THE COMMON THREAD
Interview by Lakhvinder S. Madahar
It’s been twenty years, since the young Rick Faye first came over (England) to assistant Larry Hartsell on his seminar. Since then Rick Faye has returned many times and now owns and operates an extremely successful martial arts school (The Minnesota Kali Group) in America that has been in business for over twenty years. Rick has an impressive reputation for seminars on the arts, as well as self-defence and law enforcement topics. He is much in demand for seminars locally, nationally and internationally. He holds full instructorships under Dan Inosanto in both the Filipino Martial Arts and the Jun Fan Martial Arts/Jeet Kune Do Concepts. He also holds a fifth level instructorship under Dan Inosanto in the Maphilindo Martial Arts. He is a regional director for the Thai Boxing Association, U.S.A., and holds an instructorship in Muay Thai under Master Chai Sirisute. He has instructorships in Wing Chun, Arnis and numerous other arts.
The Minnesota Kali Group has branch schools in Seattle, Washington; White Bear Lake, Duluth and Minneapolis, Minnesota; Madrid, Spain; Wigan, Bournemouth Exeter and now also in Coventry, England. The emphasis is on taking the art to the average people and letting them use it as a personal developmental tool. His main school in Minneapolis has 150 active adult students, and a number of student instructors. The Professional Development Division of the Minnesota Kali Group deals with law enforcement issues, and currently offers intensive two and five day edged weapon defence courses for law enforcement personnel and trainers.
Lucky: Hi Rick, first of all I’ll like to thank you for holding an excellent seminar at our place (Total Martial Arts Academy - Coventry) yesterday and agreeing to an interview at such short notice.
To begin with Rick can you firstly tell the readers, when you started your training within the Martial Arts?
Rick: I started to train in the martial arts in 1972 because I graduated high school in 1976. We had a Hap Ki Do teacher. In Minneapolis we were lucky enough to have a Southern Praying Mantis grandmaster Jin Foon Mark. One of his students taught us Praying Mantis, but it was mostly guys just goofing around in the backyard with bits of judo and whatever we could get a hold of basically.
Lucky: Nearly all kids get involved in some sort of sports games, did you get involved in any of the football or baseball training, if so did help you with your martial arts?
Rick: Yes, Well My father was a football coach (American Football) so I grew up in a family where sports were sort of expected. I wasn’t good at football which was a great disappointment I think to my father; physically I was about a year or two behind everybody else as I was very small as a child. I was just not physically or mentally mature enough to do what he wanted me to do. I’ve often wished I could go back and do it, because it’s a great game. Then I turned to skiing and went through college skiing and actually skied professionally for a little while, well professional/ish (laughs).
Lucky: Your really know for your Kali and Jeet Kune Do, had you trained in any other martial arts styles?
Rick: Yes, before I met Sifu Dan Inosanto I was actually doing some Wing Chun, I had a guy called Bob Larsen he is one of Choi Shin Tsun’s student. He was in Duluth, Minnesota, he was a wonderful guy, a great big dock worker, his version of Wing Chun was very power orientated, and we all liked it. It sort of suited my thinking at the time.
I attended my first weekend seminar with Guro Dan Inosanto at the Degerberg Academy in Chicago, Illinois. I was sold (Clicks fingers) the first time round. So we changed immediately and we’ve followed him ever since. At one time we were able to follow him basically every weekend, we would go two to three weekends a month, Then he did the summer camps, the first camps were held at The California Martial Arts Academy in Irvine. The first year was eight weeks and the second year was four weeks. So it was a long time but nice, really nice.
Lucky: What was the training like? Did you train all day?
Rick: Oh yeah, they were eight hour days; Sifu Inosanto obviously just had a ‘world of things’ to pass onto us.
Lucky: We’ll come back to Guro Inosanto’s experience and influence, Rick. For now can you tell us when you meet up with Sifu Larry Hartsell?
Rick: It was at one of the Irvine camps, I just got on with him really well. I really respect Larry Hartsell; his definitely done more for Jeet Kune Do than most people out there. He has spent so much of his life giving this art to people and people don’t appreciate that he was travelling, sleeping on peoples couches as he was trying to get the art out to people. I think he gave up a good deal of his life just to get that done especially over here in England and Europe. He has spent a lot of time promoting JKD and I think he deserves a lot of credit; he is like a grandfather in this art.
Lucky: The first time most people saw you (including myself) were with Larry Hartsell, I think it was his first weekend seminar at Nino Bernardo’s.
Rick: Yes, He was nice enough to drag me along. You know I was just a kid really, especially where travelling was concerned I was very inexperienced and he was nice enough to put up with me. When you’re a kid you’re trying to figure out jet lag, figure out different food, different cultures and he introduced me all over the world. The U.K., Spain, Germany, throughout the USA, we went all over it was some experience. I didn’t know it then because I never intended to do seminars, never even thought about it. However when I look back on it, I realize he was giving me the opportunity with the people that I was meeting, to come back out again and do seminars on my own and try to help promote this art.
Lucky: How long did you train with Larry Hartsell and what sort of training did you do?
