The cutting edge martial art of Kalis Illustrisimo by John Mellon.   Part 3


In Ilustrisimo, the stick and the blade are both trained, but when the stick is substituting for the blade, it is used as a blade.

There is a common convention in the Filipino arts that the stick and the blade can be used interchangeably (with the stick merely representing a safer training method for practising the blade), but not so in Ilustrisimo. In this style the distinction and the adaptation necessary, are clearly held in mind at all times. The greater flexibility of application of the stick is utilised fully; however, the two are never confused. Shamim sums up, "You can usually substitute a blade technique for a stick technique, but not always vice versa."

I then asked Shamim about the structure of training with GM Diego. He explained that the art was composed of the following elements:

  • Solo Baston – Single Stick
  • Doble Baston – Double Stick
  • Olisi y Baraw – Stick and Dagger
  • Espada y Daga – Sword and Daga
  • Daga (Single and double)
  • Corto – a Stick about 15" long
  • Dos Manos – a Staff approx. 4 ft. long*
  • Dos Labajas – Thin blade as tall as exponent, generally used in pairs
  • Solo Daga – Single Dagger, blade is generally between 8 – 12"***
  • Doble Daga – Double Daggers
  • Bolo – Heavy sword blade, commonly of ‘machete’ design, but does vary
  • Doble Bolo – Double sword*
  • War-wok – Empty Hands
  • Sugu – Finger jabs

Kalis Ilustrisimo can be taught in a variety of ways, and drills and progressions may vary between teachers. Stylists are trained to move from any posture, but the preferred basic fighting stance of the art is quite square-on, with the feet about 2/3rds of a full stride apart, with a strong forward waiting, and the rear heel raised for mobility. The stick or blade is held vertically, with the ‘cutting edge’ facing the opponent, and high – it takes less energy to direct the path of the ‘falling' weapon, than to lift it into a strike or cut.

Early o­n, most techniques are performed o­n the retreat, for safety; o­nce comfortable with a technique, it is applied moving forward, wherever possible, for the sake of speed and directness. At this point, stylists begin to ‘break in’ and ‘break out’, and apply ‘broken rhythm’. o­nce a student is able to do this, Master Tony will practise with them ‘one o­n o­ne’, which other stylists may term ‘Sombrada’ – the principle of counter-for-counter, rather than the eponymous drill.

Mr. Diego has devised a number of drills of this kind, but the preference is for training the student in a free-play flow of technique, rather than any set response. This is particularly effective for developing reaction speed, and the ability to analyse and choose options under pressure. "Believe me;" says Shamim, "you’re motivated to get out of the way of the counter coming in!" All out sparring is used to develop both timing and hitting power, which is generated by dropping body weight through the cut or hit – a typical example would be the ‘drop stick’, or ‘Baksaa’ – literally, ‘drop’. Mass under acceleration (in this case, acceleration due to gravity) is the very essence of power.

The ranges trained are as follows: de campo; de salon; and de medio. De Campo is the equivalent of largo mano or long range, and de salon, literally ‘in the room or bar’ refers to close quarter work, and de medio, to the medium range. There are three standard grips for the baston within Ilustrisimo: Standard; Central; and Susi. Standard is the natural grip, but Ilustrisimo stylists, unlike some, hold the stick right at the base, adjusting the grip as they work if they wish to utilise the punio, or butt of the stick. Central is exactly what it sounds like, the stylist holds the stick in the centre, and is a common way to hold your training weapon, indicating non-aggression. Susi, or key grip is the reverse grip, with the stick held against the underside of the forearm and fingers formed as if inserting a key into a lock, and this also shows the eskrimador is not looking for a fight.

Though challenges are less common today, the Ilustrisimo stylists train to use the stick in any of the three grips, just in case. The significance of the grip also has a deeper meaning within the culture. It is not that you are holding a stick in o­ne of several ways, but that anyone known to be a skilled eskrimador has to be careful in public to give clear signals when holding any object that could serve as a weapon. Such conventions tell you as much about the sophisticated culture that generated them, as they do about the style that utilises them.

The basis of Ilustrisimo empty hand lies within the Daga training, where the fundamental tactics are ‘Sugu’ and ‘War-wok’. The first refers to the practice of simultaneous parry and counter. Hands are held open in the standard ‘live-hand’ position, and striking is generally with the fingertips and edge of the hand, leading to the second tactic against a blade-bearing attacker. Here the student learns ‘war-wok’, to capture and feed the dagger back to the attacker, rather than focus o­n disarming from the start. It is considered more efficient to use the opponent’s own weapon to disable them. This is entirely logical as the attacker begins with the advantage of having a blade, and the defender seeks not to equalise the struggle, but to win.

The Americans occupying the Philippines in the early part of this century acquired the sophisticated evasion and defensive tactics associated with modern boxing from the Filipinos. When the Filipinos began to take part in professional boxing they brought with them all the tactics of knife-fighting, particularly the evasion. It is impractical to solidly block a knife-thrust or slash from a skilled fighter – it simply happens too fast, and no attack is so committed it cannot be swiftly retracted. Constant movement – to make yourself a more difficult target – combined with re-directive parrying, slipping, bobbing and weaving are much more viable responses.