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Interview With Dan Inosanto

Interview with Dan Inosanto
by Terry Tippie

Dan Inosanto stops to answer a question at a 1999 seminar

Dan Inosanto has become known throughout the world as one of the twentieth century's most powerful and articulate English language exponents of the fighting arts of Asia. Starting out in Okinawan Te and Judo as a teenager, Inosanto studied with Ed Parker and was a member of Parker's demo team in the 1960s when he was introduced to Bruce Lee.  Inosanto was groomed by Bruce Lee to be the successor to Lee in the art of Jeet Kune Do. A consumate student of the martial arts, Inosanto spent decades studying and researching martial arts such as the Filipino Martial Arts, Malaysian Bersilat, Indonesian Penjak Silat, French Savate, Muay Thai, Krabi-Krabong, Japanese Shoot Wrestling and Machado Jujutsu. 

He has been a student of Muay Thai since the early 1970s and is a close friend of Ajarn Chai Sirisute. "He's like a brother to me," said Ajarn Chai Sirisute of Inosanto. Inosanto teaches and promotes Muay Thai both at his Los Angeles academy and throughout the world via seminars. The Thai Boxing Association of the USA is proud to have him serve as Vice President. Internet sites that feature information on Dan Inosanto include:

These links no longer work. If anyone has the contents of them, please contact us at

  • A a well-written biographical sketch of Dan Inosanto on Mike Krivka's home page.
  • Filipino Martial Arts: One of Guro Dan's books, now out of print, that is archived on the net. The publisher of Inosanto's four books took advantage of Inosanto's trusting nature and never paid him for this or any of his books. So, if you want to copy this book, we say 'go for it'.
  • 10/99 Interview with Dan Inosanto by Steve Grantham on Francis Fong's home page.
  • FreeVoice: Archive of the excellent but short-lived newsletter.
  • Two Articles, one by Dan Inosanto and one by Rick Young on Sifu Inosanto, are listed on Marc McFann's web page.

Dan Inosanto in the Marina Del Rey Academy during the late 1980s

Terry Tippie (T.T.): When did you meet Ajarn Chai and how did you get started doing Muay Thai?

Dan Inosanto (D.I.): My student, Nyom Pibolnakarim from Thailand first introduced me to Muay Thai and Kabri Kabrong in 1974. At that time I had just opened a school named the Kali Academy in Torrance, California. Nyom was my student in Kali and Jun Fan, but I noticed that he kicked the bag heavier than my other students. When I realized he was doing Muay Thai I asked if he would teach me and share the art of Muay Thai and Kabri Kabrong.

I met Ajarn Chai in 1978. I'd heard about Ajarn Chai, but I didn't get to meet him until I attended a kickboxing match in which some of Ajarn Chai's students were competing along with a couple of Ted LucayLucay's students. One of my students introduced me to Ajarn Chai. I asked him to do a seminar for me in 1978, and he did a little short seminar for my group. I was very impressed. I then started to train regularly under Muay Thai, and I have been with Ajarn Chai ever
since. I found Muay Thai to be both functional and fascinating.

T.T.: So Ajarn Chai would have been about 29 at that point?

D.I.: Yeah, still young. He's STILL young. And he impressed me with his speed and power. I saw him kill a fly with a round kick on a heavy bag. That really impressed me.

T.T.: So you were training in his backyard?

D.I.: The first time he trained me was in the camp in Pomona, and then Ajarn Chai started training me in his backyard. There was Reggie Jackson, Mike Goldbach, Donnie Boyd, and that was about it. At that time he was just training fighters. I wasn't a fighter, but he trained me as a fighter so I could understand how a fighter feels both in terms of cardiovascular conditioning and pain. Ajarn Chai also taught me how to train fighters, and taught me fighting strategy. At age 43 I was a late starter in Muay Thai.

T.T.: Do you feel Ajarn Chai's teaching methods have changed since you first met him?

D.I.: He really studies a lot of fighting tapes. Unlike a lot of people that just stay the same, he studies a lot of other Thai boxers. He looks for the different strengths and weaknesses of each, and he incorporates different methods of each.

In the beginning, he stressed more conditioning. He double kicked, we double kicked, and we double kicked some more. We did combinations in the backyard, but not as in-depth as he teaches them now. So when I started to study with him on the road, he was working mainly conditioning, double kick and the use of the elbow and knee. As time went on he went into different modes of combinations, combinations for the legs, combinations for the hands and feet, combinations for elbow, knee, hands and feet. He transitioned between elbow, knee, kicking range, and he worked the plum.

