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Daniel Arca Inosanto (born July 24, 1936) is an American Filipino martial arts (FMA) instructor from California who is best-known as a student of the late Bruce Lee and authority on Jeet Kune Do Concepts.
Dan Inosanto has over 30 years experience in the martial arts and is a world authority in Jun Fan Gung Fu/Jeet Kune Do Concepts and Filipino martial arts.
Sifu Dan was originally introduced into the martial arts at the age of ten. During that summer he was taught Okinawa Te and Jiu-Jitsu by a local from his home of Stockton, California. That experience left a favorable impression on Sifu Dan but as boys will be boys he followed his interest in football and track for the next ten years. At Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington he won a track conference with 9.5 seconds in the 100 yard dash. His senior year he was the leading ground gainer for the football team. Later his primary career would be a Jr. High School Physical Education teacher.
After college in 1957 Sifu Dan took, up Judo from a man called Duke Yoshimura. He trained in Judo until 1959 when he entered the service to become a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division. During his tour of duty he was stationed in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. While stationed there Sifu Dan was exposed to various styles of Karate with exposure to some other arts as well. It was at this time Sifu Dan got his first look at Kenpo Karate.
In 1961, Sifu Dan was discharged from the military service and he moved to Los Angeles, California. He looked for an instructor in the art of Kenpo. This search would lead him to path that would change his life. Sifu Dan found the "Father of American Karate", Kenpo Instructor Ed Parker. For the next several years Sifu Dan would train with Ed Parker and attain a black belt in the Kenpo system.
It was Ed Parker that first inspired Sifu Dan to study Filipino martial arts. Sifu Dan thought the Filipinos had some stickfighting called Eskrima. But Ed Parker informed him that there was a lot more than just stick work to the Filipino martial arts. Sifu Dan later went to his father, who in turn introduced Sifu Dan to many Escrimadors in the local Filipino community. The three of the most prominent where Max Sarmiento, Angel Cabales, and Johnny Lacoste.
In 1964, Ed Parker was organizing his International Karate Championship. During that time Ed Parker needed someone to escort one of his out-of-town guests around town. So Sifu Dan was assigned the task to take care of Sifu Bruce Lee for the weekend. From this meeting Bruce Lee and Sifu Dan started a life long friendship.
In addition to having studied over 20 methods/styles of Filipino martial arts (being an instructor in several), he is an instructor in Muay Thai under Master Chai Sirisute, an instructor in Pentjak Silat under Pendekar Paul De Thouars and Pendekar Herman Suwanda, an instructor in Shoot Wrestling (Shooto) under Yori Nakamura. In keeping with the spirit of always being a student Sifu Dan is currently studying Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under the Machado Brothers.
Sifu Dan has worked both in the television and movie industry as a stunt man, fight choreographer, and trainer on numerous projects. In addition to this SIfu Dan has several instructional videos and has authored several books: "A Guide to Martial Arts Training", "The Filipino Martial Arts", "Jeet Kune Do", and "Absorb What Is Useful".
SIfu Dan has also received the following awards from Black Belt Magazine's Hall of Fame: 1996, - Man of the Year, 1988 - Weapons Instructor of the Year, 1983 - Instructor of the Year, and 1977 - Jeet Kune Do Instructor of the Year.
Like the proverbial Olympian, Dan Inosanto carries the torch ignited by Bruce Lee, originator of jeet kune do. One of the two individuals who assisted Lee in developing his art, Inosanto was later chosen by Lee to head the jeet kune do organization.
"I feel he picked me because I have the ability to teach," said Inosanto, "although in his opinion you're not a teacher, you're a guide. But basically, that's probably where my forte liesto pass on the artwork and to share knowledge."
In the entire nation, Inosanto is one of only three individuals who now provide instruction in the system primarily developed by the best known and most popular martial artist of all time. When asked why instruction in jeet kune do is not readily available to prospective students everywhere, Inosanto said:
"Bruce always wanted our organization to remain very much in the background. And so we've pushed it that way. We've just sort of grown up with this philosophy."
Inosanto said part of Lee's philosophy was that a good martial artist does not have to flaunt his skill.
"He just sort of led us in that direction and we took to it," he said, adding that students come from all over the nation to study under him, apparently encountering few obstacles to their travel.
