Who are you?
Rich Cotterill - Chief Instructor and founder of International Balintawak (Europe) Group
How do you define yourself?
A teacher/ coach, with an ability to reflect, sometimes I am right, sometimes I am wrong, but importantly I know how to apologise when I am wrong.
Also I have a big nose so smelling bullsh*t is easy. (English humour)
What's your story?
Started training Martial arts at 10 years old and still on the journey over 4 decades later. I joined the UK military at age 16 where I was exposed to some boxing and ITF TKD. I started teaching at 17, had no choice really because my instructor at the time was posted to another base. He left me in charge of the group (said I had more experience), I crapped myself because most of the guys were twice my age. That was my challenge there and then, be more knowledgeable, physically fitter, technically better and able to take the knocks both physically and mentally. I trained and studied everyday just to earn the respect of the older guys training with me. I was a white belt TKD.
I could give you a whole lot more life story but that’s for when we drink beer, it’s never as boring then (yes we English do drink more than just tea). What I want to try and get across is that for one reason or another I haven’t had the “master” on my doorstep. But that made me the person/teacher I am.
Don’t wait to be shown, go and get what you want and if you are lucky enough you’ll come across someone that will help to guide or support you at some point along the way. Willie Lim and Bobby Taboada are two such people and the list at the bottom of this article is testament to others that have helped and are still helping shape who I am.
I am one lucky guy.
Bobby once said to me he promised his teachers he would be the one to spread Balintawak throughout the world. When he told me that I said I would like to try to help him in Europe, so 14 countries and counting. The Balintawak family grows stronger, I’m proud of being a part of that team.
How were you exposed to Balintawak?
I was at Master Willie Lim’s house, Scottsdale Arizona in 1992, training Bunkai (application/ interpretation of Kata), pressure point striking and also Tai Chi. On that visit we were looking through his martial arts video collection, we discovered a promotional video called Balintawak Demo which was 4.50 min duration. On watching the demo tape my jaw dropped, I was gobsmacked. I shouted Willie in from his garden and asked who is this guy in the video, to which he replied “it’s my friend from New Zealand (where Willie once lived), Bobby Taboada”. I said I would like to try this. Willie said ok I’ll show you some Balintawak.
I was hooked.
I still have that tape, as far as I know it has been not been seen by many people, I put it on now and again just to remind me where and why I started. Nostalgia it’s an old guy thing!
In the early years we brought Bobby over to UK in 1994 and also in 1996. During that time period I also went to train with Bobby in the USA and met Irwin, Randy Cornell, George Mandropalis, and others. I have also met Sam Bout in Mesa Arizona. I have given seminars in Montreal, upstate New York, Arizona and a small workshop in North Carolina in the 90’s. Long time ago, now many of the guys in the US I have never met but I still have a sense that you guys are family. I never forget the friendship shown to me by Bobby and others, it is a very powerful lasting legacy. An act of kindness can last a lifetime.
How long have you studied? Who was your primary instructor?
Short answer, not long enough! In real terms I studied martial arts for 44 years, Balintawak 24 years. In Balintawak like I said Willie Lim got me interested and showed me some basics , groupings etc. but being brutally honest Balintawak curriculum I learnt from the only thing available to me back then (early 90’s) Bobby’s Vol.1 and 2 VHS tapes which Willie Lim gave to me on my return from the US. VHS video was my primary instructor. I can still hear the “instructor” fast forward and rewind. But I credit Willie Lim my friend/family to this day with starting me on that journey.
Living the other side of the Atlantic is not like having Bobby on your doorstep but that again was my challenge. I learnt all the system from those tapes and the first time we invited Bobby to the UK in 1994 he was very surprised by that.
What was the hardest part of learning Balintawak?
No teacher. In terms of specifics in the curriculum early days I would say shadow form, because I just saw it as another kata. I will be honest when I say I really didn’t have the inclination to take on another memory test and learn another kata, so I had to adjust my mental approach. Now I see it has everything if you want it to be.
Favourite part of Balintawak?
Teaching for me, it’s more rewarding than any trophy or certificate etc. When you see the information you have shared with a student being used in a way that it was meant or sometimes that information has evolved into a variation which you never thought of, that is priceless. It still makes me smile though when people ask me how they can improve, I tell them “learn to give”. This is the essence of LEARN TO TEACH, TEACH TO LEARN. I call it duality.
Have you/do you study other arts? How have they influenced each other?
I have yes (Karate, Kung Fu, ITF Tae Kwon Do, Tai Chi) and the art I study now is about my movement and how to make that combative. Regarding the arts how they have influenced each other is by recognition of the fact that I know how to find what is the same, not what is different. All of the styles I mention in the brackets or any for that matter to me all have the one common component YOU. That is the art.
No style is the best. Just good practitioners/teachers and also invariably there can be bad ones in any style.
What's your day job? Have there been any concepts from that profession that have informed your Balintawak or vice versa?
My profession is Balintawak, probably the only professional Balintawak instructor in all of Europe. So maybe we can turn that question on its “head” and say from my previous jobs.