Rick: I think the most important thing for people to know about Sifu Larry Hartsell is the amount of effort he has put in to bringing JKD and Kali to different parts of the world. He has really put a lot of his life into this art and I was lucky enough to have travelled with him. I got to see a lot of things, one of the biggest benefits of travelling with Sifu Hartsell were he would feed me with the focus pads. He is a genius with focus pad drills, they are really simple (most of them) but the reactions that they train are very well thought out; these are things that he has used.
The advice that Sifu Hartsell gave me was always simple and I would always nod my head, but he has always been right. He’s kind of like a father figure that way; everything he told me has turned out to be right. For example when we started travelling he was teaching what they now call “clinch fighting”. We were teaching everything out of the clinch, he was way ahead of his time in that area. He was the first one to emphasize the grappling, that’s emphasis rather than just a side activity. I can tell you for a fact that he had horrible, painful holds he could really lay them on you and I’ve got a real appreciation for them.
I think he’s one of those characters that have slowly shuffled into the background while other people have risen and we don’t give him enough credit. We need to give him more credit; you and I are making a living at this art because of guys like Sifu Hartsell and Sifu Inosanto. There’s only a very few of those guys that really bought it out, everybody wants to be part of it now but only a very few of those guys really spent the time to bring it out at that time.
Lucky: Grappling is a big thing now days, Can you elaborate more on the grappling Sifu Larry Hartsell was doing in the 1980’s?
Rick: Sifu Hartsell’s grappling has always been connected with his striking ability. He is an excellent close range striker; he’s got heavy hands, knowledge on how to move the body around most of it with either Kali or Jun Fan entries. Basic entering strategy, good strikes and body movement inside and because of that he could put his holds on people. I always say the things he did were functional, everything was functional. I know that it’s a buzz word now, people talk about functional Jeet Kune Do, Jeet Kune Do has always been functional. It’s not different just because you call it functional.
Lucky: Why do you think people feel the need to rename JKD, when JKD is JKD and it all comes from the same source, Bruce Lee and Dan Inosanto? Especially when the founder (Bruce Lee) of JKD said it’s just a name, don’t fuss over it.
Rick: Most of the people renaming J.K.D. are just trying to carve their own pathways. We have all been told to find our own way in this art. These instructors have found their way and they want to draw people to it.
Students coming into the J.K.D./Kali family should be aware that there is no one way to practice this art. You have to find the way that suits your lifestyle and your physical, mental and spiritual being.
This is the reason there is such a broad curriculum. We teach a very complete art. The students can then choose what fits them as they learn. Instructors who are dictating their version of J.K.D. to the students have missed what Sifu Dan Inosanto has been saying for 30 some years.
Lucky: Sifu Hartsell was really known for his door supervision and body guarding in the 1980’s, having client’s such as B.A. Bracos (Mr. ‘T’) of the A Team fame. Have you ever tried any of this out yourself?
Rick: Sure I’ve tried bouncing (They told me all the time I was to small). I try to not talk about my own experiences. I would rather promote the art that I teach. Compared to some, my experiences are very minor. I think they taught me a lot and I’ve learned a lot about street level violence. But it’s not really my interest or my reputation to brag about situations on the street. I’m confident that I have learned enough lessons to take care of myself and am confident enough to know that I have a lot to learn and that this art can teach me a lot over the years.
Lucky: You’ve trained with Guru Inosanto, Sifu Hartsell as well as other instructors, what sort of levels have you reached in your chosen arts?
Rick: I am lucky enough to get instructorships from other people. I think the most important ones to me now; Paul Vunak was nice enough to give me a full instructorship. Sifu Hartsell we’ve talked about, Master Chai Sirisute is very important to me both personally and in my martial arts. I am one of his regional directors; there are six in the country. I’m lucky enough to be the director for the central region.
Anything else that I have done has been at the guidance of Sifu Inosanto, So if he has suggested I go and study with this person, then I go study with that person. One of the other things I’m proudest of is that I am the regional director for Erik Paulson CSW. It’s nice because he started out as a student of mine and then later on I became a student of his, which is a real transition. I have a lot of respect for Erik because he always makes sure that he comes back and trains me, he always shares whatever new information he’s got. It’s sort of like being a father and having your son come back and teach you its really nice.
I treasure my certification from Sifu Inosanto that’s the most important thing to me now in martial arts. I just want to make sure that we make this art a good thing in people’s lives and promote it, so that people can use it for all sorts of things. Its not just for competition, it’s not just for street fighting. He (sifu Inosanto) has handed us a way of life I think we can all really treasure.
Lucky: It’s a unique situation for an instructor to become a student of his own student (Erik Paulson). I don’t think you would ever see this happen in many of the other martial arts groups. At what stage of Erik Paulson’s career, did you as his instructor recognize the genius in Erik the student?
Rick: Erik Paulson is an incredibly talented martial artist. When he left Minnesota for Los Angeles, I knew he would go far in this art. He always shared what he was learning on his visits back. After he won his championships and started his association, I was honoured to be a part of it.
Erik gives out more information than any other instructor in his chosen segment of the art. He has a heart of gold and is very loyal. I love the way Erik thinks about the art He runs great classes and great seminars. Any time on the mat with Erik is a chance to get your hands on a true world champion.
Lucky: What was he (Erik Paulson) like as a student when he first began training with you?
