We need perspective. A line is really an infinite series of points. A lineage, is a series of practitioners. The composition of each one partially determined by that of the previous one. I realize that this is oversimplified but go with me for a moment, it's impossible to talk about something like this without a reduction of complexity to some degree. Think of it in the context of a movie, it looks like one continuous thing when viewed but it is comprised of many unique frames. Within a movie there are key frames: a frame so important that it helps define the story and the composition of the frames that come after it. In 1962 Chris Marker made a short film called La Jetée (which became the basis for the 1995 movie 12 Monkeys). He filmed the entire movie but in the editing room he found the still image that captured the essence of the scene and stitched them together to tell his story. These are the key frames. These are the practitioners in a lineage that shape an art.
How is an art formed?
As GM Taboada points out there are, generally speaking, 9 weapons on the human body: 2 fist, 2 elbows, 2 feet, 2 knees, and your head. There are a finite number of combinations of these tools. You get variation between arts by asking and re-asking some fundamental questions:
Without questions like these there would be a single homogeneous art. It's the differences between arts that make them unique, not what they share in common. The UFC is a great example of this. The early UFC showcased a collection of very different arts from very different places that were all working with the same tools, the human body, but responded to these fundamental questions in very different ways. The results were interesting and as the competition grew fighters began to ask themselves these questions again, especially who am I fighting and how do I win? Fighters began to cross train in an attempt to negate the strengths of their opponents until we ended up where we are today with a generic homogeneous "Mixed Martial Art": a little boxing, a little Muay Thai, a little Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and a little Wrestling. These are obviously incredibly talented athletes and fighters its important to remember that "MMA" developed as a response to a fundamental series of questions the same way that the arts originally showcased in the UFC did. "MMA" is effective in these competitions because it addresses a very specific rule set, environment, opponent, etc. Change any of these factors and you will change the art. Who wins in a knife fight? The FMA guy or the MMA guy? Probably not the MMA guy. Context is crucial to determining the fundamental concepts of an art and their success.
But this is the thing: There are no arts. Only people. Only expressions of people. People ask these questions and people answer them. Since the context is always changing the process of inquiry and refinement never ends, from person to person and from master to student. What we refer to as an art form is really the expression of an individual's fundamental concepts which has been adopted by an amalgamation of others in their own inquisitive process. It is a key frame in the ongoing process that defines those around them and those who come after them. The resulting confederation is homogeneous at a base level in its devotion to fundamental concepts but has an inevitable texture at the edges resultant of their necessarily unique context.
Balintawak the Art?
So... Balintawak is not a thing, it is the word we use to describe to the way Venancio Bacon moved, the way that he answered these fundamental questions and expressed himself. Lorenzo Saavedra transmitted the Corto Linear style to GGM Bacon who reexamined it, not theoretically but through countless fights, working in boxing, dumog, and combat judo as he discovered his own truth. To my knowledge the Corto Linear no longer exist in the form that Tatay Saavedra taught but it does live on through the fundamental concepts within Balintawak. The texture that GGM Bacon added through his inquiry was so important that it shifted the composition of everything that came after him, he became the key frame that defines our process.
Anciong had a traditional pedagogy, teaching where he saw need for improvement but without a structured curriculum. This organic approach could yield a handful of high quality students in a life time but one on one is not an efficient way to transmit the art to the masses. It was GM Villasin and GM Velez who systematized the concepts that GGM Bacon taught into the 12 strikes and grouping system that most of us use today, with this very goal in mind. Asking questions about HOW to train allowed them to systematize a combination of techniques to teach the concepts of their art. That this is all a technique is: a tool to demonstrate or execute a concept. It is ultimately unimportant beyond its use of transmitting the concept. This is why Level 6 is "Completion of the Art" but you are not considered a "Fully Qualified Instructor" yet. You must move past the superficial techniques, what Grand Master Taboada refers to as the "scaffolding", to the fundamental concepts that they are giving form to. This awareness is demonstrated by generating 24 "new" techniques that you can insert into the scaffolding. While you can never be sure what will resonate with your students, each new technique becomes another path back to those fundamentals increasing the probability that they will come to understand them.
Sitting at dinner one night with Grand Master Taboada he made the comment, "A lot of people have said that I changed the art. I didn't. I practiced what my teachers taught me, I played with it. I emphasized certain things in different ways. It's all still there. I added to it, but I did not change it." Addition is not subtraction. If you do not alter or remove the fundamentals, and only add techniques, then you have only created another way to engage those fundamentals, to meet people where they are.
GM Taboada made a promise to his teachers GM Villasin and GM Velez, that he would carry on their work spreading Balintawak to the world and he followed their example to do it. He found himself in new places with new people and new customs and had to ask new questions regarding the best way to teach them. It was not a slight against his teachers or the way he was trained. Anyone who has spent any time with GM Taboada knows the reverence and love he has for these men and the way they brought him up, but he understood that you have to meet people where they are. He likes to proudly point to the scar on his forehead that GM Velez gave him during a demonstration and joke that you can't train in the West the same way you train in the Philippines because if you hit them they leave (or sue you), so he adapted his teaching to people with a larger frame and emphasized safety in his training methods. He also renamed some of the grouping systems to encourage people to think about their underlying concepts. He called his style "Cuentada" because this is the fundamental concept he wanted to emphasize. These are small but important changes that speak to his understanding of his context, people, and teaching. When I first began my martial arts training my instructor, Sensei Steve Mann, would tell me that to be a truly great martial artist you had to do three things:
- You have to be technical and clean in the execution of your art.
- You have to be able to use what you know effectively.
- You have to be able to teach what you know.
This stuck with me. A lot of people have 1 or 2 of these traits but to get all three is incredibly rare. Grand Master Taboada has all three.
The Individual Frame
Venancio Bacon didn’t set out to be a key frame. It was his passion for his art that affected and influenced so many people that made him so influential. This is the truth of key frames. They are important in the meta-narrative because they were important in the lives and experiences of individuals. They made a difference in people who went on to make a difference in others. Their passion is multiplied across time and will only continue to grow. This is what I have learned from Grand Master Taboada, a vivid key frame in my own narrative as I know he is in so many others. Be generous with your teaching. Be passionate. Be kind. Meet people where they are. Engage people. Bring them into the fold. Grow the Brotherhood. Live the Brotherhood.
Be a key frame in someone’s life.