Whilst in the military, engineering, management etc there has always been an important factor (common ground) for me to bring into my teaching. It is how we interact with each other and the choices we make available to create the objectives we would like to see. Inspiration, knowledge, openness, loyalty and dedication are just a few keys to success.
I also remember studying Manufacturing processes when I was in industry. One methodology used was termed as DBR (drum, buffer, rope). What it basically stated was that production can only flow as fast as the slowest moving part of that process. That is the constraint (bottleneck), so learn how to identify the constraint and then you can elevate the constraint, production / efficiency should consequently then increase.
The process looks like this:
(1) Identify the system’s constraints.
(2) Decide how to exploit the system’s constraints.
(3) Subordinate everything else to the above decisions.
(4) Elevate the system’s constraints.
So can you identify what is your constraint? And then how are you going to exploit and elevate it? I draw a lot of training parallels from this.
What is the main lesson you want your students to take from your instruction in Balintawak?
It is whatever “you” want it to be. If you limit your mind, you will limit your outcomes.
Art is an expression of oneself not a “photocopy of someone else”. MORE is LESS
So in essence it is a MINDSET for self evolution and self progression. We just need correct guidance not dependency. Dependency is another name for Business Model or 1,000s of techniques.
What do you emphasizes with beginners and what do you emphasizes with your more advanced students?
I emphasise the same thing to both (whatever they require), I try to give them an understanding of the term “advanced is basic”, which is just a better understanding of what those basics are and how to apply and evolve them. Where are they in their journey! That is a matter of one’s personal perspective and not necessarily mine.
I can talk about the same “things” with 2 students that start at exactly the same time, but 2 years down the line how come they understand what I emphasised in a different way, with a different depth of understanding, quality and application. Who is more advanced (rank?) and why? Really there is no such thing as advanced it’s just a deeper understanding of fundamentals.
What does a typical class look like when you teach?
Un-typical, primarily I’m interested in combat and the pre-cursors to that combat, so essentially it is primal and simple by nature. (just like the English) I term it as the understanding and intention of how to make all movement combative in application.
“Don’t stylize, body weaponize”, “YOU ARE THE WEAPON”. That is my motto.
There are a set of 4 very simple combative concepts I use that are in everything it just needs to be identified for your own personal training. I don’t necessarily look to martial arts to give me answers or solutions. It is movement of the elite performers in all areas of life, sports and competition, the way they “stand apart” what gives them the edge in their physical movement, application, knowledge and their mental fortitude etc?. that is what interests me.
We can talk about concepts in our training but don’t confuse that with techniques. That would be like putting the cart before the horse.
Willie Lim back in the 90’s held up his hand and said to me “what do you see Richard?” I said your palm, fingers, lines. He said I can see fingers, back of the hand, finger nails, hairs. I said Ok (thinking he might be taking the piss). Then he replied “the difference is I know I can rotate that same hand. Do you?” How many sides (dimensions) can you see now? Never had a lesson like that. Was a “light bulb moment”
So I try to make my classes / seminars shall we say illuminating/ thought provoking.
What kind of things were you thinking about when you were developing your 24 techniques?
To be honest, it would be the easiest method to remember the techniques and the simplest most direct violent way to deliver them. I don’t do fancy.
Why did you want to become a Fully Qualified Instructor?
I didn’t as such. I wasn’t a big believer in official “Certification” in any system at that time. It sort of just happened and I’m glad it did because it inspired others in our group to do the same. Now we are 6 FQI’s and on Bobby’s last visit I had 3 for FQI and 12 for completion testing. So in 2017 I hope there will be more FQI’s throughout Europe when Bobby returns. But we all know it’s not finished there, it’s just the beginning. One other thing for me to add, as I have got older I understand the need for choice and the fact not everyone will go that far in terms of certification. We all have different reasons and objectives for training. I have people in my group that in other parts of life / training are more senior / experienced than me, we all have something to offer and I respect people based on that, not rank.
I must admit though it is good to have the title and certification because it can allow us through certain doors that might otherwise remain shut.
Loyalty, dedication and respect is where the importance is.
1 Extra. What are you known for in the Balintawak community?
Well if any of you guys have watched the movie Snatch there is a line in there from a guy called Brick Top and I quote “are you taking the piss?” I’m pretty good at that in fact most of the guys in our group are good at that it helps keep any egos in check. I am pretty sure I am a good example to my students and instructors, truthfully though you would have to ask them. I like to be the rebel stir it up and see what falls out. The wooden spoon is sometimes more powerful than the rattan stick!!!
Really it’s about provoking thought. I hope this article has provoked some thought in a positive and maybe inspirational way.
I’d like to thank my Balintawak brothers at Richmond Balintawak for giving me the opportunity to share a part of my personal journey and thoughts through your “12 basics” questions.
Finally I’d like to thank:
My wife and family
Master Willie Lim
GM Bobby Taboada
Bill Murray (my training partner and the one that challenges everything I train)
All my students, instructors and friends
My Balintawak family
Without your support I am lost.
From my heart you are welcome, with respect
Guys if you wish, drop me a message firstname.lastname@example.org
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