Fans of the late great Bruce Lee may have also heard of fellow martial artist and friend, Filipino-American Guro Dan Inosanto, another legendary figure in the martial arts world.
The California-based martial arts instructor has been both a student and a one time teacher to the world-famous martial artist. Today, at age 80, he is a renowned authority on Jeet Kune Do and Filipino Martial Arts including Eskrima and Silat.
At the age of ten, young Dan was taught Okinawa Te and Jiu-Jitsu by a local from his home of Stockton, California during summer vacation, according to his bio.
While his first foray into martial arts left a positive impression on him, he ended up pursuing other interests that his friends were into, such as football and track for the next ten years.
After graduating from Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington in 1957, Inosanto took up Judo from a man called Duke Yoshimura and trained until 1959 when he was drafted in the military. During his tour of duty as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division, he was exposed to various styles of Karate, one of which was Kenpo Karate.
The art fascinated him so much that when he was discharged from the military service In 1961, he moved to Los Angeles, California where he immediately looked for a Kenpo instructor. In his search, Inosanto found Kenpo Instructor Ed Parker, the “Father of American Karate”. For years he trained with the master and successfully attained a black belt in Kenpo.
Ed Parker also influenced the eager student to study Filipino martial arts, introducing him to various Filipino fighting techniques, including Escrima. With the help of his father, Inosanto met with many Escrima practitioners in the local Filipino community including Max Sarmiento, Angel Cabales, and Johnny Lacoste.
In 1964, while Parker was busy organizing a tournament, Inosanto was tasked to escort one of his out-of-town guests. That weekend, he was assigned to take care of Bruce Lee, a meeting that would become the start of a life-long friendship between the two.
He eventually became the student of the future legend, becoming one of only three people who have been appointed to teach Jeet Kune Do at one of the 3 Jun Fan Gung Fu Institutes under Bruce Lee (Taky Kimura and James Yimm Lee being the other two).
“Jeet Kune Do is not a style, but way of thinking, training, researching, and experimenting. We are constantly exploring ourselves, internally and externally,” Inosanto wrote in an article describing the Martial Art.
In teaching JKD, he shared that he is merely passing on the concepts, but not entirely what Lee passed on to him. He explained:
“I have been asked many times if I am teaching what Bruce Lee taught me, and the answer is yes and no. Bruce Lee taught everyone differently. I observed him on what he taught, what he shared and how he shared that knowledge with that individual.”
Inosanto also explained what sets Bruce Lee apart as a teacher:
“He was unique as a teacher, especially when dealing one-to-one. Bruce Lee taught me how to train, research and experiment for myself. This was Jeet Kune Do concepts. Some of these things can be passed on, but others are harder to disseminate because they may not fit a particular student.”
Inosanto would later introduce Bruce Lee to nunchaku, teaching him the basics and some exercises. He said Lee had mastered the weapon very quickly “as if he had been doing it his whole life”.
In an interview with Norwegian Martial Artist Leif T. Røbekk, Inosanto shared Bruce Lee’s method in learning:
“Bruce traded information with people. Let’s say, for example, that he knew someone studying choy li fut kung fu. Bruce would trade his knowledge of wing chun to acquire the choy li fut skills. He was also smart enough to study with the second or third in command, rather than the head man. In this way Bruce picked up the knowledge he needed.”
After Bruce Lee’s death, Inosanto became the principal spokesperson and historian for Jeet Kune Do.
He is also responsible for promoting Filipino martial arts and other South East Asian martial arts to the western public. He has also authored several books, appeared in several movies and worked both in the film and television industry as a stuntman, fight choreographer, and trainer.
Inosanto is still currently teaching techniques he learned from dozens of grand masters over the years, offering seminars 40+ weekends out of the year around the globe. His academy, Inosanto Academy, is renowned globally and attracts top martial arts practitioners.