Rick: (laughs), Erik has always been talented, honestly. He had an athletic background; he was a gymnast, a baseball player etc. To be honest when he got to the kali group (this is funny) he bought a girlfriend of his, Wendy was her name. He was young I think he was sixteen at the time and Wendy was cute and we all liked her, so we wanted Erik to stay. Erik was always talented and forward thinking. ‘Let’s try this, let’s try that’ he never had any barriers to his advancement. By that I mean Erik wasn’t involved in the mystery of martial arts, he was involved in the practicalities of martial arts. He was putting things together from the very start. Trapping, he would put together with the grappling and always had an interest in wrestling. At that time my training partner was Greg Nelson. Greg has gone on and made a big name for himself in martial arts. He is an excellent martial artist, so we had this kind of wrestling culture going on and at that time we just beat each other a lot. There was a lot of contact involved.
Lucky: You mentioned Erik and Greg Nelson, Is there anybody else that has made it big from that group?
Rick: To be honest we have some big names and I am very proud of people like Erik Paulson, Greg Nelson and Roy Harris. David Leach is now a big director and stuntman, we’ve had a lot of people come through there. However I am most proud of students like my assistant Diana Rathborne. She is a lady who really isn’t the athletic type, she’s not a big rough and tumble person but she’s made it through this art, she’s a senior associate instructor now. She is also due to get her full instructorship some point soon. It's students like her I am the most proud of because they make the most progress. When I look around we have got our world champions and it is nice to put on the wall but when I look at the school, I am most proud of people who have come from average backgrounds. They might not be as flashy, maybe they don’t have all the athletic talent but they’ve made huge strides forward in martial art.
I had a man come up to me just the other day, he is on the heavy side and he’s going through some trouble in his life. He’s lost 75 pounds (34 Kilos) in one year at the Kali group. Learning this was a great day for me. I would much rather hear a story like that than I would about some championship or some competition. Someone came up to me and said ‘I had to quit smoking because of the Thai pads’ Or I had a man come in and say ‘I haven’t needed my antidepressants since I started here’. Those kinds of stories mean much more to me, I’ll leave it up to other people to brag about who their students are.
Most of our guys just got their ‘start’ in the Kali group and then what they did was to move on to do great things. That was just them.
Lucky: What would you say has been your biggest achievement at a personal level?
Rick: The kids. My kids are very important to me. I am very proud of just being still involved as a professional in martial arts, I’ve seen a lot of people come and go in the profession of martial arts. It’s my passion because I believe it can do great things for people, it’s a very positive influence for most people in their lives. I am proud that I am still in business and able to make a living, keep travelling and meeting people.
Lucky: What is your personal training like now? And how does it fit into your busy lifestyle? How has it changed with age?
Rick: My training right now is coming back where it used to be, having been through a really stressful time in my life. I’m building it back up; I try to train everywhere so I have routines I go through in hotel rooms. I’m proud of the way I can train I can take a hotel room and use it very well to train myself. I can spend two or three hours training in a hotel room. I try to train whatever so if they have dummies, speed bags and heavy bags, I try to take advantage of that. If they have weight training equipment that kind of thing I like to do that. When I’m at home I have a routine that I go through, throughout my week. I won’t bore you with it but it involves a lot of equipment training. I’m lucky enough to have holders for focus mitts and Thai pads etc. at the school, they help me there. I roll once or twice a week but I’m very careful who I roll with now. Just because of injuries my body doesn’t hold up to a lot of heavy grappling.
The biggest thing I would say has changed in my training in regards to age is I only do things I enjoy. I will go into some areas a little bit because I think I should have it and teach it but most of the times I do the things I really like. It makes training so much better, this art that we do is a lot of fun and I try to remember that when I go to the gym. We don’t have to sit behind a desk all the time and that’s a wonderful thing. I try to be thankful and appreciative and go in and say ‘well I get to kick the Thai pad today; I get to work on the dummy or speed bag, I get to work with a partner, I can roll a little bit today’. It’s a wonderful thing. I would say that’s the thing that’s changed over time; I don’t treat it so much like something I have to do. I just want to have a good time.
The other things that change with age are that you have to warm up better and if you get injured it takes longer to heal. There are things that I can’t do now that I could do earlier in my career and there are things I can do now that I couldn’t do earlier in my career. I think your touch gets better and you become more powerful as you age. It’s harder to keep your fitness; simple things like aerobic fitness and flexibility have to be worked on more. I don’t do a lot of contact any more I try to avoid it, not a lot of heavy sparring I try to keep away from the heavy contact mostly because I have to teach everyday. So I realized if I get injured on a Monday I cannot teach my classes on a Tuesday.
Lucky: You mentioned sparring, what’s your feeling on the drills vs. sparring debate, as some Kali practitioners don’t actually spar, they just like to do the drills. Are the drills enough to teach the student about timing, distance and other attributes?
Rick: I believe there’s a lot of genius in Kali and I believe in the training methods and what they teach your body to do as far as reactions. I think a little bit of sparring is good for anybody, I think you should try it. Extended sparring is not good for your body. One of my students did a masters thesis on leg trauma and it turns out all these little things we do to our legs, with the sticks and shins come back to you later in life as things like heart attacks and strokes. So I think it’s not healthy but I believe in the training methods we have been given. I think if you train at an elevated level and the drills that you do are really spirited and you really go in with it, it can be very close to combat reactions. The idea is to be safe, to enjoy it and to be able to do it for the rest of your life.
