Quick essay I wrote to try and organize the teaching of GM Sam Buot. Forgive any grammatical or spelling errors. I will eventually clean it up.
Learning martial arts is like learning a language. You start with simple vocabulary. In this case, the 12 basic angles of attacks and preliminary defensive counters. Next you learn how to create basic sentences. I.e. See spot, See spot run. In Balintawak, this is the grouping system which consists of 6 basic sequences. As you progress, you start to learn to basic conversational skills - Hello, My name is….. How are you doing? I will call this the first phase. Just like you need a basic competency in grammar and vocabulary prior to a conversation, you progress to random free flowing using the elements of the six groups. Unfortunately, this is the level that many students stop. It is easy to become misguiding into false confidence. Just like the foreign language courses are great if you need to order a glass of water in a Mandarin at a restaurant in Beijing, you can quickly become lost or confused if there is a different dialect spoken, as in Canton. There is no chance that you would pass as a native speaker at this stage and there is no chance that you would survive as an eskrimador if the extent of your training stops with the groupings. Everyone looks fast and skilled when you already know what is coming next. At this point, you have finished the second phase.
Once you have developed an aptitude for basic conversation, you can start your journey to actual discussion, debate, and perhaps even learn to write poetry. This level of mastery is called Iyahay. Loosely translated, Iyahay means “to each his own.”. It represents the ability to intuitively and unconsciously respond to any attack. You see examples when someone reflexively catches a falling object without even realizing that it is falling. Like so many skills, the path towards Iyahay is both simple and convoluted. In order to start learning the concept of Iyahay, the student must not only be proficient in random grouping, but also be able to switch from a defensive/responsive role to that of the aggressor/lead at will.
Starting your training towards Iyahay is frustrating and feels like a step backwards. The sterotypical recent high school graduate knows everything and is ready to conquer the world. Similarly, the Eskrima student feels very skilled but has just reached the point of knowledge that they can start to learn. The point of K-12 education is to teach information and hopefully introduce one to the art of critical thinking. This level is the equivalent of having learned the groupings, or the first phase. College is where you start have to critically think and begin questioning. This would be the Balintawak equivalent of the second phase. In graduate school, you are expected to create original thought. At the end of post graduate education, you typically have to defend your thesis (your original thought). As any artist can attest, creation is initially almost impossible. There is nothing more humbling than the transition from mastering the performance of music to the creation of a new piece. This transition is the essence of Iyahay. There is no single road to Iyahay nor is there just one correct path.
When starting the third phase, there are a couple of key points to keep in mind. 1)Leave your ego at home. 2)Maintain proper technique. 3) Refrain from trying to overpower your training partner/teacher. The initial purpose is to explore options to each situation rather than trying to dominate through power or quickness. Power and quickness fade as we age; technique persists. The initial approach is for the teacher to perform a strike at a slow, controlled tempo. Or as Doug Marcaida says, “to present the student with a question.”. By keeping the tempo slow, the student is given time to formulate different responses without panicking. Once the student responds to the questions, the instructor asks a different one. If the tempo is rushed, the drill devolves into either gibberish or wrestling. Eventually, the roles of the student and instructor constantly exchange and the student’s response becomes a question asked of the instructor. As skill and responses are increased, the tempo of the conversation increases. Ultimately, you are striving to the level of a debate between Plato and Socrates.