Monday, November 01, 2004
The Corridas of Balintawak Eskrima
by Michael Zimmer – Vorticity Martial Arts
About 10 years ago, I left Vancouver, Canada’s biggest western city and moved to the smaller city of Victoria, on Vancouver island. I had been training in Arnis, a Philippine stick-fighting art, under Datu Shishir Inocalla. I had received about five months of instruction. Before that I had spent 20 years dabbling in various arts, including Chito Ryu Karate, Shotokan Karate, CAN-RYU Jiu- Jitsu, Kick Boxing and Aikido. Perhaps I had become good enough to be considered a serious beginner.
In August after my move, I received a call from Shishir. He was trying to arrange a seminar on the island to be given by Remy Presas, Modern Arnis Grandmaster. I had attended previously one of the “Professor’s” seminars, and was eager to learn more.
Shishir was looking for advice on the local martial arts scene, and in particular he wanted to talk to Mike Puckett. Mike is a well known and respected Go-Dan Karateka, tournament fighter, and kickboxer. I knew Mike slightly and said I would help arrange things. Shishir also wanted me to get in touch with a Victoria Eskrimador, Dom Lopez, who was Head Instructor of a local Eskrima group. I had heard of this fellow, and agreed to contact him. That day, I phoned and asked him if he would be interested in attending a seminar given by Remy Presas. He was intrigued with this notion, and he also invited me to come out and practice with him that evening.
When I met the Head instructor, I found him to be a courteous man who was somewhat intense about his martial arts. He was not big by North American standards, and in his early 40s.
That night, my martial arts thinking was permanently changed. I went in believing that after 20 years in the martial arts, I knew something about fighting. I came out feeling like a raw beginner. The instructor asked me to show him a little of my stick-fighting art. I demonstrated the little I thought that I knew, and he showed me how much I didn’t know. Well, I had never pretended to have any real skill in Arnis. Next he asked me if I would like to see how the stick techniques could be used for unarmed combat. Thinking that now I would find out if what Dan Inosanto had claimed in his books was true, I asked the Eskrimador to demonstrate. Dan Inosanto had been too circumspect. I had absolutely no defence against the Eskrima techniques, and felt like the rankest of amateurs. I left for home that night convinced of the efficiency of the art of Balintawak.
A few weeks later, I asked Mike Puckett if he would be interested in coming out to see my new found art. He agreed, and a short while later, the instructor gave a repeat performance for Mike’s benefit, using him for an empty hand demonstration. Now certainly Mike gave a better account of himself than I did, but even his boxing training didn’t allow him to cope fully with the sticking and trapping techniques the Eskrimador employed. I am sure that Mike left a thoughtful man that evening. A short while later, we were both students of Balintawak Eskrima.
A decade later, Mike can deal very well with the Balintawak techniques. I can as well, as long as it is not the Head Instructor delivering them. But then, that’s what talent (or its lack) is all about. We have both persevered. I have abandoned other arts for the most part, and now teach Balintawak. Mike has continued with his first love, Karate, and has incorporated his Balintawak knowledge into his curriculum.
So, what was the secret of the instructor? In this day and age, it is probably not so secret. Fighting occurs at various ranges, and a rounded fighter must understand the characteristics of each range. Not only must the fighter understand that, the fighter must learn the appropriate techniques. Balintawak specializes at in- fighting range. This is the distance where sticking, flowing, trapping, disarming, joint locks, throws, knees, elbows, and butt- end strikes become paramount. I am going to explain a bit about how we train for this, with our Corridas stick-fighting drill.
Balintawak Eskrima is primarily the art of fighting with a short stick. We call the close-quarters aspects of Balintawak “Corridas”. The methods of Corridas may be adapted for unarmed use as well, and we do weaponless training using the Hubad Lubod drill.
