Written by Tom Cohen,
FQI Balintawak Arnis Cuentada
Walking into Grandmaster Taboada’s training space, you’re struck by the sheer volume of martial arts history hanging on his walls, from law enforcement agency letters of commendation and plaques from many prestigious martial arts organizations to framed photos of famous former students. Likewise, the introduction, preface, and testimonials of his book include renowned martial artists, a Senator from the Philippines, and the President of the Asian-American chamber of commerce of the Carolinas. If you’re there often enough, he’ll casually introduce you to students that have traveled half the globe to train with him. Yet you always bow in to begin each lesson by saying the same words; “from my heart, you are welcome, and with respect.” These simple words demonstrate the guiding principles that have grown into a worldwide organization. His art begins with an open and genuine heart that welcomes all people and respects everyone. When another instructor from a family system brought him a gift, GM Taboada humbly asked the instructor if he would sign it for him. I still remember the look of shock, realizing that a Grandmaster was asking for his autograph! These are the kinds of honest, gentle and humble exchanges recounted by many that meet him. Yet all these accomplishments pale when you see or feel his martial arts prowess in person. Guillermo “Bobby” Taboada was born in 1948 in Cebu City, Philippines, into humble beginnings and poverty. Despite a lack of formal education, he crafted a system that maintains the integrity of the information at the highest levels while continuously evolving.
At ten, his father sought to teach him Indangan Eskrima, involving both single stick and single stick and dagger techniques. At that time, Bobby was more interested in boxing. Initially, he learned boxing from his uncle and pursued training with the goal of making money prizefighting. Shortly after his first paid fight, he became more interested in karate, thinking the prizes would be more lucrative. After winning his first match and only receiving a trophy, he was disappointed. But he continued to study Shotokan, Tae Kwon Do, Judo, and Kung Fu for the next four years. While working at an appliance store, Bobby had the opportunity to meet Chito Velez and Bobby Tabimina. Both men were figures in the Balintawak style, and he became very interested. However, when the store was closed, Bobby lost his job and had no money to pay for lessons. He later visited the Balintawak headquarters, located behind the home of Teofilo Velez. There, he would drink and socialize with Chito and some of the other members. Chito began to teach Bobby, saying that “this is for friendship” and that it was okay that Bobby didn’t have money to pay. That spirit of camaraderie stuck with Bobby and forged the family and community atmosphere of his organization. In the beginning, he learned from Chito and his brother Eddie. Bobby would clean and scrub the floors to pay for his lessons. Seeing other students progress, Bobby was often jealous and became fond of “showing off” his karate skills. The teacher, Teofilo Velez, was tired of this and taught Bobby a painful lesson, landing him in the pigsty with a bloody nose and mouth. The discipline that Teofilo demanded of his students didn’t allow for use of their skills to “show off.” After this, Bobby only practiced “defense and counter” for an entire year. He also stopped showing off.