Author Topic: Encounters with a Grandmaster: by Mike Belzer  (Read 15022 times)


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Encounters with a Grandmaster: by Mike Belzer
« on: November 29, 2006, 09:22:55 AM »
Woof All:

A hearty woof of thanks to my friend Mike Belzer for kindly sharing the following copyrighted material with me and trusting me in using my judgement in how to share it. ?So please note this material IS copyrighted by Mike. ?Please DO NOT post it elsewhere. ?Please simply direct people with whom you want to share it here.

Thank you.
Crafty Dog

 ?Encounter With a Grand Master


 ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? By


 ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?Michael Belzer

 ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?





Throughout my martial art career, I have been blessed with what can only be called ?fantastic luck? when it comes to finding, meeting and training with some of the most accomplished martial artists alive. ?This started back in 1974, at the age of 18, when I traveled to Japan for a year and met Sensei Donn F. Draeger. ?Most people who are interested in the history and culture of martial arts know the name Donn F. Draeger. ?Not only was he a scholar who wrote more than 20 books on a variety of arts from ?judo to classical kenjutsu to pentjak-silat and many more; he also developed a comprehensive system of investigation known as hoplology which is designed as a method to study all fighting systems in detail. ?Draeger himself was a professional warrior as a U.S. Marine officer seeing action in Korea and Manchuria. ?An imposing figure at 6? 2? 240 lbs. ?all muscle, he had ?been there, done that with all of the modern Japanese sport disciplines (judo, karate-do, kendo) and found them lacking in terms of combative ?reality and application?. ?His personal training was focused on what is termed the koryu or ancient styles of weapon systems used by the samurai fighting man. ?Along with his personal martial arts training Draeger would travel for three or four months of the year ?On Safari? in remote areas of the world seeking out native practitioners of obscure fighting systems, who still used them for personal survival. ?Much of his work was concentrated in the Indonesian archipelago focusing on various pentjak silat styles of Malaysia, Sumatra and Java.


While in Japan I was invited to study at the stick fighting (jojutsu) dojo where Draeger trained when he came into Tokyo from his hometown of Narita. ?Over the year that I was training at the dojo, I only trained with him personally a few times, but as I was preparing to leave to go back to the states he told me that if I was interested in learning more about hoplology he would stay in touch by letter and fill me in on the details. ?I told him that I was interested and over the next 5 years I maintained a relationship with him through letters that culminated in being invited to travel with him from Japan into Thailand and then take a 25 hr. train ride from Bangkok down into Malaysia and the island of Penang. ?During the summer of 1979, I spent three amazing weeks training and traveling with Draeger. ?We practiced stick fighting as part of an international group of jojutsu exponents who meet every three years for a centralized training. ?After the 5-day camp, I was privileged to be introduced to a variety of master-instructors of different styles including Indian silambam (stick fighting), Chinese shaolin, Malaysian pentjak silat and combative tai chi chuan. ?Throughout all of these meetings, Draeger explained how he used hoplology to study the fighting systems and put them into historical context. ?Many times he told me ?If you really want to learn about a fighting art, you must go to it?s source. ?Go to the country of origin, find the native practitioners and ask them to show you their art?.


As I was preparing to fly out of Malaysia, I asked Draeger for advice as to ?what to do next? in terms of my own martial art training. ?His reply was to ?find a weapons based system and focus on that. ?Empty hand systems can only take you so far. ?To understand fighting and combat you must train using weapons?. ?As we said goodbye at the airport I shook his hand and said ?This was such an amazing experience, ?saying ?thank you? just doesn?t convey what I am trying to say?. ?Draeger smiled ?No words need to be said?.


By September of ??79 I had found the Kali Academy located in Torrance, California and began training there under Guros Richard Bustillio and Dan Inosanto. ?The Filipino arts of kali, escrima, and arnis ?were all weapons based systems that also had extremely effective empty hand applications. ?I have to say that my training at the Academy was the beginning of my ?graduate school? in the martial arts. ?Growing up from the age of nine practicing jujutsu, traveling to Japan to study aikido and jojutsu, meeting and traveling with Donn F. Draeger and now training at the Kali Academy were the realization of many of my martial arts ?dreams?.


