I am fortunate enough in my martial wanderings to have stumbled across my Guru Jeff Davidson whom has taken my student Lara and myself as his closed door students, an honor I am still getting used to. One of the arts we have been introduced to is that of Barako Balisong, an art originating from the Batangas region of the Philippines.
As a sort of tribute I would like to reprint an article Mei Magsino wrote back in 2007 about the Barako "way" for lack of a better term. Mei was a freelance journalist from Batangas whose life was taken last week in what appears to be a hired hit. My thoughts and condolences go out to her family.
I have yet to meet Tito Jun nor any of my brothers and sisters, but this articles certainly paints a vivid picture of a kind of mentality and honor that is not common in today's society. Thank you to Guru Doug Marcaida for turning me onto this article.
The Barako Bared - Mei Magsino
the word barako and immediately three meanings come to mind: the
strong-flavored and robust brew of the liberica coffee; the sex-driven
adult male boar ready for breeding; and that certain brand of
Batangueño, the rough and tough Filipino male from the province of
Batangas. All three possess virility, strength, fearlessness — yes, even
the coffee, whose flavor practically leaps up from the cup and straight
onto one’s tongue. All three carry within the pride of the Batangueños,
who claim these qualities exclusively as their own.
It is the human barako, however, who is obviously the most
fascinating, because he is at once simple and complex. In a province
known to produce the export-quality balisong (fan knife), where every
Batangueño is expected to be armed and efficient in the uses of the
weapon made only in Batangas, the barako prefers the gun to protect
himself and his loved ones.
In the old days, before the permit to carry guns was heavily
enforced, the barako would never leave home without his .45 sticking out
of the waistband of his pants, pulling his karsonsilyo or undershorts
down. He must be prepared, even with his undershorts down, to fight back
if someone throws a challenge, a balisong, or even a bullet (through a
gun barrel of course) at him. This also means that he should be a good
shot, a sharp shooter if necessary, because to stay alive and keep his
image as a barako or strongman, he would need to keep shooting until his
enemy falls or runs away. A true barako also fights his enemy (or
enemies) in the open, and face to face.
In the book Batangas Forged in Fire, which features the province’s
most prominent families, among other things, a blueblood, Teodoro Kalaw
(husband of former senator Eva Estrada-Kalaw) is photographed standing
straight in the barako pose, ready to fire the revolver on his right
hand, even as he totes his coat on his left arm. Such was the way of the
elite barako: classy, but still deadly.
are also found in the pages of the nation’s history, such as the known
man of action, Gen. Miguel Malvar, the last military leader to surrender
to the Americans. Even a Batangueno who couldn’t walk showed
kabarakuhan (bravery) in his own way. Although disabled by
poliomyelitis, Apolinario Mabini was a man of thought who rose to
supremacy as the brains behind the revolution and the first Philippine
Yet despite the show of virility and the stance of masculinity, the
feared strongman known for his kills will often soften or tone down when
faced with the woman who captured his heart. A barako is not rude
toward the woman he loves. He is in fact gentle toward her and will do
everything in his power to make his special woman feel important, even
if it means carrying her books or pink, flowery handbag in public and
ignoring the hoots of hecklers in the streets, although he is sure to
confront them later when she is not around.
The barako is also loyal to his family. Although conflicts may arise
between barako brothers and fathers, they all unite and fight for each
other when trouble from outside forces threaten their family’s pride,
honor, and existence. In many instances, the barako will ignore tempting
offers of dubious fortune in order to make sure his family’s name
remains untarnished. Indeed, the real barako would rather be poor than
live with shame, just as he would rather die fighting than live in fear.
And fight the barakos did during World War II, ambushing and killing
many Japanese soldiers. In retaliation, the Japanese massacred the
city’s population, taking the lives of 18,000 of its 25,000 residents.
Lipa City was also razed to the ground, with only five houses out of
hundreds of old mansions left standing afterward.
was probably a sight that could have made anyone cry, but most probably
not a barako, who is the sort of male who believes he is never ever
supposed to shed a single tear, even during the wake of his own father,
even in the face of their own death. The tears from the known strongmen,
therefore, could mean only two things: One is that they are crocodile
tears, designed to invoke pity. The other is that they belong to a fake
Barakos can be bullheaded. After the peacetime elections of 1949, a
group of barakos from wealthy families took to hills at the defeat of
their presidential bet, Jose P. Laurel, whom they believed was cheated.
Backed by formidable gun power, they were ready to fight the government
head on. Only the messengers sent by their fellow blueblood barakos who
wanted peace were able to stop the planned bloodbath.
Some towns and cities in the province have more barakos than the
others. Among them is the town of San Juan, in the easternmost part of
Batangas, that also known for its coconut wine or lambanog.
Batangas City also once had a prominent barako, who by his skill and
probably, by luck, was able to live long enough to run for public
office and win. This barako made sure the city enjoyed peace and order.
When he died, Batangueños praised him for his leadership. Now it is his
nephew who sits behind his former desk.
who aspire to be barakos or want political clout someday are known as
barakitos. These young ones are often seen with the barakos, who take
them under their wing as alagang barako (novice barakos). Already quite
rowdy, barakitos oftentimes get bolder during election season.
At present, however, Batangueños themselves believe there are only a
few barakos left walking the streets of the province. The decrease in
the barako population could probably be due to the fact that in their
obsession to be supremo de barakos, most of them have killed each other
(matira ang matibay or only the bravest remains standing); in worst
cases, the killing could have included members of each other’s family
(ubusan ng lahi). Many barakos, after all, have failed to realize the
difference between pride and foolishness.