The Martial Arts Melting Pot

I was raised in Hillsboro in the 1980’s, which at the time was a farming community. From 25th and Cornell to 185th was all 100% farmland, there were no stores or apartments, and often you’d see Cougar strolling down the road! The diverse workforce that Intel brought, the burgeoning farming community, and the migratory hipster had yet to take root in the Portland area.

Fortunately, my local martial arts school was a grand melting pot of diversity. My instructor was an Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) and our classes were filled with countless ethnic backgrounds. It was my window to the world, I had an opportunity to learn about so many different cultures from all my teammates. Forming those bonds was one of my favorite features of the academy and in my naivety I believed the rest of the world was as accepting and diverse as a small martial arts club in Oregon.

Professor Anthony Ramirez in his Brown timeline with Master Rickson Gracie

Tracing Diversity to the Source

Of course we know this isn’t the case, but one thing in my journey was constant. EVERY single martial arts academy I have ever trained at has been a multi-cultural celebration. One thing that adds to this foundation is the fact that most of the arts are from various regions of the world. Muay Thai from Thailand, Gracie Jiu Jitsu/Karate from Japan and Brazil, Kali from the Philippines, and Boxing from Britain and America, and that’s just to name a few. Every culture in history has there own indigenous form of combat, including Native Americans, Africans, Hawaiians and on and on..

Coming up in the 90’s/00’s you had to go to the source. To learn Muay Thai, I studied with my coach from Thailand, Ajarn Chai. To learn Kali I trained with Dan Inosanto who’s American born Filipino. BJJ with the Gracie family and their students directly from Brazil, like Pedro Sauer. All teachers from diverse backgrounds and they are experts at working with people of equally diverse background. Not to mention the fact I looked up to these mentors and the incredible skills they shared.

Bringing People Together is the Secret Sauce

Once you have conditions like this; diverse instructors teaching a diverse group of people, it perpetuates itself. We absolutely model this quality at River City Warriors and cultivate a welcoming place for all people, all religions, all races, all cultures, all sexual orientations, and all backgrounds. People who have great influence on your life and expose others to incredible diversity, encourage that to continue.

When people toil with one another, simply as human beings, without the baggage of bias, a very powerful thing happens. All the barriers of preconceived notions are dropped and strong relationships are formed. Martial Arts classes are the perfect training ground for this, because in class you’re going to share a space like I did with people of all walks of life. You work intimately with your partners to solve the puzzle of learning technique, to carefully test each other through sparring, and you grow together as you overcome obstacles in your path. All of that hones an appreciation for one another, a celebration of our unique differences and contributions, and an underlying principle at the core: We are all the same, one humankind. At RCW we cherish that, and will never falter to be the champion for all our family, friends, and neighbors in our community.

Guro Dan Inosanto, bringing people together in Martial Arts since the 1960’s

Friends hanging after class in the OG RCW building


There’s many styles and methods of Martial Arts, and among those you have diversion on what’s the best of the best. All Muay Thai and BJJ may look the same for example, but to a trained eye the differences in strategy, technique, and quality can be astounding. Experts can look at a method they haven’t personally studied and find the similarities in their own form of self defense.

Kickboxing is a loose term for all methods of combat and sport that use the hands and feet at a minimum. Muay Thai for instance utilizes the elbow, knee, and clinch to create an effective arsenal that can be used in the street or in the ring. Using all the tools available to the practitioner Muay Thai became known as the art of 8 limbs denoting its versatility.

(from left to right: Dan Inosanto of JKD, a devastating Muay Thai knee, Salem Assli an expert Savate instructor known around the world)

Muay Thai

Muay Thai isn’t alone in its effectiveness, although it has come into fashion lately as a work horse art. It’s a phenomenal workout and gets the job done in a short amount of time while offering some depth and strategy. Muay Thai is the most popular modern vehicle for MMA, and often emulated and copied by gyms that have no formal Muay Thai training. Classically Muay Thai is known for its power, as most matches are 3 rounds in total, giving a well conditioned fighter a chance to go all out from bell to bell. As these styles continue to evolve we’ve seen Muay Thai make a shift to a sub style called “Muay Thai Femur.” A Femur stylist is known as a technician, think of someone like Saenchai with great footwork, head movement and utilizing all the tools of the game. This is currently the exception as Muay Thai is very straight line it’s assault and what it does, it does extremely well.