Then he started incorporating longer combinations. One of the first combinations I learned form him was the 15-count, then he had the 16-count, 18-counts and 21-counts. Pretty soon he started to expand on them. So I just started taking down notes. Every year it was different but still the same essence was there.

You would defend against a certain attack and follow with a certain combination. Sometimes you would defend against an attack, start the combination, and then he would interrupt the combination, and we learned to counter that.

T.T.: Do you feel that Muay Thai has improved your kicking ability?

D.I.: Yes. When I was in Kenpo and Jun Fan Gung Fu I never favored kicking as much as hand techniques. I became more balanced between kicking and punching after I trained Muay Thai with Ajarn Chai. And I preferred the way the Thais kick and train.

I am 59 now, and through the years I have learned to modify my Muay Thai training to adjust for my age. It is still a very strong part of my training. I like to do a lot of shadow boxing and light Thai pad work.

T.T.: So, Muay Thai is a basic staple of your curriculum now?

D.I.: I teach two times a week at my academy. And Muay Thai is a very strong portion of what I teach. I sometimes take the last 15 minutes to teach Kabri Kabrong.

T.T.: Ajarn Chai has been asked whether Muay Thai is part of Jeet Kune Do. Could you comment on this?

D.I.: To say that Muay Thai is part of Jeet Kune Do is incorrect. People do not take entire systems and put it into Jeet Kune Do. JKD is supposed to be a person's own personal expression. It's just like if you were writing a term paper. You would extract from and refer to different books, but you cannot copy a whole book into your term paper. You can only put it in your bibliography.

But Sifu Bruce was highly influenced by Muay Thai. Whether he was doing it correct by the standards of the Thais would be another thing, but he tried to put the essence of Muay Thai into his training.

Late 1960s era photograph of Dan Inosanto, Bruce Lee and students

T.T.: Could you expand on your vision of the relationship between Muay Thai and Jeet Kune Do?

D.I.: Before I met Ajarn Chai, Sifu Bruce was trying to do what he called his personal expression of combat. And if you look at his notes you will notice that he investigated different arts. He listed the strengths and weaknesses of arts such as Tae Kwon Do, Shotokan, Boxing, Savate and Thai Boxing. Thai Boxing was one of the systems he really liked. He extracted the front round kick from Savate, and he liked the headbutt from Burmese boxing. But the powerful rear leg and the use of elbow and knee is copied and highly influenced by Muay Thai. But he didn't have that much time in Muay Thai, so he didn't have the chance to go in deeply. So whether it was bad or good Muay Thai is debatable. But he did incorporate Muay Thai techniques into his personal expression, Jeet Kune Do. It is true that he did copy it.

T.T.: In the mid 1960s Muay Thai had not yet been taught in this country, so it must have been difficult to learn Muay Thai extensively. Did you have trouble with this?

D.I.: In my opinion as I look at it here in 1995, Lee delved into Muay Thai but maybe not as deep as he thought he knew it. When we trained, he didn't know exactly how the Thais did it. But we improvised a foam forearm pad from football, which is sort of copying what we observed from the Thai pad. But we held it incorrectly, with the palm facing inward instead of outward like the Thais. I was corrected after I started studying under Ajarn Chai and Nyom.

Sifu Bruce told me once, and I don't agree with him now, "They're like the John L. Sullivans with the feet." [i.e., lacking mobility] and that's not really true in my opinion. Because I see that the Thais have footwork and they are really mobile when they kick, depending on what camp they are from. So right now here in 1995 I think that had he studied longer he would have been able to take more from Muay Thai.

T.T.: But all of the students at your academy are taught the fundamentals of Muay Thai?

D.I.: I prefer my students to be trained in five areas: Silat arts, Filipino arts, Jun Fan, Muay Thai and Shoot.
But when I teach my class the Muay Thai is taught separately from the Jeet Kune Do class.

T.T.: Are your Apprentice Instructors required to be certified under Ajarn Chai?

D.I.: I used to make it mandatory in order for students to get their Apprentice Instructor [in Jun Fan & Kali] because a lot of my Kali instructors were out of condition. But recently I changed that requirement because a lot of guys just couldn't do it physically. So I say, okay, you don't have to be a Muay Thai instructor. But you must have training under Ajarn Chai. I think Muay Thai is a very important part of everybody's martial arts career.