Balintawak Eskrima is one of many styles of combat developed in the Philippines. This particular style comes from the Visayan Region, primarily the island of Cebu. The founder of the Art, Grandmaster Venancio (Anciong) Bacon had been one of the original members of the Doce Pares Society, but left it in the early part of the century to create a new style. The term Doce Pares means 12 pairs, and it is characteristic of Balintawak that it preserves the notion of 12 paired striking angles and corresponding defences.
The Villasin Balintawak Eskrima Association was founded by the Head Instructor in Victoria, British Columbia. He trained under Master Jose Villasin in the city of Cebu. He named the association in honour of Master Villasin. After achieving proficiency in the art in the early 1960s, the instructor undertook a special course of instruction from Grandmaster Bacon, the founder of the style. After settling in Canada, he started training new students. He has taught an Eskrima group in Victoria since the late 1970s.
Modern Arnis Grandmaster Remy Presas was a student of Anciong as well, and has referred to the art as “deadly Balintawak”. I have heard rumours that he teaches Balintawak techniques to select students.
Corridas means “bullfighting ” in Spanish, but in Cebu, in the Balintawak style, it is translated as “in-fighting”. When you can just touch your partner with your empty hand, you are at in- fighting range. The Corridas drill is a method of training for this close range combat. It allows you to devise attacks and counters based on sensitivity to your partner’s force. It is a drill, not a way of fighting. Close-quarters combat does not look like Corridas, which still has rules. Also, real stick combat is over very quickly. Nevertheless, people well trained in the techniques of Corridas have the technical basis for effective in-fighting.
Comparison to Other Arts
Although Balintawak is broadly familiar to other Philippine stick- fighting styles, it differs from most in a number of ways. In general, it emphasises in-fighting to a far greater degree than most other styles. Corridas concepts are found in other types of Eskrima, but few make it the predominant aspect. In many respects, the style is more like an armed version of the Chinese art of Wing Chun, with its drill called sticking hands. There are also similarities at times to the Chinese art of Tai Chi, with its drill called pushing hands.
The key to effective in-fighting is the use of tactile sensitivity. This means that you must be able to feel your partner’s motion, as well as see the techniques. The Corridas drill trains this sensitivity. There is a development of the ability to feel external force and develop the skill to evade, block and strike based on the sense of touch.
One of the primary features of many Philippine stick-fighting arts is the use of the free hand to control your partner. We call this hand the checking-hand. After a block with the stick, the checking- hand will touch your partner’s hand or stick, and then adhere to it.
Performing the Drill
The basic technique of Corridas is to make contact with the arms of your partner. You will place your checking-hand on your partner’s stick-hand and then stay in that range, attacking and defending. You attempt to maintain some contact throughout the drill. You also feel for weaknesses and vie for position, as you attack and defend. In training at Corridas range, the Instructor will present a number of dynamic problems for the student to solve. The senior may deliver several attacks in succession, and then pose in an apparent impasse situation. He will let the junior figure out some technique to use from that position. The senior may counter this technique, and go into offence for another flurry of techniques. If the student has difficulty at a certain point, that technique will be repeated until it is dealt with in a satisfactory manner. There is no set order in which the techniques are delivered in our training sessions. The speed is quite rapid, but there are pauses between flurries.
Points of Contact
Figure – Two Arm Contact – Sticks Up
Figure – Two Arm Contact – One Stick Up, One Stick DownIn Corridas, contact is usually made with the right arm touching the left and the left arm touching the right. For this double point of contact, there are a number of variations in position, each having its characteristic techniques. These are:
- both of your arms on the inside of (or beneath) your partner’s arm;
- both of your arms on the outside of (or above) your partner’s arm;
- stick-hand arm on the inside (beneath), and checking-hand on the outside (above).
- checking-hand on the inside (beneath), and stick-hand on the outside (above).
In addition, both fighters may have their sticks pointed upwards, or one may have the stick pointed downwards. The third possibility, of both having sticks pointed downwards, is awkward and uncommon.
