12 Basics..." Guro Eric Lance

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

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

My name is Eric Lance, and I am from a little town in Northeast Ohio. I am a man of many hats as I am not only a martial artists as many of you know me as, but I am also a wildlife biologist during the day, as well as a full time father and husband. In life what I strive to achieve, is first conducting myself in a way that conveys respect from my family, peers, and instructors. Secondly after that I simply want to be a role model and for my children, and my students as they move through this life. To teach them life lessons through martial arts that will help them become better representations of who they were yesterday.

 Guro Eric Lance

Guro Eric Lance

How were you exposed to Balintawak?

I was exposed to Balintawak after a night of venturing down the rabbit hole that is YouTube. I was always fascinated with FMA, and I tried to learn more and more once YouTube became a thing, and a way for others to post content. Through this, I ran into a video of GM Bobby and that resulted in another few hours of searching his content. Wanting to find someone I could learn this from I just did a google search for “Balintawak Ohio” and the closest school that popped up was Guro Elmann and the Columbus academy he teaches from. The timing was actually perfect because I was in the process of heading to Columbus for the Arnold Classic that is held there every year to watch the BJJ tournament. Getting there a day early after setting up a private lesson with Elmann, I was hooked. The issue I had was how far away Columbus was from my hometown and consistent training was going to be hard. Elmann then put me in touch with Guro Patrick Schmitt, and the rest is history from there.

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

I began studying Balintawak with Guro Patrick in 2013 when he was teaching a small group out of a fitness facility near Cleveland. Guro Patrick and I had very similar interests when it came to training and his training style matched mine, so from day one we were a very good fit. After about a year or so, training began at his house in which a lot of the time it would just be Patrick and I training by ourselves. Then after a while, more people began to be exposed and gain interest in Balintawak and would begin training with Patrick and myself. This was a good lesson for me, as early on in my training I was forced to help feed those lower ranked than myself training level 1 and 2. Helping them, and being Guro Patrick’s partner for all those years gave me a quicker understanding of the whole process of teaching and applying the system to GM Bobby’s standards.

What was the hardest part of learning Balintawak?

The hardest part of training, well like I said above, the many days and hours of just Guro Patrick and myself, as a lot of you who know us can imagine, well, things got intense! However to me that’s the beauty of the art, as itself is a intense and dynamic art that needs to be practiced as such. The old analogy holds true, that your training should be hard, and sometimes ugly, and not always clean with variables forcing you to adapt. Like a knife, that is beautiful to look at, it once was an ugly piece of metal that was beaten and folded over and over thousands of times, eventually shaped into that one beautiful piece. That probably makes it sound a lot worse than it is, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Guro Patrick has a way of breaking down the fundamentals of the system, and is always challenging new ideas that I come up with and looking at examining ways to improve transitions from the basic techniques to interpretations that fit who we are as martial artists. Making the play harder and more dynamic by throwing variables into everything forcing you to think of ways to counter, that’s how you sharpen your skills not only in Balintawak, but all martial arts. Mine and his training together now, is very much like this, and the mental aspect of grasping it all is the most challenging. Its like you always hear, the system itself is very basic in its techniques, but its application of those techniques, well if your reading this you understand the complexity!

Making the play harder and more dynamic by throwing variables into everything forcing you to think of ways to counter, that’s how you sharpen your skills not only in Balintawak, but all martial arts.

Favorite part of Balintawak?

My favorite part of Balintawak is its simplicity, and its allowance for the practitioners of the art to express who they are. That’s something that is lost in a lot of the martial arts academies today. Professor Roma, used to tell us all the time that the student should not strive to mimic the instructor. The instructor should give you the techniques and the tools to allow yourself to develop into who you want to be. That’s the “art” aspect of the martial arts. This is something we all have seen in our time training the martial arts, and even in Balintawak. Each practitioner has their own techniques they have created to achieve the FQI and even those who haven’t, you still see their styles developing. To me that’s beautiful.