I followed Guro Inosanto as he opened up different schools in Culver City and Marina del Rey. ?Between 1979 and 1985 I progressed through the phases of training, gained an understanding of the basic elements, training methods and weapons of the Filipino fighting arts. ?By mid ?85, an opportunity came to travel to the Philippines and ?go to the source? to see how these arts were practiced in their native environment. ?I jumped at the chance, plunked down the credit card and prepared for a trip that would take about 3 months. ?I was 28, in excellent shape and felt like I could ?hold my own? if I had to. ? ?My goal was to travel throughout the islands, meet a variety of instructors and document their different styles. ?I had no contacts to meet when I arrived. ?It would be a ?catch-as-catch can? traveling style?




As I stepped off the bus in front of the Manila YMCA, I noticed a young man leaning against a wall watching the bus unload. ?I grabbed my backpack (which happened to have two rattan sticks strapped to it?s side) and walk toward the front desk. ?As I waited to check in, the young man approached and asked where I was from. ??I am from the U.S. and I came to study the Filipino martial arts?. ?The young man smiled and said that he practiced arnis and introduced himself as Roberto Morales. ?We chatted a bit and within just a few minutes, Roberto told me ?I can take you to my arnis teacher. ?His name is Antonio Ilustrisimo and he is a famous teacher with a fearsome reputation here in the Philippines?.


The first decision I had to make was what to do with my all the gear in my backpack. ?This YMCA had you sharing the room with another traveler ? a complete stranger. ?He was not in the room when I opened the door so I had to decide: ?Do I take all my gear with me along with all my money? ?I decided to leave the gear and take the money with me. ?Sure, most of it was in Traveler?s Checks but I did not look forward to dealing with getting robbed on my first day in country!


With the gear stashed, I moved out with Roberto and we started to walk through the streets of Manila. ?Things were getting more and more ?ghetto like?; corrugated tin buildings, narrow streets congested with people, ?jeepnys?, chickens and dogs. As we wound through a maze of streets, a couple of thoughts occurred to me:


Young Roberto could stick a knife in me and take whatever the ?rich Americano? was carrying.
I had no idea where I really was and did not know how to get back to the YMCA on my own.

However, even with these concerns, my ?spidey-sense? was not activated and Roberto and I walked and talked as we wound through the narrow streets and alleys. ?Although I did not know it at the time, the area of Manila we were walking through was infamous for being ?dangerous and violent?. ?Many muggings and gang attacks took place in this ghetto of Manila. ?As we moved through the streets, I noticed that Roberto moved deliberately and nodded in recognition to several people.


 After about 30 minutes of walking, Roberto announced, ?We?re here!? ?We walked though a small outdoor basketball court where the local kids were playing and Roberto called out ?Tatang!? ?Tatang means ?Father? and is the term that Ilustrismo?s students used to refer to him as a sign of respect. ?An old man opened the curtain and nodded at me. ?Roberto spoke to him in Tagalog and told him that I was a martial artist from the states and I was interested in learning about arnis. ?Ilustrisimo smiled and invited us to come inside. ?To say that we were in ?tight quarters? was an understatement. ?We were in a corrugated tin hut about the size of a single apartment. ?There were two bunk beds inside along with a kitchen area. ?Ilustrisimo lived there with his wife and two others. ?Almost immediately, Ilustrisimo reached up into the ceiling and pulled down a metal pipe that had two fine/flexible metal ?feelers? on the ?business end? of the stick. ?Ilustrisimo said, ?I attack, you block?. ?He gave me angles 1 & 2 and each time I blocked the pipe, the metal ?feelers? ended up in my eyes. ?He smiled and said it was one of his ?special weapons?. ?Then he asked to see more of my movements with the stick. ?I demonstrated various techniques both solo and using Roberto as a partner. ?Ilustrisimo and Roberto spoke together and then Roberto said to me ?Tatang says your movements are ?very beautiful? but they are not what he does. ?If you would like to train with us we meet at Rizal Park every morning. ?You are invited.? ?? I?ll be there.? ?I said. ?Roberto escorted me back to the ?Y? and we found dinner along with a few San Miguels and I was off to sleep.




