Arnis Balite: Basic Concepts and Principles by Steven K. Dowd
Pundador Manuel Molina Aguillon Sr.
- Pungong Guro at Tagapagmana Steven K. Dowd
- Basic Principles
- Pitong Hampas - 7 Strikes
- Limang Patusok - 5 Thrusts
- Unday Salag – Swing Block
- Kalasag Salag – Shield/Wing Block
- Mano Mano – Empty Hand
- Balite Sa
- Balite Wa
- Siktay Forms – Empty Hand and with Baston
- Arnis Balite Forms – Advanced
- Concepts and Principles Exercise
- Articles of Faith
The most appealing characteristic of the art of Arnis Balite to me is the fact that it is really “old school” in it’s overall approach. This is summed up neatly by Mr. Dowd in the first few pages of the book.
“Arnis Balite has never been taught outside of the Philippines and never to anyone other than a Filipino. Punong Guro Steven K. Dowd is the first and only non-Filipino to be taught the art of Arnis Balite by Pundador Aguillon and has inherited the art per the Aguillon family. “
“If interested in an air conditioned school, with mirrors, colored belts, and uniforms then Arnis Balite is not the answer. Punong Guro Steven K. Dowd of Arnis Balite teaches the art as Pundador Manuel Aguillon taught the art. There are no ranks other than student and instructor. No belts except the one that holds up your pants. Arnis Balite had never been taught in schools, but is a backyard/garage training environment.”
A message from Steven K. Dowd
The opening section gives us a few words from Mr. Dowd about Arnis Balite, Pundador Aguillon, and also about his own approach toward preserving the art following in the footsteps of his teacher. Here are a few examples:
Arnis Balite is actually two arts – Boxing and stick and bolo fighting.
- Pundador taught them separately but also combined them for some students.
- Arnis Balite was never taught publicly or commercially.
- Pundador had strict standards when accepting a student.
- Punong Guro Dowd follows the same mind set as Pundador – old school and traditional.
Pundador Manuel Molina Aguillon Sr.
Here we learn about the life of the creator and founder of Arnis Balite. The survey begins with his birth and childhood in San Antonio, Zambales on the island of Luzon. As a young boy, he began to learn both arnis and boxing, eventually traveling to various cities throughout the Philippines winning many boxing bouts. He soon gained the moniker “Kid Balite” and later became a champion in 1938.
We also get to read about his time during World War II as a member of the guerrillas fighting against the Japanese invaders, his post-war travel to Guam, and then later his return to the Philippines to begin a career in law enforcement. Mr. Dowd also explains Pundador’s requirements of one who wished to be a student of Arnis Balite and his method of evaluating and teaching each student.
“As the years passed Manuel Aguillon became set and guarded in his families art. Being selective and discreet in choosing students, he would only teach those who he found had high moral standards.”
Punong Guro at Tagapagmana Steven K. Dowd
Steven K. Dowd, already serving in the U.S. Navy, began training in the art of Arnis Balite in 1974, while he and Pundador were both working at the U.S. Naval Communication Station San Miguel, Philippines. Training always took place at either Steven’s home or Pundador’s home. Mr. Dowd trained from 1974 – 1979, with one 6 month break in 1977 due to a temporary transfer back to the United States.
“Pundador Aguillon was a very friendly man but a proud man and practitioner. Once accepted as a student he would treat you as on e of the family and train you hard and as today practitioners would say in the old traditional ways.”
On December 11, 1995 the Aguillon family transferred the art to Mr. Dowd to represent the family’s art on behalf of their father, who had passed away on January 8, 1991. Up to the present time, Punong Guro Dowd is the sole inheritor (Tagapagmana in Tagalog) of the art of Arnis Balite and currently the only living and active instructor of the art.
Arnis Balite has no belt system, and no ranks. You are either a student or a teacher. There are 5 various titles used within the art:
Pundador (Founder) – only for Manuel Molina Aguillon Sr.
- Punong Guro (Head Teacher) – for Steven K. Dowd
- Guro (Teacher) – for those qualified to teach and represent the art of Arnis Balite
- Estudyante (Student) – an accepted student learning the art of Arnis Balite
- Baguhan (Beginner) – a person accepted for a 6 month probation period of training to determine if they will be accepted as Estudyante (Student)
Next in the book is a listing of the requirements for the Baguhan (Beginner) and the Estudyante (Student):
Basics Empty Hand:
Basic First Aid
Arnis Forms Basic:
Arnis Forms Advanced:
Asot <Successive Blows>
In this section we get a complete explanation of the foundation which are the stances to be used, as well as the “how” and the “why”, while also covering distance and shifting.
“Stances are taught to the student, so the body could become balanced and coordinated in its movements. In actual sparring, the stances are not strictly adhered to, but in watching a student one can recognize the geometries being used in the stances.”
Six stances are listed and fully explained:
1. Neutral Stance – Tayong Pagpugay
Also, with regard to moving forward, the foot moves straight forward and then moves a half circle outward. For backward movement, the foot moves a half circle inward and then straight back.
Pitong Hampas – 7 Strikes
The Pitong Hampas are the 7 strikes of Arnis Balite. The great thing about this system, unlike some styles of arnis, is that the strikes are performed and practiced using both sides, with the right hand and the left hand. I have read where there are practitioners of FMA that play down the importance of ambidexterity, stating that it is more important to make your “strong side” function at the highest level possible and that any time used on your non-dominant side training is taking away from further development of your dominant side. I do not agree with this line of thinking or practical application, so I appreciate the approach of Arnis Balite with utilizing both sides for striking.
