Venancio “Anciong” Bacon : the founder of Balintawak Eskrima


This post introduces a new category in this blog called : Biography. I will present the life of experts and great masters of martial arts in their main lines. I have always had a lot of admiration for some great martial arts practitioners who have made a big contribution. History sometimes retains some names better than others. Hope these future posts will help you understand why.

I begin with this first post about the FMA master Venancio “Anciong” Bacon (1912-1981), and at the same time, I will discuss the creation of his style ; the Balintawak Eskrima. Originally from Cebu in the Philippines, the style of Anciong Bacon has become a important current in the FMA nowadays. Many systems have developed on the main principles of Balintawak, this is the case of Combate Eskrima Maranga which I have been practicing since 2012.

 

Lorenzo Saavedra’s successor

Few people have written about Anciong Bacon. The literature has not been abundant about him. He is however one of the greatest practitioner of FMA in the history of Cebu. The lines above have been written from information disseminated in the websites of second generation students, most of them, from Anciong Bacon, as well as some documentaries like Eskrimadors [1]. I will also indicate some anecdotes that I heard from Maestro Rodrigo Maranga.

Anciong Bacon, in the documentary Eskrimadors, 2010.

Venancio “Anciong” Bacon was born in 1912 in Carcar, Cebu island. Then, he moved to San Nicolas on the outskirts of Cebu City. San Nicolas was a neighborhood where people from the poorest social classes resided, as well as newcomers from many parts of Cebu and the adjacent islands who wanted to start a new life. [2]

He began practicing Eskrima as a teenager at the Labangon Fencing Club of Cebu City, created in 1920, under the leadership of Lorenzo “Enzong” Saavedra (1852-1944), master of the Corto Linear style. Anciong Bacon became a training partner and friend of Teodoro “Doring” Saavedra, the nephew of Lorenzo Saavedra. [3] [4]

In the early 1930s, the Labangon Fencing Club was closed. Then in 1932, a new Eskrima club was created which brought together eskrimadors from Cebu : the Doce Pares. Directed by Lorenzo Saavedra, the club is made up of 3 members of the Saavedra family and 9 members of the Canete family. Shortly after, 12 other eskrimadors joined the club, among them, Anciong Bacon. [4]

Grand Master Lorenzo Saavedra was the instructor of Anciong Bacon. He trained him at Espada y Daga as tradition dictated. Anciong Bacon was formidable in this practice so much that he put his training partners in great difficulty with the left hand, which holding knife (daga). To add an additional difficulty, Saavedra forced Bacon not to use his knife and to practice with an empty left hand. What had been posed as a problem, became an opportunity for Anciong Bacon ; he could use his left hand to hit, grab, push… [5]

Within the Doce Pares, Anciong Bacon was considered one of the best eskrimadors [1]. Standing at 5 feet and 2inches for 120 lb, Anciong Bacon was an unpretentious man. He was however described by many of his students as being extremely fast and he was able to overpower someone without hitting them by exploiting his balance. However, he is also known for having won numerous duels, especialy with stick strikes with surgical precision. [4]

Anciong Bacon using locking techniques.

During World War II, Cebu was invaded by Japanese troops in April 1942. Lorenzo and Teodoro Saavedra died at that time. Teodoro “Doring” Saavedra, Anciong Bacon’s friend and training partner, is captured, tortured and executed by the Japanese. Lorenzo Saavedra, the master of Anciong Bacon, died of old age at the same time. [4] [6]

In the aftermath of the war, the Saavedra were no longer there, so the Doce Pares was run by the Canete family. Tensions and political quarrels appeared within the club. This period of tension pushed him to leave Doce Pares and founded his own group in 1952. [4] [6]

 

The creation of a new system ; the Balintawak Eskrima

Anciong Bacon and some other members of the Doce Pares created the Balintawak Self Defense Club on June 28, 1952 [6]. The club was set up next to a pigsty, in the backyard of a watch store owned by Eduard Baculi, a student of Anciong Bacon. This store was located in a small street in Cebu called Balintawak street. The name Balintawak came from a historic place in the suburbs of Manila. It was here that the members of Katipunan, an underground revolutionary organization, openly declared their desire to free themselves from the control of foreign Spanish domination. This historic event, known as the Cry of Balintawak, took place on August 26, 1896, it marked the start of the Philippine Revolution. [2] [4]

