If you ever attend a Guro Dan Inosanto seminar, be prepared to feel a range of emotions:
- Amazement at Guro Dan’s ability and knowledge.
- Nostaliga as Guro Dan tells tales of Bruce Lee and other grandmasters he trained under and grew up with.
- Shock at the incredibly fast pace of instruction.
- Frustration as you try to learn even a fraction of the material that Guro Dan will throw at you.
Guro Dan utilizes the “immersion method” of instruction. His feeling is that pushing your way through a mountain of material allows you to gain insights into the commonalities between martial arts, and to make mental connections to what you already know.
The first half of the first day consisted of Silat entries and takedowns. There were entries against the jab, jab-cross combo, jab-hook combo, and the round kick. Takedowns focused on various permutations of Beset, Sapu, Kinjit and Puter Kepala (reaps, foot sweeps, compression throws and head-turn throws). This is all material that is familiar to me, so when Guro Dan showed variations that I haven’t seen, I was able to pick them up easily. That alone was worth the price of the seminar.
For example, I’ve always relied on unbalancing the opponent forward to make the Puter Kepala work. Dan, however, moves in on the opponent, trapping his feet and forcing him to take an awkward cross-step. Dan calls it “walking the base”. Once the opponent is thus compromised, he pushes the guy’s arm up in the air, and in so doing the head is already moving through the gap. From there, throwing him is easy. This is an extremely useful variation for me.
The second half of the day was devoted to double stick sinawalis, stick against knife, and stick & knife combination techniques. I’m not as familiar with this material and I was lost at times. Fortunately my Kali instructor Philip was there. We partnered and he walked me through some of the material, though some of it was new even to him. He is a Pekiti-Tirsia Kali practitioner, while much of what Guro Dan demonstrated was either Lacoste Kali or Ilustrisimo Kali.
Unfortunately Philip was not there the second day and I had no partner. Yes, there were almost 100 people from all over America in attendance, but people at these events tend to organize themselves into tribes or cliques based on the schools they attend or the styles they practice. Unless you’re very extroverted, you may find yourself practicing alone, as I did.
Considering we began the second day with kickboxing combinations on focus mitts, training alone was not good. However, I did my best to shadow box the combos. Guro Dan taught combinations from JKD, Lacoste Kali, Muay Thai and Bokator. Out of the 40 or so combos he demonstrated, I was able to pick up maybe four that I think I will retain.
After that he went into JKD trapping, and I was totally lost. I’m simply not familiar with those skills. I can’t tell a Bong Sao from a cow’s ear.
That’s the thing about a Guro Dan seminar. He shows you several techniques, some of which can be complex, then says, “Practice that for three minutes!” And he’s not kidding. He has a drum kit mounted by the wall and he bangs loudly on the drums as you practice. Three minutes later on the dot he shouts, “Time!” Then another five or six techniques, and another three minutes. Sometimes only one or two techniques, and one minute to practice. Literally. Sometimes a whole ream of techniques and you get a generous ten minutes. And this goes on hour after hour.
It would be exhausting, if not for the fact that Guro Dan likes to talk. He’ll speak at length about cross-training in martial arts, Bruce Lee, his family and childhood in Stockton, discrimination against Filipinos in the old days, the origin of Filipino martial arts and the Filipino people themselves, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the importance of physical fitness…
It may sound like I’m complaining, but I’m not. Personally I like to train rather than talk, but this is Dan Inosanto, after all. He is not only a legendary martial artist but an American cultural treasure. Hearing his perspectives on history, martial arts and life is part of the Guro Dan experience. When my own father died I regretted that I did not know more about his life. With Guro Dan, at least, you learn about the man as well as the art.
As far as the fast pace, yes I found it frustrating, but Guro Dan is one of the greatest martial artists alive and you have to come to him with an open mind and a willingness to do things his way.
In the second half of the second day, I was gratified to see one of my own Hapkido students walk through the door. He bluffed his way in without paying (claiming he was my bodyguard, ha ha), but that’s another matter and is his responsibility. I seized upon him as my training partner for the rest of the day. Guro Dan demonstrated a huge variety of stick disarms, and my student and I did our best to learn at least a few.
I would say that a Dan Inosanto seminar is best suited for highly experienced martial artists. If you have a fair to moderate understanding of Kali, Silat, and JKD you’ll probably be frustrated at times but you’ll still acquire some great material.
If you have minimal martial arts experience, I would say don’t go. Spend your money on traditional martial arts instruction instead. Join my class, for example, heh heh.
Guro Dan says that some of his best students attend only seminars and have never been to his academy in Los Angeles. They come twice a year, pick up some new techniques, then go home and practice them aggressively. At this point, to be honest, I’m not sure whether I’ll attend another Guro Dan seminar. I have to weigh the benefits against the cost. But I do know that I’ll be practicing what I learned, beginning at tomorrow’s Hapkido class.
See you there.
Wael Abdelgawad, Founder