Atillo Balintawak History
By Paolo David
This article was written from a conversation with Grandmaster Crispulo “Ising” Atillo by Guro Paolo David. This is the personal recollection of Grandmaster Atillo in his words.
During Spanish Rule
When the Spaniards first came to the Philippines, Filipino warriors were fighting them with bladed weapons, sometimes using single or double sword. Eventually, Spanish firearms and their use of local rivals (divide and conquer) were able to overwhelm the Filipinos and this resulted in 400 years of Spanish rule.
The Spanish imposed a ban on the use of bladed weaponry and anyone caught using them or practicing Filipino martial art were thrown in jail and accused of being a rebel. During this time, Lorenzo “Tatay Ensong” Saavedra (born 1852) was arrested by Spanish soldiers on suspicion of being a rebel and thrown in jail. While in prison, Saavedra met a Frenchman who was a master of the fighting style of the 12 Peers of France, the 12 bodyguards or Paladins of King Charlemagne of France. Over a period of time they became good friends and used to compare styles and techniques. They improvised and used wood used for fuel as their weapons. When they sparred, Tatay could not counter the Frenchman’s techniques. Eventually, the Frenchman taught his style to Tatay, who later mastered the art.
Venancio "Anciong" Bacon
A New Era - Doce Pares Organized
After Tatay was released from prison, he started teaching his new and improved art which was composed of 60 percent of the Frenchman’s style and 40 percent of his Filipino martial art. At that time, he started teaching 14-year-old Teodoro “Doring” Saavedra, his nephew, Anciong Bacon, and a few others. Young Ising Atillo witnessed Doring and Tatay practice. Anciong was a very capable fighter second to Doring. Grandmaster Bacon was the Godson of Ising’s grandfather. Atillo recalls Anciong Bacon running whenever Doring would overwhelm him with his strikes. Ising’s father, Vicente Atillo, and Delfin Lopez were good friends of Doring and learned from him.
In 1932 Tatay Saavedra organized the Doce Pares Club in honor of the Frenchman he met in jail. The first President of the club was Reverend Rendall. During this time Doring Saavedra was a famous fighter. The members of the club practiced different styles of eskrima, but no one could beat Doring Saavedra. Other notable eskrimadors during this time in Cebu were Islao Romo, Ambong Alicante, and the Ilustrisimo family.
Teodoro “Doring” Saavedra
Doring Saavedra - Fighter Extraordinaire
Ising Atillo recalls a famous fight told to him when he was young by Tatay Saavedra. In 1933 Ambong Alicante announced an open challenge to anyone who thought they could beat him in a death match. Ambong was known as a fierce fighter who also used anting-anting to aid him in his fights. Islao Romo accepted the challenge, to be held in San Fernando, Cebu. One day before the fight, Romo backed out of the fight at the request of his wife who feared he would die in the fight. Since Romo backed out, Doring saw the opportunity to jump in and accept the challenge. This fight, witnessed by Ising Atillo’s father, Vicente, his uncle, and other relatives was probably the most notable fight of Doring.
Teodoro “Doring” Saavedra
In the first round of the fight, Doring couldn’t move - he was frozen in place. Tatay noticing this, figured Ambong was using his anting-anting and yelled to Doring, “Bantay” or watch out! Doring snapped out of it and became alert just as Ambong was swinging hard for his head. Doring was just able to defend the strike, which resulted in his stick being snapped in two as result of Alicante’s powerful strike. In the second round Ambong couldn‘t hit Doring but Doring was hitting Ambong left, right and center. Amazingly, with the help of his anting-anting, Ambong would use his handkerchief to wipe the bruises from his body and they would disappear! Before the start of the third round, Tatay Saavedra whispered into Doring’s ear to strike the mouth of Ambong. While the fight was in play, Doring struck Ambong’s mouth, which resulted in his anting-anting, a back-to-back crucifix of Jesus, flying out. This time lots of bruising and bleeding became apparent and finally, Ambong raised his hands in surrender. After the fight Ambong mentioned to Doring, “You are the first to beat me!”