Sifu Inosanto told me many years ago that when I was 50 I would be a beginner. So I’ve got another year before I’m qualified as a beginner in this martial art. I believe that, I couldn’t see it before but now I see it and I’m looking forward to being a beginner. Maybe I will get to see some of the real aspects behind the art.
As for the argument of Drills VS Sparring I would say that sparring is good so that you understand the environment you’re training for; the speed, the contact and the aggression. Drills are where your skill and refinement happen. It’s also where your maintenance takes place, so you are not going to spar all your life it’s just not true. The drills are designed to develop first and maintain good combat reactions. In the Kali way of training it is a complete set of reactions. By complete I mean you can handle different situations not just sparring situations, sparring creates sparring situations. I always tell my students when you spar in the gym use sparring techniques as those tend to work better. Outside of that environment there are all sorts of other possibilities and they are not trained in sparring. This is something that is being lost in JKD right now; everybody wants to do heavy contact on the mat in the gym. This is one situation, they are good athletes, they’re great, and it’s a good thing; but it’s definitely not the only thing.
Lucky: What would you like to accomplish in the future?
Rick: That’s an easy one, what I would like to accomplish in the future are a few things. I’ am lucky enough to have been certified by Guru Inosanto at a high level. I’m one of four people right now that have the certification (Senior Instructor) that I do. This makes me sound old, but also gives me a position where I can say something. One thing I would like to see happen in the JKD community, the people involved with this group of arts that we all love, is to come together. We’ve got an awful lot of bickering everywhere I go, ‘this guy doesn’t like this guy, that guy doesn’t like that guy’. So one thing I would like to see happen is some sort of unity in the JKD family. It can happen it’s just a matter of letting old grievances go. Live and let live.
The second thing I would like to see happen is people making a better living in the martial arts we do. I tell my students there are people in life that have put in the same kind of time and energy in their profession as we do in our martial arts. They’re called doctors, lawyers, scientists etc. and they make good money. There’s nothing wrong with someone making a good living teaching good martial arts, being true to their passion and to their art. The JKD family is just on the edge of doing that for people, where people can make a decent living. We’re not worried about money all the time.
The last thing I would like to do now is get people to understand once again that this is all one art. It’s not a bunch of separate arts although we separate it out for training i.e. the Kali, Jun Fan, Muay Thai, Jiu Jitsu and so on but the martial art is all one thing. Understanding the culture where it came from is important, understanding the philosophy behind it is important. The cultural context, what was the terrain like? What were the people wearing? What were the weapons involved or not? Those are all very important. In the end though martial art is martial art; so whether it comes from India or Norway martial art is martial art. Sifu Inosanto used to teach by what he called ‘the common thread’. Where he would teach a motion then demonstrate how this motion is used in several different arts. He would show how 5 or 6 different arts from complete different parts of the world can use the same motion. It still is for him a stepping stone to get people to realize that cultures in general have more in common than they do in difference. Once we get the idea that martial arts are all one thing we can get to understand that humanity is one thing. We are all separate countries and you and I are from separate cultures but its still human beings. We are after basically the same sort of things, you come from a hot climate I come from a cold one and so on. There are definite differences and I think as martial artists we should let the rest of society highlight the differences as we see the similarities. I think as martial artists we have to do this as differences will always be highlighted.
Now we have what they call Mixed Martial Arts, a whole new category called MMA? It’s always been around and always has been its not new. MMA is not new! (You can headline that in the magazine)These are athletes today that are willing to get in the cage and go at each other. Great athletes of the arts they draw from but I think it’s important that we respect the tradition. That’s my opinion on it.
Lucky: When you meet up with your instructors; i.e. Guro Dan Inosanto, Sifu Larry Hartsell, Ajarn Chai and fellow instructors; i.e. Erik Paulson, Rick Young, Bob Breen you obviously catch up. Do you guys notice the latest developments in each other?
Rick: You know I would love to say yes but to be honest I’ve been so busy trying to make a living and support a family that I haven’t had a lot of time to exchange with too many people. I haven’t seen Rick Young in 18 months. We are out here busy trying to make a living there’s not a lot of that gets to go on, not as much as I would like anyway. However I think it’s important for us to exchange ideas; I have an instructor conference every year. In which I bring all the instructors under me together. This year we had 53 instructors all exchanging ideas about what worked for their training, for their teaching, for their business etc. I think good things happen when you exchange ideas and it’s important that we do. We should watch for any new developments and blend them into our training.
Lucky: When did you first open up?
Rick: I still have the little newspaper cutting of it, because in Minnesota you have to make a business announcement. It was 1981 and basically all it was then was a check book.
Lucky: What are the major developments since the opening of the MKG academy? Have you had the growth you expected?
Rick: The Minnesota Kali Group grew up small stages at a time and at first we didn’t want any students. I never wanted any students and I never wanted to teach, I just wanted to train. I was interested in working out and I’ve always liked the training methods. Other people like the combat or the competition etc.; I just liked the training methods from the very start.