Anciong Bacon was supported by two renowned eskrimadors, Timoteo Maranga and Delfin Lopez, to found the Balintawak Self Defense Club. Together they formed the 3 pillars of Balintawak Eskrima. [1] [7]

During my first trip to the Philippines in 2013, Maestro Rodrigo Maranga told me an anecdote about his father, Timoteo Maranga, and Anciong Bacon, while we were having lunch in a restaurant. That day, we ordered a Filipino dish that was accompanied by a very spicy sauce with very small extremely hot peppers called sili kolikot in Cebuano. Maestro Drigo told us that one of Anciong Bacon’s nicknames was “the little chilli”. Bacon was small but extraordinarily fast, fierce and explosive like a little sili kolikot. These opponents were always very surprised at the agility and speed of the Grand Master. One day, Timoteo Maranga and Anciong Bacon were provoked in the street, for a stick fight. The opponent preferred to choose the smaller of the two men, Anciong Bacon, as Timoteo Maranga was tall and had an imposing body. The opponent did not know that the smaller was the master of the larger. The fight lasted only a moment …

“Anciong Bacon, the litle chilli !!”

Anciong Bacon’s meeting with Delfin Lopez also testifies to the Grand Master’s level of excellence. Lopez was already an experienced eskrimador when he first met Bacon. Far more physically imposing than Bacon, Lopez believed he could easily dominate him using his strength. Rushing on his opponent, Lopez quickly found himself thrown to the ground and disarmed, after receiving a few blows. The clash between the two men lasted only a few seconds and Anciong Bacon had just won a loyal student. [4]

Anciong Bacon and one of these students, during a demonstration at Alu Nite on May 26, 1966.

With the Balintawak Self Defense Club, Anciong Bacon wanted something new, different from what was traditionally taught at Doce Pares, like two-stick practice and the Espada y Daga. His system was instead based on the use of a single stick and a wide range of techniques with the rest of the body ; pulling, pushing, hitting with the fist, the feet, the head, the elbows and the knees [1]. Anciong Bacon wanted to transmit within the Balintawak Self Defense Club, the Saavedra style he had received from his Master and to practice an Eskrima for combat. [6]

The original logo of Balintawak Eskrima.

We find in the original logo of Balintawak Esrkima, symbols specific to this system. The four circles form a bull’s eye and represent the four levels of learning of Balintawak Eskrima ; basic, intermediate, advanced and mastery. The stick is the main weapon, it is a simple extension of the arm. The Bolo is the bladed weapon chosen by the practitioners of Balintawak Eskrima. The fist represents the techniques of combat with bare hands. The Balintawak Eskrima is just as effective with or without a weapon. The Eye of Providence, or All Seen Eye, is a representation of God and the scales represent Justice. [8]

The Balintawak Eskrima focuses on close quarters combat. It is practiced with a single stick and the free hand used to complete the stick with defensive and offensive techniques. These offensive techniques include punches, kicks, locks, disarms, sweeps, throws, locking techniques … We call the work done with the left hand, the free hand ; tapi-tapi. The Balintawak Eskrima is a self-defense system designed for street fighting with an emphasis on simplicity, speed, efficiency and pragmatism. [5]

One of the great fighting principles of Balintawak Eskrima is called Cuentada, a Spanish word which means to count, to calculate. In the context of a fight, it could be translated as counter. This principle starts from the postulate that each movement has a counter, and that each counter has a counter in turn, etc. Each movement is therefore carried out by unconsciously anticipating the opponent’s response. Anciong Bacon sometimes referred to his art as Cuentada[9] [10] [11]

From left to right : Atty Jose Villasin, Johnny Chiuten, Anciong Bacon and Teofilo Velez

 

The golden age of Eskrima and the Juego Todo

The creation of the Balintawak Self Defense Club in 1952 marked the beginning of an intense rivalry between the various eskrimadors of Cebu and culminated in years of violent confrontation. The practitioners of Doce Pares and Balintawak particularly clashed in duels, without any rules or protections ; named Juego Todo (a Spanish expression meaning “to gamble all”). Due to the regular serious injuries in such duels, the Juego Todo had also been referred to as “death matches”. These fights were most often honorable, but sometimes unfair ; Delfin Lopez, for example, was cowardly stabbed in the back by surprise. It was during this eventful period, until the end of the 1960s, now known as the golden age of Eskrima, that this art developed in real situations. [1] [4] [6] [12]

“Simhota Ko Dong !”

