In the mid-1980s, 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 under Datu Shishir Inocalla, and had received about six 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 previously attended 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 contact a local doctor, who was also Head Instructor of a local Eskrima group. I had heard of this gentleman, 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.
I found the doctor 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 life was changed forever. I went in thinking that after 20 years in the martial arts, I knew something about fighting. I came out feeling like a raw beginner. The doctor 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 doctor gave a repeat performance for Mike's benefit, using him for the demonstration. Now certainly Mike gave a better performance 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 in favour of Balintawak. Mike has continued with his first love, Karate, and has incorporated his Balintawak understanding into his teaching methods.
So, what was the secret of the doctor? 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 trapping and sticking; elbows and knees; and joint locks and throws become paramount. I am going to explain a bit about how we train for this, with our Hubad Lubod drill.
Balintawak Eskrima is primarily the art of fighting with a short stick. We call the in-fighting aspects of Balintawak Corridas. The methods of Hubad Lubod are the adaptation of the techniques of Corridas for unarmed use.
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. It is one limb of the Doce Pares tree, but may be closer to the ancestral roots than some other branches. Doce Pares means 12 pairs. It is characteristic of this style that there are 12 paired angles of attack and corresponding defences.
The Villasin Balintawak Eskrima Association was founded by the doctor in Victoria, British Columbia. He trained under Master Jose Villasin in the city of Cebu. He named the association in honour of Jose Villasin. After achieving proficiency in the art in the early 1960s, the doctor undertook a special course of instruction from Grandmaster Venancio (Anciong) 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.
Hubad Lubod means "Tangle Untangle" in the language of Cebu. The implication of this is that you entangle your partner's limbs, and disentangle your own. Obviously, if you are tangled up, you can't fight well.
When you can just touch your opponent, you are at in-fighting range. The Hubad Lubod 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 quarter combat does not look like Hubad Lubod, which still has rules. Nevertheless, people well trained in the techniques of Hubad Lubod have the technical basis for effective in-fighting.
Comparison to Other Arts
Although Balintawak is broadly similar to other Filipino 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. Although Hubad Lubod concepts are found in other types of Eskrima, the other drills tend to be more limited in scope. In many respects, Balintawak Hubad Lubod is more like 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 Hubad Lubod drill trains this sensitivity. It is possible for an Eskrimador with average ability to do the drill in total darkness. There is no occult knowledge required, just the ability to feel external force and develop the skill to evade, block and strike based on that perception.
Performing the Drill
The basic technique of Hubad Lubod is to make hand to hand contact with your partner 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.
Figure 1 - Two Arm Contact
In Hubad Lubod, contact is usually made with the right arm on the left and the left arm on the right. For this double point of contact, there are a number of variations in position, each having its characteristic techniques. These are:
À both of your arms on the inside of (or beneath) your partner's arm; À both of your arms on the outside of (or above) your partner's arm; À one of your arms on the inside (beneath), and one on the outside (above).
Figure 2 - One Arm Contact
Sometimes situations arise in fighting where there is only one arm in contact, in a diagonal fashion. There are two possibilities: left arm on right or right arm on left. From here there are two further variations in position, each having several specialized techniques:
À the inside of your arm on the inside of your partner's arm; and À the outside of your arm on the outside of your partner's arm.
In order to do Hubad Lubod, it is necessary to make contact with your partner's arms 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 Hubad Lubod, 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.
Figure 3 - Flow into Neck Chop
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 too soft, which 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.
Dissipate excessive force
Figure 4 - 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.
It is one objective of Hubad Lubod 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 these will be discussed later. 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.
I would like to go into some of the general techniques of Balintawak as they apply to Hubad Lubod.
Figure 5 - Basic Stance for Hubad Lubod
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 one leg ahead, one back. You should be balanced and relaxed, in a slight crouch.
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 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 Hubad Lubod 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. If you are farther away and hard pressed, reduce this angle and cover yourself, one arm high and the other low. When at a distance, keep one hand low and one hand high. 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 6 - Evade and Block
Since this discussion is about Hubad Lubod, I will not give a complete coverage of blocking, but will present the main themes.
In general, to avoid a blow, put a limb 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.
If you take the above principles as the cardinal rules, the rest is just detail. You can block with your arm or leg. You can use the inside surface or the outside surface. You can have your arms upright, horizontal, or inverted. You can use your hand or your forearm. The block can be with one arm or two.
Figure 7 - Double Strike
In Balintawak, we use both hands as weapons. 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 8 - Knee Kick
In Balintawak, kicks are done only to low targets such as foot, knee or groin. Side kicks, roundhouse kicks, front kicks, and oblique kick are all used. At close range, the front knee kick is used as a weapon.
There are a number of specific techniques for doing Hubad Lubod. Here are some of them.
Figure 9 - Grab Technique
Reach across the partner's body and take hold of the wrist. Pull it and chop at the neck with the other hand. Your grab can come from below up or above down. Make the grab and the strike simultaneous. If blocked, grab the block and repeat.
If you like, on the second grab cross your partner's arms one over the other and press in to trap. Let go of the bottom hand and hit.
Figure 10 - Slap
If you have at least one arm inside your partner's arms, slap across to the arm on the other side and strike to the face. 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 you wish, you can slap both of your partner's hands from the outside and cross them one over the other. This will result in a trap. You then hit.
If in the course of Hubad Lubod, your partner crosses one arm over the other, take advantage and trap. Push down on the crossed arms. As we say, if you see an X, use it for a trap.
Bar arm from above
Figure 11 - Bar from Above
If your partner has two hands close together, put your forearm across both from above to trap. Strike with the other hand.
Bar arm from below
Figure 12 - Bar from Below
If your partner has two hands close together and held high, put your forearm across both from below to trap. Strike to the groin with the other hand. Be sure to slump for this one.
Elbow riding trap
Figure 13 - 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 your free hand.
Dropping for a low strike
Figure 14 - Dropping for a Low Strike
If you wish to deliver a low blow, drop suddenly to break your arm free from your partner's touch and strike to the groin with a rising back-fist or ridge-hand. Don't forget to keep your head guarded by sticking with the other hand.
In Balintawak, we have many techniques for off-balancing using pushes, pulls, slaps, grabs, and trips.
Turning to off-balance
Figure 15 - 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 16 - Hand in the Back Head Throw
There are many throws in Balintawak. Although these are not normally practised in Hubad Lubod, 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 17 - 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 the partner's force, by keeping your arms close to your body, by hitting the partner, by pushing off the partner's arms, by keeping the 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 18 - Blocking with Leg
In Hubad Lubod, kicks may be blocked with the 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 19 - Escape from Two-hand Grab
If the wrist or wrists are grabbed while doing Hubad Lubod, 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 the partner on the defensive, and destroy the partner's leverage.
Wrist Grab Trap
Figure 20 - Wrist Grab Trap
If your partner grabs your wrist and strikes with the other hand, you can end up by grabbing your partner's striking hand, and also trapping the partner's hands. This is quite effective if your partner refuses to let go.
Hubad Lubod on the ground
Figure 21 - Hubad Lubod 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 very possible to apply most of the techniques trained in Hubad Lubod while lying on your back on the ground. This can be practised in a fashion similar to standing Hubad Lubod.
In general, most martial arts tend to concentrate on long range fighting, using kicking and punching. 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.
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.© Vorticity Martial Arts