The cutting edge martial art of Kalis Illustrisimo by John Mellon. Part 2


John Chow is a meticulous man, and an absolute stickler for good form, so the repetition of basic drilling was his initial priority with his two new students, for which Shamim is grateful.

He emphasises that the art of Ilustrisimo lies in its adherence to principles, rather than particular preferred techniques, and its development owes much to Tatangs senior students. It seems that when the Grandmaster began to teach, he refused to use the kind of practise drills familiar to most of us. Instead he would say, "Attack me", and then simply respond.

The difficulty for his original students was that he didnt appear to respond the same way twice. After a while, Tony Diego, Yuli Romo, Chris Ricketts, Romy Macapagal and the other seniors hit on an alternative strategy. They would bring Tatang other students and watch closely when they were instructed to attack him. Then they would question the Grandmaster, challenging his changed responses to what appeared to be the same attack.

But Tatang would insist they were wrong; the student had not fed the same attack. It had been slower or faster, or from a slightly different angle or range, or telegraphed, and this was why he had adjusted to the change. Piece by piece, the senior students were able to articulate the underlying principles of the highly effective Ilustrisimo method.

All our teachers leave their mark, but because Kalis Ilustrisimo is so much a principle based art, rather than a rigid system, the personal style of all advanced students and teachers is very pronounced and individual. Having being screened by John Chow over a six-year period, Shamim was finally given a recommendation to train with Grandmaster Tony Diego. He immediately travelled to Manila, taking with him his close friend and training partner, Abjol Miah.

Shamim says that as he was led up the stairs to the gym by Tom Dy Tang, (a long time personal student and named successor of Tony Diego) he was very excited and nervous at the same time. But from the moment the door swung open and he saw Master Tony for the first time, he felt at ease, and an instant and entirely unexpected connection to him.

What struck Shamim most was his warm smile and friendly nature. He seemed really relaxed, dressed casually in a tracksuit bottom and a T-shirt. Most of the teachers Shamim had met in the Philippines wore some sort of uniform and club logo.

After Abjol and he were introduced, they were asked to show their Arnis skills to him. The Grandmaster watched carefully for half an hour, then said, "I can tell youre a student of John", which of course, was a compliment.

The training began that same night of the initial meeting. Mr. Diego does not like to be called by any title, especially Grandmaster. He simply asks people to call him Tony, but out of respect Shamim calls him Master Tony. Shamim had never seen so great a degree of openness and commitment in teaching before. For the next three intensive weeks all they did was train, train and train some more.

Being Westerners, they hadnt thought to get so much attention, but on the contrary, "Master Tony went out of his way to help us, to show us around, spent time talking to us," said Shamim, and "when we went to buy refreshments or take a Jeepney (local bus), he would always pay before we had the chance to do so."

Shamim explained "I think we came from a similar culture and system of values to Master Tony, and thats why we were able to feel so much at home. Master Tony is a humble man with great personality and integrity and he refuses to treat the art in a commercial manner.

Having trained with Master Tony for a couple of years, Shamim is sometimes teased by him with typical good humour, "Go home, you know already, no need to train anymore!" But Shamim insists he has only scratched the surface of what the art has to teach him. He is equally clear on his debt to John Chow for teaching him the fundamentals and for his continued mentorship, and the senior masters, Yuli Romo and Chris Ricketts, all of whom continue to offer valuable instruction and advice. He asked me to point out that all the senior students under GM Ilustrisimo were given the same technical material by Tatang. Each combines and re-combines the techniques differently, but consistently, according to the principles of the system. As individuals they each have a different way of organising that mass of material, and structuring and presenting that teaching to their own students. Thus the system allows for, indeed, encourages individuality.