THE OCEAN OF BALINTAWAK
December 3, 2015
by FQI Benjamin Winn
Stand on the shore with a group of people, look out at the ocean, and you will all see something different. The person next to you may have a nearly identical view but it is still different. This is because we cannot occupy the same space at the same time no matter how close we come. We may be able to occupy the same space but we must wait to do so and as we wait the ocean changes and so do we. Even standing still we cannot hold the same view from moment to moment. As we absorb new information it changes the way we see the ocean, whether we become accustom to the pattern of the waves and begin to form expectations or someone from the group shares a story about the last time they were at the shore, it changes the way we see. Every observation and interaction is filtered through the collected totality of your experience, rewriting and amending it as you go, an exponential number of variables that continue to come together in a specific way to create a view and understanding that only you are capable of having in this moment, in this place. Your perspective is unique and it is what you have to offer. Take it seriously.
“Your perspective is unique and it is what you have to offer. Take it seriously.”
I wrote before about how Balintawak is a formless being, an ideal Platonic form. At one time this form resulted from the culmination of Anciong Bacon's experience, it was a small cup of water formed and contained by one man. The first time he taught his art to someone and called it by its name it overflowed it's cup. This formless Being gave GGM Bacon's students a way to Be in the world and was simultaneously given form through their being. Balintawak was viewed and understood through a multitude of unique perspectives, seen in ways it had never been seen before. Ways that may have always been there but could not be seen from where people had been standing. As more people learned Balintawak the larger it grew, until it was an ocean deeper and wider than any single man could envision by himself.
But just as easily as the ocean grew it could have dried up. When a person abandons Balintawak or passes on from this world that perspective is lost forever and the ocean becomes that much smaller. Think of the things that could have been seen if the beginner didn't quit. Think of all the untold, unfathomable knowledge that has evaporated into the ether with the passing of the masters and grandmasters. Yet despite what has been lost Balintawak is still a swirling dynamic ocean! So, why? Because teaching, bringing others to the shore and showing them how to swim, is fundamental to Balintawak.
Personally, this is the difference between completion of the art and a fully qualified instructor. When you are recognized as having "completed the art" there is a sense that you have an understanding of its essence but it remains to be seen what you do with that understanding. Those who complete the art have stood at the shore gazing long and hard at the ocean, studying its tides and the pattern of its waves, dipping their toes and pointing out their observations to those who have just arrived. They now have a choice regarding what they do with their understanding, do they act upon it or not? Those who are fully qualified instructors have chosen to act and have immersed themselves in the waves. They no longer explain their observations about the ocean, they demonstrate them to everyone on the shore, drawing them into the water, as they become part of the ocean over time.
Balintawak may look different from system to system and between individuals in any given system but its essence is the same. After all, we are all swimming in the same ocean even if we are wading in from different shores. As our students wade into the water and join us they are exposed to our unique understanding of the essence of Balintawak. However, you cannot touch something without it touching you back. Their understanding begins to inform our understanding, we learn from our students. We must remember that they see things in a way that no one else can, just as we do. We may have gotten to the ocean first but we are all in it together.
“Their understanding begins to inform our understanding, we learn from our students. We must remember that they see things in a way that no one else can, just as we do. ”
This exercise is stretching a metaphor was inspired by advice that GM Taboada gave at the East Coast Gathering in 2015 (and I am paraphrasing here):
"Your students should always be ahead of you, building upon your understanding and adding their own. Don't hold back from your students, show them everything (in due time), and in return they will push you to become better. They will figure out how to counter your favorite moves and you will have to figure out counters to their counters and the quality of our understanding will grow."
The art will grow in us until there is no difference between us and the art. Anyone who has seen GM Taboada hold a stick, let alone swing one, understands what I mean by this. There is no distinction to be made between him and the stick, it's not just an extension of his body, it is him. He no longer swims in the ocean of Balintawak, he is a tidal wave.
This is what I strive for. I have left the shore and swam out into this vast ocean of Balintawak after my brothers, showing others how to swim after me and beyond me. One day I will become so good at swimming I will no longer have to do so because I too will be a wave in this mighty ocean.