We started in a garage like most people did and then we had a small school that kind of got a reputation. So we moved to a bigger place and slowly progressed to where now the building that I’m in is 10,000 sq. feet. It’s wonderful, we have three different classrooms and a weights room it’s absolutely fabulous, it’s the best place we’ve ever had. It’s been a slow progression, we never had investors or partners or anything like that. I was lucky enough to have a family that supported me and supported what I did. We probably didn’t live the lifestyle that we could have, but it was okay and we made enough money. There was never like a ‘One big grand opening’ for the Minnesota Kali Group its just built over the years.
Lucky: Do you have any tips on running a successful academy for anyone in a similar situation to yourself?
Rick: I’m not the best business person and not the worst business person. I think if you are going to run a full time school you should or either hire someone who will treat it like a business. This will allow you to do your martial art the way you want to do it.
My student Takashi Uchino is in Osaka, Japan he is a very good businessman, he has a business background. He does great martial arts and he has 5000 students. So, there are possibilities in this art beyond what most people think right now. Right now people think 300-600 students is very successful, it’s a beginning those are just baby steps. There are a lot of possibilities out there and it can work for people. I would say if you are going to make a successful school; find a business model that you can follow or have somebody do it if you can’t do it. Martial artists usually have a problem doing business, were not good businessmen generally. Just like most businessmen have a problem doing martial arts.
The only other thing for a successful school is to really work hard on the attitude of your school. Decide what atmosphere you want, if you want a heavy competitive atmosphere fine, do it. If you want more of a street combat atmosphere fine, do that and so on. I want my school to be very friendly I want it to be a place where people can learn. Where they don’t worry a lot about formalities but they are busy improving themselves. I want it to be an uplifting experience something you look forward to doing in your day, or ‘I want to go to the Kali group because it makes me feel good inside’ It’s hard, you have to work hard on the mentality.
I see a lot of schools where there are a lot of injuries and schools where there are virtually no injuries. Martial arts is the same, it’s the mentality that’s different. If you want a lot of injuries in your school then you can create that environment. If you don’t want any injuries in your school you can also create that environment. It’s up to the head instructor and the people around him/her.
I think the JKD people shouldn't worry about competing with each other or with other martial arts. Don’t be afraid to go in right next-door to the Tae kwon do School or the Aikido School; its okay we can all exist together. When you see McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Subway and Pizza Hut they are generally right in the same area and they don’t mind, People will go to their own preference. There are enough people in this town of Coventry to support 6-10 JKD schools and everybody can make a living. Being a successful school don’t worry about competing, do your thing and bring it out to the public and show them what you have to offer and they will come in. It’s a great art that we do we are having a laugh, come and hit the focus mitts or the Thai pads come and roll around on the ground, look at the weaponry, its all fun. The other guy a few miles away he’s doing the same thing but there’s a McDonalds over there (Points hands in different directions) and there’s a McDonalds over there too and they’re both doing just fine.
Lucky: Who came up with the name MKG Academy? Why use Kali and not JKD in choosing the name for the academy?
Rick: Kali was always my first love and I like the word because the two words just mean body motion or hand motion. MKG have always said from the very start that we teach a generic martial art. You use it for what you want it for so I’ve had people come through the Kali group that use martial art for security purposes, military, law enforcement, street defence that whole section. I’ve had people come through use it for competition purposes. I’ve had people come in just for basic fitness. There are all sorts of ways to use it.
We settled on Kali as our buzzword from the very start and I know we have a legacy to Bruce Lee but I was never a Bruce Lee fan. I’m a big Dan Inosanto fan; to me Bruce Lee is someone who made B - movies. I like the movies but I just wasn’t a Bruce Lee fan. Settling on Minnesota Kali was easy, the group part; it was just a bunch of guys. We were just a group and so I just stuck with Minnesota Kali Group. This was later abbreviated to MKG and now we go under MKG international. We weren’t an academy or a school or an association or anything like that, we were just a group, kind of a goofy group, at that.
I think the founder (Bruce Lee) of this art said ‘It’s just a name’ and I think about that a lot. MKG fine, it could be something else? I don’t know.
Lucky: You mentioned your not a Bruce Lee fan, what do you think of the idea behind his Jeet Kune Do and the philosophies that govern his art? Do you think what he did was good for the martial arts or do you feel he made a few mistakes in the martial arts or life in general?
Rick: I think all of that is true. At that time it was a revolution in martial arts I mean it blew martial art wide open. People forget the contribution Bruce Lee made at that time and I think that Bruce Lee was obviously a great martial artist. I think that can’t be lost because Sifu Inosanto when you look at him and the things that he has accomplished in martial art, he still talks about Bruce in glowing terms. He will if given the time detail the things Bruce did and why he was such a great martial artist. People have to remember at that time what he was doing was revolutionary. Just to bring fitness to the level that it was in that era, to mix the martial arts. Now we take all these things for granted, he was a real pioneer. I’ve said it before that I’m not a Bruce Lee fan only because there is this character Dan Inosanto. Dan is the one responsible for taking what was a little seed of this martial art; Bruce only lived until he was 33 years old. Dan took this little seed that they had worked on and brought it to where it is today, which is the greatest mix of martial arts anywhere. I think Bruce Lee was a necessary character we needed someone with a dynamic personality with access to Hollywood and all that stuff to break it all open. What would he be doing now? Who knows? I think he was enough of a pioneer and adventurous person that he would be into everything that’s going now. He would have his hands on everything! I think he was ahead of his time then and I think he would be ahead of his time now. I think he was controversial then and he would be controversial now.