 Guro Lance (R) working with his COA Jay Swedyk (L)

Guro Lance (R) working with his COA Jay Swedyk (L)

My favorite part of Balintawak is its simplicity, and its allowance for the practitioners of the art to express who they are.

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

I started the martial arts as a young teenager doing Tae Kwon Do through one of my church’s youth pastors. As someone who was interested in the martial arts from a very young age, when the opportunity presented itself, I simply could not just pass up the opportunity to begin my training. After a couple of years doing Tae Kwon Do, I eventually earned my first and second degree black belt, but during that time I was introduced to the only other man besides my father who truly had an impact on the person I am today. Jim Roma, was a small church pastor in Akron, Ohio and surprisingly to most who knew him, a grandmaster and one of the lifelong students of Florendo Visitacion, who was a Filipino martial artist living in New York who created his own system, simply called Vee – Jitsu. Even though the system is a eclectic or hybridized system that combines many martial arts, it introduced me to escrima, and is a system I have been studying to this day some 20+ years, and is one of my primary systems I study. Earlier this year Shihan Roma presented me my seventh degree black belt and the title of Professor, which was a huge accomplishment and an honor to receive from him.

In 2005 I also hit another milestone in my martial art training when I was introduced to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or BJJ which it is commonly referred as. When I began studying BJJ, my training hit a turning point as I was fascinated with the strategy and mechanics that the system allowed its practitioners to use accomplishing what most would think to be impossible. I studied under Tony Rinaldi (a Pedro Sauer Black Belt) from 2005 until November 2011. I received my blue and purple belt under Tony, and throughout that time college (graduate school) and preparing for veterinary school became my primary focus in which I walked away from BJJ. It was in 2013 that I met my current BJJ instructor, Rob Hileman who is a black belt under Tom Deblass. Rob re-ignited my interest in BJJ with his passion for the art. Rob being a smaller practitioner was, and to this day is hands down one of the most technical practitioners I have known and seen. I began training with Rob in 2013 and once again life and work getting in the way I was very inconsistent for a while, but eventually after re-devoting my time to my training I was awarded my brown belt from Rob earlier this year.

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

So during the day, I am a biologist and I am the director of natural resources for a company that has multiple locations throughout many states. I also run my own martial arts academy, and on occasion I teach in the Department of Biological Sciences at Kent State University. As a scientist, I always question the why, and look for ways to make something better. To me that’s where innovation happens, and new techniques are developed. This is how you foster growth and expand the reach and effectiveness of your training. Look at Guro Patrick and myself. Both of us are scientists at heart and our training, is very much like the field of science. Each of us approach a problem and present a solution. We begin looking at each other’s work, and either accept or reject and idea. It’s the true essence of the scientific method, and in the outcomes when we both agree on something, well then we have something special!

 Look like Bruce Lee, man!

Look like Bruce Lee, man!

As a scientist, I always question the why, and look for ways to make something better. To me that’s where innovation happens, and new techniques are developed.

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

When I teach anything, not only Balintawak I want to pass on the ability for my students to always ask questions and examine the “why”. This can apply to so many other things in life. In the martial arts I want my students to learn from me the techniques, but in learning those techniques that I give them, I want them to innovate and create something that is truly theirs. I want them to learn and develop who they are. Since I opened my academy I have seen this happen before my eyes. Most people do not understand or have any idea what they are capable of accomplishing. I look back at certain aspects of my own life and wish I would have had this same approach and mindset I do now. I don’t want people to have regrets, because something is hard. Everything worth doing is hard. When you watch experienced Balintawak practitioners I am sure there is a lot of students that say they will never be able to do that. Absolutely you can, we all were there in your shoes. We have hit ourselves in the head with our own stick over and over again. Eventually your hard work will pay off, and you will have made mistakes and learned from them. Once you get there, you will have something that money can never buy. Its yours, and you did it!

