Traditional Martial Artists

Best of the Best: Bill Wallace Picks the Top 10 Karate Fighters of the 20th Century

In the early 1980s, I was asked to name the top 10 karate fighters of the 20th century.

Here’s my list again — for the benefit of all the martial artists who never saw it when it ran and for those who are too young to have lived through those early years of martial arts in America.

No. 1 on my list of the top 10 karate fighters was Joe Lewis. I picked him because I have never met anybody who said he enjoyed sparring with Joe Lewis. I sparred with him several times and learned a lot, but I didn’t enjoy it — it hurt!

Joe Lewis (Black Belt photo)

Joe Lewis was very quick, and he knew where to hit you. In my estimation, he was probably the best because he was always in great physical condition, he was strong and powerful, he didn’t mind getting hit and he liked to hit you.

My No. 2 choice was Chuck Norris. When I started in karate in 1966, Norris was the epitome of the karate man. I saw him on TV doing jump spinning back kicks and different combinations, and he was my hero then. I saw Chuck Norris fight several times, and if he’s not No. 1, he’s definitely No. 2.

Chuck Norris, left (Black Belt photo)

Mike Stone was my No. 3 choice. I never saw Stone fight; I’m just going by what other people have told me. He was mean and aggressive, and the word “lose” was not in his vocabulary. His attitude was, “If we’re going to fight, we’re going to fight hard.”

Mike Stone’s fights weren’t pretty, from what I understand. He was a winner, and when he beat you, you knew he’d won.

Mike Stone (Black Belt photo)

My No. 4 choice was Ron Marchini. I fought him in 1970. He was a very good counter puncher, a good technician and a good all-around karate fighter. In 1969 he was voted the top competitor on the mainland team in the Mainland vs. Hawaii series, and he deserved that honor.

My No. 5 choice was Tonny Tulleners. I never saw him fight, but I met him several years ago. He’s a tall, rough-and-tumble guy. I watched him “spar” with his students, if that’s what you want to call it — he beat on them. Tulleners had a fantastic reverse punch, great timing, great distancing and good movement. He made me believe everything I’d heard about him.

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No. 6 was Skipper Mullins. I fought him once in Dallas. That was enough. I won that fight, but he was the one I fashioned my kicks after. He was the first one I saw throw a roundhouse kick with his forward leg and be effective with it.

My No. 7 pick was Mike Warren. He was one of the best fighters the United States ever produced. He had all the agility in the world, all the speed and all the confidence. At one Battle of Atlanta tournament, Warren beat everybody. He beat me, Darnell Garcia and a bunch of guys. He was a superb athlete and a phenomenal kicker. We fought four times; he won twice and I won twice.

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Frank Smith was No. 8 on my list. I never saw him fight, but from what a lot of respectable fighters tell me, he was one bad dude: a great technician and a strong fighter. Because of politics, Frank Smith, Mike Warren and Tonny Tulleners rarely fought in open tournaments, and they didn’t get the credit and recognition due them.

No. 9 was Howard Jackson. He and I did spar, and we were good friends. Jackson was a superb technician — greased lightning, very fast. His competitive career was cut short by a knee injury.

Can you imagine being the No. 1 fighter in the entire country, being at the top of your career, walking into a ring to fight at a small tournament in Denver, taking a step, slipping on a cup and tearing your knee up? That’s exactly what happened to Howard Jackson, and it ruined his career — a real shame.

Howard Jackson (Black Belt photo)

The No. 10 person on my list of greats was … me. I don’t know why I should be listed here, except that I was very …

Haruo Matsuoka on Steven Seagal and Aikido’s History in America

Haruo Matsuoka on Steven Seagal and Aikido’s History in America

Haruo Matsuoka throws an opponent while Steven Seagal (far right) looks on.

Haruo Matsuoka is a study in contrasts. Although he speaks with a noticeable Japanese accent, he’s eloquent in his English explanation of the esoteric concepts of aikido. While he’s known as one of the most combat-competent aikido stylists on the planet and was one of the very few who could take falls for Steven Seagal as he executed his vicious aikido throws, he remains disarmingly humble and glows with a happiness that only true stability, contentment and harmony can bring.