There are two body diagrams showing the direction of the 7 strikes and the target locations on the body. One of the diagrams is for right-handed striking and one is for left-handed striking. For the student’s learning and practice, there is a form called Mga Hampas (Moving 7 Strikes). Sixteen photos illustrate the performance of the Mga Hampas (Moving 7 Strikes) utilizing the right hand. There are a total of 31 lines of instruction for the execution of the strikes with movement right and left handed, moving forward and backward.
Limang Patusok – 5 Thrusts
The Limang Patusok are the 5 Thrusts of Arnis Balite. As with the Pitong Hampas (7 Strikes), the Limang Patusok are performed and practiced using both sides, with the right hand and the left hand.
There are two body diagrams showing the direction of the 5 thrusts and the target locations on the body. One of the diagrams is for right-handed thrusting and one is for left-handed thrusting. For the student’s learning and practice, there is a form called Mga Patusok (Moving 5 Thrusts). Eight photos illustrate the performance of the Mga Patusok (Moving 5 Thrusts) utilizing the right hand. There are a total of 24 lines of instruction for the execution of the strikes with movement right and left handed, moving forward and backward.
Unday Salag – Swing Block
The Unday Salag are the Swing Blocks of Arnis Balite. As with the Pitong Hampas (7 Strikes) and the Limang Patusok (5 Thrusts), the Unday Salag are performed and practiced using both sides, with the right hand and the left hand. For each hand there is and Inside Swing Block as well as an Outside Swing Block.
There are two images showing the placement of the cane against the hand for the Right Bracing Hand and the Left Bracing Hand. For the student’s learning and practice, there is a series of eight photos illustrating the performance of movements for the student to practice the Unday Salag. There are a total of 20 lines of instruction for the execution of the blocks with the right and left hands.
Kalasag Salag – Shield/Wing Block
The Kalasag Salag are the Shield/Wing Blocks of Arnis Balite. As with the Pitong Hampas (7 Strikes) and the Limang Patusok (5 Thrusts), and the Unday Salag (Swing Blocks), the Kalasag Salag are performed and drilled using both sides, with the right hand and the left hand.
For the student’s learning and practice, there is a series of eleven photos illustrating the performance of movements for the student to practice the Kalasag Salag. There are a total of 19 lines of instruction for the execution of the blocks with the right and left hands.
Mano Mano – Empty Hand
For empty handed fighting there is the Mano Mano of Arnis Balite. Pundador Aguillon modified western boxing and his Mano Mano system is comprised of various hand and foot techniques as follows:
Stances (Tayong) – 6 stances, for the performance of forms only
- Soft Blocking (Salag Malumanay) – 6 blocks
- Soft & Hard Blocking (Malumahay at Matinding Salag) – 1 block
- Striking (Suntok) – 6 strikes
- Soft Striking (Palusob Malambot) – 4 strikes
- Kicking (Sipa) – 5 kicks
- Sweeping (Pawalis) – 6 sweeps
- Elbow Strikes (Siko Manghampas) – 5 elbows
There are also two body diagrams showing the various empty hand and foot targets located on the front and back of the body.
“In Arnis Balite it is believed that forms teach coordination of the mind and body, balance and directional awareness, not fighting.”
Punong Guro Dowd shares with us the forms given to him by Pundador Aguillon who said though the movements are representing the movements as if defending or attacking one or more opponents, forms do not replace actual training for sparring. The following forms are covered, most with photos and written step by step instructions, as well as various photos illustrating the applications of some movements:
- Balite Sa, Balite Wa – empty hand forms
- Siktay Forms – empty hand and with baston (5 of each)
- Arnis Balite Forms [Advanced] - the strikes are performed and drilled using both sides, with the right hand and then switch and repeat using the left hand. The forms are:
- Tagbat Sa, Tagbat Wa, Tagbat L.B., Tagbat L.M. Sa, Tagbat L.M. Wa, Tagbat L.M. Lo
- Asot, Asot ½, Asot Tapos ½ Sa, Asot Tapos ½ Wa, Asot Tapos ½ Lo
- Saboy – X
Concepts and Principles Exercises
“Arnis Balite has no drills or routines, what Arnis Balite does is exercises in the concepts and principles of the style.”
This section gives us a four part exercise as a simple example in doing various movements to practice the concepts and principles of Arnis Balite.
- Kalasag Salag
- Huli Lusob
- Mano-Mano vs Baston
There are two body diagrams showing the direction of the 7 strikes and the target locations on the body when the cane is held in the right hand and the left hand. Also, 74 photos and some commentary/instructions are given with relation to doing this sample exercise.
Articles of Faith
The book closes out with one page 8 Articles of Faith, with explanations of each.
“The following Articles of Faith are not only key concepts in the philosophy underlying the practice of Arnis Balite, but also serves as basic ground rules that students and teachers alike must follow.”
Here is the list of just the main points of these Articles of Faith of Arnis Balite:
My Thoughts On This Book
Arnis Balite: Basic Concepts and Principles would be a great book for any arnisador. As I have learned from studying the text and in many conversations with author, the art of Arnis Balite is simple (nothing fancy) and technical (based on sound principles and concepts for self defense). It is also interesting to get an inside look at this little known system from the Philippines that is literally in danger of dying out and being lost forever. My hope is that someone with a serious desire to learn and a keen interest in the fighting arts of the Philippines will train under Punong Guro at Tagapagmana Steven K. Dowd, become an instructor, and carry the Art of Arnis Balite into the future for others to be able to enjoy and benefit from.
Thanks for checking out the blog. God bless you, have a great day, and remember - whenever you train, train with all your heart!
*Photos of the inside of Arnis Balite: Basic Concepts and Principles used with the permission of the author and publisher, Steven K. Dowd