Let’s get into the time machine and jump back to 1978 when the Dallas Cowboys won the Super Bowl. They contributed their Super Bowl victory to martial arts and a man named Dan Inosanto. Martial arts and football- Is that funny and weird? Not really. Let’s see why.
As Bob Ward, the strength and conditioning coach at the time for the Cowboys said, Dan Inosanto was their secret weapon. What is very special about Dan is he was Bruce Lee’s protégé.
Dan was also a former football player, so he knew how to integrate and fuse football and martial arts techniques into one. For instance, he taught hand-to-hand techniques similar to martial arts to develop the quickness of their hands. He taught lineman how to step, evade and use leverage to avoid, go around, and move their opponent effortlessly. As a result, Dan produced faster, more agile, and explosive players from Jeet Kung Do (JKD) techniques and using stick training and drills.
Bod Ward said, “Martial arts is all-inclusive, not only in close range contact but also evasive actions. It is a comprehensive art and science of all human movements, especially Bruce Lee’s style of Jeet Kung Do. You’d have to be blind not to see the value when you see the performance application on the field.”
How it all Began?
The NFL had banned the head slap in 1977, made famous by the Rams defensive end, Deacon Jones. His head slap was so effective it stunned his opponents. However, the NFL banned it due to concerns and the possible cause of concussions. So, this led Bob to ponder and try to discover legal techniques that could be highly effective. First, he observed techniques in martial arts that could be used in football. Then, he contacted Dan, his friend, to teach the players.
When the huge defensive-lineman saw Dan Inosanto, they snickered sarcastically and laughed. How is this tiny petite skinny guy going to teach giant lineman? However, after the martial arts training session, many players saw Dan as a genius. Players like Randy White and Cliff Harris credit learning Dan’s techniques as vital and enhanced their performance and career. Mike Ditka, the Cowboy’s assistant coach at the time, was fascinated by Dan Inosanto. However, some naysayer players did not believe or trust Dan’s teaching and techniques.
Later, Dan went on to work with the Raiders, Seahawks, the Saints, and others teams well into the early 80s.
In 1983 Bill McPherson, the defensive line coach for the San Francisco 49ers hosted a seminar for his pass rushers to learn JKD and martial arts techniques. The purpose was to develop redirection agility and explosiveness, tap and slap blocking techniques, and explosive footwork. Here is a video from San Fran in 1990’s.
Another player from the NFL who learned martial arts was New England Patriots Andre Tippett. He did not study JKD. However, his training was in the Shotokan and Karate. He said these martial arts disciplines taught him leverage and mental discipline.
Bill Belichick, in 1991 as the head coach with the Cleveland Browns, hired Joe Kim as an assistant strength coach. Bill was not interested in Kim teaching strength or resistance training. Instead, he wanted to use Kim’s expertise as a fourth-degree black belt in Taekwondo to develop the footwork, hands, and agility of the pass rushers and defense. Kim’s techniques were so successful that they took defensive-end player Anthony Pleasant from 4 sacks in 1992 to almost tripling them to 11 in 1993. It also helped improve his flexibility as well.
Football, particularly on the offensive and defensive line, requires hand-to-hand combat, which is a martial arts specialty. Your defense needs to be just as good as your offense. Martial arts teaches you how to evade blocks, block strikes, how to strike, use your body to leverage your opponent to take away his force and power as well as boost and enhance yours. It teaches how to grapple and wrestle as well. It is no wonder more sports like 7’s Rugby, Rugby teams, hockey, and wrestling, etc., are learning JKD and martial arts moves to step up their performance.
Like Bruce Lee said about JKD, “It has no style. You make your own.” “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”
Dan Insonato’s work with the Dallas Cowboys in 1978 is supposedly a movie in the making. But, unfortunately, there is no release date.
Check out my channel, Balanced Body, if you would like to see some more Bruce Lee training techniques and strength methods.