Book Release – Kali Ilustrisimo: The Sword Fighting Art of Antonio Ilustrisimo by Master Christopher Ricketts

Ilustrisimo Book

Kali Ilustrisimo: The Sword Fighting Art of Antonio Ilustrisimo

By Master Christopher Ricketts, Guro Bruce Ricketts, Guro Brandon Ricketts



With over 3 decades of intensive training in both
Filipino & Chinese disciplines, Christopher Ricketts
presents Kali Ilustrisimo as it was taught to him by
the now legendary swordsman, Antonio Ilustrisimo.
Grandmaster Ricketts brings his insight to this highly
regarded fighting art with clarity and precise
methodology that is sure to enrich any student
regardless of style or system.

Lavishly illustrated with diagrams and pictures
from Grandmaster Rickett’s personal and
comprehensive archives, experts and beginners
alike stand to benefit greatly from this presentation.
Catch a rare glimpse into the inner workings
of this uniquely Filipino fighting system.

The art and legacy of Antonio Ilustrisimo lives on.

Author website

Budo Magazine Publishes the final Interview of Grandmaster Tony Diego of Kalis Ilustrisimo. Interview by Tim Fredianell.


Budo Magazine Publishes the final Interview of Grandmaster Tony Diego of Kalis Ilustrisimo. Interview by  Tim Fredianell.


Read interview in English here:

Read interview in Spanish here:

GM Tony Diego





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Fundraiser Seminar for Master Tony Diego: Two Day Invitation Only. With Kalis Ilustrisimo Senior Instructors Peachie Baron-Saguin and Arnold Narzo. July 7th, Monday & July 8th, 2014. Los Angeles & Las Vegas.

Seminar: Two Day Invitation Only. With Kalis Ilustrisimo Senior Instructors  Peachie Baron-Saguin and  Arnold Narzo. July 7th, Monday & July 8th, 2014. Los Angeles & Las Vegas.

Los Angeles Lameco SOG & Los Angeles Ilustrisimo in association with Kapisanang Mandirigma is proud to present an invitation only Seminar not advertised to the General Public. This is an extremely rare opportunity to train with Kalis Ilustrisimo Senior Instructors Arnold Narzo and Peachie Baron-Saguin. They are direct students of the Living Legend in the Philippines, Grandmaster Tony Diego of Kalis Ilustrisimo. Grandmaster Tony Diego is the top disciple of Grandmaster Antonio ‘Tatang’ Ilustrisimo and is continuing Tatang’s legacy through his Kalis Ilustrisimo Repeticion Orehenal.This is a rare opportunity and their first seminar in Los Angeles.
Proceeds go to the Medical Fund of Master Diego and his wife. This is also a fundraiser for the serious medical conditions of Master Tony and his wife. Thank you all in advance for your continued support!
Los Angeles
Two Day Seminar – July 7th, Monday & July 8th, Tuesday.
Location – Seminar will be in Los Angeles/Eagle Rock.
Address given after enrollment.
Time – 7pm-11pm

Master Christopher Ricketts and Bakbakan Philippines doing Ilustrisimo on TV Show – 2005.

Master Christopher Ricketts and Bakbakan Philippines doing Ilustrisimo on TV Show.
Master Ricketts is assisted by Bruce Ricketts, Dodong Sta. Iglesia, Miguel Zubiri, Doran Sordo, Brandon Ricketts, Monsour del Rosario and other members of Bakbakan Philippines. Shot at Olympians Taekwondo Training Center (OTTC) in Fort Bonifacio, Manila, Philippines. 2005.



Master Christopher Ricketts on TV

Fundraiser for Master Tony Diego of Kalis Ilustrisimo, July 2013

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Greetings friends,

We are seeking assistance for Master Tony Diego of Kalis Ilustrisimo.

Master Diego’s wife has breast cancer and has just had surgery for the second time. Sadly, even with surgery it has spread and costly chemotherapy is required. Master Diego is retired from work and has no medical or retirement benefits, so any amount donated will be very much appreciated and put to good use.

