The following excerpts were taken from several different articles written by Michael Zimmer of Vorticity Martial Arts.
My sincere thanks to Michael for his kind permission to reprint any and all portions of his articles, and for allowing me to place them here on my web site. For more information and an in-depth look at all that the art of Balintawak Escrima has to offer, please be sure and visit Michael's personal web site at, http://www.islandnet.com/%7Egmzimmer/vorticit.htm
Historical overview of the art :
Eskrima is a generic term for various styles of martial arts from the Philippines. Few western people have heard of the art of Eskrima but there are over forty major styles. They all feature the use of a rattan stick, wielded like a sword. In Balintawak Eskrima, we call this stick an olise. Many who know only a little about Eskrima think that it is only a stick fighting art. In fact, it is a complete martial art, which includes techniques for stick, knife and empty hand fighting, at all distances.
At the heart of Eskrima lies the skilled use of a short rattan stick. In fact, Eskrima is the Spanish word used for fencing, and is related to the word skirmish. The parent arts to Eskrima used swords, but Eskrima has since evolved, even to the point where it uses many techniques which are not practical with bladed weapons. Still, the use of knives and defense against knife attacks is integral to the art.
All the techniques for knife and empty hand fighting are derived from methods of stick fighting. This style has its recent origins in the region of Cebu city, in the Visayan islands of the Philippine archipelago. Balintawak has an emphasis on in-fighting. The hand techniques resemble, at different times, boxing, Tai Chi, Karate, Jiu-jitsu and Wing Chun. Techniques are taught for stick, knife, and empty hand fighting, at all ranges. Blocking, trapping, disarming, striking, kicking, throwing, and restraining techniques are all practised. Because of the large number of techniques found in the style, learning it can be viewed as an intellectual challenge. Balintawak Eskrima is much more like western boxing than it is like Japanese Karate.
The body motion and footwork are closest to boxing in spirit. Despite that, there is an affinity to Karate in that many Karate movements are found in Balintawak Eskrima, in a modified form. They are usually more direct and more subtle in their application. There is also a strong resemblance between Balintawak and Chinese Wing Chun. The blocks and traps are quite similar, but the body motion is much more static in Wing Chun. The art is efficient, in the sense that only a moderate degree of physical conditioning is required to execute the techniques successfully.
The founder of the art :
Grandmaster Venancio (Anciong) Bacon, was a member of the Doce Pares Society earlier in the century, but then left it to develop Balintawak when grandmaster Bacon and the Canete brothers went in separate directions.
A person who practices Eskrima is called an Eskrimador. These terms both result from the Spanish influence in the Philippines. Eskrima means fencing in Spanish, and Eskrimador means a fencer.
The basic weapon in Balintawak Eskrima is a stick, called an olise. It is made of rattan, a tough, fibrous vine. Its length should be the same as the distance from the armpit to the fingertips. It is held with about 2" to 3" of the butt-end exposed. Because it is very light, it may be moved very rapidly. Because it is made from rattan, it is almost unbreakable.
Role of the weapon in training :
Many Japanese and Chinese martial arts attempt to teach a student to fight without weapons, and move on to weapons only in the later stages of training. As a result, very few people in these arts are able to use their weapons training in sparring. The Philippine martial arts tend to emphasize the use of weapons first, and the use of the empty hand second. As a result, Eskrimadors have more skill in weapons sparring than some other martial artists.
The role of drills in training :
A student in Balintawak is trained almost exclusively with two-man drills, under the guidance of a more experienced Eskrimador. The most basic, and the most important drill involves alternate block and defense against the twelve basic blows with the stick. This drill is simply called "1 to 12". Initially, the strikes are done in a specific pre-arranged order.
There are two different roles played, that of junior, and that of senior Eskrimadors. The senior will attempt to teach the junior the proper way to move by using subtle redirecting motions, and by advice. At the same time, the senior will be perfecting his own technique. Initially, the strikes come in a known order, from #1 to 12, but later this order will be varied. If the students are both a bit more advanced, some additional techniques will be added. The junior will not be able to defend against these at first, but his skill will eventually improve.
