The Cutting Edge martial art of Kalis Ilustrisimo By John Mellon. Part 1
He is smiling (he usually is ) yet very focussed on the threat his opponen represents. As his training partner attacks he moves fluidly aside avoiding the weapon and countering smoothly.
I wouldn’t like to be hit by him, though he is much too respectful a young man to take advantage of one of his old teachers. His name is Shamim Haque and I believe he will be a teacher of note some day. Right now he is a fine example of both fighter and instructor, and will bring further honour to what is already one of the most respected, if least known Eskrima styles.
Those of you who are familiar with the Filipino martial arts are likely to have heard of Kalis Ilustrisimo the art of the late Grandmaster Antonio “Tatang” Ilustrisimo, undefeated in a long life of combat and rarely equalled in skill. When Tatang died in 1997, he left behind a handful of enormously talented senior students, among whom Grandmaster Tony Diego is the acknowledged successor to the founder.
I have known Shamim for about six years now – he was part of a small group of Eskrimadors who decided to augment their training with some instruction in Silat and I was immediately struck by his quality of movement, technical insight and commitment. Although physically small, Shamim moves fluidly, economically and he is technically very precise.
At the age of sixteen he saw an article in a magazine featuring Bob Breen doing Eskrima and soon after joined the Bob’s Academy. He received his early training in JKD and Eskrima from Bob, his senior instructors, Terry Barnett and Pat O’Malley, and visiting teachers such as John Harvey and Simon Wells. While Shamim has always enjoyed JKD, it was the Eskrima training that really inspired him to begin studying the arts. Shamim is quick to give credit to the quality of his early training with Bob and his colleagues in establishing his basic skills and understanding.
At age 29 and with only thirteen intensive years of training behind him, I would judge him a major talent. The majority style of Eskrima in the U.K. is Doce Pares, and this formed the basis of Shamim’s stick skills, until the art of Rapid Arnis was developed by John Harvey and Pat O’Malley in 1993. The new style was a mix of Doce Pares, Lapunti, Serrada, and Modern Arnis. Shamim was the first student of Rapid Arnis, and the most senior until he left in 1996.
Shamim told me that he first came across the Ilustrisimo style in 1993 when John Chow, another student of Tatang and Tony Diego, visited The Academy in London. Shamim became aware of John watching the class, smiling and nodding as he analysed and evaluated technique and players alike. There was something about John Chow and the way he observed the class that convinced Shamim he really knew something.
After the class, John Chow introduced himself to Shamim and Reza ur Rahman (his training partner) and began to chat about their training and his own master, Tatang Ilustrisimo. Nowadays, Shamim laughs at his own ignorance (at the time he had not even heard of the style) and John pointed out a photograph of Bob Breen with the Grandmaster hanging on the wall of The Academy. This didn’t mean a great deal more to Shamim, at the age of 20 all he saw was a very elderly Filipino man with his own instructor.
Mr. Chow told them many stories of the Grandmaster, which fascinated both young men, and they readily accepted John’s invitation to come and train with him the next evening. I was surprised, and Shamim rather sheepish, when he told me the next part of the story. It seems that he dreamt of meeting Tatang that same night. The next day he couldn’t remember much of the dream, just that he had met him, talked with him, and possibly trained with him.
Reluctantly he told his training partner, Reza when they met to go training at John’s hotel. Equally reluctantly, Reza admitted he had much the same dream, though he too, could remember little in the way of detail. When they told Mr. Chow he simply smiled and said it was a very common experience among Ilustrisimo’s students; many of them reported similar dreams, often featuring Tatang demonstrating techniques they had never seen in class. "He was a very powerful man," said John.
Shamim carefully avoids placing any particular interpretation on the event, other than convincing him he should definitely take this opportunity to train in an unfamiliar style. John Chow generously shared his knowledge for 4-5 hours every night after work for weeks with the two young men. Mr. Chow travels around the world working in the IT industry, and so Shamim and Reza were able to receive further tuition in 1995 when he returned to London to work. Not only is Mr. Chow an accomplished Eskrimadors, but a master of a family version of the Yang style of Tai Chi Ch’uan too. His brother is also a Tai Chi adept, though in the Wu style, and an expert Chinese herbalist, as is John himself.