Ron Kosakowski on KunTao Dumag
& Traditional Filipino Weaponry
Ron Kosakowski, President of the Practical Self-Defense Training Center in Waterbury, Connecticut, is one of the leading authorities on traditional Filipino weaponry; and is the only individual in America known to teach a complete curriculum on a rare Filipino fighting system called: Kun Tao Dumag.
Among his many renowned instructors, Ron is a direct student of Guro Dan Inosanto and Sifu Larry Hartsell, both whom were original students of martial arts icon; Bruce Lee. He is also highly accomplished authority on several different martial arts fighting systems derived from the Philippines. In addition, Ron imports and sells a full line of Filipino bladed products.
~The following is an AMAM Interview with Ron Kosakowski~
AMAM: Where & when did you experience your very first exposure to martial arts?
Ron: I think martial arts, somehow, is in my DNA. Somewhere in my past I feel like I was an ancient warrior of some sort to love it, eat it, sleep it like I do. I say that not because I went through any kind of past life regression but because I can remember as a kid watching the old black and white TV shows like The Green Hornet, of course, The Wild Wild West (the old ones from the 60’s of course) and shows like the Man From U.N.C.L.E., among a few others, where they would have that one minute long fight scene where some Karate or Judo looking moves were used toward the end of the show. Something would grab me about seeing those moves. I always knew there was a “superpower” to knowing those moves. Back in those days, martial art schools and martial artists were a rare breed, whereas today, everyone has at least tried it at one time or another and there is an martial arts school of whatever kind on every street corner.
Anyway, I finally got my first lessons in a Karate style called Tang Soo Do going back to around 1967. Even though I was a kid, it was still hard core back then for anyone into it. The teacher seemed to have no real compassion for the weak in his style. Today there is gear and belts just given away. Back then it was all about how much punishment you can take. We used to have to do pushups on the sidewalks with our knuckles and punch walls; stupid stuff like that. Though I feel it was stupid, I do not regret the experience. It set my path to where I am today in the martial arts.
AMAM: How did your obvious passion for Filipino Martial Arts develop?
Ron: Back in the mid 70’s, a friend of mine who was doing Kun Tao with an instructor named Joe Rossi wanted me to go with him and look at the class to see if I liked it. He told me it was completely different than what I was used to and he sure was correct on that one! I saw Mr. Rossi showing a headlock escape that day. The student was very compliant with the move so I thought to myself, no way would that work. To me at the time, a headlock was a powerful street move where you can pound someone’s head to the ground with no possible escape. I quickly found out differently when I asked him if I could personally hold him in a headlock. The students there were all snickering…something we all did later on when someone doubted Mr. Rossi’s technique. I put it on rather hard thinking he would not be able to escape. Of course, I found myself face down on the floor with him holding me by my fingers, which were bent backwards! Stubbornly, I had to ask him if I could do it again and yes, I found myself thrown down a little harder ending up in the same position. That to me alone was a convincing factor. After watching more of the class and seeing footwork and positions I never saw before, I had to join and Joe Rossi became the biggest influence in my martial art growth and knowledge till today.
Of course, being in one Filipino martial art, I had to see what the others were like so I started training with people like Remy Presas, Guro Dan Inosanto, Larry Hartsell who was a big advocate of FMA’s, Paul Vunak in the old days, Edgar Sulite and now I have a great thing going with Grand Tuhon Leo Gaje Jr. in his family system called Pekiti Tirsia Kali. For quite a few years I have taken trips when I can to the Philippines to continue my education in both, Kuntao and Kali in the history, the culture and the training of these systems to understand them to their fullest.
AMAM: Describe some of the specifics of Kuntao Dumag.
Ron: Kuntao/Kun Tao Dumag amazes me still even though I have been in this style for so many years. I have trained in many styles as you can see on the bio page of my website. Elsewhere, I never saw the answers that Kuntao Dumag has for just about any given combat oriented situation. It is an absolute logical geometrical science. The combination of body positioning and footwork make this style of Kuntao work well in multi man situations with or without or against weapons. I call it the perfect self defense system. It has to be; it is a martial art kept in secrecy that has survived for about 3000 years. That alone has to say something about the style.