Conversations with Haruo Matsuoka lead in a variety of directions, all of which are enlightening and inspiring yet grounded in reality. Perhaps what is most amazing is how his life has mirrored his art, meeting conflict and strife with patience and integrity.

When I recently arrived at his dojo in search of answers, he met me at the door as if greeting an old friend, then sat on the tatami mats for the duration of the interview. It was as if there was no distinction in rank, yet there was no lack of etiquette.

The History of Aikido

Born in Osaka, Japan, in the late 1950s, Haruo Matsuoka received an early introduction to aikido and the customs most closely associated with it. His father, Shiro Matsuoka, was into macrobiotics — a diet that’s popular among aikido practitioners in Japan. One year, he took young Haruo Matsuoka to a summer camp dedicated to promoting macrobiotics, and that was where the youth witnessed his first aikido demonstration.

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Later, during his high-school years, he participated in judo, which was a standard part of the physical education curriculum.

Just before his 16th birthday, Haruo Matsuoka began taking classes under an instructor named Kobayashi. But the man disappeared after a short time, leaving the dojo unmanaged and unattended. Six months later, Steven Seagal moved to Osaka and reopened the facility as his now-famous Tenshin Dojo.

At 17, Haruo Matsuoka had his first meeting with Steven Seagal, and it left a lasting impression on the youth. Reminiscing about that day, he beamed with a sense of wonder: “When I first met Seagal sensei, his Japanese wasn’t so fluent, but his technique was remarkable — unlike what I’d seen before. He was so fast, very fluid. Seeing him doing aikido changed my life.”

Haruo Matsuoka signed up on the spot.

“Nothing in my earlier martial arts experiences came close to that moment,” he said. Steven Seagal’s school sat in a rough part of town known for its yakuza gangsters and prostitutes. “It was only a five-minute walk to the dojo from the train station, but it seemed like a long, long walk,” Haruo Matsuoka recalled. “There were many times when I was really scared, as a skinny kid, and walked as fast as possible so I could avoid getting into trouble.”

Initially, Haruo Matsuoka trained three times a week, attending classes that were tough and strict. Steven Seagal’s aikido had a reputation for being hard core and effective even on the street. And his training philosophy backed that up: Make everything practical for this world — otherwise, it’s useless. “Seagal taught a very practical aikido — swift footsteps, hand movements like sword cuts and a body posture that was very straight, very strong,” Matsuoka said.

Steven Seagal emphasized the relationship between kenjutsu sword work and aikido, and Haruo Matsuoka began to understand the ways in which hand, foot and body positioning in a sword fight translate to aikido. He could see how those skills enabled the practitioner to smoothly glide out of harm’s way while thoroughly exploiting the other person’s openings.

“Seagal sensei was my first real master,” Haruo Matsuoka said. The American took a personal interest in his new pupil’s aikido development almost from the get-go, frequently inquiring about his plans after high school. Before Matsuoka had the opportunity to test for his black belt, Steven Seagal pulled him aside and asked if he wanted to accompany him to America to help him make movies. To the impressionable Japanese teenager, it seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime, inspiring him to persevere in his practice.

Haruo Matsuoka’s relationship with his master would never be the same.

Steven Seagal began using him as his uke, demonstrating throws and other aikido techniques on him during class despite his rank. (According to Japanese etiquette, the head instructor demonstrates techniques only on the most senior student, allowing him to learn quickly by feeling each move.) Steven Seagal put him ahead of his seniors and gave him the opportunity to absorb knowledge directly from the source and …

Graciela Casillas: Pioneer of Women’s Full-Contact Fighting

If you’ve been around the martial arts world for any length of time, you know the name Graciela Casillas. If you’re a newbie, here’s a brief intro:

She became the International Women’s Boxing Association bantamweight champion in 1976 and the World Karate Association bantamweight champ in 1980. Although she retired in 1986, Graciela Casillas, who has a bachelor’s degree in pre-law and a master’s degree in education psychology, continues to train in the Filipino martial arts and other styles.

Taekwondo to Escape

Graciela Casillas got a fairly late start in the martial arts when she took up taekwondo at the ripe old age of 15. Strangely enough, she started not because of an overriding desire to learn how to fight but to get out of the house.

