"12 Basics..." Guro Jeff Soriano

sonder
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

It's harder to find a nicer guy than Guro Jeff Soriano. Guro Jeff is currently based out of Winston Salem N.C. but he has been all over and trained with almost everyone. This is reflected in his play and ability to adapt to different styles and body types. This is also carried through in his embrace and execution of the simplicity that is embodied in Balintawak. If you are need of quality sticks or other FMA training equipment check out www.ArnisImporters.com which is run by Guro Jeff.

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

Jeff Soriano. Filipino-american. Born in Hawaii and have lived in the four corners of the US - Washington, California, New England and NC. I am a family man, traveler, outdoorsman, athlete, and humble student of the martial arts. And being Filipino, I love to cook, eat and talk about food.

How were you exposed to Balintawak?

I was first exposed to Balintawak when I was relocating to North Carolina. Prior to moving, I was practicing at a Jeet Kune Do/Kali school in Rhode Island and started researching martial arts schools in North Carolina, namely schools that taught any form of Filipino martial arts. One name kept coming up over and over - Grand Master Bobby Taboada. Coincidentally, I had planned to attend an FMA seminar in Las Vegas at that same time, and unbeknownst to me, the featured master was none other than GM Taboada! After two days of impressive FMA masters showing their stuff, it was GM Taboada who stole the show and blew me away. His movement, his command of the class, his precision was the best I'd seen. I approached him, introduced myself, and inquired about studying Balintawak. He was friendly and told me to call him when I got to NC. I called him a week after I arrived in NC and he generously took me as a student.

How long have you studied? Who was your primary instructor?

I've been studying almost 10 years in the Taboada Balintawak Cuentada system. I am very lucky to say that I am a direct student of GM Taboada. But I also have to thank the instructors in and around the Charlotte area for helping me on the journey. Sharon LoParo, Robert Klampfer, Eric Lawrence and others all took time to help me through the basics.

(Left to Right) Guro Jeff Soriano, Grandmaster Bobby Taboada, Guro John Soraino

(Left to Right) Guro Jeff Soriano, Grandmaster Bobby Taboada, Guro John Soraino

What was the hardest part of learning Balintawak?

The more I learn, the less I know. It's expansive and evolving. This is what makes it so intriguing - there is no end in sight. It is also what makes it so challenging.

The more I learn, the less I know. It’s expansive and evolving.

Favorite part of Balintawak?

So many things. The style we practice (Taboada System) is explosive and effective. That's what drew me to it in the first place. But on the whole, I truly love the method for teaching - the random attack and response (counter) method. The concept that for every attack there is a counter and for every counter there is a(nother) counter. I love that. And I subscribe to that.

But I have to give a shout out to the Brotherhood - the people I've met and gotten to know through the art is what keeps me inspired. The Balintawak Brotherhood has allowed me to train with people all over the country, in Europe and the Philippines without worrying about ego or politics. Without the strong Brotherhood, it's just physics and technique and some guys smacking each other with sticks in a garage.

Mark of the Brotherhood. If you go to shake someone's hand and this is there you know you are in good company!

Mark of the Brotherhood. If you go to shake someone's hand and this is there you know you are in good company!

Without the strong Brotherhood, it’s just physics and technique and some guys smacking each other with sticks in a garage.

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

Yes. I've done a little boxing, muay thai, and studied JKD. I also try to attend seminars of different arts from time to time to see what's out there. But I primarily associate myself with Balintawak, and all the other arts I've studied or continue to study, support my Balintawak habit. If I had more time, I would cross train other arts to stay sharp, but my focus is on improving my Balintawak.

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

I'm a technology professional. I manage large software projects for companies and universities. To be honest, I don't mix my martial arts with my day job. One is a passion. The other pays the bills.

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

Train hard and practice. There are no short cuts. I see it all the time - people want to "get the goods" without putting in the time. But the answer is there, right in front of you - You want to get good? Then you need to practice. No secrets. No mythology. Practice. And keep an open mind.

Guro Jeff playing with Raul Tabile of Seattle

Guro Jeff playing with Raul Tabile of Seattle

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

I always emphasize fundamentals. When in doubt, go back to the fundamentals - the answer is probably in there. Unfortunately, that's not always what a beginner wants to do. They want to see the techniques, the disarms, the semi-advanced stuff. So, from a teaching perspective, I try to balance that - create a solid base of fundamentals, but also show a practical application for them. 'Don't just do this because I said so, do it because it works.'

‘Don’t just do this because I said so, do it because it works.’

What does a typical class look like when you teach?

I teach mostly private students and small groups. Almost always, we warm up with fundamentals - typically Level 1 and 2 from the Taboada System curriculum. Then, depending on the student's experience level, we zero in on skill building techniques. We "play" and try to integrate what skills we are developing. Sometimes we will end with drills to build speed or strength, or drop the sticks altogether and try empty hand or boxing. But classes are never the same, because I don't want anyone to get bored. Myself included.

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

Making them look good! Knowing that a roomful of instructors plus the Grand Master would be watching drove me to keep practicing and refining. It also made me very critical of my techniques - Do they work? Do they look good? Are they easily countered?  It was difficult, trying to balance all of that, while also putting my own flavor on them. I have to thank my student at the time, Bryan Sloyer for working through them with me. He is/was so quick that I knew if they worked on him, they would probably work on others.
I am proud of (most of) them. I still practice them, and teach them to my advanced students.

Why did you want to become a Fully Qualified Instructor?

Obviously it was a personal goal. I like to finish what I start. I was never in a rush, but always knew that I wanted to reach that milestone at some point. The other reason was out of respect for my instructor (GM Bobby) - to pay him back for teaching me, and show him that he didn't waste his time on me. That is a very important concept to me. Until you start teaching, you don't realize how much your teachers invest in you. Time, energy, emotion. It's the least we, as students, can do - to pay them back for what they put into us.

Grandmaster Bobby Taboada presenting Guros Jeff Soraino and Adam Greenspan with their Fully Qualified Instructor certificates.

Grandmaster Bobby Taboada presenting Guros Jeff Soraino and Adam Greenspan with their Fully Qualified Instructor certificates.

Until you start teaching, you don’t realize how much your teachers invest in you. Time, energy, emotion. It’s the least we, as students, can do - to pay them back for what they put into us.

1 Extra. What are you known for in the Balintawak community?

I'm not sure. During my FQI test, there was a small issue where I got tangled up with a very sharp sword. Everyone who was there seems to remember that.

But from the community standpoint, I think people associate my brother and I together (Guro John from Seattle). We are fortunate to have each other to practice and for feedback. We tested for our Level 6 Completion together. A lot of people mix up our names too (see: Tim Hartman). He's also really good, so I'm cool with that!


~js