The content of the system is actually fighting like a trapped animal. Biting specific spots, grabbing and striking at specific superficial nerve areas, all performed while off balancing, tripping, headbutting, kneeing, grabbing the eyes the throat, etc. It's hard to explain in writing. It has to be seen to be believed. Many martial art styles have this type of content to it, but in Kuntao Dumag there is a progression that is taken through the training methods to develop a person to pull these destructive tactics off. The training methods are the secrets that have been held back for so many years from the public.
AMAM: Tell us about your latest trip to the Philippines, what was the goal of your visit?
Ron: At this point, I have a lot of friends all over the Philippines and now a few different FMA teachers I like to work with. Grand Tuhon Leo Gaje and Kuntao elder, Ali Sharief are the people I like to see.
I also have a weapons business called Traditional Filipino Weapons (http://TraditionalFilipinoWeapons.com) that I have going with a friend of mine who is part of a family that has been making these weapons for a few 100 years within their family tribe. The skills have been handed down through the generations. The changes are from the ancient made weapons that now I pay extra to have some very high quality steels imported to my friends that cannot be found in the Philippines. So, as you can see, I have a lot going on when I make my visits there.
AMAM: How can those interested in Filipino weapons learn more about the products you import?
Ron: Traditional Filipino Weapons is the name of my weapons business. You can go to my web site - http://TraditionalFilipinoWeapons.com where there is information on each weapon historically and how most of them are still used today within each individual culture in the Philippines. There will be more information than there is now going on the site soon. I sell these to weapons collectors and FMA enthusiasts all over the world. Its amazing how many weapons collectors, especially bladed weapons collectors are out there all over the world.
AMAM: How does weapons training effect your "Empty-Hand" skills?
Ron: Well to avoid getting hit by a weapon, you need good footwork. Footwork is the key! You can take a punch with a boxing glove and give 3 back if you have a good jaw. A bladed weapon will cut your freakin jaw right off so it’s not smart to be taking “hit” from such a weapon. So, the understanding of the footwork science comes into play here. Everyone walks the triangles patterned on their FMA school floors but do they know how to actually use the foot work? Do they have the progression to develop the reflexes to pull off counter-offensive fighting with weapons? Those are the people you see fighting empty handed as if they are in a slug fest rather than fighting with good skill by evading and hitting without being hit. The skill that weapons training gives an individual can stay with them well into an old age. Isn’t that what a martial art is supposed to offer?
AMAM: Describe some of the activities going on at your Practical Self-Defense Training Center.
Ron: I have a very good Filipino martial art program going on with Kuntao Dumag, Inosanto Kali and Pekiti Tirsia Kali. I also teach Muay Thai, Jun Fan Gung Fu/Jeet Kune Do and Integrated Grappling systems. I have some students that like to do Muay Thai tournaments and grappling tournaments as well as MMA tournaments to test their skills. My son, Jesse James Kosakowski is a 4 time NAGA New England Champion, a North American Champion and a World Champion. He is also a Muay Thai champion and a champion grappler in many other tournament organizations. He is only 90 pounds right now and I do not see anyone beating him any time soon. The kid is a literal prodigy in martial arts. We will all be hearing his name a lot more soon.
AMAM: When did you first meet JKD icons; Dan Inosanto & Larry Hartsell?