In another fight, Doring fought an eskrimador from Negros, Philippines named Oman in Basak/Mambaling in front F. Llamas Street. The fight didn’t last long and Doring knocked out Oman in a few seconds after it started. Oman said, ”We’ll fight again!” to which Doring replied, “I’ll be waiting for you!” Doring fought so many fights and Doce Pares was a well-known organization because of Doring’s fighting ability. Even if you were a member of the Doce Pares Club but not a student of the Saavedras, you were famous. In Pasil, Cebu, home of Islao Romo, (first cousin of Ising Atillo’s grandfather, Pedro Atillo) Tatay Ensong and Doring Saavedra were invited to discuss the possible joining of Romo to the Doce Pares. Islao made one condition before he joined - he wanted Doring and Pedring Romo, son of Islao Romo, to fight and see who had the better skills. Just before the start of the fight when they were facing off, Pedring cheated and struck Doring in the forehead. At that instant Tatay yelled for Doring to fight. He went on the attack over-whelming Pedring with his strikes causing him to back up and crash and fall into the sabong (cockfighting cages).
World War II - Call to Arms, Call to Death
During WWII, in 1942, Filipinos and American soldiers surrendered to invading Japanese troops, while others escaped into the mountains. In October of 1943, Delfin Lopez, Godfather of Ising Atillo, and champion amateur boxer, with cousin Vicente Atillo, a champion wrestler and weightlifter of Visayas and Mindanao, Doring Saavedra and nine others joined the Cebu Area command in the mountains of Cebu, lead by American Col. James A. Cushing. Before the war, Californian James A. Cushing, a Californian, who was working as a mining engineer in Cebu. All in all he lead a guerilla movement of 8,500 Cebuanos. Cushing witnessed the exhibition put on by Doring, Lopez, Atillo and the others and asked them to join their cause. The group of Doring had as their first mission the task of going into Cebu City at 4 a.m. to assassinate a Filipino traitor named “Husian” who worked undercover for the Japanese. Unfortunately, Husian got away and three trucks loaded with Japanese soldiers raced to the scene and the guerilla group had to retreat back to the mountains.
One month after, Doring’s guerilla group, Company A, grew to more than 60 members under the command of Capt. Otik Macabuhay. This company was known for their proficient use of ambush techniques against the Japanese. One day, the company commander gave Doring an excuse letter to go into Cebu City to take advantage of the entertainment the Japanese were offering. This was enticement was a trap obviously, but Doring still went against the advice of Vicente Atillo and other guerilla members. At the same time Doring was going into town a guerilla group of 5 people led by John Asuncion ambushed a trainload of Japanese soldiers. As a result, the town was encircled for a 10-mile radius by soldiers ordering the capture of all Filipinos in the area to be arrested, interrogated, tortured, and most likely executed. Seven Japanese soldiers approached Doring and attempted to arrest him but Doring was able to resist and summarily beat them down to the ground. Subsequently, the Japanese had to aim their guns at Doring to convince him to stop and come along with them to a camp at Basak Elementary School. At this camp Filipino adults were being held and brutalized. Doring was bound by the wrists and the Japanese soldiers tortured him by swinging a baseball bat to body. A neighbor of Doring, Juan and his wife, Suylang were also being held there and witnessed Doring freeing himself from the rope and fighting empty hand against four Japanese with their swords drawn. Doring was so fierce, they had to shoot him to death in order to prevent the death of their poorly trained soldiers.
At another location a lot of older men, women and children were being held. Ising Atillo was there with his aunt, grandma, brother and a few neighbors. A couple of truckloads of Japanese soldiers came with the intention of shooting them all to death. Three minutes after the troops were ready to shoot, along came Navy General Shoriyama ordering them to stand down and let them go. As Atillo walked back he met up with his mother and with sadness pointed out Doring lying dead near a riverbed. Tatay Ensong was not interested in rejoining Doce Pares after the war and died of natural causes at the age of 93 in 1945.
