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‘ipods and Eye-Jabs’ A Two Day Journey with Guru Dan Inosanto.

The train journey from Preston to Edinburgh was nearly over. I couldn’t believe it. I was literally minutes away from training with none other than Guru Dan Inosanto, protégé of Bruce Lee, John Lacoste and martial arts aficionado in his own right.

My instructor, Jon Ryley and I collected our belongings from the train, hailed a taxi and made our way to Leith Academy. Upon arrival at the academy I felt the bitter-sweet feelings of adrenaline begin to kick in, as we proceeded down a corridor following signs for the ‘Dan Inosanto Seminar’. We stepped into the training hall quietly (aside from a creaking door-hinge) as Guru Dan already had the entire room captivated. And silent. A few looks headed our way but we were only minutes late. Not the best room full of people to disturb I thought.

Jon and I placed our bags down and waited for Guru Dan to finish speaking. I was amazed by what I saw. The first thing that came to mind, when I saw Guru Dan was that he was a smaller, faster version of the Jedi Master Yoda. He beamed vitality and enthusiasm. Now, if I was to be brutally honest I had trouble remembering the first few minutes in the room as I was completely and utterly star-struck. Sad, I know, but that’s the truth.

Rob and Mike, along with my new friends Brian and Neil, were already there and so explained what we had missed, which wasn’t too much thankfully. After a warm up and play with some drills, Guru Dan had us return to the mat whereby I witnessed one of martial arts’ true orators and teachers. Guru Dan is a literal encyclopaedia of knowledge or as he phrased it an Ipod full of songs. Allow me to expand upon this.

Guru Dan eloquently likened the martial arts to music. Everybody in the room, he explained, would have their own preferred melodies, harmonies, rhythms and so forth that they can bring to a discussion about music. No one in that room has the ‘best’ music, nobody has exactly the ‘same’ music on their ipod, we simply keep the ones that we like as individuals. In essence we are espousing one of the main principles of JKD ‘Absorbing what is useful’ to us.

Guru Dan’s humility shone through as he continued by explaining that everybody in the room has something to share which you may never have ‘listened’ to before, himself included. To actually hear such a prominent martial artist say this, was truly inspiring. Needless to say Guru Dan articulated this point far more gracefully than I have and whatever music he has in his play-lists seems to be damn good!

Rather than merely listing every drill, which took place over the course of the two days, I believe it is more useful to explain the themes of what was taught, as that way it can be researched and experimented with individually.

Guru Dan gave everybody a talk on the history of the Philipines and how various arts have stemmed from the area. This was extremely fascinating and has provoked me to delve further. Guru Dan went on to discuss Filipino Dirty Boxing (Panantukan) and how it differs from Western Boxing, guiding us through ways of trapping, head-butting, unbalancing and so forth whilst in the punching range.  This again was incredibly interesting and could be integrated seamlessly into what you normally do. An extra song had been downloaded.

 

What I found to be particularly remarkable about Guru Dan was his ability to switch, or perhaps more accurately ‘blend’ between ‘styles’ without you being aware of any change. As has been said many times, there only so many ways to hit someone, but Guru Dan was able to physically display this notion in an elegant fashion. He would effortlessly refer to various martial arts as he was explaining concepts, flowing from JKD to Muay Thai, to Kali, to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and so on, without changing the appearance of what he was doing. It was not possible to say “he’s moved into a boxing stance, he’s going to do boxing now” likewise, when he was on the ground with his opponent in the guard he proceeded to combine a triangle choke with eye-gouges and vertical elbows, incorporating kino-mutai into his BJJ.

 

To say that watching this display of martial skill is magic, is not hyperbolic. I liken Guru Dan to an expert magician, with flawless sleight of hand. Within each technique demonstrated there must have been at least six or seven main ‘sleights’ occurring, that I could see anyway, which influence the overall illusion. The only difference being that Guru Dan’s illusions, were very, very real, not cheap parlour tricks.

After spending time playing with techniques in order to understand footwork, flow, touch sensitivity etc we were back at the mat, engrossed in what Guru Dan had to say to us. Those in attendance were given background on Guru Dan’s own inspirations and instructors through the years, right back to when he was in the Paratroopers and further still as a student under his Uncle.

Guru Dan spoke in great length about a lot of his past Instructors, however two in particular stood out for me. One of the particular men that he still has an extremely high regard for is, Grand Master John Lacoste, a seemingly enigmatic yet brilliant Kali practitioner who greatly influenced Guru Dan’s Escrima /Kali. Guru Dan went to explain and demonstrate some Hubud and Sambrada flow drills from the Lacoste system, giving us all a taste of his speed, power and co-ordination even now.

Guru Dan then began to speak of another Instructor of his. Needless to say, as soon as Guru Dan mentioned the name, Bruce Lee, many eyes began to widen, not excluding my own. Guru Dan told many funny tales about their time together, it was clear that this was a man whom he still misses tremendously and to whom he feels indebted to. Everybody was in good spirits. It was reminiscent of a Primary school scene with the pupils sat on ‘the carpet’ listening attentively to their teacher as Guru Dan took us on a journey through the years. One particular moment that sticks out was when he told us about how Bruce and he were training with focus mitts in the late 1960’s and how martial artists were mocking them. Empty vessels really do make the most noise don’t they? Guru Dan continued, referring to how people found it slightly insulting that he was training with that ‘cocky Chinese kid’, to which he replied, “Yeah, but he’s really good!” During this talk, Guru Dan showed us all pictures that Bruce himself had drawn, “Bruce was a genius” he explained with reverence still on his face. Bruce Lee for Guru Dan, isn’t just a name, it is the name of one of his best friends and mentors, something that we should all remember and respect.

Sadly, as with all things, the end of the second day was drawing to close allowing people time to get a picture with Guru Dan and to also congratulate Rick Young on being presented with his lifetime achievement award under Guru Dan. This was a truly special moment for all whom where there and Rick deserved it entirely. Those who attended the two-day course were presented with a Certificate of Attendance, which everybody appreciated. Of course, I just had to get Guru Dan to sign my Licence and to get a picture with him; these moments in life cannot be missed.

On the way home Jon and I settled ourselves into our train seats and discussed the fantastic time that we had just experienced. I made a note in my journal to remember to do something important when I returned home. To charge my ipod and continue searching for that ultimate, never-ending symphony that is the martial arts.

By Kris Mansfield

1st Dan KJA

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