They were Ying & Yang: Sifu Dan and Sifu Bruce, you needed Dan Inosanto who is a very mild mannered man, great intellect, still a great athlete; who is the opposite of Bruce’s dynamic public presence. We needed Dan to sort of do the actual footwork for what Bruce set in motion. Dan was the one that went to all the little schools and people don’t realize for years he went to places (I know many stories) where people just said ‘Thank you’ at the end of the weekend and didn’t pay him. He would sleep on couches, get left at airports and he has more stories of trying to promote this art.
The other thing I would like to tell you about Bruce Lee is when people (students at the seminars) ask Guro Inosanto about Bruce Lee I wish they would remember that this was one of his best friends that has passed away. Just ask respectfully, it still hurts him a little that this is a memory of a friend who has passed on. So I think that people should be more respectful when they ask these questions. It’s easy to make statements about someone who is not here anymore and I hear them all the time. People say things like ‘I don’t think his martial art was that good’ etc. I can stand up here and say that I can beat Muhammad Ali but it’s not valid right now. It denies the contribution that Bruce made; he blew martial art wide open at that time 1960’s/70’s. We are all living better because of it.
Lucky: What are the requirements for someone wishing to become an instructor in JKD or Kali under your group the Minnesota Kali Group?
Rick: We are much closer right now to actually having written requirements which is good. As an overall I look for the open mindedness, I look for people who are actively training in each area of the art so they are not overly specialized. The personal physical talent is not as important to me as the personality. Again they are trying to be an instructor not a performer, so the personal athletic talent is not as important as the ability to analyze motion, to communicate a concept and to communicate movement to students. Can they relate to different types of people? Will they fit with the organization we have? I want them to fit in with the people that we have and I don’t want someone who is conflict oriented. So if they are involved in a lot of conflict in another martial art or in their personal life then it’s not too good for the organization.
I think it’s a very worthy goal to try and teach martial arts, for me that will legitimize your study in the martial arts as you want to teach it to other people. I think that it is a wonderful goal. It is more about your personality, the information can be given, and the information is something that you can implant into somebody. The personality and the heart is something that already has to be there.
Of all the things that have been said about JKD there are a couple of things that are just true. One is the JKD concepts that Bruce Lee worked with were revolutionary, they really were ground breaking concepts. These concepts existed in other avenues of life, the economy of motion and all of the things he put together. However as entities they got put together as one art and that was revolutionary. The Jun Fan martial arts are still a very valid martial arts study, people have criticized Jun Fan and JKD but they’ve done it from a position of ignorance. They don’t really know much about the Jun Fan martial arts and what Bruce actually did and the way that Dan has taught it.
Lucky: Would you like to briefly outline what Jun Fan actually is for the readers?
Rick: Depending on how you look at it there are really 3-4 areas in Jun Fan martial arts. It had a kick boxing system and there are drills and methods that are uniquely Jun Fan. There was a Jun Fan Gung Fu method which in the modern martial arts we call trapping systems. They were all the infighting and sensitivity systems that Bruce and Dan put together and resemble other martial arts. They look a little like Wing Chun but they are uniquely Jun Fan. There was also a grappling system and I’ve heard this said a lot that there was no grappling and that’s not true, there was Jun Fan grappling. It maybe wasn’t as fleshed out or as inventive as what we are doing now but there was a grappling system. Then there was a whole system for developing attributes such as strength and conditioning and it was all apart of Jun Fan. So the things that Bruce did exist as a system and are valid as a martial art study today.
Lucky: Where does Jeet Kune Do fit into this? Or is it just another name for Jun Fun Gung Fu?
Rick: Jeet Kune Do is not just another name for Jun Fan Gung Fu. Jeet Kune Do is the deeper understanding and practice of martial art. Jeet Kune Do (J.K.D.) is a set of principles and concepts. Jun Fan Martial Arts is a way to get to those understandings. The Jun Fan Martial Arts are a set entity. Jeet Kune Do should be an ever evolving understanding
Lucky: Staying with the Jun Fan and JKD, regarding the wooden dummy techniques I’ve heard that Bruce Lee didn’t know all the Wing Chun wooden dummy sets. How do you think the Jun Fan or JKD sets came about? I’ve read that the Jeet Kune Do wooden dummy sets were put together by Guro Dan Inosanto?
Rick: The Jun Fan and JKD sets are really good when you study them. It looks to me that its probably true Bruce didn’t have the entire Wing Chun system. This would be a very big concern to us if we were trying to be Wing Chun guys. Being that we are Jun Fan martial artists it’s not so important. The Jun Fan system is a system that is usable against many other structures, that’s what they were trying to do. They were trying to take this art and use it against different types of systems and at that time the systems were quite distinct. You could tell when someone had studied karate and you could usually tell what type of Karate they had studied. You could tell when someone was a boxer or tell when someone was a wrestler. Most of the time they were pure in their studies, they were just a karate guy they didn’t branch over into Wushu or anything else they were just one thing. Now you have people who have studied multiple martial art most of the time.
