IP MAN, BRUCE LEE, DAN INOSANTO and the VIKING MARTIAL ARTS by Tyr Neilsen

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Grandmaster and legend Ip Man was the main martial arts instructor of legend Bruce Lee, who was the main martial arts instructor of legend Dan Inosanto, who was one of my main martial arts instructors. Ip Man, Bruce Lee and Dan Inosanto have been legends in their own lifetime, and their legacy only grows stronger with each year.

I am incredibly fortunate to have been trained in armed and unarmed combat by legend Dan Inosanto. Dan passed on the information from his teacher, and his teacher’s teacher, and from him I was given a fantastic foundation and understanding on which to build.

That martial arts foundation started in 1973, when I was 13 years old. Shortly after beginning training in Ju Jitsu, I found out about Bruce Lee. He exploded onto the scene at a time when Kung Fu and many other martial arts from around the world were still being kept secret from the west. In the early 1970’s in the North of England, it was possible to train in a few Asian martial arts, such as Japanese Ju Jitsu, Judo and Karate. Kung Fu was not being taught to foreigners, and the multitude of martial arts that the average person has heard of today, was unknown to most people who trained martial arts at that time. In the early 70’s, only people who read Black Belt magazine knew that such exotic martial arts as Arnis,  Muay Thai, Capoeira, Pencak Silat or Savate, existed. 

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As a young man, I was inspired by Bruce to create the best version of myself that I could. It was not only the amazing physical attributes of Bruce Lee that were inspiring, it was also his keen interest in philosophy. I saw that it was not enough just to be strong and be able to fight, there had to be a deeper understanding of life and values. I bought Black Belt magazine each month and devoured the articles. I took special note of any articles regarding Bruce lee, his training methods, and Jeet Kune Do, the martial art he created. From one of these articles I learned of Bruce’s teacher, Grandmaster Ip Man.   

In the extensive history of martial arts, there have been many great fighters, but only a few have earned the title Grandmaster. A grandmaster had to have certain qualities, such as performing at an excellent standard, understanding to an excellent standard and sharing this information. A grandmaster understands that it is a duty to share the skills with the next generation.

                                           IP MAN AND BRUCE LEE

                                          IP MAN AND BRUCE LEE

Ip Man, also known as Yip Man (1893 – 1972) was a Chinese master teacher of Wing Chun Kung Fu. At 7 years old, Ip Man started learning Wing Chun from Chan Wah-shun. Chan was 64 at the time and Ip Man became Chan's last student. At 24, Ip Man became a policeman and taught Wing Chun to several of his fellow policemen, friends and relatives.

This was a very turbulent time in China's history, especially for a Kung Fu teacher, but in 1949, after the Chinese Civil War, Ip Man opened a Wing Chun school. Many of his students later opened their own schools and promoted Wing Chun around the world. 

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Several of Ip Man’s students became martial arts masters in their own right, but of all of Ip Man’s students, his most famous was by far, Bruce Lee. It was not an easy thing for Ip Man to teach Bruce, because the Chinese were against teaching their martial arts techniques to non-Asians. When most of Ip Man's students refused to train with Bruce after learning of his mixed ancestry, Ip Man began giving Bruce private tuition.

Bruce Lee, also known as Lee Jun-fan (1940 – 1973), was a Chinese-American actorfilm director and martial artist, who created the martial art of Jeet Kune Do. Bruce was born in San Francisco, but while he was still a baby, his parents moved back to Hong Kong, which is where Bruce grew up. As a teenager, Bruce was involved in many street fights, due to gang rivalries and refugees fleeing communist China for Hong Kong. Bruce's parents decided that he needed to be trained in the martial arts, so when he was 16, Bruce started training in Wing Chun Kung Fu under Ip Man. Bruce’s training with Ip Man was interrupted when Bruce had to leave Hong Kong due to street fights against teenagers who came from organized crime families.

At 18, Bruce moved to California and settled in Seattle where he went to college. Bruce left college to start teaching Kung Fu to non-Chinese, which caused problems with the Chinese community who issued an ultimatum to Bruce. Because he didn't stop teaching non-Chinese people, Bruce was challenged to a combat match with the Chinese community's champion. The deal was that if Lee lost, he would have to shut down his school, but if he won, Bruce would be free to teach white people, or anyone else. Bruce won the fight and continued to teach to non-Chinese.