Figure – One Arm Contact
Sometimes situations arise in fighting where there is only one arm in contact, in a diagonal fashion. There are at least two variations in position, each having several specialized techniques:
- the inside of your arm or stick on the inside of your partner’s arm of stick; and
- the outside of your arm or stick on the outside of your partner’s arm or stick.
In order to do Corridas, it is necessary to make contact with your partner’s arms or stick and exert a fairly steady, continuous forward pressure. There may be some jostling for position, but you should not let your partner’s arms or body get closer than the length of your upper arm. You should strive for a balanced pressure between right and left sides. It is best if you do not extend both arms the same amount, which brings the hands too close together. This might give your partner an advantage that would permit trapping the arms.
When doing Corridas, you should maintain contact with your partner, as though you were glued together. Follow every move. This technique is called sticking. You stick so that you will feel your partner’s force. You stick to an attempted blow in order to impede or deflect it. Break free when you wish to attack. Explode into all techniques, using your maximum acceleration.
Figure – Flow into #1 Strike
Although you often will want to stick to your partner, there will be times when you want to flow around obstacles to strike here and there. For instance: If your partner pushes your arm down and outwards, go with that push and then circle around and hit to the head; if your partner pushes up and outwards, flow with that and then come around for a low blow; or if your partner pushes your arm inwards, then roll around the force and come straight in with a blow.
If you feel a loss of pressure from your partner, then strike. It will be harder for your partner to stick and deflect if he has gone softer in one arm than in the other. This often indicates a lack of attention. If you feel a total withdrawal of pressure, then just strike directly. There will be no impediment to your motion. If you feel excessive pressure, if there is an obstacle, then just flow around that obstacle to strike.
Sometimes, you may wish to force your partner into making a forceful rigid response, so that you may flow around it. This is done by pushing straight-in on your partner’s arm. The natural response is to resist. This allows you to take advantage of the resistance. For example, you may push against the left guard, which is held high. When force is met with force, slump and strike beneath the blocking arm. Just let your striking arm slide off, under, and in.
Dissipate excessive force
Figure – Rotation Away from Force
If your partner pushes at you with excessive force, put up your forearm as a barrier. If the push is too strong, then rotate as though you were a door being pushed open. This will nullify the force. If the force is too strong for that, then withdraw your hips, moving away from the force. If this cannot dissipate the force, take a step back. This must all be done without hesitation of course.
Figure – Basic Stance for Corridas
The basic stance in Balintawak is similar to one you would assume when getting ready to run. The feet are only a natural stride apart, the knees are flexed, the body is centred between the legs, the torso is upright, and the rear heel (sometimes the front heel) is raised. You will have the right leg ahead and the left one back in most cases. You should be balanced and relaxed, in a slight crouch. The stick will be held in the right hand, using the thumb and the first two fingers. The stick is upright, the top of the stick at head hight and the bottom at hip level. If it is necessary to defend, go into a deeper crouch for balance and evasion. This motion we call slumping. Often this is accompanied by a leaning motion of the body, a to and fro swaying we call “bamboo”. At other times, a sideways twisting motion will be used to evade. In still other situations, the hips will be moved rewards to fade away from a blow. In attack, we often will move in on a diagonal course to one side or the other.
At Corridas range, you should be facing your partner with your torso angled about 45 degrees with respect to the direction in which your partner is found. When at a distance, keep the stick- hand low and the checking-hand at half-mast. As you move in, face your partner more frontally and bring both hands up to protect your head. When in close, have both hands high. At this range, defend against kicks by blocking with your legs.
Walking should be quite natural. In general, you should step with the leg closest to the direction you wish to move in, but this is not a hard and fast rule.
Figure – Evade and Block
Since this discussion is about Corridas, I will not give a complete coverage of blocking, but will present the main themes.
