I always look forward to getting down to IAMA to train with Guro Dan Inosanto and the cadre of instructors he attracts from around the world. So after my Italy trip I had a short two day stop at home before heading to California to train. In many ways, these trips feel like a homecoming as I recognize most everyone now and look forward to the greetings and camaraderie. These are all folks for whom training and teaching martial arts is a lifestyle and there is a lot of catching up and shop-talk.
Despite the 9 hour time difference between Italy and California it was nice to be in LA and fall back into comfortable routines, which was probably the one thing that made my jet lag manageable. I’d wake up at ridiculous o’clock to get some reading time in before heading to Maxwell’s Cafe for breakfast. It’s so popular that there is often a waiting list every morning of the week, and like me, people wait up to twenty minutes to get a bit of this atmosphere and food. It may not be for everyone, but classic rock, coffee and an awesome selection of food, is a great way to start a day of training in Marina Del Ray.
My first days of training were in the regular classes scheduled at the academy. Kick boxing, Thai Boxing, Silat, FMA. On the first day I was running late and ended up watching the Kick Boxing class taught by Kathy Long, a world champ herself. She runs a tight class and some very interesting drills. By the time the Muay Thai class started I was completely inspired and motivated. My partners and I wore each other down with pad drills, which was awesome fun for me and I finally have them down enough to train them on a regular basis back home. The Silat and FMA classes were great too, in part because I was getting to experience regular classes at the Inosanto Academy which are sometimes similar, but very distinctive, from the seminar classes.
Lately I have been re-organizing my school and learning how to run it better for the students and as a business. So a week at Guro Dan’s regular classes was an eye opener. Interestingly, the IAMA now has a belt system for the regular local students! Plenty of JKD people will double take on that idea, but Guro has good reasons for this change. People want to know where they stand, what they have learned, and for myself, I really wanted to know what belt I might be able to earn in that environment. One of my favorite parts of their regular schedule is the kids class. Many of the adult instructors come to that class and help Guro Dan teach this group. And we all learn a lot! Guro manages kids like I’ve never seen before, there are no discipline issues, and these children want to do what they are being taught. I think that being in Guro’s presence reminds people, how to be respectful, how to work hard, to be friendly. It was a great example to me of what to aspire to in my youth and kids programs.
As the weekend arrived, so did each of the instructors who gather twice a year, traveling from around the world to learn from this era’s most dedicated martial arts student. I was very pleased to be partnered with Frank Ruppert, a fine instructor from Europe who knew much more of the details of the curriculum than I did. He helped me hammer out the drills, filling in the things I missed or misunderstood which was awesome for me, because I want the information in its original form. I find that learning the source material of an art should be done before the JKD process of reduction begins.
All five days of the seminar were full of great material, presented in a format that made it unusually easy to retain. Each day started with a good workout in the JFJKD and Muay Thai material, moving into the Silat and FMA elements toward the end of the day. The content felt very refined to me, as though the way that Guro is organizing and presenting the information has been evolving as he watched us assimilate it over the decades. Even the rest periods were expertly managed. He kept a keen eye on our energy levels and focus, often pausing the class at the perfect moment to share philosophy, methodology and history. Some of the greatest moments were in the stories that provided a context for the art, the culture and the individuals who brought it forward for people like myself to study. Listening to Guro Dan is a privilege and I don’t suspect that many of us, in our modern culture, have the opportunity to participate in the continuation of an oral history. Those who strive to learn from this man and his example will potentially carry forward the stories of many masters who may have otherwise been forgotten.
I was finally beginning to adjust to my day to day in Cali when it was time to say goodbye and come home to Toronto. I began my last evening by doing my laundry, packing and killing zombies with my friends who have given me a room and many awesome meals whenever I come to stay in Cali. We stayed up, laughing and playing until the shuttle arrived. After several unexpected airport shuttle adventures, phone loss and recovery, flight shuffles, and tons of turbulence, I arrived home after being awake for 34 hours. My pillow ….so comfy.