“I started at the church I attended,” says Graciela Casillas, who grew up in Southern California. “It was a Catholic church, and the priest had asked our parents if we could attend if they offered a self-defense class. For me, it was a way out because I come from a very traditional Latin family where the girls basically stay home all the time. Taking the class meant I could get out of the house two more nights a week.

“I didn’t have any idea what the martial arts were,” she says. “I thought they were just a kind of social activity. I had never been involved in anything athletic — in any activity outside of school or church. So I also started out of curiosity.”

Hard-Core Training

After her first class, Graciela Casillas knew she belonged. She became obsessed with the Korean kicking art and started moving quickly up the ranks.

“The instructor was very strict,” she remembers. “It was taekwondo, but he was very military. He made us wear Army fatigues and do knuckle push-ups on the concrete floor. I thought it was wonderful.”

A lot of the kids in the class needed that sort of tough love, Graciela Casillas says. “I was very impressed by the regimentation and the discipline. I liked it because at that point in my life, I lacked self-esteem and confidence. I was extremely shy, and the martial arts were something I could do by myself. I didn’t need anybody to practice in my parents’ backyard.”

Level Up

Although Graciela Casillas started the class with her three younger brothers, they lost interest and dropped out. She stayed with it for a year — until the class was discontinued by the church. “I was the last gung-ho student,” she says. “By that time, I had convinced my parents to let me sign up at the local hwa rang do studio.”

While training there, Graciela Casillas heard about something totally new: full-contact karate. “Our school didn’t encourage us to go to tournaments, so we never got to compete,” she says. “Then I was approached in 1977 by someone who was looking for a girl for full-contact matches. That sounded interesting to me because how else was I ever going to know if this stuff worked?”

After her hwa rang do class finished, Graciela Casillas would make a beeline for the local kenpo school, where students trained full contact. “In the evening after class, they would close shop, and we would have a full-contact karate workout,” she says. “I had my first match in 1977.”

Secret Life

At first, Graciela Casillas was forced to live a secret life: Almost no one, including her parents, knew of her full-contact matches. “My master didn’t know what I was doing, but I started getting some local publicity because I was winning,” she says. “But he eventually found out, and I thought I was going to get in trouble. But his attitude was, ‘Make a good name for hwa rang do.’”

Graciela Casillas continued studying and competing in full-contact matches until 1979, when she transferred to the University of California, Santa Barbara. She was just shy of testing for her hwa rang do black belt.

It wasn’t fashionable for women to fight then, Graciela Casillas recalls. “Women didn’t have the publicity. It was definitely a struggle because I didn’t have much support. But I loved the training, and I liked getting in the ring.”

The former champ cautions young martial artists who are contemplating following in her footsteps: Don’t even think about it until you turn 16. And even then, she says, you need to train under an instructor who pays careful attention to what his or her students do and who has the proper safety equipment.

Wholehearted Recommendation

Graciela Casillas enthusiastically recommends the arts for any kid older than 5. “A lot of instructors take them younger, but if they do, the class needs to be more [play oriented], not martial arts,” she says.

“The martial arts can be a real savior for …

New Jean Jacques Machado Grappling DVDs Coming Soon! Set Will Feature Submission Grappling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Mixed-Martial Arts Techniques!

Based on their acclaimed best-selling book of the same name, Jean Jacques Machado and Jay Zeballos’ highly anticipated three-DVD set, The Grappler’s Handbook: Gi and No-Gi Techniques, serves as a martial arts multimedia companion wherein the two Brazilian jiu-jitsu masters demonstrate takedowns, chokes, holds and submissions in living color and in exhaustive detail. Filmed at the Jean Jacques Machado Academy in Los Angeles, this set will offer multi-angle coverage (front, three-quarters and overhead) of each technique with step-by-step instructions, contextual explanations for each technique’s application, and an optional on-screen subtitle track with page-specific book references for an even deeper learning experience!

Jean Jacques Machado and Jay Zeballos’ Upcoming Three-Disc Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu DVD Set Demonstrates Techniques Found in The Grappler’s Handbook: Gi and No-Gi Techniques Book

Special features in this set will include the following:

Jean Jacques Machado and Jay Zeballos demonstrate a Brazilian jiu-jitsu takedown.