In general, to avoid a blow, put the stick in the way of the attack and move your head or body away from the target area. The block always moves away from your own centre, and has little lateral component. What is crucial, absolutely crucial, is that you block in the most direct possible fashion. This means there is no wind up, no curved trajectory and no hesitation. You may block with the arm if you block close to your partner’s hand or on the arms.
If you take the above principles as the cardinal rules, the rest is just detail. You can block with your stick, checking-hand, or your leg. You can use the inside surface or the outside surface. You should strive to keep the stick upright for blocking, but you can have your checking-arm upright, horizontal, or inverted. You can use your hand or your forearm. The block can be with one arm or two arms.
Figure – #12 Butt-end Strike
In Balintawak, we use both the checking-hand and the stick as weapons. The stick tip or the stick butt-end may be used to strike. Elbows are used to strike in all conceivable directions. Fingers, thumbs, both edges of the hand, palms, backhands and fists are used at all possible angles. It is common to strike with two blows at once, the double strike. Targets are any vulnerable areas on the body, including the joints.
Figure – Side Kick to Knee
In Balintawak, kicks are done only to low targets such as foot, knee or groin. Side kicks, roundhouse kicks, front kicks, and cross kicks are all used. At close range, the front knee kick is used as a weapon.
Controlling the Stick or Hand
There is a technique practised which allows you to move your checking-hand from the inside surface of your partner’s arm or weapon, to the outside surface, and then back again. It depends on a strong rotation of your arm at the shoulder joint, and a lifting or lowering of your own elbow. It is subtle, but so very critical to effective Balintawak. You should make light contact with your palm and fingers in this case.
We don’t grab unless there is a very specific technique to be used which requires it. The masters felt that an Eskrimador who relies on grabbing to control was not terribly skilled. However, you do often want to directly hold your partner’s weapon. The way this is done is to use one of two holds, the thumb clamp and the finger clamp. These allow you to have the advantage of control which a grab gives without the penalty of excess tension, impaired ability to flow, and diminished sensitivity. The thumb clamp pinches the stick between thumb and palm, but the fingers do not curl around the stick. It allows you to control the stick, even to the point of pushing your partner’s stick into his own face. The finger clamp is the opposite of this. The fingers curl around the stick, but the thumb is not used in the hold. Both of these holds help nullify many Corridas techniques, but do not impose the penalty of stiffness and slow release time.
Figure – Grab Technique
Sometimes, you really do want to grab your partner’s stick or wrist. Reach across your partner’s body with your checking-hand and take hold of the wrist of the checking-hand. Pull it and strike with the stick. Your grab can come from below or above. Make the grab and the strike simultaneous. If blocked, flow into another technique.
Figure – Slap
Using the checking-hand, slap down onto your partner’s stick-arm or checking-arm and strike to the face with your stick. The slap can be directed at wrist or elbow joint. Drop your weight for power as you slap. Make the slap and strike simultaneous.
If in the course of Corridas, your partner crosses one arm over the other, take advantage and trap. Push down with your checking-hand on the crossed arms. As we say, if you see an X, use it for a trap.
Using your Partner’s Stick as a Weapon
If you are in contact with both hands, and you stick is down, then clamp your partner’s stick and slap it across onto his checking- arm. As you do this, strike with your stick to the left side of his head with a fanning twist of your stick-hand. If both sticks are up, then do the same slap, but hit with a fanning motion to the right side of his head. This motion requires the previously mentioned technique of moving your hand from the inside of the arm to the outside. It is a key attack, and comes up again and again in Corridas.
One of the objectives of Corridas is to immobilize both of your partner’s arms with one of yours, and to hit with the other. This is called a trap. There are a number of methods for doing this, and some will be discussed below. If you have only touched one of your partner’s arms with one of your own, it is called a check, not a trap. This is a distinction not made in all styles of Eskrima.
Bar arm from above
Figure – Bar from Above
If your partner has two hands close together, put the forearm of your checking-arm across both of your partner’s arms from above to trap. Strike with the butt-end of the stick.