Kickboxing in JKD

At River City Warriors in Tigard we encourage all of our Jeet Kune Do (JKD) students under the Inosanto branch to take at least two years of Muay Thai to have a solid foundation in that structure. JKD also encompasses kickboxing styles as the legendary Dan Inosanto and his teacher Bruce Lee studied many forms of kickboxing. Inosanto would go on from the mid 1970’s until present day and participate in countless hours of dedicated training in Savate, Muay Thai, Cambodian and Western Kickboxing. These methods have been further integrated into the modern JKD program. Bruce Lee in fact coined his own style of Kickboxing before JKD was developed called “Lee Jun Fan” which is his Chinese name.


Savate is a French method of kickboxing dating back to the 1600’s. Much like Muay Thai it can be traced to war time and the use of weaponry as a craft merchant sailors used defend their ships. The high kicks were easy to pull off because they’d grip the deck rail to throw the leg at their adversaries! Eventually this style made its way back home and was adopted by both the upper and lower classes at the time. The high society version revolved around the use of a cane, literally called Combat De Canne, which was used to settle civil disputes without the use of a sword. Savate hit it’s last wave of popularity in the 80’s and 90’s when America was tuning into to Kickboxing on ESPN. While it’s not in a slump by any means today it isn’t widely televised and most practitioners have to compete under Thai or kickboxing rules in order to find a match. Savate adds an interesting dynamic in that fighters traditionally wear shoes with a sole during the match. They use the footwear for pinpoint accuracy and also to add power to what would be a lighter kick when thrown barefoot. It’s characterized by the use of finesse and footwork to develop an elusive and highly mobile practitioner.

Only one human body:

It has been said by Dan Inosanto that Bruce Lee used his front leg in a Savate style and his rear leg had the power of Muay Thai. This is still emphasized in a quality JKD school like RCW. There is a deep kickboxing component within Jeet Kune Do and given enough time the students develop a balance blend of balance, speed, agility, and power. I still recommend all my JKD students who have an interest to cultivate these methods individually which is why we offer a full Kickboxing and Muay Thai program. Over the years the one’s who’ve decided to jump in to the Muay Thai class have had quicker access to the foundations and generally do better in sparring. JKD has a lot to cover on it’s own as we use the shoe from Savate, but also incorporate street relevant movements into the training: the eye gouge, hitting to the groin, hitting to the throat, etc.

By far the most important thing, is picking a style of kickboxing that you like best and seeking out quality. We finally come to the key commonalities among all of these styles that I want to illustrate. As a point of origin these methods all have one thing in common, they weren’t intended for pure sport AND they came from weaponry. Muay Thai originated with clashes between Myanmar and other neighboring nations. They have a host of weaponry including long swords and wooden forearm shield called Mae Sok. We already discussed Savate had the cane and came from a fencing influence. Western Boxing is also attributed to such a pedigree, originally practiced with a sword and shield, James Figg is credited as the father of modern boxing. Eventually the weapon gave way to sport and Figg became Britain’s first champ in the early 1700’s.

That’s right. At one time, all these mixed martial art styles had weaponry in common. Have they come too far, or is there something that can be gleaned from this today? 

Kickboxing today is a piece of the puzzle:

Absolutely! If you’re going to take your training beyond its limits, kickboxing provides one of the most sure ways to have a solid base across arts. It’s a direct link to almost any other system because of it’s origins with the weaponry and how it functions in every range. Watching the UFC lately? It’s pretty rare that someone will just shoot in for a takedown, but they’ll use a setup and come in behind a jab, a knee, a leg kick, etc. Into classical styles like Wing Chun? A lot of people in Wing Chun find it hard to close the distance, blend it with a kickboxing style and you’ll find it’s much easier. At RCW we offer a Kali class, which explores all manner of handheld tools including the knife, sword, and stick. The movements from kickboxing and boxing are always found in knife fighting as well from the stance and footwork to the guard positions as well. In closing, if you want to add a commonality to all of your other training, kickboxing is the way to do it. As MMA continues to evolve we won’t see as many “Muay Thai” fighters, but a fusion of well rounded techniques hand picked from all these styles.