If you would like to donate you can contact Dino at:
or you can contact Peachie Baron at:

The FMA Informative publishes Master Tony Diego & Kalis Ilustrisimo Special Issue, March 2013

master diego fma digest kalis ilustrisimo

Informative Issue No #67
Kalis Ilustrisimo

The FMA Informative publishes Master Tony Diego & Kalis Ilustrisimo Special Issue, March 2013

Master Antonio “Tony” Diego

When Master Tony moved to Manila, he trained in the Balintawak style of Arnis with the Eskrimadors
from Cebu while he was working at the docks and at the same time training with Berting Presas (Modern Arnis) in Quiapo, a district of Manila. Soon after, he met Antonio “Tatang” Ilustrisimo in 1974. Tatang’s simple but ferocious style greatly impressed him. He then requested Tatang to teach him. At first Tatang would not teach Master Tony, explaining that it was only for his use alone! He said he remained undefeated because others do not know his style. Master Tony, far from being deterred, relentlessly pestered Tatang with attention and gifts until the old man finally agreed to teach him the ways of the blade.
As a teacher of Eskrima, Master Tony has earned the highest reputation as a person and as an instructor. He fully believes that a student who learns the Ilustrisimo system should give credit where credit is due, and not to learn and then claim it or its derivatives as a personal innovation or declare it as coming from an imagined family tradition.
Compared with Tatang, Tony teaches almost the same way with the exception that he has structured his
instruction procedures into sets of techniques which make learning easier. This comes from having seen it from the student’s point of view.
Tony has insisted on maintaining the purity of the system as Tatang taught it. The only change is the way the Ilustrisimo system is now taught in a structured sense, which Tatang did not.
Any Questions Contact: Ms. Peachie Baron-Saguin at:


Kalis Ilustrisimo in its Pure Form

Kalis Ilustrisimo in its pure form
tries to maintain the life and death
combative perspective and ex-
presses this point of view in its
techniques and their applications.
There has been also a need to enter
the Filipino martial arts world,
which has a greater emphasis on
the sports aspect. For this, Ilus-
trisimo methods and techniques
have perforce been modified in
order to keep within the structure
of the necessary constricting rules
of sports. These rules are meant
for the safety of participants and
life and death combat movements
are illegal. This is true for other
ing, etc.
Because of the greater
emphasis on sports in the present
Filipino martial arts community,
students are more – keen on learn-
ing techniques believing these
will enhance their skill and their
chances of winning competitions.
In contrast, instruction in Ilustri-
simo is based on the foundational
combat philosophy of Antonio
“Tatang” Ilustrisimo when teach-
ing the techniques and their appli-
cation. This point of view delin-
eates objectives which give rise
to the movements or techniques
necessary to achieve such objec-
The original main objective
of Tatang’s fighting system is win-
ning in battle and coming out of it
alive and unhurt. For this, a flexi-
ble fighting capability is necessary.
Thus the Ilustrisimo system has a
varied set of techniques which are
effective at various distances and
with various weapons all the way
to empty hands.
In using Kalis Ilustrisimo they use what one would call fraction (Master strikes at the student
according to numbers). The Master strikes the student first countering the strikes one through twelve
strikes, Abierta: Compared with Tatang, Master Tony teaches almost the same way with the exception that he has structured his instruction procedures into sets of techniques which make learning easier. This comes from having seen it from the student’s point of view. Master Tony has insisted on maintaining the purity of the system as Tatang taught it.

Grandmaster Antonio “Tatang” Ilustrisimo’s last interview conducted by Steven Drape, July 29, 1997

Antonio “Tatang” Ilustrisimo’s last interview before his death.

Conducted by Steven Drape, a teacher of San Miguel Eskrima under Urbano “Banoy” Borja who was a student of Momoy Canette.

This interview was conducted with Grandmaster Antonio “Tatang” Ilustrisimo, along with his senior students Antonio Diego and Christopher Ricketts, on 29 July1997 in Manila, Philippines. At the time of the interview, GM Ilustrisimo had been ill for several weeks, so he was weak and had some difficulty talking.   (As it turned out, his illness became worse and he eventually passed away in the fall of 1997.)  We were accompanied by a live-in companion, who helped serve as a translator for some of the Grandmaster’s answers.
GM Ilustrisimo lives in one of the toughest sections of Manila, near the docks. He was a merchant seaman for 35 years, and has spent most of his life in this same area. As an example of the respect people here give to this living legend, the story is told of a gang fight between a local Manila gang and a group of men who had come to Manila from the Visayan islands for work. At the height of the melee, with many men involved in the fight, “Tatang” walked right through the middle of the spot and everyone stopped fighting to let him pass. He is one of those rare men where legend may actually match reality.
This interview was conducted for Australasian Fighting Arts Magazine (AFAM).