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Soon after, Bruce Lee became an iconic figure known throughout the world because of his martial art, his physique, his dynamic personality and his films. In the late 1960’s Bruce starred in TV shows such as The Green Hornet which became a sensation, especially in Hong Kong. In the 1970’s, Bruce exploded onto the world stage with the box office blockbuster films; The Big Boss, Fists of Fury, Way of the Dragon, Enter the Dragon and Game of Death.

Bruce Lee changed popular culture, revolutionized the way people looked at unarmed combat, became the most famous martial artist in the world, the biggest movie star, and influenced people of every race, creed and color. But just 7 months after his teacher Ip Man died of throat cancer, Bruce Lee died under mysterious circumstances on July 20, 1973. He was only 32. 

                                                         DAN INOSANTO AND BRUCE LEE

                                                        DAN INOSANTO AND BRUCE LEE

Bruce Lee's best known training partner is Filipino-American martial arts legend Dan Inosanto ( 1936 - ).  A former student of Ed Parker, Dan started training Kung Fu with Bruce in the late 60’s. The men became fast friends and Dan was instrumental when Bruce started developing his own martial art called Jeet Kune Do (Way of the Intercepting Fist). Dan introduced Bruce to several types of weapons, and Bruce used Dan as his opponent in an exciting fight scene with weapons in the film Game of Death.

Dan is an authority on Jeet Kune Do and Filipino Martial Arts, as well as holding Instructor or black belt level ranks in several other martial arts including Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. With the loss of Bruce, Dan took over the teaching of Jun Fan Kung Fu and Jeet Kune Do, at the “Kali-Jun Fan" Academy he started in California in 1974.

       BRUCE AND DAN ON THE FILM SET OF GAME OF DEATH

      BRUCE AND DAN ON THE FILM SET OF GAME OF DEATH

That year I read a Black Belt article about Bruce Lee’s training partner and student Dan Inosanto running a martial arts school in California and teaching Bruce Lee’s techniques of Jeet Kune Do. The article made a massive impact on me. California was the other side of the world, but at 14 years of age, I thought to myself, “Someday I’m going to train there.” For the next years I continued training in diverse styles of martial arts so that one day I might be able to train at the Inosanto Academy of Martial Arts.

In my teens I trained regularly in Ju Jitsu, Judo, Jiu Te Do, Lancashire wrestling and boxing. I also got to train Shotokan Karate with the very tough Sensei Terry O’Neill, and attended seminars and classes from Sensei Keinosuke Enoeda and Sensei Hirokazu Kanazawa. After graduating from Art College and doing basic training in the British army, I worked in the building industry, mainly in the family business. After saving up some money, I traveled around Europe and worked for nearly a year in the South of France, where I trained in Savate, the French form of kickboxing.

                                      RELAXING AFTER TRAINING WITH NINO BERNARDO - BOTTOM RIGHT

                                     RELAXING AFTER TRAINING WITH NINO BERNARDO - BOTTOM RIGHT

Living in France created my first connection to Grandmaster Ip Man, after meeting Sifu Nino Bernardo in Bonporteau. Nino had been a student of Wong Shun Leung in Hong Kong, who himself had been a student of Ip Man. Before leaving for the UK, Nino invited me to train Wing Chun Kung Fu in London where he taught. Some months later I moved to London and trained with him. Nino was incredibly generous with his time and gave me private tuition in his home after regular classes.

I moved back to Liverpool to help with the family business as a carpenter and painter/decorator. This served me well when at 22 years of age I bought a house that needed a lot of renovation. I had never given up on my dream and figured if I could fix up the place, maybe I could sell it at a profit and have enough money to get me to the Inosanto Academy. After three solid years of working after regular work and every weekend, I turned the shell of a building into a nice place to live and sold it at a good profit.

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On selling my house, I traveled to the East Coast of America and got my first taste of Jeet Kune Do from seminars and private lessons with Guru Rick Tucci and John Johnston. Whilst training with John, I was invited to a Dan Inosanto - Jeet Kune Do summer camp in Michigan, where Nino Bernardo was guest instructor. For a glorious week I got to train Kung Fu with my old teacher, as well as Jeet Kune Do and Kali with Guru Dan Inosanto, Grappling with Sifu Larry Hartsell and Savate with Proffeseur Salem Assli.

