When I was a kid I had a fascination with Japan. I mean it was the Eighties and ninja were everywhere from TV shows to movies and literature. I distinctly recall going to a martial arts-themed bookstore and buying books on ninja and a translation of The Book of Five Rings, by Miyamoto Musashi. At the time, I was studying tae kwon do at a little school in Bellevue, NE. That ended when my instructor moved and I didn’t find a place to continue. I took a physical education elective in college with another TKD instructor and that was an easy A, but didn’t pursue anything beyond that semester. Ah, the dalliances of youth!
It wasn’t until a few years later that I was gaining weight and felt I needed to do something active again. I tend not to go to the gym, so I knew that was out. Then, one day on my way to work, I noticed a new place open up - The Ryan Academy of Martial Arts. When I walked in to check out the place, everyone was rolling around on the floor, so this was something new to me and I was intrigued. I found out they were training in something called, Jeet Kune Do (JKD) and was informed that was the art of Bruce Lee. Now, I had heard of Bruce Lee and remembered watching some of his flicks when I was a kid, but it never crossed my mind that there were schools training in what he did. So, I enrolled for two classes a week. Sifu Robert Ryan taught Jun Fan/Jeet June Do Concepts from the lineage of Sifu Larry Hartsell’s Jun Fan/Jeet Kune Do Grappling Association.
It wasn’t long before that was nowhere near enough and I upped it to three times a week which evolved into six times a week soon after. It was immersion training and the best way to learn is to keep doing something. I had hurtles to overcome to be sure. I was overweight and ran out of breath easily and some of the movements were hard for my brain to tackle, but I persisted.
I was jazzed to be exploring more and more; not only in the physical realms but I started touching on internal dialogues. I felt a kinship when reading the works of ancient China via the words of Bruce Lee and one of his philosophical influences, Alan Watts. One aspect of this was an emphasis on discovering who you are and living the best way you know how. Expressing oneself via whatever you are passionate about was a hallmark of the philosophy of Bruce Lee with his vehicle of Jeet Kune Do. This was something I could relate to!
A fellow student at the school, Brandt Smith, and I started hanging out more and more outside of class. We discussed a lot about the martial arts community and the arts. This reopened my fascination with Asian culture, but it was more focused to the Southeast now with our studies of Kali and Pencak Silat which we were both attracted to via our studies in JKD.
Over time, we both left the school and moved from Nebraska. We stayed in contact during those times and when Brandt formed Kapatiran Suntukan Martial Arts in 1998, I was onboard and we started to host seminars with a variety of players - primarily from the arts of pencak silat and kali. The largest influence on our growth was when we started having more frequent gatherings where a large variety of people could come together and share thoughts and just hang out in general as any tribe should. These continue to this day and are a great opportunity to stay in touch as well as meet new people. I became the director of KSMA in 2006 and have studied with world class instructors from around the country and continue to explore my own expression of the arts I have learned which evolved into the art Aneh Palu Kali-Silat and that is what I primarily teach, but I occasionally bust out the Jun Fan Gung Fu for some fun! In 2011, I stepped back slightly from leading the global group and brought in my friend, Terry Trahan to assist with running the group as a whole which allows me to focus more on the Des Moines school.
I get the most satisfaction from a student reaching an understanding of a movement and being able to make it their own. That’s when I begin to see real change in the person. They tend to move to being more of who they are meant to be and start leaping lines in the sand, striving to live a more fulfilled life. Seeing that happening in people led me to become a certified life coach which I found to be a natural progression out of the martial arts. I am able to draw on that to help people see the barriers that may be holding them back and give them tools to get past them.
I love what I do immensely and look forward to sharing it with you.