I met with Ilustrisimo and his small band of students every morning from about 7:00 am to 9:00 am. ?His senior instructor, Tony Diego was present during most of these sessions and spent a good amount of time drilling with me over the next month. ?We worked on basics that are common to all of the Filipino stick and knife fighting styles: ?angles of attack with the stick, evasive foot work, blocks and deflections, follow up strikes, stick and knife combinations and double sticks.

As we worked on these basics I asked Ilustrisimo and Tony the same question I planned to ask all of the instructors I met on my trip: ??What is the difference between arnis, escrima and kali??. ?Depending on who I asked, ?I received different answers but what it really came down to as a practical matter is that arnis, escrima, and kali are all different names for systems of stick, knife and empty hand systems all with very similar movements, theories, drills and techniques. They all display a distinctly ?Filipino flow? for lack of a better word. ?The geographical and historical truth is that there are as many names for the different fighting styles of the Philippines as there are individual islands and tribal groups in those islands. ?Ilustrisimo?s personal fighting style is a perfect example of this fact. ?When I first met young Roberto Morales, he told me he would take me to meet his arnis teacher. ?When I actually met Ilustrisimo and he talked about his style he referred to it as escrima. ? Years later, when I read the first book on Ilustrisimo?s style titled:


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Re: Encounters with a Grandmaster: by Mike Belzer
« Reply #1 on: November 29, 2006, 09:25:17 AM »
The Secrets of Kalis Ilustrisimo by Tony Diego and Christopher Ricketts, Diego stated:


 ?The Ilustrisimo system of escrima is known by the name of the family that rightly deserves the honor: ?Ilustrisimo.  We prefer to call it kalis Ilustrisimo (kalis means sword), but it is also known as olistrisimo escrima (olisi means stick)  and Ilustrisimo arnis. By whatever name we call it, it still is and ever will be, the fighting art of Antonio Ilustrisimo.?


The secret is that there are no secrets.  According to Ilustrisimo, ?I do not specialize nor favor any combat range.  Everything depends on my opponent and the development and evolution of the fight?.  However, his use of the thrust was a distinguishing characteristic of Ilustrisimo?s personal style that became immediately apparent to me.  In fact, from all of the basic blocks and deflections Ilustrisimo would simply thrust the tip of the stick forward into the appropriate ?soft target?: eyes, throat, diaphram, groin, armpit, etc.  As he demonstrated this on me he simply said ?For combat.?

The Ilustrisimo style is based on the use of the blade.  Many different sizes and shapes of blades are used, but the barong was a personal favorite of Ilustrisimo.  The barong is a ?leaf shaped? blade that has been known to take off a limb if necessary.  Ilustrisimo should know, as his first life and death encounter came at age 15, when he was accosted by a Muslim fanatic who took offense at Ilustrisimo buying beer.  According to Tony Diego ?When Tatang ignored him, the Muslim cursed him vehemently and advanced on Tatang, drawing his kris.  As he prepared to slash at Ilustrisimo, Tatang drew his own barong, and cut off the attacker?s head in one motion called tumbada.?  As Ilustrisimo himself related the tale for Mark Wiley in his book Filipino Martial Culture, ??he strikes at me but I beat him (to the strike).  His head is cut off by me and the body run away.  It did not go down right away and the blood was still running everywhere.  His eyes were intense and staring at me from his head on the ground, so I thought maybe he has anting-anting (spiritual protection).  Wiley (who has made a series of ten research trips to the Philippines) also reports in his book that Ilustrisimo?s reputation as a fearsome fighter and participant in several of the infamous ?death-matches? of the Philippines is recognized by other master-instructors throughout the islands.  ?? Along the way, Ilustrisimo encountered martial arts masters from around the world and fought in more ?death-matches? than perhaps any other Filipino martial arts master.  Ilustrisimo is among the most respected and feared kali masters that the art has ever known ? as indicated by his nickname, ?Tatang?, a Tagalog term of respect.?   Wiley met Ilustrisimo at age 87.  I met him 15 years earlier at age 72 and he was quite ready to mix it up with anyone at anytime.


