Evolution of our art

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Evolution of our art

In my teaching, I try to reflect some of the understanding of good bio-mechanics - physics - into explanations of how we get power. I teach people how to generate good power econmically. We get folks from other arts coming in to train, and I show them our ways. Most like the approach, but since it involves unlearning some old habits, not all manage to fully convert to our system. They learn the superficial techniques, but not the deep bio-mechanics. Their resulting art is a mix; they do Balintawak with a foreign accent, and make a few grammar and spelling mistakes along the way. This does not mean that they are not effective, but I think that the powerful, relaxed way we move is really important - more important than any particular technique. Not all of our students learn it.

I cross-trained a bit in rare and authentic Chen style Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan) to get an understanding of how that art generates relaxed, continuous, short-range power. I found that in Balintawak we do some of it already - although in a more primitive fashion. So, being analytic, I started to examine these skills to see if we could teach Balintawak better. I used physics as my framework, since I am a skeptic on some of the more esoteric explanations I sometimes read or hear. Then, I had to turn the physics into everyday examples that the average person could understand. Now, we have better ways of getting our point across, of bringing them up to speed faster.

When I started training with him, Dr. Lopez used to say:

* "Balintawak stances are just like walking."
* "You must be very relaxed."
* "You just slump."
* "You always have one heel lifted."
* "Your feet are always parallel." and
* "Just compress your body."

Later, he started to lengthen his stance a bit, I think, and started to say:

* "It is just like running."
* "I use the 'tripod principle', one heel is always lifted."
* "Hitting is just like throwing a stone."

Later on, he started to say:

* "Blocking is just like catching a ball." and,
* "Turning somebody is just like pushing a car."

All of this was useful, but there was other stuff happening that people didn't get. I had to work a long time to understand what was going on internally with him, in terms of how he used his body to support the speed and power needed for techniques. All of the expressions he used were valid for his approach, but they didn't make it 100% clear to students how to do it. Now I add:

* "When you slump, you flatten your shoulder blades to connect your torso to your arms."
* "Lateral motions are caused mostly by turning the hips, not swinging the arms from side to side."
* "You must snap you hips and slump to give that extra power in everything."
* "Think of your whole body as being a self-powered rotary whip and that you want to crack it. That is how you get high speed ballistic motion. Kinetic energy is proportional to the square of the speed."
* "When you make contact, you are no longer a whip, but a bulldozer, with irresistable power to push and pull. You get this by slumping, compressing your body, flattening your shoulder blades, helping to connect your legs to your arms by way of your core through proper alignment and tension."
* "Your main strength comes from legs and core, and the upper torso and arms are secondary sources of power."
* "All of this should be very efficient, so learn to do this with the most possible relaxation."
* "The properly relaxed person is much more powerful than the over-tensed person."
* "Keep your body relaxed, your body is smart enough to know which muscles to tense and loosen. You don't have to tell it that. Worry about your intention to perform some action."
* "Concentrate on good form and body alignment and relaxation, and the body will figure out on its own when and where to tense".

Following the Chen style Taijiquan approach, I have them touch my shoulders and back to feel what I am doing with my shoulder blade, have then touch my lower back and gut so they can feel what the body does when it slumps. None of this is remotely like the way Dr. Lopez teaches, but it works, and complements his approach.

I have heard that some of the other Balintawak masters think that the art has some of the same characteristics as good chinese internal arts. I think that it does.

I have cross-trained in boxing and Thai boxing. We have also trained a few western boxers, and a few Thai boxers in our art. Boxers get very fit, specialize in a few good techniques, and drill them realistically. Some of them can take large amounts of punishment. Their weaving techniques are at least as good as ours. They can get us on quality of their delivery if we are sloppy or undertrained. I recommend training with good boxers from time to time, to keep your skills against them up to scratch. They can be very dangerous.

We have techniques for infighting and control that many boxers find hard to deal with As long as you are training with equivalent intensity and realism, Lopez Pangamut has the techniques to help counter boxing. Boxing is almost a subset of the art. We can do boxing-like hits, and duck, slip and weave in a similar manner.

We have found that weaving and immediate arm control, with rapid fire short shots gives boxers problems that they don't always know how to deal with. Just tying up their arms in a non-boxing fashion makes them uncomfortable. We are very good at controlling arms and body and hitting without going into a boxer's clinch position. We seize the opportunity to tie up by pre-empting, or after the first jab. Many boxers have a problem after that, since you now control their arms. Defence against throws and take downs is not part of modern boxing either. It was there a couple of centuries ago, but has been lost.

I have also cross-trained with some good ground grapplers and "mixed martial arts" fighters, to see what problems they could give us. They can give us a lot of problems if they take us to the ground. So, now I give more attention to countering throws and take downs, as well as doing them. I also recommend that students learn enough ground grappling to keep from being dominated on the ground by a grappler. I show some very basic stuff, at a low level, but recommend my grappling teachers for quality instruction.

I know that the way we do our stick art is somewhat different from the way Master Villasin did it in the latter 1950s, and very early 1960s. It will be much different from the way the Grand Master Bacon taught it to Master Villasin. It will certainly be different from how it has evolved in the various other branchs. Each teacher adds new ideas over time - using their own experience and creativity. Sometimes the ideas are good, sometimes not so good. Everything changes over time. Still, a large core of similar techniques seem to exist in all Balintawak styles.

I like to call Dr. Lopez's unarmed expression of the art "Lopez Pangamut", or "Lopez Mana y Mano". He thinks that unecessary, and maybe pretentious. Still, he developed the art, by looking at Balintawak stick work and knife defence, and then thinking about how to make it work when fighters were not armed. He picked up some training ideas from the Wing Chun folks, but mostly he thought about how to do eskrima without a stick, corridas without a weapon. The term Hubad Lubod he adapted from some of the other eskrima styles, but what we do is not quite like what they do. You can see how the early videos of Dr. Lopez show a very clear derivation of Hubad Lubad from the stick - corridas. Later videos look more like Wing Chun "sticky hands", and still later videos look more like "corridas" again. I and fellow student Kerry Miller said to him one day; Why are we doing this stuff like Wing Chun Chi Sao? Why don't we do it the way they did in Cebu. He said; I was only taught the stick, but I sometimes saw other students practicing without a stick. It looked something like this. He then demonstrated what we later came to call "Hubad Lubod". So, there were people in Cebu in the 1950s doing something like what we now call Hubad Lubad, but since Dom didn't study that part, we don't know just how close what we do is to the old style. Hey, it works pretty well.

I would like to call his stick art "Lopez Balintawak". He will not hear of such a thing. For him, calling it "Villasin Balintawak" is a way of preserving the heritage and honouring his teacher.

posted by Vorticity Martial Arts at 9:09 PM