The cutting edge art of Kalis Illustrisimo by John Mellon.   Part 4


In Kalis Ilustrisimo, the truism that, when unarmed, Filipino stylists will simply use the weapon tactic empty-handed really is followed.

 Naturally, a few techniques have to be slightly adapted, but mostly nothing is done differently essentially even the hand forms simulate blade use. Like Tatang before him, Tony Diego is very accepting of techniques derived from elsewhere. The criteria really are combative practicality and consistency with the underlying concepts of the system. Shamim has, o­n occasion, demonstrated silat techniques to Master Tony for evaluation, and has always received a very positive response.

I asked Shamim what he most enjoyed about training in the Philippines, what he least liked, and what surprised him also. Just training and spending time with the legitimate Grandmaster of an authentic and proven system was the important element for him. He particularly enjoyed the “anecdotal training”. The opportunity to really soak up the history and lineage underlying the art was the difference. Shamim had o­nly seen Tatang Ilustrisimo in 1994, when he was very ill, so he didn’t have an opportunity to train with the founder. But training with Master Tony, and the other master teachers under Tatang, is an enormous privilege. As first generation students under o­ne of the most revered and respected eskrimadors ever, they all have much to offer, and he credits their freely given advice and coaching with his rapid development.

Spending time with Tony Diego is, in a sense, always training. He will illustrate a tactical discussion with an anecdote from Tatang’s life, then break off and say, "Let’s move", that is,  let’s train, I’ll show you. When the current head of the family speaks of his late master, his voice will often thicken. Tatang Ilustrisimo was a remarkable man, and the affection and respect he engendered in his students is observable.

Shamim particularly enjoyed hearing how Tatang developed techniques through combat experience. Master Tony recalled often sitting with his teacher, having wide-ranging discussions o­n technique and strategies, and trying to catch his teacher out with a sudden attack. Tatang never seem surprised he simply countered everything calmly, and carried o­n talking.

Shamims least favourite memory of the trip was demonstrating a number of times in front of other senior masters of the system, and assorted bystanders, in Lunete (Rizal) Park in Manila. Nonetheless, he recognises this was a useful experience, as the other first generation students were very positive and always had useful advice and training methods to offer. Masters Chris Ricketts and Yuli Romo, in particular, contributed additional training and they each have enormous experience of other arts. Master Chris had an extensive background in various styles of karate, and in judo and aikido, prior to arnis. He has since added boxing training, and is the co-founder of the art of Sagasa - a highly effective empty hand art, and of Bakbakan International, a successful organisation promoting Filipino arts. Master Yuli Romo is truly a unique character, very quiet, with a very humble demeanour. He has a different style of motion to Master Ricketts and Master Tony, but you can tell the principles are the same. He has trained with many masters of Arnis from all over the Philippines. He has a reputation for disappearing for months o­n end, to return with much new material he acquired o­n his travels. But when it comes to Arnis, Ilustrisimo is the art he chooses over all the arts he has studied. Like Master Tony, he says "No o­ne can move like the old man (Tatang), no matter how hard they train, no o­ne can replace him".

From Shamim’s perspective the most surprising aspect of his trip, was that so few of the local students trained as often as they could have. If you’re in the London area, I recommend you get in touch for an authentic taste of a devastatingly effective weapons art, delivered by an intelligent and devoted teacher, who knows how much more he has to learn.