Jun Fan is still a very valid study and I think a mistake was made when people were assuming that we are pretending to be Wing Chun people, we are not. It’s not Wing Chun its Jun Fan and it stands on its own as a valid martial art. Whether we can compete with the highest level Wing Chun people in their venue or not, I don’t know. Usually what they want to do is compare techniques with you within Chi Sao or within their venue. I don’t know about that but I think we have some very talented people in the JKD family.
Just as a piece of advice to outside martial artists I would be very careful insulting the JKD family because we have a lot of talent. It’s not hard to go out and find someone who can prove to you that a particular technique works within our art because we will go and find the people that are talented.
As for the dummy techniques within the system are designed to promote the hand and body motions that we use within the system. I love working the dummy for maintenance, maintaining your hand skills. It makes martial artists hands feel more educated. As a JKD person you should know how to work the dummy it’s that simple just as a boxer should know how to work the heavy bag.
Lucky: JKD original and JKD concepts is a bit of a controversial topic with in the Jeet Kune Do groups. Would you like you express your views on this and where will it take Jeet Kune Do?
Rick: It’s true that the J.K.D. groups use different terms to express what they do. The Original J.K.D. groups are more allied to the things they learned from Bruce and Dan (or others) during the time Bruce was alive.
The J.K.D. Concepts groups took the principles they saw in the art and continued to research and grow.
As far as where this will take Jeet Kune Do - if it is ‘taking it’ anywhere that means growth. For that we use the concepts to guide us.
Lucky: How close do you think Kali is to JKD?
Rick: They are sister systems aren’t they really. The Kali was an influence on the JKD and its development. Bruce had a partner named Dan Inosanto and there was bound to be influence from kali into this. There are a lot of stories of how that happens; they are very close it’s hard to tell. When you and I are teaching it’s hard to tell which one you are actually teaching. Are you teaching Kali? Or are you teaching Jun Fan martial art? They are very closely aligned that some people have said that Jun Fan is the pre cursor to Kali. You go through the Jun Fan as a pre education to Kali, I think that can be true. They fit very well together I wouldn’t want to do one or the other I would want to do both. We are lucky enough that we don’t have to choose, Mr. Inosanto has said (raises hand as if giving something) ‘Here you go, here is both’ what a great thing, it’s like being at a buffet you don’t have to choose from the menu. It doesn’t matter.
Lucky: The JKD logo is very similar to the Yin and Yang symbol, but the JKD logo has arrows and Chinese’s characters around it. Can you tell us what they mean and how it’s different from the Yin and Yang symbol?
Rick: I don’t know a lot about the J.K.D. symbol other than what we were taught in seminars: The arrows indicate continual motion or growth and are words say ‘Using no way as way, No limitation as limitation’. The symbol is not important, we don’t use it anymore.
Lucky: You’re a very successful instructor internationally, which countries do you have instructors in that are parts of your organization?
Rick: Right now we are based in the U.S and Canada, Japan, Spain, Germany and England. Those are the ones we do so far, I’m hoping to go into other countries but I’m trying to cut down my travelling. I would like to make it that some of the instructors in the Kali group come out and help people with their schools. Travelling takes its toll on your personal life and your body I don’t know how Sifu Inosanto has done it for all these years. He travels every weekend, Master Chai’s the same, and he actually travels more than Sifu Inosanto. I don’t know how they do it because it takes a toll on me; maybe I’m just not suited to travelling.
Lucky: Does anyone of your family members train?
Rick: No. My son did a little bit when he was very young but now he plays soccer and my daughter is into dance. The lady in my life trains with me but otherwise nobody seems to want to do it, it’s just something I just do.
Lucky: What would you say is the single most important lesson you have learnt in the martial arts?
Rick: There are a lot of really important things but I’ll say it this way. We are following a man named Dan Inosanto, most of us and there are a lot of lessons to be learnt from that man. I think a great many of the martial artists around him are missing the biggest lessons in life that he has to teach. Rather than just one lesson he has things like humility, spirituality, humanity, kindness. He knows how to listen, how to see the positive things in people, how to get through tough times in your life; these are the kind of things he has to teach. I think martial artists only tend to concentrate on the martial art lessons. I see very high level, highly certified people that didn’t learn even the basics from Dan Inosanto. He’s not going to push them on you but to me it’s painfully obvious that you have to learn the most important things about the man. I’ve never heard Dan Inosanto say a negative thing about anybody and he will always find something positive to say about someone. I think that is a huge lesson in life it makes the person who is doing that happier and it makes other people happier about themselves.
Let’s be honest when most people are around Dan Inosanto they try to do their very best, they show their very best side all the time, It’s because of who he is. I would say rather than one lesson there is this series of what I think are the deeper part of martial arts to be learned there. Humility - a spiritual search of some sort, all of these things. Until very recently we have been very nervous when talking with other people about our spiritual search. I see now people have come out with their Christianity, they’ve had a Christian resurgence and discovered Christianity. Or if they are involved in another religious practice they talk about it in a hushed tone, I like to talk about that kind of thing. I have the things that I believe and I like to talk about it it’s one of the most important parts of my life and we can’t keep hiding it all the time. I think lessons about how you interact with other people and the fact that all of us, even Mr. Inosanto go through tough times, none of us are perfect. It’s easy to put someone on a pedestal and say ‘He must have the greatest life in the world’.