AFAM: Erle Montaigue met you and wrote an article in AFAM in 1981. He told me that he was very impressed with you and your art. Have any of your training methods changed since 1981?
GM Ilustrisimo:  The principles of the art have not changed, so of course it is the same.
AFAM: When you began teaching your students, like Tony Diego, you had certain ideas as to what they would learn by now. Have they reached your expectations?
GM Ilustrisimo:   Yeah! Tony has been with me for a long time, since 1975. If you want to train with me, you must learn the old way. When we train, I will hit your hands, many times, so you learn. You must take the pain to learn.
AFAM:   Tony Diego, you’ve been with GM Ilustrisimo for more than 20 years. Have you been satisfied with your training in the Art, and with “Tatang”?

Tony Diego: At first, he wouldn’t teach me. He said that the Art was only for fighting. I kept asking and finally he accepted me. I’ve been very satisfied. I have never felt that I wanted to change, or stop training. At one time, I was a little frustrated, though, and I asked “Tatang” why I couldn’t be more like him (in his ability). He simply answered, “You are you, you are not me.” Everyone learns in a
different way, so you must be satisfied with the result that you get. You can never be exactly the same as your teacher.
AFAM: Do you feel like you have mastered everything the grandmaster has to teach? Tony Diego:  Once I asked “Tatang” if he had taught me everything, if I had the complete system. He replied, “When a guest comes to your house and you give him food, you always give him the rice from the top of the pan. It’s the best rice that everyone likes to eat, but you save for yourself the rice from the bottom of the pan. There it has become hard and crusty.” I think that means that he taught me everything he could teach, but that there are things that he still has that are not teachable. Things that come from a person’s experiences in life.
AFAM:   Tony, you will retire from your job in a few years. Do you think that you will take on more students, expand your teaching?
Tony Diego: No, I don’t think so. I have several students who have been with me for many years. Probably they will take over the job of carrying on, of passing on Kali Ilustrisimo.
AFAM: GM Ilustrisimo, your style of arnis impresses as one of the most natural for self-defense. Are your views still the same in that this Art should only be used for self-defense using straight-forward methods instead of more flowery techniques?

GM Ilustrisimo: The fancy stuff in arnis, all the flowery movements, is only for stage shows and demonstrations, not for real fighting.
AFAM: What is your advice to students who would wish to take up arnis nowadays in the Western world? It seems that today, the old ways of learning are fading, and more and more students want to learn tournament styles.
GM Ilustrisimo: Arnis is simple- 1-2-3 (demonstrating a 3-strike combination in the air). The tournament styles are different, not really arnis.
AFAM: How long do you feel a student needs to train to learn arnis, how many years?
GM Ilustrisimo: Only two weeks, you can master the techniques! Arnis is simple-   1-2-3 !
AFAM:   Two weeks!?
GM Ilustrisimo: Study with me one hour every day and you can learn how to fight for tournaments. My students usually win in the tournaments. Remember, though, that training for tournaments is not training for real fighting. Wearing armor is bad for the Art, students don’t learn well.
AFAM: Have your methods changed much as you have grown older?
GM Ilustrisimo: When fighting, you only adjust to your opponent, to what he does. As you get older, you must still adjust. Maybe you do something differently than when you were younger, but it is just an adjustment to the situation. Age is just one part of the situation.

AFAM:   Does that mean that the inevitable physical decline that comes with age can be compensated for? Does someone’s increasing skill and experience make up for declining physical ability?
GM Ilustrisimo: Yes!

(To illustrate this point, when Tony Diego first introduced me to “Tatang”, he
playfully attacked him. The grandmaster was holding two canes at the time, one to
help him walk and a shorter rattan. Even though he does not see well any more, and
he is 90 years of age, his reaction to even the playful attack was immediate, very
fast and obviously exactly right to defend himself if the attack had been real. A
very impressive introduction to the grandmaster!)

