Simplicity, functionality and practicality. These are the essence, the root and foundation of Kali Ilustrisimo. It is in these timeless concepts that the secret of Kali Ilustrisimo lies.
Grandmaster Antonio “Tatang” Ilustrisimo’s techniques have been chiseled down to perfection through countless hours of practice, application and experience. His regular regimen of teaching and practicing with a multitude of students from different styles, of different skills, produced the inevitable versatility and adaptability of the Ilustrisimo system. It was this constant exposure to unfamiliar and unorthodox techniques that produced a system that could adapt and overcome.
After long internship with Tatang, Bakbakan-Kali Ilustrisimo instructors and practitioners still watch in admiration his unique deflecting, side-tracking motions and angles of attack. What was already a committed attack somehow managed to marginally change direction, level or target, baffling and subduing the opponent. It is this in-motion shifting of direction, level and speed that confused and disoriented his adversaries.
Bakbakan-Kali Ilustrisimo instructors take turns sparring and practicing with Tatang. While the nominated “volunteer” spars with the master of masters, all others watch and observe carefully how the revered Grandmaster reacts to an attack or strategy that the instructors wish to dissect. This may seem like a strange ritual but it’s not. Tatang rarely reacts the same way to an attack or attempted counter. This is not an exaggeration of Tatang’s ability but simply, as he himself would explain, due to the variations and differences between the first performance and the succeeding ones.
The initial attack may have come from an Abierta position and aimed at Tatang’s head with the weapon hand at waist level. The second time, the weapon hand may be at shoulder level but still aimed at the same target. However because of the difference in the levels of origin, not to mention speed and intensity of the attack, Tatang could most likely react differently.
But this is only one side of the issue. Tatang may have been in a Cerrada or Abierta position. Similarly his weapon hand could be at waist, shoulder or chest level. All this contributes to the variations that could happen. At waist level, Tatang could counter with an Aldabis or Salok strike. At chest level, he may just execute a Sungkite, Contra Cerrada or even a Panipis. At shoulder height, he could execute a Bagsak, combined with Combate General or a host of other counter attacks.
Application of the Reloj de Arena principles
Kali Ilustrisimo dictates that there is no set reaction to any given action. The reaction will have to be dependent on the circumstances at the time of engagement. This is the reason Tatang emphasizes sparring and free-style practice. Although there are fundamentals to be learned, it is in these sparring and free-style sessions that one develops the intuition and timing to apply basic principles correctly.
Tatang Ilustrisimo’s uncanny ability to “break rhythm” during an engagement upsets the tempo that his opponent is attuned to. This break in cadence creates gaps that leave openings in the opponent’s defense and/or gaps in reaction timing. Tatang admonishes that doing the unexpected, either by going faster or slower, confuses the opponent and upsets his strategy.
By applying what has been studied, analyzed and referred to by Bakbakan instructors and archivists as Reloj De Arena (Hourglass Pattern), Grandmaster Ilustrisimo could divert the angle of his attack by simply altering his body position or height. A thrust attack aimed at the eyes can, with a sudden bending of the knees, a drop in body height or an inside twist of the wrist, result in the attack being re-directed to the upper or lower torso without losing the momentum of the original attack. The attack and the angle of attack remained the same, only the vertical and horizontal coordinates changed.
With the application of the principles of Reloj de Arena, the block or parry for the initial movement becomes totally useless since the attack is no longer at its expected point of contact. By changing the speed, height and vertical position of an attack, Grandmaster Ilustrisimo transforms an attack or enganyo into the unexpected. With the accumulated years of constant practice and actual combat experience, Tatang maintains the advantage of always being a micro-beat ahead, a fraction of a second faster (Prakcion), and already several levels beyond the engagement.
The Path to Mastery
The secret to mastering any art is consistent, dedicated repetition and practice. Not just practice by rote, but quality practice. Repetitions without heart, mind and spirit (Dakip-Diwa) are nothing but calisthenics. Repetitions with the proper Dakip-Diwa (mind-set) results in superb reactions and skills.
Jumping jacks or waist bends do not cultivate reflex actions for the simple reason that the mind-set during these sessions are not for any combat situation. Rethink the waist bends into bob-and-weave exercises, visualize the opponent’s attacks as you dodge and slip against them and you’ve changed a set of exercises into a reflex developing regimen. With the proper Dakip-Diwa, mind and body come together to mold, create and hone an aspirant into a warrior.
Once the individual techniques or skill has been developed to perfection then variations come into play. Variations in speed, body positioning and weapons placement will generate endless free-form scenarios. One will then begin to understand the reason why Tatang’s counters cannot be predicted for he reacts depending on the circumstances at the time of engagement. With any change in attack or defense, no matter how minute, the Ilustrisimo eskrimador subconsciously evaluates, modifies and reacts automatically to the new parameters with confidence and familiarity.
In Reloj de Arena, the multi-horizontal and vertical lines represent the possible shifts in the origin and trajectory of an attack. Note that any subtle shift in coordinates X, Y or both, causes enough displacement to evade, parry, counter or pre-empt an attack. With each subtle change, new opportunities are presented to the eskrimador.
Understanding Reloj de Arena and Dakip-Diwa principles provides the aspirant with a clearer understanding of Kali Ilustrisimo concepts and strategy. Practice, dedication and discipline are the key ingredients to transform this understanding into expertise.