While there are no  ?secret techniques? in the art of kalis Ilustrisimo, there are two very important fighting strategies.  One is termed enganyo or feint.  The enganyo is designed to fake or make the opponent create an opening that can be attacked. Connected to enganyo is prakcion ( or fraction) which involves ?beating him to the punch? using more timing than speed.  Other strategies that are emphasized in this style are:

Keep calm and relaxed.
Know your distance.
Use the shortest path for your trajectory.
Put the weight of your body behind your strikes
Guide the opponents force rather than meet it.
Be an honest and good man, free of guilt and clear of mind and conscience.
Know when to break the rules.



During the month I was training with Ilustrisimo in Manila I shared with Roberto my plan to travel to other islands to meet different instructors and view their styles of escrima, arnis and kali.  One day, Roberto came to me and said ?Tatang has agreed to accompany you on your trek to the other islands.  He will act as your interpreter and bodyguard.  You will need them both.?   I was surprised and frankly a little stunned at this offer.  My first plan was to go on this island trek alone, but after talking with both Roberto and Ilustrisimo, we decided that Roberto should also go with us to act as the ?advance man? and make the initial inquires whenever we arrived at a new location.  By the end of the evening we had a three man team and we dubbed ourselves ?The Three Musketeers!?


We planned to be gone for about a month and the only payment Ilustrisimo asked me to make was to provide enough rice for his family while he was away and to pay his expenses while he was on the road with us.  Roberto asked for the same thing and I agreed.  Then Roberto said ?You should give me half of your money.  I will hold it for you?.  This really surprised me and I asked him why.  ? Because you are considered a rich American and will be looked at as a target as we travel.  If you get ?rolled? and have all of your money stolen, we will all be stuck somewhere without anyway to get home.  You are the only one of us that has any real money!?  After thinking about it for a few minutes, I realized that Roberto was right and I really needed to do just what he said.  I did so and through out the trip Roberto would give me a daily money report about expenses and what needed to be spent.  He was an honest man.




The first island we visited was Mindoro located just south of Luzon.  Roberto ?made the way? for us and knew of a mountain tribe known as the ?Mangyan?.  As we hiked up the mountain, Ilustrisimo kept up with us easily.  He just took it slow and steady and surprised us by saying the last time he ?walked in the mountains? was when he was 17! 

We made contact with a tribe called the Mangyan Hananoo.  We entered their village of thatched huts and quickly became the ?big news? of the day:  Outsiders from down below and a white man is with them!  The children gathered around us laughing and trying to touch us.  We met the head of the village and Tatang was able to communicate with him and explain what we were doing.  The ?chief? asked us to demonstrate ?your arnis? and we all did so.  The elders of the village were present for our demonstration and expressed interest in what we were doing.  They showed us their ?jungle bolos? that they carried and said that the weapons the Mangyans used were all for hunting.  They used the bow and arrow, the spear and the blow gun.  There are no specialized systems of training for these weapons other than the hunt itself with the children going out with the more experienced men.  They further explained that all of the Mangyan tribes used to live near the coast, but over the years ?civilization? has pushed them farther and farther into the mountains.  They were concerned that this might keep happening, but when I asked them if they would fight to stop that, the chief told me that ?fighting will only bring bloodshed, pain and suffering.  We will retreat further into the mountains.?  I asked him ?What if someone was coming to harm your family??  The chief answered me that he would ?wait in a tree and use my blowgun?.

After our demonstration and discussion, we played some games together.  I asked them to show me some ?competition games? and they showed me how to ?foot wrestle?.  I exchanged that with arm wrestling and everyone had a good laugh.

We decided to move on, said our goodbyes and worked our way down the mountain to a lagoon where we all took a much-needed bath in the middle of the jungle.