AFAM:   Let’s change directions now. In your lifetime, who were the best arnis players you can remember, the very best ones?

GM Ilustrisimo: Here in the Philippines, no one would fight me. I had fights in Singapore and in Jakarta with good players. The toughest one was in Singapore. I cut him across the right wrist and won the fight and $5000. I also fought in Calcutta and broke that man’s right arm.
AFAM: Besides yourself, then, who here in the Philippines were the best fighters?

GM Ilustrisimo: My father, my grandfather and the brother of my father were all great fighters.

AFAM: So you learned from your father and uncles?

GM Ilustrisimo:   Yes.
AFAM: Who was Pedro Cortes? Did you learn anything from him?
GM Ilustrisimo:   Yes, he was the sparring partner of my father, from Mindanao. His style was much like the Ilustrisimo style, same as my father’s.
AFAM: What about some of the famous names everyone has heard about? People like Dizon, Villabrille, Cabales? Did you know them when you were all younger?
GM Ilustrisimo: Yes, we were all here in Manila. Villabrille was my cousin.
AFAM: Did you ever teach Cabales anything?
GM Ilustrisimo: Yes, but I didn’t like his techniques.
AFAM:   Did you ever fight with Cabales or the others?
GM Ilustrisimo: Yes, we played often, but none of them would fight me for real.
AFAM:   So you had a reputation even then, when you were a young man. What other fights have you had?
GM Ilustrisimo:   Yes. No one wanted to fight me. In the early 50′s, I had a real fight, not an arranged match, with a man called “Doming” here on Dock 8. He had a knife and I picked up a short piece of pipe from the ground. He died from a blow to the head with that pipe.

AFAM: I’ve heard that you have another nickname. “Dagohoy”, is that correct?
GM Ilustrisimo: Yes, it is only a nickname.
Tony Diego: “Dagohoy” was a famous fighter from the island of Bohol who led the people in an uprising. He was a famous figure in our history, so people call “Tatang” this name as, well, a name of respect.
AFAM: Dan Inosanto is very well-known in martial arts circles. One of his teachers of arnis was John LaCoste. Did you know John LaCoste here before he went to the US?
GM Ilustrisimo: No, I didn’t know him.
AFAM:   What about the fighters from Cebu? The Canetes, the Saavedras, etc.? Did you know them, or ever fight anyone from Cebu?
GM Ilustrisimo: No, I never fought them, but I don’t like their techniques. The Cebu fighters like to use the abanico techniques to the head. No good!
AFAM:  In your style, you train to use a blade. Does that change how you use a
GM Ilustrisimo: It’s the same, no different.
AFAM: There was a famous match arranged once, between Joe Mena and “Cacoy” Canete. Can you tell me what happened?
GM Ilustrisimo:   They began to fight but someone interfered and the fight was not resolved, no winner.
AFAM: I’ve heard that you began training when you were 9 years old. That would have been in about 1916. How was training different then, from the way it has become today?
GM Ilustrisimo:   It was very different. It was only practical training then, learning how to survive.
AFAM:   During World War II, you were a resistance fighter. There are several stories about you from that time. Can you tell me about some of them?
GM Ilustrisimo: Yes, I was fighting the Japanese. I killed 7 Japanese with my blade.
Tony Diego: There is a good story about that time. One night, “Tatang” and a friend had been drinking and were walking home when they came upon a single Japanese sentry. “Tatang” walked right up to the man and pulled his samurai sword right out of the scabbard, looked at it and put it back. The Japanese soldier was so surprised that he just stood there and did nothing, even though he had a gun.

AFAM:   GM Ilustrisimo, you’ve had a long and eventful life. Is there anything you regret, or anything you would like to change?
GM Ilustrisimo: Nothing. I’ve been happy.
AFAM:   Thank you for this interview and for the knowledge that you have passed along.


