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KF Sensei
KF Sensei

Joined: 04 May 2008
Posts: 6851
Location: McHenry County, IL
Styles: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Bujin Bugei Jutsu, Gokei Ryu Kempo Jutsu, MMA, Shootfighting, boxing, kickboxing, JKD, Pekiti Tersia Kali

PostPosted: Sun Feb 15, 2015 2:30 pm    Post subject: The Secrets of Kalis Ilustrisimo (Book Review) Reply with quote

To start out this review, let me state that Tuttle Publishing, via contact with Patrick, provided me with this book to review at no cost. The book in question is The Secrets of Kalis Ilustrisimo: The Filipino Fighting Art Explained by Antonio Diego and Christopher Ricketts.

Having a smattering of experience in FMAs and having touched on Ilustrisimo via private instruction (it should be noted this is not my area of expertise), I was very interested in this book and was intrigued to see how it would compare to what I had experienced, if only briefly.

For those unaware, Kalis Ilustrisimo (roughly translated "the sword of Ilustrisimo") is a system of Filipino blade and weapon fighting that was originated by several generations of the Ilustrisimo family on the island of Cebu and was a family system of combat for some time. The arts of the Philippines can often be confusing to people who don't practice them in terms of organization and lineage. In fact, there is debate amongst practitioners themselves as to terminology and each sub-set's authenticity.

For the readers of this review, just understand that Ilustrisimo is an indigenous blade fighting art from the Philippines. There are several terms that have been used as an umbrella, including Kali, Arnis and Eskrima. Ilustrisimo is one of the core, specific arts from the islands and shouldn't be confused with other blends.

Now, on to the review.

This book arrived in good quality and is of typical construction in the genre. It comes in (soft cover, 2002 edition) at 227 pages of information about the art, with a hefty (as is common in this style of instructional) amount taken up by photographs.

It is divided into four parts and further subdivided as below:

1. Kalis Ilustrisimo in Perspective
a. History and Development
b. Structure of the Ilustrisimo System

2. Fundamentals of Practice
a. Preliminaries
b. Stances and Footwork
c. Methods of Striking

3. Defensive Movements and Applications
a. Fundamental Fighting Techniques
b. Methods of Disarming

4. The Combative Encounter
a. Combative Sign Language
b. Spiritual Fortitude
c. Fighting Principles and Strategies

The book then concludes with a brief afterword and a nice "Lineage of Kalis Ilustrisimo" chart. Lastly, there is a short glossary that walks readers through some common FMA terms that might be helpful from the book.

We will briefly take a look at each section, good and bad.

Kalis Ilustrisimo in Perspective

For my part, the best section of the book is right out of the gate with the "Kalis Ilustrisimo in Perspective" section. This provides an overview of the history back to Pablo Ilustrisimo, and the text is honest about what is and is not lost to history.

A bulk of the text deals with Antonio Ilustrisimo, who gained much notoriety for the art. Here is some fantastic material. These stories are those passed down from generation of practitioner to practitioner and are the mythology of the art. It is good to see them preserved here by authorities and not just orally.

A perfect example is the story of Antonio defeating several foes by rolling into town after using an incantation to break their spirits. The opponents who had challenged him broke ranks and fled due to, according to Antonio, his incantations to the spirit world and his connection with the anting-anting, a medallion of Filipino origin that is supposed to connect its possessor to the spirit world. Antonio believed heavily in such things and attributed it to his success in several duels, particularly this one. It's immaterial if they fled due to his spirituality or the fact that one of the most legendary blade fighters of his time, in a nation of blade fighters, actually showed up to confront them. What is important is the story itself is part of the oral tradition of the art and adds to its uniqueness. I'm glad to see these things preserved herein.

Also in the "Perspectives" section is a great overview of the lineage and the principle figures therein, including the author Antonio Diego's own unique story which is exceptional to have on hand since his death in August of 2014 marks the passing of much oral history of the art. Further, the section takes an honest look at the process of systematizing the art from a family based learning pattern to a worldwide curriculum. I wish more arts would so openly discuss these matters. It would end much of the myth that surrounds their growth.

The section that I would have liked to have seen more of here is the "Training Methods" chapter. To me, this is the core of what makes an art great. From my limited exposure, Ilustrisimo has some fantastic training methods. However, this is a short section that is moved thru quickly and gives way to the upcoming picture dissection of individual tactics. I would have liked more discussion on the specific drilling methods as well as the mindset behind them here. Although abstract, I think it would have been a useful addition to the book.