Ron: The irony of this story is, I used to read about the both of them in martial art magazines going back when I was 14 years old trying to mimic what they showed and what they were talking about in their interviews. I remember reading a magazine going back, I think it was 1987, where Dan Inosanto was going to be in Princeton New Jersey. I called the sponsor of the seminar up and there I was that day. It was just the beginning of training at camps, training at his school and of course going to many more seminars. Larry Hartsell was also going to the same place around the same time frame. Back then, they were all over the place within a few states away so it was very easy to go to seminars and training camps to get the knowledge and training. Francis Fong used to sponsor Guro Dan and a few others for a camp in Atlanta Georgia back in the 90’s. If I am not mistaken, it was 2 or 3 times year. With Sifu Larry, I used to have him in twice a year at my school and he would always stay an extra day to privately train me. When I would go to his house and train, I had to drop my luggage and go to his garage and we would not get out of there sometimes till 1 in the morning regardless of what time I arrived. The man had the heart and will power to go all day before and after a meal or two.
I like to get trained. I do so much teaching it is relaxing to learn as well. Sifu Larry always perfected my JKD form in each movement the “style” consists of. That is worth a billion dollars to me today, having that experience with him.
AMAM: You once fought UFC Champion Chuck "The Iceman" Liddelll; tell us about that fight?
Ron: My famous fight with Chuck Liddell. People come into class all the time saying, wow, I never knew you fought Chuck Liddell before. I thought everyone knew that! I have talked about it enough times. Here is the story so now you all will know about it:
I was training very heavy back in the early to mid 90's...harder than ever. I knew my knee was going, but I was in a bit of a denial to say the least. Right before my fight with Chuck Liddell, John Pereira (my Judo, Jiu Jitsu coach in Danbury, CT) was setting me up with all these different underground fights with people of all different styles and I was killing everyone. I was training heavy in Muay Thai, Judo and BJJ back then to the ultimate. I was also doing Capoeira for about 4-6 hours a week back then just for the rhythm and footwork not to mention the cardio. Toward the ending of training with John P., I did notice I could not move well anymore. I subconsciously stopped doing Capoeira and Muay Thai and basically just took all my fights to the ground all the time then. On the ground, my knee didn't bother me that much at first and so I felt that much more confident there. But after a while I felt my ground game started getting little weaker as well where I started focusing on wrestling with one side of my body more than the other. Even though I was trying to ignore the pressure of what was to happen to my knee, it was frustrating as hell to me.
One day during class, I was wrestling everyone and my knee gave me an excruciating pain. The next day I went to the doctor...he pulled out about what looked like 2 pints of fluid out of my knee and told me; "you are not fighting...your knee is gone!" My femur was literally inside my tibia which he proceeded to show me in the x-ray. Bone on bone! Or I should say, "bone in bone!" Well, like an idiot, I refused to listen. I had a shot to get into the UFC back in those days; I had some connections then and I was stubborn and kept training.
Training with John Pereira just seemed to be getting worse and eventually, I had no choice to stop due to intense constant pain, so we stopped the whole idea of fighting professionally. Now John did not get told about this till just before we made the decision my knee was not in fighting shape...I had a hard time believing that my knee had to be replaced with a metal knee. I stopped all my training for about 3-4 weeks due to the knee going. I get a call from a friend of mine who is a cop in Las Vegas. He'd found a pro fight I could do. Back then I think it was only a couple of 100 bucks to win and it probably cost more for the ticket to get there. I remember saying to him, there are a few problems and I really haven’t trained endurance for a fight but my heart wanted me to do at least 1, 2 or 3 fights at least before this major surgery I was about to receive. So I went out there to fight, I think two weeks after he called. The irony (iron knee, heheh) which of course was to be expected is, I had to keep icing the swelling off my knee while getting fight training in CT and Vegas. The guy I was to go up against was a Muay Thai fighter who had 25 knockouts under him already. It was Chuck Liddell…of course back then, he didn’t have the name he has now. Now I felt like, no problem. I will use my Muay Thai knowledge to get to the clench will submit him.