In Memory of Grandmaster Antonio “Tatang” Ilustrisimo (1904 – 1997)

Grandmaster Antonio “Tatang” Ilustrisimo (1904 – 1997)

Grandmaster Antonio Ilustrisimo, Courtesy of Bakbakan International  and  GM Tony Diego

Grandmaster Antonio Ilustrisimo (1902 – 1997) originally came from Santa Fe in Bantayan Island.   He came from a family that has a very long history of martials and mystical tradition.   His cousin, Floro Villabrialle, was the most famous Arnis master of Hawaii.  His youngest uncle, Regino Ellustrisimo, was an Arnis master in Stockton, USA.  Both men were mentioned in Dan Inosanto’s book on Filipino martial arts.  However, the most famous of his 4 direct paternal uncles, and the most powerful fighter of the 5 brothers (some say he has more than 7 uncles) was Melecio Ilustrisimo, one of the most famous Kali masters of the Philippines of the early 20th Century, being influential in northern Cebu – Bantayan and Bohol islands.  All his forbears were expert warriors and were known to posses strange mystical powers.

Grandmaster Ilustrisimo’s students, fondly call him “Tatang” which  means “grandfather”.  Tatang learnt Arnis under the tutelage of his father (Isidro Illustrisimo) and uncles (especially the famous Melecio Ilustrisimo) in the old way.  There were 3 famous Eskrima families in Cebu at that time:-  the Ilustrisimos,  the Saavedras,  and the Romos.

Footwork was one of the first things he had to master.  As a tiny boy, he was put on a small table and his teachers would use sticks to beat his legs.  He had to learn how to avoid the blows.  He was also put on 3 half coconut shells in a triangular pattern and given the same harsh treatment.  This footwork is known as Tatlong Bao in the Ilustrisimo family.

As a result he has mastered evasion and dodging at an early age.  This is a training that Melecio Ilustrisimo himself thoroughly mastered as he was said to have nailed one foot to the ground and challenge all and sundry to defeat him.  No one could,  and that footwork is called “Walong Apak” (Nail Footwork) in Kalis Ilustrisimo.  These skills of evasive footwork have all been mastered by Grandmaster Antonio Illustrisimo.

He learnt the solo and double baston, espada daga, daga, bolo (sword), dos manos (a long stick/sword – roughly equivalent to the Samurai’s sword) and various “weapons of convenience”.   In particular, as a speciality, Grandmaster Ilustrisimo is noted for is his expertise in bladed weapons – something which many modern Grandmasters of Arnis can not lay proper claim to since their real practical experience concentrated on the rattan sticks. (Claims by most systems that they can use swords are disputable and only partially true).  This expertise as a swordman is not merely from personal experience and practice, but is the legacy of his family art of Ilustrisimo Kali which is a bladed art that stretches so far back in the family line that nobody could remember when it started.

As a boy, the young Ilustrisimo had a very tough, stubborn, determined and indominatable spirit. When he heard of a far country called ‘America’, he decided to go there – at the age of 9 years old!   When his parents would not  listen to his panderings, he ‘took’ some family money and a machete, and again, ‘took’ a small rowing boat and paddled out to the sea to what he thought would be America, not realising how far America really is.  He fortunately chance across a ship.  The sailors aboard were  surprised to see a young boy rowing out in the sea.  Out of curiousity, perhaps concern as well, there approached him and asked him where he was going.  “I am going to America in this boat!” was the confident answer.  The sailors rocked in laughter.  They somehow persuaded him to come with them.   Of course, he did not get to America.  But he did sail to a few ports, still not quite realising that America is still very, very far away……….

At a port, he chance on a family friend who recognised him, but not wishing to betray the high ideals of this young boy, he took him to the south as that friend was a Muslim.  There the young boy grew up – strong, determined, proud and skillful in combat as ever.  He was adopted into a the royal court as an adopted son of the Sultan of Sulu.  (This was Hadji Butu who ascended to become HH Hadji Mohammad Jamalul Kiram II, the Sultan of Sulu)

While in the South, he was priviledged to train in the the best of teachers that the royal court could have.  He also trained with Pedro Cortes, another very famous master in the Mindanao region, who was used by the government to control the ‘Rebelious South’.   Pedro Cortes was a close friend a sparring partner of his father Isidro Ilustrisimo.

Then one day, he was drinking at a beer house, he got into dispute with another man.  The man drew his sword to kill Tatang, but the defty young boy beat him to the draw and, with one stroke of his own barong (Tatang’s favourite type of sword), he cut  off the enemy’s head.  The victim was left a headless man running wildly before collapsing.  Since this was in self defence, this would have normally been ‘okay’ under the rules of that Islamic society, but the matter was complicated by his being under the influence of the drink (much frown upon), and plus the fact that the victim was from another royal clan that was a rival to the Sultan’s clan.   To avoid inter clan warfare,  the Sultan was forced to ‘exiled’ the young offender.   The Sultan gave him a gift of money and sent under escort to a British ship to head home.   He was only 17 years old then.

