Dan Inosanto is one of the most inspirational men in the martial arts world.
His love of martial arts and thirst for learning have put him among the most influential teachers alive.
He was a black belt in American Kenpo under its founder when he met Bruce Lee in 1964.
Lee agreed to teach Dan in exchange for being Bruce’s “fall guy” (the guy who gets thrown around) during demonstrations.
They became best friends as well as training partners, and Dan became the highest ranking instructor in Jeet Kune Do under Bruce Lee.
Although Bruce was Dan’s Sifu, the exchange was a two-way street.
Dan introduced Bruce to the nunchakus, going on to say that Lee learned them so quick it was “as if he had been doing it his whole life”.
Teaching Jeet Kune Do
Bruce Lee was always hesitant about teaching large groups of people because he felt that it was too easy to lose the essence of the art without a closer, one-on-one, mentorship with the student.
So, shortly after moving to Hong Kong to work on his movies, he asked Dan to close the JKD school and to only teach the art in private.
Dan reluctantly did so, teaching instead what he called “JKD Concepts” to his larger classes and reserving the direct art of Lee for his small “Backyard Group”.
One of these original Backyard Group members was Sifu Chris Kent, the youngest and final member of the group and the man who went on to become my teacher and mentor.
Here’s what Sifu Kent had to say about Dan Inosanto as an instructor in an interview I did with him several years back:
The Game of Death
Shortly before his death, Bruce invited his old friend and student to Hong Kong to film a fight scene with him in a movie he was going to call “The Game of Death”.
The movie was never finished, but the fight scene is epic — demonstrating the two men’s skills as they duel with both sticks and nunchakus.
I imagine they had as much fun filming that fight as they had back in the days of training together as teacher and student.
You can watch some of the fight
Btw, those Bruce Lee sounds were actually done by a young Sifu Kent ?
What Makes Dan Great
What most inspires me about Dan Inosanto is that he’s like a sponge when it comes to martial arts.
He just soaks up everything he can.
It shows in his teaching, his talking, and his training.
Besides being the most widely recognized Jeet Kune Do instructor next to Bruce Lee, he is also one of the most respected instructors in the Filipino weapons-based systems of Kali, Escrima, Arnis, and Silat.
It’s thanks to him that these arts are as widely recognized in the States as they are today, and it’s he who sought out the various masters of these arts and began synthesizing them into a complete and cohesive system known to most of us now as FMA (Filipino Martial Arts).
He was asked to share his system in a special demonstration put on by the Smithsonian Institute.
You can watch a part of this amazing demonstration here:
One of the toughest battles most of us face is with our own egos.
Not only is Dan an inspiration of letting go of ego and keeping a “Beginner’s Mind”, but he guided his students to do the same–something that not many teachers do for fear of losing their students.
He’s always brought in the best of the best so that his students could learn the same way he did, direct from the source.
He’s brought in Wing Chun, Muay Thai, and BJJ masters (among others) to teach their styles.
In fact, at almost 80 years old, Dan Inosanto recently received his Black Belt in BJJ under one of the most recognized families next to the Gracies–the Machados.
He was named “Man of The Year” by Black Belt Magazine in 1996.
Though his humility has kept him somewhat hidden in the background–despite being one of the most pivotal men in modern martial arts history–those in the know hold him in the highest regard and revere him as a man every bit as amazing as Bruce Lee in his own right.
“The practice of a martial art should be a practice of love.”