"12 Basics..." Guro Elmann Cabotage

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n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.
The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

In this installment of "12 Basics..." we meet from Guro Elmann Cabotage. Elmann is based in Columbus Ohio where he is the middle of the martial arts community vin diagram there, playing with everybody!  Elmann is truly devoted to Balintawak and his students, constantly experimenting to optimize his pedagogy and technique with a contextual awareness of both. He has made a positive and lasting impact on our art and I hope you enjoy a little insight into this incredible teacher and eskrimador.

Who are you? How do you define yourself? What's your story?

Elmann Cabotage.  Family guy with cool wife and 2 boys. Been doing martial arts and combat sports longer than I can remember.  Both my sons are pretty much the same way. Lifestyle martial artists.  

How were you exposed to Balintawak? How long have you studied? Who was your primary instructor?  

I started Balintawak in 1995 as one of the original members of the Cincinnati Balintawak Club. Our primary instructor was Jorge Penafiel.  At the time, Cincinnati Balintawak had very close ties with the University of Cincinnati Filipino American Students Association where I was president.  One was instrumental in formation of the other and vice versa.  It was a great time with a lot of jacked up stories that will keep me laughing until the day I die.  It is hard to let go of such a fun and meaningful experience like that.   So instead I chose to hold on to it and teach Balintawak to this day.

From the Cincinnati Balintawak Club days, Elmann Cabotage (2nd from left) with Grandmaster Jorge Penafil and Grandmaster Bobby Taboada

From the Cincinnati Balintawak Club days, Elmann Cabotage (2nd from left) with Grandmaster Jorge Penafil and Grandmaster Bobby Taboada

What was the hardest part of learning Balintawak? 

The hardest thing to learn is counter-to-counter.  But if taught properly, you get comfortable and it is like riding a bike.  Then the challenge becomes getting everyone else comfortable with it.  

Favorite part of Balintawak?  

The family atmosphere and the lifestyle.

Have you/do you study other arts? How have they influenced each other?

Of course.  I have always studied martial arts.  But more interestingly, I have had the great fortune of teaching balintawak to high level practitioners of many other martial arts including but not limited to Karate, BJJ, Judo, Ninjitsu, Kick Boxing, Aikido and Krav Maga.  I feel like many of these people have taught me as much as I have taught them.  They have definitely influenced my technique, but more importantly they have influenced the way I train and teach.  

What's your day job? Have there been any concepts from that profession that have informed your Balintawak or vice versa?

I am a civil – mechanical engineer.  My knowledge of mechanics and structure has definitely influenced how I try to optimize my movements.  

What is the main lesson you want your students to take from your instruction in Balintawak?

If you really want to get good at anything especially Balintawak, then take the journey without any favors or short cuts.   If you short cut, you may be miss out on important details.

What do you emphasize with beginners and what do you emphasize with your more advanced students?  

Most of the people who train with me are advanced martial artists so I do not treat them like they are a bunch of rookies.  Most are also grown men over 35 with families and professional jobs.  No one comes here for mall karate.  So I basically treat everyone the same.  

We do not make claims that our training methods are the best around.  However, we have studied many methods and use the ones that make the most sense and give us the best results.  The training methods used in Columbus are mostly rhythm based which is key in maximizing repetitions.  Heavy emphasis is also placed on optimizing body mechanics.  Most of our training, including shadow fighting, is done interactively (as opposed to solo).  This is so the class can feed off each others energy.  

When going counter-to-counter with application, reaction is stressed over memorization, randomness and entropy over pre-choreography, and technical optimization thru controlled resistance.  

Continuous improvement is emphasized.  This is ensured through the Chain System which is selfless, symbiotic, and feeds into itself.  It is a system that perpetuates itself and is in a constant state of improvement.  Everyone in level 5 knows and understands this and is required to contribute to it.  

Most of the people who train with me are advanced martial artists so I do not treat them like they are a bunch of rookies. Most are also grown men over 35 with families and professional jobs. No one comes here for mall karate. So I basically treat everyone the same.
Guro Elmann sharing his knowledge with the Ohio State University Filipino Student Association.

Guro Elmann sharing his knowledge with the Ohio State University Filipino Student Association.

What does a typical class look like when you teach?

Interactive and very laid back.  There is not a lot of formality, but there is plenty of respect.  I consider myself more facilitator than teacher.  And I rarely refer to someone under my instruction as a student.  I like to think of them as a training partner.  

I rarely refer to someone under my instruction as a student. I like to think of them as a training partner.

What kind of things were you thinking about when you were developing your 24 techniques?  

I started over by breaking the structure of the system and kept asking myself “what if?”  I basically treated my 24 like it was a PhD dissertation.  

Why did you want to become a Fully Qualified Instructor?  

When I first made the decision to become an FQI, it was out of friendship.  I was teaching Balintawak to a friend who eventually wanted to get more serious about his training.   So we set a goal for him to go thru the ranking system and obtain completion of the art.  I agreed to test for qualified instructor so that my friend would not feel like he was going at it alone.  Eventually I started a Balintawak class and becoming an FQI was the right thing to do in honor of Grand Masters Taboada and Penafiel.

When I first made the decision to become an FQI, it was out of friendship.