"But it's always been a very exclusive organization," said Inosanto. "And in our academy, new students are voted into the class."
Inosanto teaches at a Filipino martial arts academy in the Southern California community of Harbor City, where the jeet kune do enrollment currently numbers only about 18.
"It was Bruce's philosophy and policy that you keep the ranks or the quantity down and the quality up," said Inosanto. Lee instructed him never to have more than six students in one class. But Inosanto admits that at times when his class has been crowded, he has taught as many as 12 students at one time.
Born in Stockton, California, Inosanto gained his first instruction in the martial arts during the summer between his fourth and fifth grades in school. His uncle taught him techniques in jujitsu and Okinawan karate.
"But I never really took an interest in such things until I got to college," he said. Attending Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington, where he got his B.A. degree, Inosanto studied judo and karate. In the service he studied Okinawan, Korean and Japanese karate and, after his discharge, settled in Southern California where he began studying under Ed Parker.
From Parker, Inosanto would gain an interest in kenpo and kung fu. And in 1964 he would meet Bruce Lee, under whom he would begin additional training.
"For two years I trained simultaneously under both Ed Parker and Bruce Lee," he said.
"And on Saturdays I taught part of the day for Ed and part of the day for Bruce."
In the years that followed, Inosanto would develop closer ties with Lee, appearing in episodes of the Green Hornet television series and Lee's last film, Game of Death, unfinished at the time of his death.
Recently, after running a ring all day at a large, national martial arts tournament, Dan Inosanto disappeared during the night finals. No, it wasn't a case for the police. It's just that when the tournament promoter gathered and announced all of the luminaries in appearance, Inosanto couldn't be found. He was parked quietly by the refreshment stand discussing martial arts techniques with several competitors.
It was typically Inosantoalways teaching. Rather than wasting time waving at fans, he was getting in a few minutes of pointers for interested martial artists. But by continually shunning the limelight and concentrating on his art, the recognition can't help but sneak up on him. Simply put, it is this all-for-the-arts and to-hell-with-recognition nature that has earned Inosanto the mantle of 1983 BLACK BELT Hall of Fame Instructor of the Year.
He's the model instructor. When not jetting from seminar to seminar, Inosanto can be found in one of his several Southern California schools working with students. He teaches a synthesis of four arts: kali, wing chun, karate and boxing. Each of the four could be a full-time study in and of itself. Inosanto, however, feels a singular art would be a mistake, since defense tactics drawn on just one style can be dangerous in their limitations. And while traditionalists and purists might take some offense in his beliefs, Inosanto can draw on his eclectic background in the martial arts to back him up.
Born and raised in a Filipino household in Stockton, California, his first exposure was by way of an uncle who taught young Dan some judo. It wasn't really a love affair then between Inosanto and the arts as the youth was more interested in playing softball, football or running track. Not until he enlisted in the military did Inosanto become significantly exposed to the martial arts. And with exposure, he grew to love them. During his stint, he picked up elements of Japanese, Okinawan and Korean karate.
After earning a black belt, Inosanto found his interest in the arts reaching a feverish pace; he wanted to learn all that was possible. He became associated with Bruce Lee and studied under him for nearly ten years. Coming from a more traditional martial background, Inosanto was intrigued by Lee's teaching method, the process of amalgamizing 23 different styles into the single element of jeet kune do. Inosanto was especially impressed by the adaptability, a principle that he actively embraces and continues today.
Inosanto has chosen to concentrate on the four arts of kali, wing chun, boxing and karate simply because each one contributes something the others don't. The four build to one final objective: truly learning how to fight. Like Lee also did, Inosanto has synthesized the four to produce a distinctive result, almost a non-style. This lack of style, Inosanto believes, is superior as a singular study of one art would inhibit imagination.
Inosanto's hybrid philosophy also carries forward to his manner of teaching. In a typical conversation to a new student, he can be overheard explaining, "I'm going to let you do it wrong, because if I don't interrupt you, then you'll catch on and eventually get the feel of it. Martial arts are like that. In the beginning classes, I do very little correcting. I could say, 'Your hips should be this way; your body should be that way.'
Forget about all that. First get the whole product.