“Come and sense me !”

Anciong Bacon

Joe Go and Anciong Bacon

Some eskrimadors of Balintawak have acquired considerable fame during these Juego Todo, such as Timoteo Maranga, Atty Jose Villasin, Teodor Buot, Teofilo Velez, and of course, Anciong Bacon. The Grand Master of Balintawak also killed an attacker who had ambushed him, when Anciong Bacon returned home one evening in Labangon. Following this confrontation and the death of his attacker, Anciong Bacon served several years in prison, leaving the learderchip of Balintawak Eskrima to Jose Villasin and Teofilio Velez. Anciong Bacon was released in the mid-1970s, he died a few years later, in 1981. [4]

From left to right : Chito Velez, Meo de la Rosa, Nene Gaabucayan, Anciong Bacon, Ray la Victoria, Bobby Taboada, and Teofilo Velez at fort San Pedro, Cebu city, circa 1976 Source : Wikimedia Commons

 

The legacy of Anciong Bacon

The great virtue of Venancio Anciong Bacon was undoubtedly his constant desire to innovate and improve his technique and to teach whoever was willing to learn. [4] His students in turn continued on this path by innovating and systematizing the Balintawak Eskrima. Under the tutelage of Anciong Bacon, Jose Villasin developed the twelve basic angles of attack that can be found in most of the Balintawak currents today. In keeping with the Cuentada principle, twelve basic defenses were associated with these attacks. [5]

Grand Master Nick Elizar, demonstrating the 12 angles of attack of the Balintawak. Click on the picture to watch the video.

Jose Villasin was also one of the first to systematize a program for learning Balintawak, which he called the “grouping method”, to the practitioner could have a clear and easy pedagogical progression. Teofilo Velez also used this training method which is today the most widely used to learn Balintawak Eskrima. [5] [13]

Other student of Anciong Bacon evolved the Balintawak differently. This is the case with Timoteo Maranga who developed Tres Personnas Eskrima de Combate Super Kuwentada (Cuentada) System. This current of Balintawak Eskrima now called Combate Eskrima Maranga (CEM) also emphasizes techniques of long distance, or largo mano, which differs from other current of Balintawak whose practice is focus almost exclusively on the short distance, close range. The CEM is also distinguished by many disarmament techniques.  [14]

 

Nowadays, thanks to the promotion of the students of Anciong Bacon and their successors, the Balintawak Eskrima has become a current of the Filipino martial arts widespread throughout the world. The city of Cebu offers many clubs of Balintawak Eskrima, headed by internationally renowned experts and Masters. “Eskrima tourism” is very present there … and many people have this photographed below the Balintawak street sign !

Balintawak street, Cebu City, Philippines, 2013. Source : personal picture.

Sources

[1] Eskrimadors, GO Kerwin, Pointsource Film, 2010

[2] Balintawak : lessons in Eskrima, MANINGAS Rad, IUniverse, 2015 (google books)

[3] www.marysvillemartialarts.com/arnis-eskrima-balintawak-filipino-martial-arts

[4] www.nickelstickeskrima.com/history/about_balintawak.htm

[5] stickfightingsport.com/balintawak-arnis-2/

[6] atillobalintawak.com/history/

[7] The history of Combate Eskrima Maranga > vimeo.com/36314557

[8] nickelstick.weebly.com/history-of-balintawak.html

[9] www.balintawak.co.uk/information/balintawak-escrima.html

[10] www.tabiminabalintawak.com/about/history

[11] www.internationalbalintawak.com/2016-04-04-17-56-21/balintawak-history.html

[12] Filipino Martial Arts and The Construction of Filipino National Identity (Thesis), GONZALES Rey Carlo Tan, p81, University of Manchester, U-K, 2015

[13] www.nickelstickeskrima.com/methodology/

[14] maranga.byethost5.com/about/


 

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