escrima practice on rooftop


The above video highlights the skills of Grand Master  Bobby Taboada, showing his amazing speed, reflexes and technique in stick-fighting, at 70 years old. It includes escrima techniques using a stick, knives, and some empty hands. I have seen many martial arts masters, some in person, but I have never seen anyone who is this good at that age.

What Is Escrima?

Escrima, also known as Kali and Arnis, is a fighting art system from the Philippines, which  has a very long and rich tradition and history of martial arts using weapons. This art has a very long history, and orginally used swords and knives. After the Philippines were conquered by the Spaniards, escrima sticks, which are very hard and durable sticks made out of rattan, were substituted for the blades.

Balintawak escrima is a style of Escrima that  was originally developed by Ancion Bacon, Jose Villasin, Teofilo Velez, and a few others, using  the swords or machete like bladed weapons but later practitioners switched to sticks, most commonly made of burnt rattan.

The theory of Escrima (and most other Filipino martial arts) is that you are learning how to use your body to fight and the weapon, whether it is a stick, sword, or knife, is just an extension of your body. The rationale is that in a real life and death scenario, you would be foolish to go unarmed, but if you have no blade or otherweapon, you may still have to fight to survive.

Chinese Martial arts all teach empty-hand combat first, and teach weapons only to more advanced practitioners, while in most armed forces, soldiers are taught how to fight with guns and bayonets first, and are taught unarmed combat later, as a soldier will almost always have his weapon during battle. But in Escrima it is the other way around. Unarmed techniques are taught only to advanced students.

There are a great number, possibly even hundreds, of styles/ lineages of escrima. They are all similar, but all differ from one another in some respects.

How Is Balintawak Different From Other Escrima Styles?

Although most Escrima systems use both a single stick and a double stick, Balintawak focusses heavily on the use of the single stick. However, the empty or “free” hand is as active as the hand that wields the stick. The free hard can be used to punch, to grab, to push, to pull, to check, and to trap. Balintawak also uses elbows, knees, joint locks, kicks and throws, and integrates these with the stick, making it a truly formidable art for self- defense, even against multiple attackers or attackers armed with knives.

Balintawak is a system that concentrates on close range fighting, although it does have some medium and long range applications. Because the strikes are used at close range, power is generated from the entire body, especially the waist. It also uses short mobile steps, like those used in boxing, and upper body and head movement. It is also different from other systems of Escrima in that, in training, you assume that the opponent is always going to throw up a block against your stick, and also that he will respond with an immediate counter strike.

As a serious Martial Arts student and sometimes instructor, I have come to learn that even a very skillful Martial Arts expert, even one with skills at the master level, usually cannot stand against tough and determined multiple attackers or against even one trained knife fighter.

When I was training Leung Ting Wing Chun, we trained against multiple attackers, and part of the test for first level technician (equivalent to second degree black belt), included sparring against two opponents for about two minutes.

I remember this portion of the test as being totally chaotic. In fact, pretty much all that I remember is that we repeatedly crashed into the walls, causing some damage to the school, and one of the people testing with me sustained an injury that made him unable to train for a few months. And this was when the opponents were not really trying to kill or actually hurt us.

What is cool about this art is that, although haters will often look at a video of a traditional Martial arts and say “that will never work”, I don’t see anyone saying the same thing about a video with Balintawak experts, maybe because everyone understands that getting hit in the head by a full power strike with a stick is no joking matter, and also because of the speed of the stick in sparring.

Benefits Of Training Balintawak

Training balintawak will greatly improve a Martial Art student’s reflexes. I have noticed in my many years of Wing Chun training that every student who came into our school with a background of either sword or stick fighting had excellent reflexes and became top students.

Balintawak training is especially good for Wing Chun practitioners because Wing Chun’s greatest strength, the development and use of tactile reactions, is also its greatest weakness. The founder or founders of Wing Chun figured out that touch reactions were at least three times faster than reactions using the eyes. However, most schools train tactile reactions so much that they neglect visual reflexes, and many wing chun fighters have been destroyed by boxers and kick boxers who used long-range punches and kicks.

According to one of Yip Man’s top students, Yip Man never taught any distance fighting, although he encouraged the students to get into challenge fights against other styles in order to figure out for themselves how to deal with long-range punches and kicks.

The video above showcases the skills of Kevin Groat, an expert in both Balintawak and Leung Ting Wing Chun, and demonstrates in striking fashion, the similarities between the two arts.

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