Techniques featured in this set will include (but certainly will not be limited to) the following:

  • Closed Guard to Back Control
  • Gi Choke Using Sleeve Control
  • Omo Plata Reversal When Opponent Posts One Leg
  • Guard Pass Defense to Brabo Choke
  • Arm Drag to Back Control to Rear-Naked Choke
  • Progressive Attacks From Leg-on-Shoulder Closed Guard
  • Double-Underhook Pass to Crucifix
  • Leg Sweep Butterfly-Guard Pass
  • Side-Control Escape Counter to Armbar
  • Tripod Choke
  • Anaconda Choke From Turtle Top
  • Jumping to Closed Guard
  • Butterfly Guard
  • Arm Trap to Shoulder Lock to Strikes
  • Reversal From Closed Guard
  • Standing Guard Break With Pass
  • Triangle Choke From Open Guard

If you’re interested in these upcoming DVDs, the book on which they are based is available in our online store! World-renowned teacher Jean Jacques Machado highlights the secrets behind gi and no-gi techniques for martial artists of all levels to successfully transition between styles.

The Man Behind Bruce Lee’s Tao of Jeet Kune Do: Gilbert Johnson

On the eve of Tao of Jeet Kune Do’s release, public awareness will be awakened again to the legendary man who wrote this book: Bruce Lee.  As a child, I used to call him “Uncle Bruce.”  But there was another special human being who I regard just as warmly.  And when looking closely at the Tao, this other person was behind the scenes, as well—a devotee who used his time and energy to build the most prolific and modern book in martial arts history. This unsung hero deserves to be remembered within the chronicles of the jeet kune do world.  His name is Gilbert Johnson.

Who is Gilbert Johnson? Why is he of major significance? Let’s begin with the fact that Gilbert was specifically chosen by Linda Lee Cadwell to carefully and delicately tend to the sea of papers reflecting her late husband’s thoughts, words and insights.  The monumental task of organizing and preserving these writings by my honorary uncle would become a sacred endeavor for Gilbert, and he became co-editor of Tao of Jeet Kune Do (and The Filipino Martial Arts, a book by my father, Dan Inosanto). As an accomplished martial artist on his own terms, Gilbert was an inquisitive human being and connected very much with the teachings and principles of jeet kune do.

Before his mission with Tao of Jeet Kune Do, Gilbert was a gifted writer and independent journalist who frequently wrote for Black Belt and other publications during the 1960s and 1970s.  According to one of his family members, Gilbert experienced several life-threatening events in his lifetime, but he managed to survive.  As a freelance journalist, Gilbert also threw himself smack into the middle of the 1979 protests in Isfahan, Iran, and survived to write of his account of the Iranian Revolution. Perhaps because he served in the military, Gilbert was prepared to boldly and resiliently come face to face with the world.

Despite these experiences, Gilbert managed to have a big heart.  He wanted to help people. Gilbert tried to share his enthusiasm and friendship with others no matter how old or young.  I adored this man as a child growing up. He inspired me through the pure essence of his kindness.

By the time the 1980s rolled around, the AIDS epidemic started to spread across the United States, where the illness was labeled a “gay disease.” Sadly, Gilbert was one of the first people I knew to contract the disease via a blood transfusion, which he needed after being involved in a car accident. And because of this, he quickly understood the discrimination and prejudice he’d face. As a result, he became an activist to help spread awareness that AIDS can affect anyone, that compassion is needed, not hate.

In my film The Sensei, I tried to show how this historical attitude affected the martial arts world by featuring a gay martial arts students who had to deal with discrimination.  As a writer, director and producer, Gilbert would challenge me—mind, body and spirit—to address the prejudice that has touched the martial arts community.

As a close family friend to my father and the rest of the original jeet kune do family, Gilbert was a brilliant choice to meet the challenges of putting together the most soul-searching and significant writings of my godfather.  He tirelessly worked and employed the techniques of a researcher and detective. He studied and trained with my father and the other jeet kune do students at our family academy, which was humbly tucked away in our home’s backyard in Carson, California.

Gilbert wanted to understand and explore what Lee was saying through these precious and profound documents that were left behind.  I like to compare his work on Tao of Jeet Kune Do to a doctor helping to deliver a child into the world.

It has been 35 years since Tao of Jeet Kune Do was born into the public eye. I am glad that such writings will be exposed to a new generation and that Gilbert has a place in martial arts history for giving the world such a groundbreaking and spiritual book.…