You can see on the video the weird way I was fighting. That is due to the even more weird rules that were coming out around that era of MMA fighting. Don’t forget, back then they were actually fighting the laws of “ethics” to keep NHB/MMA out there in the public and politicians were fighting to get rid of it. Especially McCain! Anyway, so when I got to Las Vegas, the rules were, you could only slap the face. Yes, I said slap, no direct palms even, just slap. I know, isn’t that different in comparison to today? No direct shots at all…punching, palming, elbows, nothing. Man, was I was certainly losing more and more tools to fight with. You will see on the video where the referee is yelling at me that I would be disqualified if I did a direct shot again. I went in on him with my hands and I got right in with some good shots. But, they were not legal because some of them were direct palm shots to the face. Not really being able to use my hands was a big disadvantage for me. You can see where I had absolutely no footwork at all and I was kind of favoring one side when I walked. I was stalking him trying to slap and grab Chuck to the clench. He was running back trying to maintain the range that works for him. I even put my hands down a few times to possibly draw him in. He would not move in for me to get to a clench. My knee was way too weak to do any shooting, which was also a disadvantage to get in the range I wanted. When I defended a kick I would try to get to a clench. I didn’t care how I got to the ground; I wanted to take it there. But eventually, he got me with that high Thai Round kick. The other kicks didn’t hit anything vulnerable but that last kick knocked me out for about 10 seconds. It was a damned good kick!
I would have loved to do that fight being healthy, but wish in one hand and shit in the other, as they say! I certainly don’t regret that fight at all. At least I got a good fight with a now well-known champion. It was a great experience for me and really I didn’t do badly for a handicapped man who couldn’t move at the time before the knockout. If I never did the fight, my stomach would have bothered me wondering how I would have done. I am a warrior at heart. Fighters fight for fun…its in the blood…if you are only into it for the money your warrior spirit is interrupted by outside forces.
By the way, this was I think the end of November or the beginning of December in 1997. Within 2 months of this fight, I had my knee replaced with a whole new metal joint! I now train others to fight so to preserve my career in MA teaching.
AMAM: How do you feel about "combative" martial arts as opposed to the limitations of a sport application?
Ron: I want to get it straight first that I have nothing against sport. I have many students as well as my son who like to go around testing their skills against someone else who has the want and need to knock or tap them out. I feel due to the fact that I teach both areas and NOT just one, I can be an authority on the subject.
Sport fighting is good for one thing and that’s sport fighting. However, a one on one common every day fight, a sport fighter has the advantage as well, obviously. Maybe even a 2 or 3 on one may also be easy for a good sport fighter depending on his or her skill level and what their base style(s) are.
Contrary to popular belief, they are not the answer to solving street self defense worse case scenario situations. Worse case scenarios are just as popular today as one on one arguments are. Look how many people today come back with a weapon or many of their friends. Sport fighters do not contend against such situations. They are used to a one on one fight and usually in a ring of some sort. Even for a Kuntaoist, a Silat player, or a Kali-Arnis-Eskrima player, it is still a difficult situation and depending on the instructor of those styles, those situations are always worked on. The way you train, is the way you are going to fight. How many times has anyone here reading this took a punch to the face and kept of going? Look how many punches an MMA fighter or a boxer takes. Look how many hits a Muay Thai fighter takes. Yes, there are situations where that one knockout shot occurs, but how often? South-East Asian martial arts, especially in my Kuntao, we pin-point all hits to specific areas of the body. In fact, everything is pin-pointed to specific areas of the body. The drilling methods give a student that reflex to pull off such a skill without having to think about it. Scenario training is a neglected area in martial arts. Notice how police of all sorts, military of all sorts and so on do scenario training and most FMA’er do freakin forms or clack sticks together in an empty dead drill format. Street fighting is a different world. Not all of us have or ever will experience it. It’s better to have and not need than to need and not have I always say! A person who is coming at you with more than one individual and/or with weapons obviously does not care about the consequences of his actions. You want self defense, a realistic combat oriented self defense system is where it’s at, not kicky, punchy, grapple. That’s just a small part of it.
On the other hand, it is good to have an edge…see my point? Literally? ;)
AMAM wishes to thank Ron Kosakowski for this enlightening interview. For more info on the Practical Self-Defense Training Center or to contact Ron directly, go to WWW.PSDTC.COM