"12 Basics..." Guro Christos Koutsotasios, Nickelstick

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.
— Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

Prologue:

Guro Christos Koutsotasios comes from the Nickelstick lineage, led by GM Nick Elizar, and is a dedicated student of Balintawak and ambassador of our larger family, as you are about to read about. While the primary intent of this series is to shed light on the Cuentada Brotherhood established by Grand Master Bobby Taboada by sharing the stories of the Fully Qualified Instructors within, it would be impossible to fully understand this Brotherhood without recognizing the individuals that have come to us from the larger Brotherhood of Balintawak. As we have shared with them, they have shared with us, and we are all better for it. Though their journey in Balintawak didn't start on our shores they have become good friends, even family, and we would like to honor them by sharing their story. Let us all be proud of our lineages but let us all be Brothers in Balintawak.

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

I’m Christos Koutsotasios, coming from Lesvos Island in the Aegean Sea and I try to draw a balance between philosophy, art and strategy and also incorporate those principles to my daily life with moderate success. My passion was martial arts since early childhood and due to the isolated place I grew up, instructors were rare so I tried the best I could to accumulate as much as I could from everyone I met, everything I read or saw and then analyze and execute. The “ trial and error” method may be a slow progress but it is the surest one in leaving long lasting results and a wealth of experience through experimentation.

 

How were you exposed to Balintawak?

I was practicing Wing Chun during my University studies when I started FMA with the only instructor in Greece at that time, travelling 14 hours by train every month to train with him from the place I lived. I trained in Cass Magda’s program and IKAEF material there. After some years and while I had my established my own school back to the island, Non Serviam Academy, I was searching for an FMA system that was closer to my temperament, more close combat and more principle based and structured.  I found Balintawak to suit my needs and started reading about it and watched every material that was available to me, analyzing and breaking down what I could at that point. Then I contacted Master Philipp Wolf in Germany, a personal student of GM Nick Elizar and traveled there from Greece for instruction.  I fell in love with the system through the analytical approach and logical procedure and switched the whole curriculum of my school to it. Then I started promoting the Balintawak system in Greece as it was not known nor present here, and organized seminars in Greece with GM Nick Elizar, Master Philipp Wolf, Master Fabien Jolivel in order to draw more people in this great art.

Phillip Wolf and Christos Koutsotasios at the Acropolis

Phillip Wolf and Christos Koutsotasios at the Acropolis

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

I study Balintawak since 2010. My main instructor is Master Philipp Wolf of Germany, a man that guided me through my Balintawak adventure and I am proud to call my friend. During those years I continued traveling to Germany for further training as well as having him come to Greece. I also trained with GM Nick Elizar who refined with utmost accuracy the curriculum and demonstrated the finer points of Balintawak. I also crossed sticks with other Balintawak instructors and players around Europe that each one had to teach me something and I owe gratitude to all of them.

Christos working with GM Nick Elizar

Christos working with GM Nick Elizar

What was the hardest part of learning Balintawak?

Being able to analyze and segment such a compact and deep system that is deceptively simple was the hardest theoretical part.

Doing basics with the correct mechanics, proper power, and timing under pressure gives the edge as the hardest practical part. Fast is fine, accuracy is everything.

Fast is fine, accuracy is everything.

Favorite part of Balintawak?

The stick play, the friendly atmosphere and the knowing that we are all part of a big family, no matter the lineage. Respect is evident; there is room for personal development both as a human being and as a martial artist. And the fact that it is a logical, practical and pedagogical system. It takes you by the hand and step by step you are introduced to those principles that are applicable to everyday.

...knowing that we are all part of a big family, no matter the lineage.

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

I have and I am still studying other arts. Wing Chun, Jun Fan/JKD primarily and then some Pekiti Tirsia Kali and other FMA styles from time to time. I frequently participate in seminars of other styles and cross train with some of my friends, representatives of other FMA systems like Doce Pares, Marcaida Kali, FCS etc.

There are universal principles underlying the effectiveness of martial arts. Both practical and theoretical ones such as Timing, Accuracy, Power, the way we move in general is plain physics after all. A technique may seem the same but the way to get to that same result varies from style to style due to each system’s specific strategy and tactic. This is the difference in methodology and therefore the pedagogical aspects. So in terms of influence, I believe there is a constant borrowing and lending between principles. You just have to install an “on and off” switch to distinguish the differences.

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

I am an architect engineer mainly. Architecture is considered the mother of all arts as it encompasses principles that serve needs of form and function. The concepts of the equilibrium between ergonomics and aesthetic value have found their place in Balintawak and vice versa. Form follows function and function follows form. Dogmatic approaches are rendered useless as everything changes and at each given point in time, a specific answer is needed to cover the need. This specific answer may of course vary from person to person and this is the point where one testifies his character.

Form follows function and function follows form.

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

”I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think” as Socrates said and as an instructor this is the main objective. People rarely think deeply, they need a stimulus; they need to question, analyze, argue, reject and redefine.  Then their character gets revealed and as “one’s character is his destiny”, this leads the way of growth in the Balintawak system. It gets personalized and each one has his own toolbox of techniques and principles.

I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.
— Socrates

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

Mechanics. I emphasize that to all of my students. Without a proper base, a building will not be stable. So Beginners should really focus on establishing a strong base. At the more advanced students I emphasize the need to open their mind and explore possibilities and methods of applying their knowledge to different situations. Seeds have already been sown from the beginning; each one has to bring out his own unique way of applying it.

Working the body mechanics in Group 1

Working the body mechanics in Group 1

What does a typical class look like when you teach?

Although depending on the people attending, a class may vary it is mostly funny, cracking jokes during teaching and maintaining a nice atmosphere. You know, when teaching someone to knock out cold someone with a stick you can’t be all that strict in your approach. They have enough tension during everyday struggle so maintaining a balanced class with enough sweat and pressure but relief the stress too is very important.

How you develop new techniques or concepts to play with in general?

When developing a new technique after a question from my students, a situation in sparring, countering a technique from another system or just for the sake of “what if?”  I try to follow a logical procedure of thinking, to make the technique work despite the frame of the person using it and to be as simple, effective and practical as possible. There are of course the things we do for the art, meaning those techniques that contribute to gaining flow, accuracy, mental training etc. and could only be pulled in very tight windows of opportunity. These too have their place.
Process is like playing chess against yourself: Create a problem, find a solution, try it out against your partner, and change it if needed.

Process is like playing chess against yourself: Create a problem, find a solution, try it out against your partner, and change it if needed.

Why did you want to become a Fully Qualified Instructor?

There was no Balintawak in Greece so when I started teaching it to my students here it only seemed natural that I had to achieve this goal. Also, being a supporter of the “teach what you learn” I encourage my students to teach as well. Being on the other side of the fence helps you deepen the understanding of the art. Teaching is an art by itself, as one could be an excellent fighter but have no way of transferring those skills.

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

Probably for the sense of humor, being a good friend and my loyalty to the Club and the art.
And maybe for the book I wrote about Nickelstick Balintawak Eskrima. I’m not sure.

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For more information about Guro Christos Koutsotasios and his school visit his website: nonserviam.weebly.com

or check out his Youtube Channel for some great videos:
www.youtube.com/user/lesvoskwoon