Fundamentals of Practice

Next we come to the "Fundamentals of Practice" section. This includes some preliminary work on grip, stance, foot work and ranging. Particularly useful is the brief discussion of range and how that applies to the short blade practitioner. With the book's focus on middle range in these elements (a striking difference to Pekiti-Tirsia Kali), it was interesting to look at what this leads the footwork of Ilustrisimo to look like compared to other FMAs. This is an interesting compare and contrast.

There is great information in this section. If I have a complaint, I would have liked to see the fundamentals laid out into a framework of either drilling or application with just these fundamentals applied, not in conjunction with full techniques that we see later. This would have been an informative addition and help set the stage for the coming tactics chapters.

Defensive Movements and Applications

The third major section of the book, "Defensive Movements and Applications," is the largest single section. There are a lot of photos thru a wide array of applications. These are of acceptable quality and what one would expect from this kind of work. They are complimented by excellent descriptions of various tactics.

If I have a structural beef here with things it's that the book could use the occasional inset of a close up for some of the precision movements and some of the overall tactics could use some extra transitional step photos to fill in the gaps for those not acquainted with the movements of FMAs.

Again, everything here is technique. Which is great, but I would have liked some explanation beyond just the technique into methods of drilling each for combat application and sparring. That said, it does exactly what it sets out to do in regard to fundamental tactics. This section even spills into another facet of the art and touches on disarming mechanics and tactics.

The Combative Encounter

The last few chapters of the book are very short, but offer some great material. There is a brief overview of posturing as it applies to FMA that is culturally very interesting. Also, there is a short article on the spiritual overtones of the Philippines and how they apply to Ilustrisimo. It's not so much important to Westerners that study the art, but it's part of the history of the pioneers of the system and gives us a glimpse into the psyche that invented these arts.

Lastly, in these short close-out sections, there is a great primer on "Fighting Principles and Strategies." This is a section that I would have really loved to see expanded. Practitioners of several arts will recognize some of these; some are unique to FMAs and other practitioners will see them in a new light once a weapon is involved. There is little to dislike about this section other than the fact that I would liked to have seen it go deeper and thus longer.

Overall, I was very happy with the book, and it was a great insight into many aspects of Ilustrisimo. For me, the strength of the book lies not so much in its photo sequence section (which is good) because this is truly the domain of training under a good instructor. Instead, the strength lies in the historical, contextual and systematic information that is in here.

I'd recommend this for anyone interested in taking a look at the art or anyone wanting an introduction into what could be expected from digging into certain FMAs.

Buy the book:, ( receives a small commission on any sales generated through these links).
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KF Administrator

Joined: 01 May 2001
Posts: 27145
Location: Los Angeles, California

PostPosted: Sun Feb 15, 2015 2:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you for the submission, Alex.

Patrick O'Keefe - Administrator
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KF Sensei
KF Sensei

Joined: 23 Feb 2008
Posts: 14611
Location: Houston, TX
Styles: Shindokan Saitou-ryu [Shuri-te/Okinawa-te based]

PostPosted: Sun Feb 15, 2015 6:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you for your book review, Alex!!

A very definitive book review. Covered quite a lot that I believe that will interest many readers, both MAists and non-MAists.

I, too, have very little exposure to Kali, and I'd like a different book to explain things that this book has, whereas other books don't.

Did the context of the author surprise you?

**Proof is on the floor!!!
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KF Sensei
KF Sensei

Joined: 31 Mar 2006
Posts: 27927
Location: Hays, KS
Styles: Taekwondo, Combat Hapkido, Aikido, GRACIE

PostPosted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 11:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the review here, Alex. It sounds like it would be a good addition to a weapon's text library.

In other FMA works, I've see that there is a crossover between open hand and weapon techniques. Does this work make mention of any open hand work at all?
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KF Sensei
KF Sensei

Joined: 04 May 2008
Posts: 6851
Location: McHenry County, IL
Styles: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Bujin Bugei Jutsu, Gokei Ryu Kempo Jutsu, MMA, Shootfighting, boxing, kickboxing, JKD, Pekiti Tersia Kali

PostPosted: Tue Feb 24, 2015 12:06 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great point. The parallel between the empty hands and blade work is really common in FMA's. There's no mention of it in this particular tome.
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White Belt
White Belt

Joined: 14 Mar 2015
Posts: 1
Location: noakhali
Styles: normal

PostPosted: Sat Mar 14, 2015 9:27 pm    Post subject: Nice post Reply with quote

Thanks to writer for this post
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Joined: 13 Feb 2003
Posts: 6154
Location: Upstate NY
Styles: TKD;Shotokan;JuJitsu;Tai Ji

PostPosted: Mon Mar 16, 2015 10:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Good review!

"A Black Belt is only the beginning."
Heidi-A student of the arts
Tae Kwon Do,Shotokan,Ju Jitsu,Modern Arnis
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