He returned to his parent’s place.  They had not seen him since he left as a young boy (this indicates his spirit of determination and independence – and his courage to live away from home without his parent’s guidance) and thought he was dead.  They were over-joyed to receive a telegram saying he was returning.   But they couldn’t recognise him.  A proud young man in Muslim dress walked towards them from the ship and it was only when he greeted them that they realised it was him.

He soon left to become a sailor, but when he had the oppotunity, he would continue to train in the fighting tradition of his family line.

Tatang used to hang around “rough places”.  He is well known amongst the wharfies and bars.  That was where he fought many times and honed his fighting skills.  I have met many Arnis masters who are very good in what  they do, but some of them privately admitted to me that even they are extremely careful when going to such areas that Tatang frequents because fighting and killing in bar/street fights is very different, and much more dangerous, than fighting an Arnis dual.

His life as a sailor gave him the oppotunity to travel from place to place.  This provided oppotunities to contest fighters from other far-off regions – America, India,  Europe, Australia……………..  He fought on many occassions, and was never defeated.

For example, he responded to a grandmaster match in Singapore to compete against a great Indonesian Penchak Silat grandmaster.  The Indonesian climbed into the ring, warmed up, all ready to fight, but when he faced Tatang, he simply refused to fight and surrendered.   Grandmaster Ilustrisimo said that is the highest art – to defeat an opponent without fighting him.  Tatang was said to have used his ‘orascion’ or spiritual power to overcome the opponent.  Grandmaster Illustrisimo thus won the prize money of $5,000. (Note:- Indonesian masters are experts in the use of spiritual power to overpower their opponents, but in this instance, Tatang’s power must have overwhelmed his expert opponent).

Grandmaster Ilustrisimo used to participate in Arnis matches in the fiestas in the local barrios occasionally when not at sea.  However, due to his fondness for the blade, and his reputation as a fighter-killer, not many masters would dare to fight him.  He only knows how to fight naturally – without restrictions – something that is not very comfortable for other masters.  The only rule is the terms of defeat – when to stop the fight.  He laments that he had to accept fights during his travels to practise a little of his art.  eg.  He fought a master in Calcutta.  He also had some fights in the Middle East.

Grandmaster Ilustrisimo, however, had lots of practice during World War II where, as a guerilla, his boss often sent him on missions to kill both Japanese soldiers and local conspirators.  He is said to have killed groups of people at a time.  So reliable were his services that his code name in the guerilla movement was ‘The Executioner’.

In Manila, Grandmaster Ilustrisimo lived in Tondo, near the wharf area which was a very rough neighbourhood.  Intimidation, robberies, muggings, fights and killings were common.  Together with his friends (some of whom are well known to Western students of Arnis – Floro Villabraille, Jose Mena and Felicissimo Dizon), he fought these muggers, bullies and intimidators whenever they caused trouble.  This ‘Gang of Four’ joked that since they were cleaning the docks of these troublemakers for the Police, they are in fact the ‘De Facto Dock Police’.  (Note:- None of them, or their students, were actually employed as Police or security guards there, as some Westerners were lead to believe).

Grandmaster Ilustrisimo hung around his friends whenever he was not at sea.   Occassionally, he would spar with them.  Accounts independently related by various old sources who hung around them confirmed that Grandmaster Illustrisimo had sparred with Felicissimo Dizon quite a few times and was more than a match for him.  It is also said that mutual Arnis friends wanted to arrange a formal match (ie. prize fighting) between Grandmaster Ilustrisimo and Felicissimo Dizon.  Grandmaster Ilustrisimo, being a seasoned prize fighter, readily accepted.  But the great Dizon turned down the offer citing that Grandmaster Illustrisimo is a larger man, a taller man with a longer reach, and thus they are in different categories and should not be matched.  (Dizon was a formidable fighter with few defeats, most notably of which was from the great Illaus Romo.  Also, a scheduled match between Dizon, Delphin Lopez and Cacoy Canette did not eventuate also because Dizon failed to turn up – according to Cacoy Canette).