Doce Pares - Post War and Creation of Balintawak
Balintawak Self Defense Club - 1952
Some of the Balintawak legends
1. Delfin Lopez, 2. Benancio "Anciong" Bacon, 3. Major Timoteo Maranga, and 4. Vicente Atillo
The Canete brothers now ran the Doce Pares. There was some internal bickering at that time. When Cacoy would always claim he could be anyone, Bacon asked him to fight but he would not. Eulogio Canete, a good man and peacemaker, calmed them down and emphasized that they were of the same and should not quarrel.
Eventually, Bacon, Delfin Lopez went to Ising’s father’s home and decided to form another club. Vicente Atillo advised them to continue to use the name Doce Pares as that was their original art and it was already famous. One of Bacon’s students, Eduard Baculi, a watch repairman, offered to let them use a space in his shop that he ran out of his home. This shop was located on Balintawak St. in Cebu City. Eventually, they named the club Balintawak Self-Defense Club. In 1954 Jose Villasin started Balintawak under Bacon. Young Ising Atillo recalls seeing his father Vicente, training Villasin while he was waiting for Bacon to arrive to class, at which time Bacon would take over teaching him. Also in 1954, Arnulfo Mongcal began his Balintawak training under Vicente and Ising Atillo. Mongcal was a teacher to Remy Presas.
Vicente “Inting” Atillo
In 1962 Ted Buot claimed to be the right hand of Bacon in charge of teaching at the club. Delfin thought Buot was mayabang or too high on himself and invited Buot to a meal at his place. Unbeknownst to Buot Delfin also invited Ising and other eskrimadors to his home. To put Buot in his place, Lopez asked Ising and him to spar. At the right moment Lopez gave a signal and Atillo controlled Buot’s stick and struck him behind the right ear on the head. Delfin quickly stopped the spar and they ate together.
The first president of the club was atty. Jose Causin. All the members at that time were of the Saavedra style. Their grandmaster was Anciong Bacon the main teacher. When Grandmaster Bacon wasn’t there or was late to arrive, Lopez and Atillo would look after the training. Grandmaster Ising Atillo learned from his father, Vicente Atillo. At every fiesta Bacon would recommend young talented Atillo to perform an exhibition. Atillo is of the first generation of Balintawak. Atillo list the following as the real fighters of the Balintawak Club:
1) Delfin Lopez - Fought and won first death match against Artemio Paez in 1952. Fought and won second death match against Insiong Lasola in 1956. According to one report, there was a match between Lopez and Atty. Villasin with the latter coming out the victor – this is false. Lopez was never beaten by Atty. Villasin at any time.
2) Anciong Bacon - First death match against Pilo Bitin in 1954 at Lipata, Minglanilla. Second death match against a double stick player in Pangkapangka, Talisay (name unknown).
3) Isidro Bardilas - One death match.
4) Istong Briones - first against Cacoy.
5) Ising Atillo - Publicly documented - 1st death match against Lauren Sanchez; second against Antonio Irogirog; third against Bacon; and fourth against Cacoy Canete.
6) Tinong Ybanez - One death match.
7) Arnulfo Mongcal - One death match against Amado Canete, brother of Diony Canete.
Balintawak vs. Doce Pares - Atillo’s Rise and Death Matches
In 1956 the Doce Pares advertised that they would fight the Balintawak at the place of Otillo “Lolo” Larawan in Lagtang, Talisay. Ising went along with Maranga, Baculi, Lopez, Bacon and others. Always ready to fight, Delfin Lopez asked the Canete brothers if they wanted to use boxing, wrestling, eskrima, or whatever. There was some bickering going back and forth with Cacoy challenging them but not stepping up. Delfin said to Cacoy, “Do not talk too much, just fight!” Bacon finally stepped in and challenged Cacoy emphasizing that he would not use his left hand, just his stick hand. Eulogio Canete defused the situation and told Cacoy and Bacon not to fight. Suddenly, Insiong Lasola, who fought Cacoy earlier that year and ended up with both of them losing their sticks and playing wrestling in the mud, challenged Lopez to a fight, as soon as they started Lopez threw three fast strikes hard to Lasola’s head. Bacon suddenly took the stick from Lopez for fear of him killing Lasola and said, “Insiong, you’re eskrima is lacking, I will demo with you slowly.” Suddenly, and perhaps to make it seem as if he was better than Bacon, Lasola disarmed him - but he ran pretty fast as Bacon was angry at Lasola for humbling himself to learn something beneficial.
