By Bruno Cruicci
Although the origins of garrote Larense are shrouded in mystery, it is no coincidence that it shares a number of Spanish terms in common with many Filipino arts. For example, some Filipino old-timers still use the word garrote for stick. Much like the Philippines, Spanish-speaking Venezuela was part of the Spanish empire for more than 300 years. Spain, you should know, was the source of some of the finest fencers in the world. It was only natural, then, that the Venezuelan peasants would copy, practice, and even improve on some of the swordsmanship they were privileged to observe. Despite the fact that lowly peasants could not afford swords, they were, nonetheless, skilled with their machetes – tools they used every day, and sometimes on Saturday nights when someone had too much to drink and tempers flared or when defending the honor of a beautiful woman.
The Tradition Continues: Garrote Today
Another of the characteristics that tie garrote to Filipino arts is the fact that whatever one learns with the stick can be, with minor adjustments, adapted to the machete (bolo), knife, or empty hand. Moreover, garrote training develops practitioners who are as much at ease with the weapon in their left hand as they are with it in their right. This makes the garrotero a highly unpredictable and, therefore, formidable fighter.
Because there is no way to know how an opponent will attack in real life, once the garrote student has learned the basics, he further develops and hones his skills through sparring, where he moves and counters using the system's highly dynamic footwork, fluid body angulation, deflection, evasion, hand switching, and tremendous power generated by body torque. The intensity of training in garrote develops, as you might expect, lightning reflexes, but it also develops a calm demeanor and the ability to keep one's cool in every situation.
As in Filipino fighting arts, garrote strikes come from practically anywhere. Factor in the rapid and frequent hand switching with the weapon, and garrote can seem a bit overwhelming. For this reason, the students are first taught four basic strikes: franco, revès, pulla, and barre campo. Those four strikes are illustrated below using the cuadro.
In the photographs that follow, the practitioners are using machetes. This is not recommended for beginners, but here our purpose is to show you how you must mentally extend your practice beyond the stick. Doing so opens your eyes to the seriousness with which this art is practiced as well as the countless other possibilities that the art of garrote Larense holds. In observing combatants with real machetes in hand, it is easy to focus on the weapon and completely miss the footwork, which plays a critical role in garrote. Unfortunately, time prohibits even a cursory examination of the subtleties involved here, but as you study the four sequences that follow, visualize a simple cross on the floor and see how the footwork of the players outlines each movement's quarter in the cuadro. Once a student learns the basic strikes and the footwork cuadro, he begins to develop other attributes through controlled strikes as he picks up the pace in practice with his seniors.
When training this basic sequence, the players would not simply stop here but would continue by switching roles and resuming the flow depicted in Figures 1, 2, 3, and so forth. This allows both players to flow continuously back and forth, gaining many repetitions in what becomes a fluid and highly dynamic training method.
As you study these sequences, bear in mind that they are much, much more than the simple techniques you see here. As in any martial art, it is important to look beyond the technique, beyond the attack and counterattack. It is also important to look beyond the obvious targets (i.e., the head and torso) to alternative but equally disabling marks. Moreover, you must look at how these flows can be combined. Imagine after defending against franco, switching the weapon from your right to your left hand, then pressing your counterattack with a left-handed revès.
Pulla (pronounced poo-ya) is an expression used in Venezuela that means "to pinch," as if to pinch someone with a needle – in this case, a very large needle.; As you can see, pulla is a basic thrust much like the Filipino number 5 line, only in this sequence, the pulla attack steps all the way through (fig. 1) – like a lunge. Using primarily the blade to deflect his opponent's weapon, the defender simultaneously weaves himself out of the way of the onrushing attack (fig. 2). If possible, the defender also checks his assailant's hand. Now out of harm's way, the defender is in a position to counter with a thrust of his own (fig. 3).
Could the defender have countered with something other than pulla here? Absolutely. As a matter of fact, garroteros are trained to very quickly recognize any number of attacks and react with any of several counters. An excellent counter to pulla is our next movement, barre campo.
Lest you think the hand switching of garrote is either too slow or too complicated for use in actual combat, rest assured this is not the case. With practice, hand switches become as automatic as breathing, and they are deceptively wicked in the hands of a seasoned garrotero.
About the author: Bruno Cruicci is a free-lance writer and martial artist based in Caracas, Venezuela. He has trained for nearly five decades in Korean, Indonesian, Filipino, and Spanish fighting arts.
©Copyright Bruno Cruicci, 2001-2016
All rights reserved.
Feb. 2, 2016
by Bob Orlando