5 (More) Balintawak Life Lessons


So here is a quick thought experiment: You have successfully defended a strike but you realize that for whatever reason the next strike is whipping in on your thigh and that you can't get there in time to defend. What are some of your options? Well, you could try to catch it anyway... miss... get hit somewhere else as you are missing... try to catch that strike... miss...  and keep this pattern up until you are overwhelmed and put down. Doesn't seem like a great path to go down. Alternatives? Well... because of your training, you are in a power position... his stick is all the way down there for the moment... and his head is right in front of you... exposed... Hmmmmm... that thigh shot is going to sting but I like where this is going...Sometimes we have to accept less than ideal situations, take stock in what we do have available to us, and work with what we have. This is perfectly summed up in a phrase I picked up from Guro Jerome Teague recently, "Fight the fight you're in, not the fight you want to be in" If your training is really good (like ours) and you are paying attention, then you might be able to turn a bad situation into a good one, even if you do walk funny for the next day or two.


When I watch the video from my Level 6 "Completion of the Art" test the only audible sound in the entire thing is the deafening thwack of Grandmaster Taboada sawing me in half with a line 4 followed shortly after by a line 3. I was completely helpless to stop it... and Grandmaster knew it. :) It was one of those times that you can't do anything except appreciate the objective beauty of what just happened... and cry a little on the inside. I studied the artistry of that set up and strike repeatedly, spent the next three years drilling, playing, and incorporating it. Then something really cool happened... it became something more than the strike I was trying to emulate, it became mine. I found a way to incorporate that set up and strike into 2 other moves, one of which became the first of my final 24 techniques for my Level 7 test.




The samurai had a saying, "Cry in the dojo, laugh on the battlefield." In agak there is only you and your "opponent". The glory of every strike you block and counter you land, the pride you feel with every disarm you succeed with is yours and yours alone, but so too is the pain of every strike you could not block, the frustration of every counter that is brushed away, and the humiliation of every weapon torn from your grip. No one can do these things for you, so you train and you train hard. You've made choices and sacrifices to pick up that stick and spend thousands of hours honing your skills. You should be proud at what you have accomplished. However... this accomplishment isn't yours alone. There has always been someone standing across from you in agak... leading you or allowing you to learn by leading. Whether this is your teacher or your training partners, without them you wouldn't be anything. What good is it to know the strikes, the defense and counters, the groupings or disarms if you don't have the timing and reactions to back them up? Anyone can learn those things but it is the experience and attributes that are the true gift from your teacher and training partners. They make us cry in the dojo so that we can laugh on the battlefield. It's easy to become fixated on what we need to progress. But don't forget that in order for you to spend a thousand hours defending and countering someone invested a thousand hours in feeding you. This is one of the unique features of our art. To progress to the highest levels you cannot focus only on yourself, you must turn around and teach the person behind you. This allows you to explore familiar topics from a new perspective and increase the attributes of those around you which ultimately raise your own level. The samurai have another saying "Rising tides raise all boats". Others invest in us, we invest in others, and in the end the level of Balintawak rises, carrying us all with it. To this end, an investment in the group is an investment in oneself. We are only as good as our team.


We don't know what we don't know. When we first begin Balintawak our goal is to become master escrimadors and to do that we set out to accomplish these micro-goals by climbing through the levels in the curriculum with full confidence that by level 6, completion of the art, we will be unstoppable, having learned all there is to know.  I'm hear to tell you that isn't true. Not even a little. Level 6 is just the beginning, you have a functional understanding of the basics of the art, but unless you have been on this journey before (in another art) then it's really hard to see that. In Life and Balintawak we are like explorers chasing the horizon, no matter how far we go or what we discover we will never catch the horizon. There is always something more to learn.  With every step in your progression you can look back and see how far you've come and then look forward and see that you are no closer to the horizon. We tend to look at our teachers and their skill level as a destination or goal, and one day we may get there, but it's hard to realize that we have accomplished this because they are still moving forward too. There is always another goal, something else to move towards. Don't despair though, it means you didn't stay at home on the couch, you went out into the world and lived.


Things change. It's an uncomfortable truth and one that is hard to argue with. Those who have the skills and attributes required to address the change will survive the fight and continue on with their lives, those who do not... will not. The world is constantly changing, our opponents are adapting and training to defeat us. It's not enough to maintain. To maintain is to fight the guy from yesterday, not the guy who saw that fight and is coming for you tomorrow. Don't maintain, analyze your victories and your defeats, edit, hone, experiment. Grow. To quote Benjamin Franklin, "When you're finished changing, you're finished."

I guess if I was forced to put an overarching theme to this post it would be that we are in this together, and together we will make it (Life and Balintawak) better through our victories and our failures. 

Members of the RVA BAlintawak crew, making each other cry in the dojo so we can laugh on the battlefield.

Members of the RVA BAlintawak crew, making each other cry in the dojo so we can laugh on the battlefield.