Timoteo Timor Maranga
At the 1979 NARAPHIL Championships, Timoteo Maranga was ready and willing to fight all the way to meet Cacoy in the finals but Ising stated he would most likely be eliminated due not to his lack of eskrima skills but because of pre-arranged and biased judging. In Maranga’s first tourney fight, in which Ising bet 1,000 pesos, he faced and beat Fernando Candawan, the right hand of Cacoy Canete, by disarms in all three rounds. The rule was three disarms and automatic elimination. In Maranga’s second fight he faced Ben Culanag. In the first round Maranga disarmed Culanag’s stick. In the second round Ben attempted a snake disarm. Ising saw this and yelled, “Pull your stick Maranga!” Maranga successfully countered by pulling his stick out to trap and grabbing the other end gain leverage to throw Ben to the ground. When Ben got up he employed his amarra. As Maranga was blocking the strikes Ben extended his arm out which caused Maranga’s stick to make contact with his hand. For some reason this was cause for forfeit and Maranga was eliminated.
In 1964, Ising fought his first death match against Lauren Sanchez of the Doce Pares. In 1961 Filemon Caburnay invited by Delfin Lopez to try his skills against him. Delfin hit him many times and Caburnay was not at same level. In 1964, Antonio Irogirog, a member of Caburnay’s Doce Pares group, led by Ben Culanag, the right hand of Moymoy Canete, came with goons to Ising’s father-in-law’s house looking for Lopez, and looking to fight Ising. Ben Culanag also came asking for Bacon. Ising accepted a fight against Irogirog. On this day, Atillo was able to land many strikes on Irogirog whose style of fighting was “guerilla” or hit and run. At one point instead of running, Irogirog rushed and pushed Atillo to the ground and landed a hard strike to Atillo’s ear. Atillo got up and tried to continue but he was very disoriented. This gave Irogirog the chance to disarm an already hopeless Atillo.
In 1975, Bacon sparred with Atillo in a test of skills that turned into a full contact fight. This occurred behind the Lourdes Parish church in Punta Princessa. The first round was even score. In the second round, Ising smacked the cigarette out of Bacon’s mouth and disarmed his stick. After Vicente Atillo broke them up at the end Bacon thrust Atillo in the lower lip causing a gush of blood to flow out. Atillo was furious but his father urged him to respect Bacon, as he’s family and the Godson of his grandfather. Ising proclaimed that he will not respect Bacon because of his actions and simply because he was not his teacher. He stated that he would quit Filipino martial art if he loses the third round against Bacon. The third round saw Atillo trapping Bacon’s hands and stick opening up a volley of attacks on Bacon. Atillo’s group lifted him up in celebration and headed to a restaurant to eat and drink to the occasion.
Vincente Atillo countering Ising's
snake disarm attempt.
The Balintawak Split
After this controversial fight with Bacon the Balintawak organization split into five groups. Bacon organized the Original Balintawak, Villasin organized Balintawak International, Teofilo Velez created Teovel’s Balintawak Arnis Club, and Maranga started Santo Nino Self Defense Club 19, which was later changed to Tres Personas Arnis de Mano. Ising Atillo started New Arnis Confederation of Visayas and Mindanao, and later changed to Philippine Arnis Confederation and later to World Balintawak Arnis-Eskrima Association.