If you’re looking for the highest quality in JKD, kickboxing, or Muay Thai, and you live in the Portland area we can help you discover yourself on this journey right here at RCW. For more information and to sign up for our FREE trial —> click here <—


All the best,

Guro Joe



In the 1960’s Bruce Lee’s big break where the world would be introduced to Jeet Kune Do came by way of a Karate tournament put together by Ed Parker. Sijo (founder) Bruce Lee was invited to rattle the world, because at the time no one had ever seen mixed martial arts. At the time, styles ruled everything, you were a boxer, a wrestler, a kick boxer, a kung fu artist, a karate practitioner, but these worlds didn’t mix. Myself, growing up in the 80’s there was still as stigma that students shouldn’t cross train in methodologies, leading to a false battle of style vs. style. You can see the acknowledgement of this at the early days of the UFC with bouts built around things like “the grappler vs. Tae Kwon Do.”

Sijo Lee being a special kind of legend was ready to take on the world and wowed crowds at the Long Beach tournament in California with his blend of Wing Chun Kung Fu, Boxing, Kickboxing and Grappling. It was the early roots to JKD and it promoted the principle that students shouldn’t adhere to styles but keep what is useful for them and discard the rest. As many people that were turned off by Bruce Lee’s brash attitude and confidence it was a magnet for many others. One of those attractors would become Lee’s lifelong friend, his tour guide during his trip to California, Dan Inosanto. Going on to become a legend in his own right Inosanto would dedicate his life to the pursuit of knowledge and skill in Martial Arts, and he has succeeded. At the age of 82 he continues to train and research a variety of methods in depth, and spends countless hours a day training. It is not a stretch to say a man half his age could not keep up with Inosanto’s schedule.

At the time of their meeting, Inosanto was already a Guro (teacher) in the Filipino arts of Kali. Studying since childhood, Guro Dan was already an expert in many areas of Kali such as knife fighting, single and double stick, sword, sword and shield, boxing, and much more by 1959. As their friendship culminated Guro Dan was always at the forefront of the official JKD school in Oakland California, running it in Lee’s absence. He was also diligently working Kali and other areas into the curriculum, and after Bruce Lee’s passing, he would seek out countless mentors to define his craft. Today our JKD comes directly from Inosanto and includes the Kali curriculum along with further elements of Silat (Indonesian grappling.) People often decry Inosanto for making “changes” to JKD but as he tells it “Bruce was constantly making changes, and in fact, he bought my first Silat book as a gift and told me to study it.” They were constantly researching, even finding reel to reel footage of arts like Savate and Muay Thai that you’d struggle to find even in the 90’s or early 2000’s.

While Sigung Bruce and his protege admit that JKD is a concept, it also has a firm grasp on a fundamental curriculum and that’s where most schools miss the boat. Maybe they haven’t taken enough classes, or studied with the right mentors, or maybe they subscribe to Bruce Lee’s quote too literally and believe it to be gospel: “Using no way as a way, and having no limitations as the only limitation.” It doesn’t mean Bruce Lee and Guro Dan did a bunch of random material and self subscribed themselves masters of a fictional art form. Contrarily they are just as good at Wing Chun as dedicated practitioners, just as solid at boxing and on and on. In fact, in the old days JKD was held to the highest standards, an invitation only course at the academy, because people had to not only prove themselves of good character, but also that they could handle cross training multiple hours per week in order to absorb the information.

At River City Warrior in Tigard we pride ourselves on working close to the sources of every subject we offer. Our head coaches have aspired for over 20 years with this ambition and it’s represented currently in our JKD. Just like our students we’re a work in progress, but lucky for them, we’ve also attained the highest level of coaching. It wasn’t always the case as back in those early days I mentioned you had to sift through a lot of trash to find the diamonds in the rough. We partner with great mentors whenever we can, in JKD we work closely with Guro Chris Clarke who’s been certified by Guro Inosanto since 1983. Under his guidance our team has made several trips to Los Angeles to train at the Inosanto Academy directly. Thanks to this solid connection we’re able to pass on the information and material in JKD the way it is meant to be taught, with total authenticity. Unfortunately JKD is a dying art ironically because of it’s popularity. That wave of JKD and Bruce Lee fever brought with it all kinds of hacks that would open up an academy, put their name on Youtube and make a claim to fame. It’s no wonder that people think it doesn’t work, or that there isn’t any curriculum, that’s the tragic result of frauds in martial arts and it’s common across every style.

We urge you to check out the Jeet Kune Do at RCW so you can see it, feel it, and experience it for yourself. We’re always giving away FREE trials because we know that after you check out one class you’ll be hooked on the real deal. Thanks for reading our first post on our brand new website, and stay tuned for further videos, instructional, events and all things River City Warriors. Welcome to the Tribe!


  • By Guro Joe Heller



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