When you watch experienced Balintawak practitioners I am sure there is a lot of students that say they will never be able to do that. Absolutely you can, we all were there in your shoes.

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

For my beginner students I try to emphasize the understanding of the techniques. I work and focus on technique development and the principles of control rather than speed in the beginning. I tell my students speed will come but understanding what and why your are doing something and having the control to safely do it is the most important. For my advanced students, I focus on developing their ability to teach the new generation of students. I allow them to explore the type of practitioner they want to be and focus on enhancing their strengths, and strengthen their weaknesses. However, for my advanced students, well sometimes lets be real… they also need to “accept the pain”!

 Guro Lance (R) working a counter to the counter with his COA Jay Swedyk (L)

Guro Lance (R) working a counter to the counter with his COA Jay Swedyk (L)

What does a typical class look like when you teach?

When I teach a class I like diversity in my training, but I also like some structure to what I am doing. Typically we warm up with level one and level two, along with some other drills we do in Balintawak. After that it depends on who is in class and their ranks. We usually group up and work on sharpening or learning each students respected level requirements. Once that is done, I try to end class with some type of an application to a basic technique in the play that is broken down so everyone can try and experience. Once class is over, Jay, my level 6 student and I usually get some of our training in and work on our interests for the night.

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

Simplicity. I wanted my techniques to be simple and easily applied from grouping or any other area of Balintawak. The techniques that I developed were just things that I naturally found myself doing, so I just looked into that a bit further to develop the 24. I’d like to say that there was a master plan, but there really wasn’t. To me it was just another day doing what I do, I just numbered them. One area of focus though was making the techniques not only simple, but powerful techniques that I could teach at a seminar and easily expand off of into other areas of Balintawak. The techniques also had to be those that anyone who studies a different art would be able to insert into their training, and have the freedom to continue with what they do in their respected styles.

 GM Taboada (L) with Guro Eric Lance (R)

GM Taboada (L) with Guro Eric Lance (R)

Why did you want to become a Fully Qualified Instructor?

To be completely honest at first that wasn’t the goal. To me I wanted to learn the art and be the best I could be for myself, and enhance the training and understanding of the FMA I was already doing. Along the way, Guro Patrick and the way he presented the system to me, simply began my love and respect for Balintawak and the brotherhood it has developed. I wanted to honor not only GM Bobby, by dedicating myself to his style of Balintawak, but also Guro Patrick for all the work and time he put into me. I realized a few things along the way. First that by getting my FQI I can demonstrate who I truly am as a practitioner in the art which has always been at my core. Secondly, it was a way to honor the dedication and teachings of my instructor, and show my appreciation for everything he has given and taught me. The countless hours that he invested and put into me, I multiplied on my own. I wanted to be a good representative of him, and show his devotion of the art through what he taught me. It also like most, then became a passion and mission to help spread the reach of the system in my little corner of Ohio!

I wanted to honor not only GM Bobby, by dedicating myself to his style of Balintawak, but also Guro Patrick for all the work and time he put into me.
 From Left to Right,  COA Jay Swedyk, Guro Patrick Schmitt, Grandmaster Nick Elizar, Grandmaster Bobby Taboada, and Guro Eric Lance at the 2018 World Camp

From Left to Right,
COA Jay Swedyk, Guro Patrick Schmitt, Grandmaster Nick Elizar, Grandmaster Bobby Taboada, and Guro Eric Lance at the 2018 World Camp

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

The first thing that most people notice about me is obviously my size. I’m bigger than most people and immediately it is assumed that as one of my best attributes. However, over my years as a martial artist I would like to think that I am the most known for my ability to adapt as well as my open-mindedness to the effectiveness of every system. Every system has its pros and it’s cons, but it’s up to the practitioner to be able to utilize strengths and adapt to the weakness of the system to make their own training better and themselves a better martial artist because of that. I have been very fortunate to have amazing instructors to help nurture that mindset and methodology. So to me that’s what I am best known for.

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