After a while, the strikes will not necessarily be done with the stick; all four extremities may be used. Strikes with the left hand could be made to simulate a finger thrust to the eyes, a punch, a chop to the throat or a hook to the body. In practice these would be represented with a light slap or touch. Because of the tremendous speed with which the exercise is carried out, the student quickly learns not to blink the eyes, timing, speed and distancing. For obvious reasons, in training we hit the triceps instead of the temple. This is considered to be equivalent to hitting the head. Instead of hitting the groin we hit the lower abdomen, and instead of the knees we hit the thigh or lower leg.
The Twelve Pairs of Balintawak Eskrima :
Training the Angles :
The Balintawak style is based on the notion of "12 Pairs" or "Doce Pares". This has been explained to me as referring to the twelve angles of attack, and the 12 corresponding defences. The drill used to train these twelve pairs is fundamental to our version of Balintawak.
The basic drill of Balintawak is unlike any which I have seen elsewhere. It has several key features which set it apart. Firstly, it is done at close range, what we call "Corridas" distance. This is the distance at which you can strike with your left hand, without having to step. Secondly, at this range, all blocks are done with the stick held upright. There are no roof blocks, umbrella blocks, or wing blocks in this style. The only time the stick tip is dropped downwards for a block is at long range.
The drill consists of two distinct parts, one for offence and one for defence. One student, the more experienced, will take the offensive role, as the instructor. The other, the less experienced, will take the defensive role as the student. There are specific lessons in the drill for both.
Beginners sometimes find the drill frustrating, as they seem never to fully succeed. This is because the deck is stacked against them. In the drill, each technique has a rationale; it is there to train some specific fundamental of the art. In pursuit of this goal, the beginner is not allowed to go on the offensive, and must always play "catch-up". This means that he never quite manages to deal with the barrage of techniques thrown at him in the drill. Both parties are learning however.
There are a number of principles for stance and stepping which are characteristic of Balintawak. Without going into detail, let me say the style encourages fluid motion and a naturalistic method for moving about. It is reminiscent of boxing as much as anything. However, every now and then you will see elements which would be at home in Tai Chi Chuan, or even Wing Chun.
Positioning yourself properly with respect to your partner is crucial. The student is given the role of maintaining the correct position at all times. When this is done, keep several key points in mind: always face the blow as it approaches you; always keep at the correct distance; don't take two steps where one will do; step in a natural fashion; stay balanced; duck and dodge as necessary; and give way and dissipate the force of an overpowering attack. The instructor will make subtle pushing and pulling motions on the student's hand or stick in order to provide a cue for the direction to step in. This is not done with more advanced students, so that it will not become a crutch.
Since a student can't block a blow if he doesn't see it, he must learn to look without blinking. In addition, it is our belief that the gaze should always be directed towards the chest of the partner. Under no conditions do you turn your head to look at the stick.
The Basic 12 :
In the following discussion, assume that the stick is held in the right hand. The stick is vertical, with the forearm being parallel to the ground and the arm held comfortably close to the body. The stick is gripped about 2 inches from the end, with the thumb, index and middle fingers held tightly. Strikes are done with wrist motion and a twist of the hips. The arm does not draw back before a move. There is good follow through. In the basic strike, after the blow, the stick returns to the ready position.
The strikes are named as follows:
#1 is a forehand cut to the head or neck
#2 is a backhand cut to the head or neck
#3 is a forehand cut to the torso
#4 is a backhand cut to the torso
#5 is an underhand stab upwards towards the mid-line
#6 is a forehand stab to the arms or torso
#7 is a backhand stab to the arms or torso
#8 is a forehand cut to the legs or feet
#9 is a backhand cut to the legs or feet
#10 is a forehand stab to the head or neck
#11 is a backhand stab to the head or neck
#12 is an overhand cut to the head or neck, or a punch to the head.
There are twelve blocks to correspond to these twelve strikes. However, this number can be reduced if we keep in mind that for blocks on the same side, the only difference in defence is how low you crouch while defending. That is, #2, #4, #7, #9, #11 are dealt with identically, except for the amount that you drop down. Similarly, #1, #3, #6, #8, #10 are dealt with identically. That leaves #5, which is handled very similarly to the second group, and #12, which has its own unique response. Let me describe the blocks for #3, #4, #5, and #12.
