combat Arnis fighting in secret.
Villasin invited Teofilo A. Velez in 1963, his friend and a Knights of Columbus co-member which is a religious group in their town, to learn the Balintawak technique as well. Mr. Velez, at 37, a bulky and strong man with the same height as Villasin height, accepted the request to learn Stick Fighting with the later with the condition that Villasin must defeat him in sparring.
However, after having the full-contact battle with Villasin, Velez, who used to be an amateur boxer and a Doce Pares Arnis practitioner, wasn’t able to go through his attack no matter how hard he tried. He was defeated. Immediately after the duel, Velez began to train with Villasin inside his house located in Sikatuna St.
When Anciong came back to Cebu, he had a hard time finding a decent work. To have a means of income, he started a self-defence club found in Balintawak Street, Cebu City. The style developed by Anciong was formally acknowledged as Balintawak Eskrima. It was named after the place where the club was originally established.
As stated by Master Tinong Ibanez, the club’s location was found at the back of a watch-repair store neighbouring a pig pen beside the backyard. It had a tiny open ground that might’ve influenced the circular footwork of an old Balintawak style.
After the art was formally named, he was then acknowledged as the Grandmaster of Balintawak Eskrima. Some of his early students were Jesus Cui, Delfin Lopez, Isidro Bardillas, Timoteo Maranga, Jose Villasin, Teddy Boot and Ationg Abella.
He advocated efficient and direct moves. Nothing was fancy or lavish; however, it was elegant and graceful. Anciong Bacon continued to check on students, making sure the quality of Balintawak was still up to his standards even after he left. Bacon regularly attended Arnis training sessions conducted by Jose Villasin and Teofilo Velez. A few years later, Bacon died.
Bacon developed single stick techniques. With the help of Jose Villasin, he developed and optimized his techniques based on single stick work. Atty. Jose Villasin, under the tutelage of Bacon, developed the twelve basic strikes which are now used by most Balintawak practitioners.
Balintawak uses the Balintawak 12 basic strikes because the human body is limited in movement. These twelve strikes form the basis from which a practitioner can develop basic, semi-advanced, and advanced movements. All Arnis Fighting techniques must be demonstrated with power, control, and body mechanics.
The Balintawak sticks are 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. It aims to harness one’s natural body movement and awaken one’s senses to move and react.
It guarantees its practitioner to experience a revelation in the fundamentals of street fighting.
Systematization of Balintawak Eskrima
Later, Bacon’s successors soon began to systematize the Balintawak arnis curriculum. One was Atty Jose Villasin, who was a self-defence instructor for Criminology at the University of Visayas setting about to group the style into its various categories so that his students could master one set of related techniques “grouping method” and then move onto the next set of related techniques.
At this point, several distinct schools of Balintawak emerged. Many of Bacon’s Balintawak students and some of his and the Saavedra’s Doce Pares students continued to teach in the old method of random instruction while Villasin taught in his “grouping” style.
Today, there are some Balintawak groups teaching their versions of the system. Most instructors use the “grouping” method for teaching the techniques while others continue to teach single responses in the traditional way, as Bacon used to teach.
This is the point in time where numerous distinct Balintawak schools came out. Atty. Villasin’s friend/student, Teofilo Velez, trained in more advanced styles. In 1967, he asked the permission of Grandmaster Bacon and Master Villasin to establish his club. He then started teaching to the public.
Villasin would execute various diagnostic checkups to Velez’s trainees to guarantee the wholesomeness of the Balintawak styles. From these checkups, Atty. Villasin would suggest his findings to Velez regarding the progress of his trainees while simultaneously teaching his other trainees in his private property.
Many of Saavedra’s and Venancio’s Balintawak students kept on teaching in the old approach of instruction, while Atty. Villasin’s students/close friends and family utilized his special ‘grouping’ method.
Some instructors (from the various instructional techniques) would state that the grouping method is ‘modified’ Balintawak. Not true. The Grouped Balintawak’s principles and techniques haven’t been made into a varied, restricted, different, or limited form; yet, it still has been monitored to be all the same.
The Birth of Balintawak Arnis Cuentada
Another of Venancio’s Balintawak student, Timoteo E. Maranga established his school of the “Super Kuwentada Escrima System” (‘Cuentada’/’Kuwentada’ or ‘Counting’ when translated into English, was a term Venancio called his style sometimes) and taught through a unique routine. However, most of the Atty. Villasin’s close students/friends and family utilized his unique grouping method.
The principles and concepts of Balintawak Grouping method have, however, found their way into many different Filipino Martial Arts methods. Most notable is Modern Arnis, founded by Remy Presas, who studied Balintawak under Arnulfo Mongcal. Mongcal introduced Remy Presas to Maranga, who in turn introduced Presas to Bacon.
Note: Both Mongcal and Presas were left handed.
The Age of Death Matches
Eskrimadors from different camps in the 1950s & 1960s, mostly Balintawak and Doce Pares, assessed each other’s abilities in supreme challenges. These caused injuries and deaths at times. Few were under tolerable circumstances, while treacherous for the others.
One of Doce Pares’ members, Vincente Carin, was attacked by numerous assailants, receiving different injuries. While countering deadly injuries on his assailants, he adapted to the Balintawak fighting style to dissuade his assailants. Delfin Lopez was attacked from behind with a knife that resulted in his death.
Venancio Bacon was surprise-attacked at night while strolling home in Labangon. With his Filipino Knife Fighting skill, he took his assailant’s life. He was sent to jail.
Before Bacon’s imprisonment, Ted Buot would instruct at the club in Balintawak Street. When Bacon would appear, Buot would let him borrow the rattan cane he was utilizing, and Bacon would start to teach. After Bacon was finished teaching, he would depart and give the cane back to Buot to carry on.
Anciong wasn’t only original and innovative; he was also fearless. He was the advocate of the “Cuentada Method,” often mentioned by many, however, hardly ever understood. Wrestling and boxing were integrated into his training. The man had a small physique, probably only about 5’2″ and probably weighed about 120 pounds.
Anciong was an advocate of the single-stick, utilizing the free hand, also recognized as tapi-tapi, or translated exactly as the reproving or rebuking (badlong) hand – using the left hand to pull, push, parry, clear, stab, punch, slap, poke, chop, distract, lift, rise, and swing above the enemy’s eskrima sticks.
Influence, Death, and Immortality
Numerous Balintawak schools have clustered all over the Philippines and as well as in Japan, Greece, Europe, U.S.A, Australia, and Canada. A number of these schools train in both stick fighting methods: grouped instruction and random instruction. These schools have rights to identify themselves as Balintawak if their instructors or they can map out their training methods back to Bacon.
Bacon continued to monitor his students’ progress when he went back to Cebu, ensuring Balintawak’s excellence was still high to his standard ever since he left. Bacon frequently went to training sessions done by Teofilo Velez and Jose Villasin. Not many years after, Bacon passed away. His made a huge impact on Filipino Stick Fighting and his name will be remembered as one of the greatest Grandmasters in the community.