There has been claims that certain people from the West have been conferred certain titles by Arnis masters in the Phillipines. Such titles have similar themes as titles which South East Asian communities regard with respect to their nation and national communities, which were traditionally conferred only by the traditional rulers (the rajahs, Sultans and high Datus or council of Datus). These are traditional national titles. Since the rulers are now democratically elected governments, the current protocol is for the governments of South East Asian nations to confer such titles.
Thus, the understanding of South East Asians is that the conferal of title is not something that a martial arts guro does. Titles are confered by a ruler of the region. For example, the titles "Datu/Dato/Datuk/Datok", "Tan Sri", "Tun" etc were traditionally conferred by rulers in South East Asian, and are now are officially conferred by modern day governments. A "Pengulu" is a village chief or headman, possibly similar to a "Panglima". Such titles are recognised by the government and the society, and are relevant in the daily socio-mechanism of the society. Nobody, however well regarded a martial artist, is entitled to confer such titles. It is not their right, neither their authority to do so. South East Asian society disapproves of such presumptousness.
We should not confused nicknames which we sometimes give, sometimes in jest, to friends, associates and students. For example, "Invincible Tiger" "King of the Sword" "Sword Deity". Somebody may be nicknamed as "Little Chilly" due to the person's hot furious actions and small size. Sometimes nicknenames are given in earnest. Quite often, they are given in jest, and as sarcasm. Thus, a nickname like "Big Stick", although may actually refer, in a small part, to the big stick and the heavy strokes of the eskrimador, but subtly refer to the slowness of movement, heaviness in motion and stupidity of the gorilla dinosaur who is the subject of a cruel joke. The nickname "Big Boss" may refer to somebody who is a manager in his office, or somebody who commands a group of students or followers, but may actually subtly mean he is an egoistic small guy trying to fit into shoes that are bigger than he actually is. The old folks frequently use "double-meanings". Watch out!
In Malaysia, some Silat masters who have served society and the country by bringing out and administering Silat to the people are holders of titles actually conferred by either the government or title holders or Sultans. Such people are well respected by society and their peers. Society and peers not only recognise such titles for such dignitaries, but also expects that such people be refered to with such honourific titles. We, in the West, should not simply imitate such actions without understanding the social implications in our own society and community. By community, we are talking about the general community, not the small martial arts community, and the even smaller martial group or organisation. The community must accept the title because the holder of the title is somebody who has distinguished himself/herself as somebody really superior and is worthy of the community's respect. Respect by your own martial arts organisation is not sufficient. Please note that our Silat masters who hold these sort of titles are respected by the community at home, and even by our government. It is an insult to a traditional South East Asian person to use such titles frivilously. In Malaysia, any person who is not a "Dato" but publicly claims the title of "Dato" is liable to be sentenced to jail. It is considered a crime. Please be aware of our community sentiment on this issue of "titles".
Please note that the "Datu" of Modern Arnis is not refering to a title, and specifically not a community title, as explained by many in the organisation. It is a designation and ranking issue within the Modern Arnis organisation. The late Professor Remy Presas was attempting to confer a designation/rank upon distinguished and emminent instructors. It is not a conferal of title. Viewed in this angle, it is a legitimate use. Whether is is prudent to use a title that may land you in jail if you promote it too outlandishly in Malaysia is a totally separate issue, but I am sure the holders of such titles in Modern Arnis are prudish enough when living in such countries. ie. use it for internal communication within the organisation and not to the local community at large and the government.
There are no titles in the Kali Ilustrisimo clan:- either before Tatang Ilustrisimo's time, nor during, nor after. The clan is not structured like an organisation. In fact, there is no international/global Kalis Ilustrisimo organisation to this day. We are either students or we are instructors. Tatang Ilustrisimo was the true master and only master. No designation or ranking of "Maha Guro", neither "Panglima Hitum" has ever been made, to the knowledge of Tatang's students. No record of such a designation exists in the official archives, nor do any students remember such a designation.
In addition, Tatang himself, is not the holder of any title. We simply call him "Tatang". Students do not even call him "Mr. Illustrisimo", nor "Grandmaster Illustrisimo". We refer to him as Grandmaster when talking to the others in recognition of his advanced age, skill and experience. He was already in his mid seventies when he started accepting students from the public. He was already in his mid eighties when he became known to the West. At that age, he deserves to be refered to as a "Grandmaster". However, we still simply call him "Tatang".
Furthermore, Tatang Ilustrisimo does not care for any titles, so it is intriguing that he should take the 'adventurous' step to confer titles, especially titles which may impinge on communal and national soveriegnity. Tatang Ilustrisimo should know that he has no right to confer a "Panglima", "Pengulu", "Datu", Tan Sri" etc on anybody. Such restrictions are common community and cultural knowledge in South East Asia.
I suggest such "titles" claimed by Westerners are merely nicknames, and many Asians, especially Filipinos, are fond of using nicknames. Viewed from this angle, it is possible that Tatang Ilustrisimo had ever jestily called some Westerners "Panglima Hitum" or "Panglima Puteh" etc. Such a perspective may find wider acceptance for a South East Asian, and possibly, the Kalis Ilustrisimo clan.
For those who are curious about "titles", "secret initiations", "secret transmisions" etc.......... that Tatang Illustrisimo was supposed to have given to Westerners who jet in for a few weeks, I would refer them to the scribes/historian/archive keepers (eg. Romy Macapagal) of our Kalis Ilustrisimo clan, and the senior students of Tatang Ilustrisimo (eg. Tony Diego, Yuli Romo) who have been with him for more than 20 years, as well as to Tatang Ilustrisimo's close old friend, the Grandmaster Jose Mena, who had some candid hilarious comments on the matter.
Finally, since Tony Diego is generally regarded as the most senior
student and was the instructor to even most of Kalis Ilustrisimo instructors,
he is regarded as the head of Kalis Ilustrisimo. Therefore,
the issue of the validity and recognition of all so-called titles rests
on his determination. Let all readers who are doubt contact Tony
Diego personally for his decision.