The Eskrimador on offense strikes with a #3, which is a lateral forehand blow to the arms or torso. The student steps to face the oncoming blow, and blocks with an upright stick. This is followed by a check with the left hand, on the stick or on the stick- wielding hand. Next, the student gives a #2 strike as a counter- blow. The instructor blocks this with a flipping stick block done on the right side of the body. This is followed by a check on the hand, with the sticks adhering together, and then by a secondary check on the stick. Then the next strike is made, on the other side of the body.
The instructor strikes with a #4, which is a lateral backhand blow to the arms or torso. The student steps to face the oncoming stick, and blocks with an upright stick. This is followed by a check with the left hand, on the stick-wielding hand. Next, the student gives a #1 strike as a counter-blow. The instructor blocks this with a flipping stick block done on the left side of the body. This is followed by a check on the hand, with the sticks adhering together, and then a secondary check is made on the stick. Then the next strike is made, on the other side of the body.
The instructor strikes with a #5, which is a rising underhand stab to the mid-line on the torso or neck. The student twists to face the oncoming stick, and blocks with an upright stick. This is followed by a check with the left hand, with the checking arm being held downwards, on the stick. Next, the student gives a #2 strike as a counter-blow. The instructor blocks this with a flipping stick block done on the right side of the body. This is followed by a check on the hand, adhering stick to stick, and a secondary check on the stick. Then the next strike is made.
The #12 angle has the most complicated structure, when done in the classical form. After the instructor has blocked a #1, he will make a subtle deflecting motion to expose the student's right elbow. This deflection is done with the right forearm. Then the instructor pushes down hard on the elbow of the stick-holding hand, to push it towards the floating ribs. Simultaneously, the right hand makes a simulated butt-end attack at the face. The student is expected to block this with the left palm. This block has the same trajectory as would a palm heel strike to the face. Keep this crucial point in mind. The instructor then lets the student perform an additional block with the right forearm. This block has a trajectory identical to a back-handed strike to the face with the butt-end of the stick. At this point, the student turns his stick hand so that the elbow comes down close to the ribs, and the stick holding hand turns so that the palm is up. This will serve to expose the instructor's right elbow. Now the student goes through the same sequence just completed by the instructor. This drill is accompanied with good evading motions. After a number of these exchanges, the instructor does a normal block and check, and then delivers either a #1 or a #2 strike in the basic fashion.
As the strikes are delivered, the instructor calls out the number of the blow, so the student may learn this as the name of the technique. Initially, the student is given the strikes in the basic order. Soon after, the order is varied. As the student grows in ability, the instructor speeds up the drill, just pushing the student a bit beyond his current skill level. Improvement is fairly rapid under this regime.
Michael's teacher :
On his web site Michael offers the following comments about his teacher.
My instructor, Dom Lopez, has had no training in other Filipino arts, and therefore did not mix the style with another. He has continued to practice only Balintawak as it was taught to him. When he started training in 1960, he was a student of Master Jose Villasin, an Attorney in Cebu City. After learning the full curriculum from Master Villasin, he was sent for more advanced study under Grandmaster Bacon. From the Grandmaster, he learned the finer points of the art, and was given specific training in the techniques for fighting a duel.
At the time of Dom Lopez's training, duelling was a part of life for an advanced Eskrimador. Even then, duels were illegal, but Eskrimadors still fought them. In fact, if a Master refused a duel, he would lose creditability, and would have no support from students or fellow Eskrimadors. Duels had to be accepted from all comers, all styles, if you wished to retain any stature within the Eskrima community.
At that time, my instructor witnessed duels on two separate occasions. One involved Grandmaster Bacon, and one involved Master Villasin. In each, the Balintawak master prevailed. In fact, Grandmaster Bacon has been credited with fighting (and it should go without saying) winning over 100 duels. Injuries resulting from these duels would often bring an Eskrimador's career to a dead stop. Sometimes, it would bring the Eskrimador to a dead stop as well.
In recent years, it appears that duelling has mainly vanished, and contests are conducted with armour, padded sticks, and rules for safety.
Eskrima has become more of a sport.