Forgotten Teachings: Filipino Martial Arts
With mixed martial arts and modern western fighting styles being given the spotlight in recent years, the CATCH team visits a traditionalist to get his take on martial arts teachings today.
Words by Qing Hao | Photos by Johnson
Many of us recall trying out a martial arts lesson in our youth, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t at least attend a Taekwondo class in primary school. However, those that decide to commit are rare, with those that choose to study traditional arts numbering the lowest of all.
Joseph Florendo, 35, is one such man. With an impressive Filipino martial arts track record, the cybersecurity professional is now carving his own path down one of the oldest martial arts teaching system in the Philippines, a now nearly unheard-of art even amongst many locals, Balintawak.
“I’ve trained in and achieved instructor-level proficiency in Modern Arnis under Grandmaster Bambit Dulay, Kunao Silat under Mike Jordan who passed on the teachings of Ama Guro Billy Bryant, and I am currently a senior feeder in Tabimina Balintawak under Grandmaster Flint Tabimina and Founder Bobby Tabimina,” he said.
Joseph explained that ‘Tabimina Balintawak’ is the namesake of Bobby Tabimina, who trained under and preserved the old teaching methods of Anciong Bacon, a legendary Filipino fighter. Legend says Anciong was once ambushed on his way home, and he snapped the assailant’s spine, landing him a hefty jail sentence. Despite this, Anciong continued teaching and training, even in prison!
According to Joseph, what separated the art from others was its unique teaching method. Tabimina held a heavy focus on high-speed defenses which favour evasion, and the only way they saw fit to teach that properly, was through the old teaching methods.
Joseph explained that the old method of teaching (feeding) was done through controlled but high-pressure stressful environments.
Instructors (feeders) go one-on-one with each student, attacking with “random, full-speed, and on-target” attacks, to induce stress and force students to react quickly and efficiently to any attacks (feeding). This one-to-one process builds up the students’ defense and ability to counter attacks extremely quickly.
This is a rare teaching method though, as Joseph talks about other schools and teachers.
“While randomness is a key characteristic of Tabimina Balintawak, and was regarded as a key training element by Anciong Bacon, some schools believed that grouping the different strikes together to form predictable and easily repeated patterns for training would be more beneficial to new practitioners,” Joseph shared.
He personally believes that the chaos of random attacks promotes the neuroplasticity process in students much more effectively than any pattern or grouping method can. After all, the human brain recognises patterns very easily.
“What doesn’t challenge you, doesn’t change you,” he said.
However, many schools prefer to teach with modern methods now, owing to practicality and effort-reward ratios. One-to-one training for 20 students at once is just impractical for one or two instructors.
While a single teacher in a modern class can teach more than 10 at a time by demonstrating patterns, a Tabimina Balintawak feeder has to go through all his students one-on-one, and this precludes any big classes or quick seminars.
As such, the old-fashioned feeding method, while more effective in instilling skill in the students, is now slowly fading away outside of Tabimina.
He said: “Randomness, pressure, speed, accuracy. Without these characteristics, Tabimina Balintawak feeders cannot produce a practitioner with a strong defense. I am hard pressed to find even one of these characteristics present in other Filipino martial arts schools.”
Nowadays, Joseph mostly spends his martial arts time training with his closed group, with more and more young people gaining interest in the art.
“It’s great to see that the art is still growing, even if just a little.”
“I hope the younger generation can find it within themselves to stay humble and persevere through training if they decide that martial arts is important to them for self-fulfillment.”