There are two lessons there, one being everybody has trouble and the other is when you watch how they make it through and it’s inspirational. Wow this guy has really been through the ringer and look he’s surviving it, he’s kept on going. This man is 70 years old, watch him move, watch him interact with people. He doesn’t look half his age; he doesn’t look half my age! I think the lesson is to learn the lessons. I guess that’s what I would boil it down to stop looking at it, just at the surface level. He says it all the time, he tells us this at every seminar ‘We come in through the physical door’ but how many martial artists stop at the physical door. They’re so busy analyzing the door ‘look how good my door is, I’ve got the strongest door in the world’ and they just don’t learn. They get themselves in trouble. I do (laughs).
Lucky: You touched a little bit on the spirituality side of martial arts; do you meditate in any way?
Rick: Yes I have a prayer time in every day and I think it’s a combination of meditation and prayer. Now I also do a lot of what I call Carenza? This is movement usually with a weapon but not always. It is a type of moving meditation in which I try to go as deep within me and shut the brain off. I try to use meditation principles within my Carenza? I think mental cultivation is important but I can’t say I do much of it as I should. We are all busy and we all lead these hectic lives and sometimes if you just slow down a little bit you’ll realize you are missing some things in your life. Or that you need to concentrate on other areas but you need to slow down for a few minutes to think about it and that’s important.
Lucky: Choosing from the two, who do you enjoy training the most, fighters or the non fighters?
Rick: I will train either as long as the mentality is right. I don’t enjoy training overly egotistical people and so I have a hard time either one of those categories can contain that kind of personality. I enjoy training fighters and non fighters; most of my time is spent training the latter. This art has the opportunity for either one.
Lucky: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Rick: We’ve addressed the big points; I’d like to see more unity in the martial art. I’d like to see people enjoying what they do rather than abusing it. There are a number of abuses to the martial art: It’s an abuse to the martial art to break it down to only the very most basic things that you yourself can pull-off. It’s an abuse to use the art to hurt other people. I think it’s an abuse to the art just to be better than other people. I think people should appreciate this art that we’ve been given. Maybe that’s the final thing I would like to say.
We have been handed on a silver platter more art and thought, culture and philosophy then have ever been available in history. It’s a wonderful time to be alive. In times past you would have had to change your life completely. Move to another country; adopt another culture, language, food system and more, just to learn one of these arts. Sifu Dan Inosanto comes around and hands you all of them, it’s on a silver platter. Yes you pay some money for it but it’s cheap. You pay $200 (£100) for a seminar it’s cheap; you couldn’t buy this for a million bucks. I think maybe if we just appreciate what has been given to us and maybe not abuse it in these other ways. It is just like food or alcohol or anything else, we are lucky enough to eat all the time and have a variety of foods that we really like and you can abuse that if you want to. However it’s not very respectful is it?
Religion is the same way. If you are using religion to be better than other people then I think that it is an abuse. If you are using your religion to judge other people then I think it is an abuse. We are living in an interesting time right now where religion is going to cause this war that we are in. I personally don’t think the creator is very happy about that; martial art resembles religion just a tiny little bit. We don’t always appreciate what we have and that is a sad thing.
Lucky: Can define Humility, Spirituality, Humanity and Kindness in the contents of martial arts, as in Kali these terms are often repeated, plus you told us a really interesting story of someone trying to be humble.
Rick: Humility is one of the important lessons martial art can teach. Humility begins with the realization that there are opponents who are better than you.” This is not actual humility, just a perspective check. We all have things to overcome.” Some will have problems with their body, some with comprehension, some with certain opponents and some with their own ego. Down the line you start to realize that God has a place for all of us and that no one is greater or lesser in his eyes. This is what brings true humility, to humble yourself before your creator.” These are easy words to say and hard words to internalize.
Spirituality for me deals with my connection to God. We are spiritual beings at our core. I am a Christian so I believe that we are redeemed and forgiven through Jesus Christ.” I believe that an understanding of the purpose and message of Christ will lead us to understand and not judge each other.”
Spiritual matters must be dealt with due to the nature of the arts we practice.” As we contemplate our ability to damage others and our own human frailty it is only natural to contemplate what exists outside of this life.
Humanity and Kindness in martial arts come with the realization that you can damage or kill another human being.” Humanity and kindness can be seen in the way a martial artist treats training partners, classmates, opponents and instructors.” Lower levels of awareness in this area are usually indicated by a string of injured training partners - Higher levels by the ability to train with anyone safely.
The recent idea that the deeper values of martial arts are summed up by the cage fighter who says "I'm really not that good" is very low level. The martial arts can help you see your place in this world and give you a way to help others live their lives in a more peaceful way.
Lucky: Right thanks very much for your time and we shall meet again soon.
Rick: Thank you very much, it has been my pleasure.
Lucky is a martial arts instructor with 40 years experience and is affiliated to the Minnesota Kali Group based in Coventry U.K. He is a regular contributor for the Martial Arts Illustrated magazine.
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