As we continued our trek through the islands, we visited Cebu, Negros, Mindanao, Bantayan, and even the small island of Jolo at the southern tip of the Philippines.  We traveled by banca (boat), bus, jeepney, and on foot.  Along the way I had unique opportunity to interview Ilustrisimo about many topics, train with him privately and gain more insight into his history and background.  He was a spiritual person who  prayed twice a day.  A practicing Christian, he also integrated Muslim beliefs and the Filipino concepts of oracyon and anting-anting.   Oracyon are prayers that are said to contain special powers and are usually written on small scraps of paper and kept with the individual.  Ilustrisimo has an oracyon tattooed across his chest says that this prayer makes people tend to be nice to him and not know why.  Anting-anting are little amulets that have been imbued with special, protective powers.  Ilustrisimo is adamant that the powers of both oracyon and anting-anting have kept him safe in his battles, especially when he fought against the Japanese.

We also discussed the mental and emotional qualities that Ilustrisimo felt were critical to his style. The mind-set is called Dakip-Diwa and according to Ray Galang, Ilustrisimo?s most senior student in the United States, ?Dakip-Diwa is the secret behind the reputation, the art, the skill of the Filipino warrior, The Mandrigma.  In the practice and cultivation of this mind-set, the Mandrigma develops, trains and controls his mind for combat situations until Dakip-Diwa takes supreme and absolute control of his body emotions and spirit.?

The concept of Dakip-Diwa seems most similar to the Japanese concept of mushin or ?no-mind.?  There is no preconceived idea of what is to happen in a combative encounter.  Your mind is much like a mirror that simply reflects what is happening and you respond spontaneously and appropriately.


We made our way to the Visayan island of Cebu which many practitioners consider to be the ?home of escrima? and located the famous Doce Pares school of the Canete Clan.  It was a Sunday and while I waited outside the school I learned that Cacoy Canete required that all of his students practice judo on Sundays as a pre-requisite to participate in his escrima training.  He felt that the throws, takedowns, joint locks and grappling techniques were all applicable in the ?close quarters? of a fight and in fact integrated them into his own style of escrima he called ?Eskrido?


I worked out with the judo club and had some good tussles with the young men that showed up that day.  I met Guro Cacoy Canete and he invited us back the next day to watch their regular escrima training.  In fact, they prepared a big demonstration for us and we were shown a variety of techniques for training with single and double sticks, stick and knife, staff, bull whip and many empty hand techniques.  Several of Guro Cacoy?s uncles were there - they were also in their 70s and contemporaries of Ilustrisimo.  I saw them talking off to the side and they were all laughing and showing each other their different ?battle scars?.




The ?Three Musketeers? had many more adventures as we visited Ilustrisimo?s home island of Bantayan and he was ?welcomed home? by the entire village; then we made the long boat ride down into the southern Philippines, the land of the Moros, visiting the cities of Davao and Zamboanga; and finally down to the little island of Jolo where Ilustrisimo also spent many years as a youth.  In each of these places we were successful in finding instructors of various styles, interviewing them

and seeing demonstrations of their own personal styles and systems.  It was for me ?a martial dream come true?.  After our month of trekking, Ilustrisimo announced that he had to return home to his family.  I also realized that it was time for me to return to the United States and see what was waiting for me back home.


My ?fantastic luck? was there for me that day when I stepped off the bus in Manila and was taken to meet this Grand Master of the Filipino fighting arts ? Antonio ?Tatang? Ilustrisimo.  Born in 1904, Ilustrisimo finally passed away in 1997 at the age of 93.  He was a strong man, a fighter, a good teacher and most of all, a kind man who was willing to help a stranger.  The story I have related in this article is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of Ilustrisimo?s amazing life and his personal style of combat.  If you are interested in learning more about him I encourage you to locate the following books:


The Secrets of Kalis Ilustrisimo by Tony Diego and Christopher Ricketts
Filipino Martial Culture  by Mark Wiley
Filipino Fighting Arts by Mark Wiley

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Re: Encounters with a Grandmaster: by Mike Belzer
« Reply #2 on: November 29, 2006, 11:21:26 AM »
Incredible ?fantastic luck? or possibly fate was on his side....
"You see, it's not the blood you spill that gets you what you want, it's the blood you share. Your family, your friendships, your community, these are the most valuable things a man can have." Before Dishonor - Hatebreed