Born in 1912, Venancio “Anciong” Bacon would later become one of the Philippines’ legendary and most influential eskrimadors in history. He was born in Carcar, Cebu, and moved later to San Nicolas Town, just outside of Cebu City. He learned eskrima in the 1920s as a teenager. His evolution as an eskrimador began in San Nicolas. This journey would later lead him to death matches, attacks, and eventually to jail. But, not all of this journey was dismal. Along the way, Venancio Bacon made life long friends, and cultivated a loyal cadre of students, who to this day maintain an affinity incomparable towards him. Venancio Bacon’s legacy, Balintawak, has become a title synonymous to Deadly. Balintawak eskrima is Economy, Elegance, Strength, and Speed expertly woven into one art form. This is the story of Great Grandmaster Venancio Bacon and the account of his legacy.
In the early 1900s, the Spaniards had just left the Philippines, ending their 300 year rule. In their place, came the Americans. The vanguard elite of Cebu still spoke Spanish, while the Americans began to “pacify” and teach the rest of the Filipinos American English and culture. It was during this time that Venancio Bacon was born into, a nation in the midst of change and upheaval. He was born in Carcar, Cebu, but grew up in San Nicolas Town outside of Ciudad de Cebu, which at that time was populated by Cebu’s elite upper class. This elite class was made up of Europeans, Americans, Chinese and mestizo Filipinos. In contrast, San Nicolas was composed of local Cebuanos and immigrants from neighboring towns, or from other islands in the Visayas. The people who lived in San Nicolas were farmers, carpenters, fishermen, peasants, cargadors and the servants for the City of Cebu’s upper class.
Venancio Bacon began training in the art of eskrima in the 1920s. His only teacher was Lorenzo “Ensong” Saavedra, of San Nicolas, who during this time had established the historic Labangon Fencing Club. At a time when many different styles of eskrima abound, Lorenzo Saavedra’s was called the Corto Linear, although he was also known to have mastered other styles. His best students would be Teodoro “Doring” Saavedra, his nephew, and Venancio Bacon. The two were also very close friends. Both matured into great eskrimadors, improving each other’s skills and answering challenge matches that came as a result of their newly acquired titles. The Labangon Fencing Club eventually dissipated into oblivion, giving way to a new organization borne out of its ashes.
In 1933, the Doce Pares Club was formed. Headed by Lorenzo Saavedra, the club was composed of three Saavedra eskrimadors and nine from the Canete family. This composed the original twelve needed to symbolically actualize the title Doce Pares, which was taken from a popular roving play in the Philippines during the late 1800s and early 1900s depicting the twelve warrior swordsmen of Charlemagne. Another twelve were inducted to the club soon after, making the initial membership twenty-four, or Twelve Pairs. Venancio Bacon was among the first twenty-four. Although there were certain personalities in the club which ran counter to Venancio Bacon’s own personality, he stayed and carried his weight as one of its representing eskrimadors.
World War II broke out in the 1940s. With the onset of Japanese occupation, many eskrimadors became guerilla fighters, employing their art for the defense of their nation. It was during this time that, Teodoro Saavedra died at the hands of Japanese soldier-executioners.
Long after the War, in 1952, Venancio Bacon established the club now known as Balintawak. He finally had enough of the personal bickerings and internal politics of the Doce Pares club. Along with Vincente “Inting” Atillo, Delfin Lopez, Jesus Cui, Timoteo “ Timor” Maranga, Lorenzo Gonzales, Isidro Bardilas, Andres Olaibar, and a few others, Venancio Bacon began a new club. The newly formed club started training in the backyard of a watch shop owned by Eduardo Baculi, one of Venancio Bacon’s students. This shop was located in a small side street in Colon, called Balintawak Street. The significance of the name Balintawak evoked the three virtues of strength, courage, and honor befitting that of the new club. So, from that day forth the word Balintawak would forever be intertwined with the name Venancio Bacon and to the style of eskrima which has proven its calculated violence effective time and again.
Standing at 5 feet, 2 inches tall and weighting no more that 120 pounds, Venancio Bacon was a very unassuming man. He was a veteran of a great many death matches in Cebu. Described by many of his students as lightning fast, Venancio Bacon maneuvered through a fight smoothly while exploiting his opponents’ balance and coordination. He was known to be very surgical with a stick, able to employ varying force to his exact targets throughout his adversary’s body. But, his greatest virtue and asset was his constant desire to innovate and improve his art, diligently discovering techniques through the years, never ceasing in this path. He taught his art to those who desired to learn it.
Among his very first students was Delfin Lopez, a Cebu icon in his own right. He was a tough cop, a strike breaker, enforcer, and a womanizer. Delfin Lopez was already an experienced fighter when he met Venancio Bacon, but he saw something in the small man. Mr. Lopez stood at 5 feet, 10 inches, muscular, easily towering over the diminutive Venancio Bacon. Testing his strength in a light, friendly match with Venancio Bacon, Delfin Lopez soon realized the sad reality of his skills as a fighter. The two men with single sticks faced off, Mr. Lopez took the offensive and rushed towards his opponent only to be disarmed and tripped. Having received multiple lashes to his body, Delfin Lopez laid on the ground, beneath the shadow of Venancio Bacon. The fight only took a few seconds, but for Mr. Lopez, Venancio Bacon had just won over another loyal student.
The 1950s and 1960s saw the “Golden Age” of eskrima in Cebu. Eskrimadors from various camps, mainly the two already mentioned, tested each other’s skills in all out challenges. These resulted in injuries and sometimes deaths. Some were under honorable circumstances, while others treacherous. Vincente “Inting” Carin of Doce Pares found himself attacked by multiple assailants, incurring various injuries, while doubly reciprocating lethal injuries on to his attackers. Delfin Lopez was knifed from behind, placing him in a small lot in Calamba Cemetary. Venancio Bacon was ambushed in the dark while walking to his home in Labangon. He killed his assailant. It was during this time that legends were made and skills were tested. The survivors of this short lived era have accepted their place in history.
Many Balintawak eskrimadors have carved their names in the walls of history, forever etched in the halls of time. Some of the more illustrious of these fighters were Timoteo “ Timor” Maranga, Arnulfo Mongcal, Jose Villasin, Teodoro “Teddy” Buot, and Teofilo Velez. They were also the men who would later be responsible for introducing Balintawak to the rest of the world.
Venancio Bacon was paroled from prison in the mid-1970s. When he returned to Cebu, he continued to check up on students, making sure the quality of Balintawak was still up to his standards since he left it. Mr. Bacon regularly attended training sessions conducted by Jose Villasin and Teofilo Velez. It was here that Venancio Bacon saw a glimpse of the next generation of Balintawak fighters. He was satisfied. Venancio Bacon knew that his old students, Arnulfo Mongcal, Jose Villasin, Teodoro Buot, Teofilo Velez, and a few others would carry on the name Balintawak and produce high caliber eskrimadors for years to come. A few years after, Venancio Bacon died, leaving behind a legacy now known around the world as Balintawak.
Today, through the efforts of master eskrimadors like Nick Elizar, Bobby Taboada, and Nene Gaabucayan, Balintawak is known the world over as one of the most respected styles of eskrima.
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