While sojorned in Manila in the late 1930s, a young lad around 15 or 16 years old called Angel Cabales, became a staunch student of Felicissimo Dizon.   A few years later, he left for USA (1939) and became internationally famous as the founder of Cabales Serada Eskrima which is very widespread in USA.  (Angel was said to have learnt from Tatang too, but both Tatang and his students told me he is not Tatang’s student.  He only learnt from Tatang because he knew how good Tatang was.  He was regarded as Dizon’s student – Tatang does not pinch the students of his friends.  In fact, Tatang only accepted students from the public in the mid 1970s when he was already in his mid seventies.  It is admitted that Tatang did show and teach his personal friends,  but they were never regarded as ‘students’.   They were his friends.   Such close friends included Felicissimo Dizon and the famous Floro Villabrialle,  who was his cousin.  I believe Timoteo Maranga was one such friend during the war time.  Besides that,  Tatang did not teach anybody who came to enquire)

Grandmaster Ilustrisimo used to frequent bars in the rough areas of Manila.  He often got into fights in such hotspots.  He had been arrested at least 17 times for killing, but he was always lucky to prove his innocence as self defence and was released every time.  The last time he killed was when he was over 90 years old.  He nearly went to jail for that.

Grandmaster Ilustrisimo retired from sea-faring in his advanced years, but not from active practice.  Even in his old age, he  received challenges from young fighters eager to build a name for themselves by unfairly bumping off an old man, but  he survived and gave them a hiding instead.

In his advanced years, Grandmaster Ilustrisimo was partially blind, but he can still spar with his students using real bolos (swords) and exert control not to harm them.  How does he “see” the student’s incoming bolos when he cannot properly see ordinary objects is still a mystery to most, but Dan Inosanto mentioned in his book that (Ilustrisimo’s cousin) Floro Villabrille’s favourite master was a blind princess.  (Some sources indicate that this ‘princess’ was actually not blind, but partially blind, just like Tatang.  And not a princess of Samar, nor Princess Josephina, but daughter of a chief.  She was known to possess some mystical powers.  Also, this story later as changed by later generations to ‘main’ or ‘best’ teacher -  instead of ‘favourite’ teacher – in the sentimental sense, not favourite as ‘best’ teacher).   Tatang insisted that while in Manila,  he actually tutored Floro Villabrialle, who, earlier, was a student of his uncle Melecio Ilustrisimo.  Tatang and was ‘unimpressed’  that the Americans were given the impression that Villabrialle’s main or best teacher was Princess Josephina.


Antonio “Tatang” Ilustrisimo (1904 – 1997) was the Grand Master of Kali Ilustrisimo, a Filipino martial art bearing his family name.

Early life
Born in Bagong, Bantayan, Cebu in 1904. As a boy he studied eskrima from his father. At the age of nine he decided to travel to the United States, and stowed away on a boat he thought was headed for America. In actuality, he arrived in Mindanao, in the southern Philippine islands.

The Martial Arts
Antonio Alulud Ilustrisimo was one of the most well respected eskrimadors of the Philippines; He is famed for winning countless duels and street encounters, as well as serving as a guerrilla against the invading Japanese forces during World War II. GM Ilustrisimo was never defeated in combat, and earnt great respect as a result of his brave exploits against the Japanese.

In 1976 Antonio ‘Tatang’ Ilustrisimo accepted his first students Antonio Diego and Epifanio ‘Yuli’ Romo. After Tatang’s passing in 1997, Tony Diego was elected head of Kali Ilustrisimo. Other notable students include – Rey Galang, Christopher Ricketts and Edgar Sulite.

Antonio Ilustrisimo has been featured in many periodicals and Martial Arts publications. His First apperance was in The book titled  Masters of Arnis, Kali, and Eskrima by Edgar Sulite. His life and art were also featured in the book titled Filipino Martial Culture by Mark Wiley. The art of Kalis Ilustrisimo had a section in the book Filipino Fighting Arts: Theory and Practice by Mark Wiley. The book titled The Secrets of Kalis Ilustrisimo was released in the United States. It was authored by two of his most prominent students, Antonio Diego and Christopher Ricketts.