                             DAN INOSANTO - LARRY HARTSELL - TYR NEILSEN - NINO BERNARDO - SALEM ASSLI

                            DAN INOSANTO - LARRY HARTSELL - TYR NEILSEN - NINO BERNARDO - SALEM ASSLI

Nino used me in some of the Kung Fu demonstrations at the camp, introduced me to Dan, and made sure I ate dinner and hung out with these legendary instructors. This introduction by Nino opened the doors of the Inosanto Academy of Martial Arts which Dan had started in 1983. Not long after the summer camp, I traveled to Los Angeles, and in 1988 and 89, I trained at the Inosanto Academy, where there were classes in Jeet Kune Do, Kali-Silat, Savate, Ju Jitsu, Thai Boxing, Pentjak Silat, Kung Fu and Boxing, with some of the best martial artists in the world.

                                                    DAN INOSANTO - TYR NEILSEN - LARRY HARTSELL

                                                   DAN INOSANTO - TYR NEILSEN - LARRY HARTSELL

A normal week night at the Academy would last 4 to 5 hours of training, made up of Savate with Salem, an hour and a half of Jeet Kune Do with Dan or another Academy instructor, and an hour and a half of Kali with Dan or another instructor. Very often there were also seminar/workshops on the weekend with the best martial artists in their fields. Every now and then I would also drive to the IMB (Inosanto, Martinez, Bustillo) Academy in Carson C.A. to train grappling with Larry Hartsell when he was there.

I trained several hours each night, but those Inosanto classes were tough. We were given non-stop information which we had to immediately put into practice. Each class was 90 minutes, and every blister and callous was well earned. I have never met another instructor who had so much information about such a variety of martial arts at such a high level as Dan. What is more amazing is that Dan was so incredibly eager to share this information and make sure his students understood.

This was an exciting time in my life and I could have continued training there for many more years, but on the way to California, I had met a beautiful Norwegian woman. When I told my instructors at the Academy that I was moving to Norway to get married, they wished me good luck and told me to keep in touch. As a parting gift, Salem gave me his pair of Savate gloves and Dan told me to “Go and learn as much as you can about the indigenous Norwegian forms of combat and share that knowledge.” This struck me as a little strange and I told Dan that I had been to Norway several times, trained there with other martial artists, and never heard of any Norwegian martial art. I said that I didn't think that there was a Norwegian martial art. Dan told me "Of course there is. All cultures have their own martial art and martial sport. The Vikings must have had a system of combat."  

I arrived in Norway a few weeks before Christmas 1989 and was given an early gift by my future wife. It was a hardbound copy of Snorri Sturluson’s Saga of the Norse Kings, an account of the kings of Viking Age Norway. I knew that I was marrying into a family that took pride in preserving their cultural heritage, but what I couldn't know was to what degree. From my mother in-law Gudlaug Foss Svendsen I learned about Norse Mythology, history and culture, and from my father in-law Odd Svendsen I learned about Glíma – the martial art of the Vikings.

Because Norway has been ruled over by foreign countries, was occupied by Germany in the Second World War, and has had its sacred cultural symbols used for negative purposes, Norwegians have been reluctant to share their cultural inheritance, such as their martial art. It was only after it was clear that I would be part of their family that my parents in-law started to share their cultural knowledge. Fortunately for me, I came to them with a degree of martial and philosophical competance that made it possible to absorb and understand this information quickly.    

In the mid 90's I started teaching Glima in southern Norway and in 2009 I created the Academy of Viking Martial Arts. Hardly anyone knew about glima when I arrived in Norway, but slowly and surely the word has spread, and the amount of people training in glima around the world has grown. At seminars and workshops in Scandinavia and Europe I have been doing exactly what Dan Inosanto told me to do: “Go and learn as much as you can about the indigenous Norwegian forms of combat and share that knowledge.”

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Ip Man, Bruce Lee and Dan Inosanto taught their cultural martial arts to those who wanted to learn it, and made them accessible to the rest of the world. Dan is especially responsible for bringing obscure forms of the martial arts into the public eye. This is something he inspired me to do with glima.  

I have thought a lot about my journey, the dedicated teachers I have encountered, and the circumstances which have led me to where I am today. I feel incredibly lucky to be part of this legacy and to be part of an unbroken line of martial artists from the Viking Age. Just as glima was passed down from generation to generation, from my father in-law to me, and from me to my son, I will continue to pass it on to future generations.   

I would like to thank all of my martial arts instructors, who for over 4 decades, have given so generously of their knowledge and continue to inspire. Thank you for the foundation you helped create and your words of encouragement that continue to resonate. 

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