Bar arm from below
Figure – Bar from Below
If your partner has two hands close together and held high, put either of your forearms across both of your partner’s arms from below to trap. Strike to the groin with the other hand. Be sure to slump for this one.
Elbow riding trap
Figure – Elbow Riding Trap
If you have an arm underneath one of your partner’s arms, ride your elbow up and over into the solar plexus and grab the opposite wrist. This is called elbow riding. Strike with the opposite arm.
Figure – Dropping for a Low Strike
If you wish to deliver a low blow, drop suddenly to break your stick-hand free from your partner’s touch and strike to the leg with the stick. Don’t forget to keep your head guarded by sticking with the checking-hand.
A crucial skill in Corridas is the ability to disarm your partner. There are many ways to do this, but there are two main methods. The first involves twisting the stick-holding hand to the outside, and using good leverage against the thumb. The second involves twisting the stick-holding hand to the inside, and again using leverage against the thumb. In real combat, the leverage would be de- emphasized in favour of hitting the stick-holding hand with the butt-end of your weapon.
Figure – Disarm with outside twist
Figure – Disarm with Inside Twist
In Balintawak, we have many techniques for off-balancing using pushes, pulls, slaps, grabs, and trips.
Turning to off-balance
Figure – Turning Technique
In Balintawak, there are a number of ways of turning your partner around for a strike or throw. A general rule is, if your partner turns sideways too much and shows you an elbow, you can attempt to turn. You can turn from below up; you can turn from above down; and you can turn from the outside, with the forearm or the up-turned palm.
Figure – Elbow Breaking Throw from Outside
There are many throws in Balintawak. Although these are not normally practised in the Corridas drill, you can do so if you are advanced and take care not to follow through on them. You should always have agreement from your partner to try throws.
Figure – Wrist Twist Counter
There are several principles used for countering throws, but they boil down to removing your partner’s leverage, and regaining your balance. You remove your partner’s leverage by going with your partner’s force, by keeping your arms close to your body, by hitting your partner, by pushing away your partner’s arms, by keeping your partner from getting too close, and by always facing your partner. You can regain your balance by moving your feet to a new position of stability.
Figure – Blocking with Leg
In Corridas, kicks may be blocked with the stick, hands, or forearms, but in many cases it is more efficient to block by putting a leg onto the path of the kick. If your timing is good, you can also interrupt a kick with a well timed push or pull, which will off-balance your partner.
Escapes from grab of wrists
Figure – Escape from Grab
If the stick or wrist is grabbed while doing Corridas, there are several techniques for breaking free. They generally involve exerting pressure against your partner’s thumb. Usually they are performed aggressively by moving in on your partner. This will put your partner on the defensive, and destroy your partner’s leverage.
Wrist Grab Trap
Figure – Stick Grab Trap
If your partner grabs your stick and punches at your face with his butt-end, you can grab your partner’s striking hand, and then trap both of your partner’s hands. This is quite effective if your partner refuses to let go.
Corridas on the ground
Figure – Corridas on the Ground
Balintawak is not a ground grappling art in the sense of wrestling and judo. There are some techniques for dealing with pins and holds while upright or on the ground, but this aspect is not at the core. However, it is possible to apply some of the techniques trained in Corridas while lying on your back on the ground. This can be practised in a fashion similar to standing Corridas.
In general, most martial arts tend to concentrate on long range fighting, using blows only. This strategy has a problem. Often enough, your attacker will attempt to come in closer, for grappling or trapping. Arts which specialize in close range combat also specialize in closing the gap to achieve that range. If you have not practised at in-fighting distances, you will find yourself at a severe disadvantage. Balintawak is an art which will give you the tools required to operate effectively in close quarters, whether you are armed or unarmed.
The author: G. Michael Zimmer has been a martial arts dilettante for 30 years, and is modest about his abilities. Many say that he has much to be modest about.