"A lot of people are worried about the student developing bad habits," Inosanto continues, "but that's not really a problem. If there's something grossly in error, I would stop (the student). But as long as it resembles the technique to a certain degree, and the major body mechanics are there, I let it go. The most important thing is the flow. Don't break the flow."
It's a concept not likely to be embraced by many instructors, perhaps due to the difficulty in its real grasp. But through Inosanto's teaching many combinations of techniques, almost on their own fuel, the whole thing works. And it is this willingness to experiment and explore that sets Inosanto and his instruction apart from most others.
He has contributed more to the martial arts than perhaps any other individual in North America.
He has taught practical self-defense techniques to literally thousands of students, teaching them practical elements of jeet kune do, kali, escrima, Jun Fan kung fu and silat.
He has preserved the philosophies and concepts of his former mentor, the late, great Bruce Lee, and has imparted them to others on three continents.
And yet, it is somewhat of a surprise that Dan Inosanto, Black Belt magazine's 1996 Man of the Year, ever chose the martial arts as his calling in life. Football was his first love while attending Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington, in the mid-1950s. As a running back, Inosanto led the Whitworth football team in rushing in his junior and senior years. In the offseason, he was an accomplished sprinter who was once clocked at 9.5 seconds in the 100-yard dash.
But, upon graduation, this young man's thoughts turned to martial arts. Judo provided him with his first taste of the arts, but soon after entering the United States Air Force, Inosanto was introduced to chito-ryu and several other styles of karate, including kenpo. Inosanto was particularly impressed with the latter system after watching a fellow serviceman embarrass several higher-ranked opponents during sparring sessions.
"He was only a brown belt and he was knocking the hell out of second- and third-degree black belts," Inosanto recalls. After his discharge, Inosanto's interest in kenpo led him to Ed Parker, the so-called "father of American kenpo," who would lay the foundation for Inosanto's future in the arts. Inosanto earned a black belt from Parker, who complemented his student's existing kicking skills with the exceptional hand strikes of kenpo. Inosanto later took up the Filipino arts, training with some of the most heralded instructors in kali and escrima, including Angel Cabales, Max Sarmiento and Johnny Lacoste.
But perhaps the biggest moment in Inosanto's young martial arts career came when he was introduced to Bruce Lee, who had been invited to give a demonstration at Parker's International Karate Championships.
"When I first met Bruce Lee, I couldn't sleep that night," Inosanto says. "I'd studied all these different arts.. but what he did is counter everything [I did] without really trying. It was very frustrating."
Inosanto was impressed with Lee's nontraditional, yet highly practical, approach to training, and he became one of Bruce's students. The two shared a close friendship over the next nine years, until Lee's sudden death in 1973. During that time, Inosanto developed a hybrid phi- losophy of martial arts, choosing elements from different systems that all led to one common goal: fighting proficiency. Lee told him to "take what is useful [from each art] and discard the rest." In 1967, Inosanto became the only student Lee ever awarded a third rank in jeet kune do, the level Bruce considered necessary to teach the system. Inosanto is recognized as one of only three individuals authorized by Lee to teach his fighting systems.
Whether or not he wanted the responsibility, Inosanto became the unofficial spokesman for Lee's jeet kune do system after Bruce's death. Few understand the tremendous pressure of being the mouthpiece for the style created by arguably the greatest martial artist of modern day. The job requires Inosanto to alternately be a historian, instructor, diplomat and policeman of jeet kune do.
Inosanto has accepted these duties without fanfare, and has conducted himself with professional aplomb over the years. He helped create the Jeet Kune Do Society in the 1 980s, an organization dedicated to promoting the art as Lee intended while weeding out the frauds who attempted to use his name for their own personal gain. Although the organization is now defunct, Inosanto continues to spread the true messages of Lee's fighting arts through his weekly seminars around the globe.
Today, at age 60, Inosanto remains one of the martial arts' most respected individuals and one of its greatest ambassadors. Others in the jeet kune do community may not always agree with him, but that doesn't bother Inosanto. He has chosen to go his own, often contro- versial way, but he believes it is the right way, the correct way, and the way his former mentor, Bruce Lee, would have approved if he was still alive. If others don't want to come along for the ride, well, they will merely be missing out on an opportunity to train with one of the true immortals in the martial arts.