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A Man of Experience Interview with Marc McFann
By Lakhvinder S. Madahar
SIFU MARC MCFANN is an internationally recognized expert with more than 35 years of martial arts experience. He is a certified Full Instructor in Filipino and Jun Fan/Jeet Kune Do martial Arts under Guro Dan Inosanto.
He is also an instructor in Thai Boxing under Ajarn Chai Sirisute, Mande Muda Silat under Pendekar Herman Suwanda and a Full Instructor under Sifu Larry Hartsell in JKD Grappling. Marc has studied several martial arts and holds a 4th degree black belt in Okinawan Kempo, a 2nd degree black belt in Judo and a 1st degree black belt in Hap ki do.
Earlier this year, Ewan Campball and Pat Davies of the Jeet Kune Do fame held an annual Martial Arts camp in Northampton, with Ajarn Surachai “Chai” Sirisute for Muay Thai, Bob Spour for S.A.S Self - Protection Secrets and Marc McFann for JKD/Kali.
So a special thank you is in order to these to two gentlemen (Ewan Campbell & Pat Davies) for arranging the seminar in Coventry with Marc McFann at the Total Martial Arts Academy and for making this interview possible with the Man of Experience.
L. Madahar: Thank you for agreeing to an interview with us, Marc.
Marc Mcfann: You’re Welcome.
L. Madahar: I think we’ll start with a little trip down memory lane and see what happens.
Marc Mcfann: sure.
L. Madahar: Did you take part in any other sports before taking up the martial arts; i.e football, basketball, wrestling or any other type of thing?
Marc Mcfann: I did all the basic American kids sports, a little bit of baseball, football and basketball. I wasn’t really any good at any of them. There was a YMCA class of Karate (Shotokan karate), 12 weeks for $12! Right after that I met a guy who was taking judo and he started teaching me. So I did Karate and Judo at about the same time and then later on I wrestled all through high school. The wrestling and the Judo helped the grappling and the Shotokan karate helped my punching and kicking skills. I tried out my luck at boxing and didn’t do very well. I was training with some of the golden glove guys. Then there was a guy named Aaron Banks, a long time ago, he was doing the very first kind of MMA show. He was a promoter; he would bill the fights as the karate - do guy versus a wrestler or a boxer versus a judo guy and so on. My instructor took our class up there; I think I was a brown belt at the time. So I got to be the “karate guy” who fought the boxer and I got whipped! Pretty easily actually, because back then you weren’t allowed to kick to the leg and I had never heard of Muay Thai at the time. He kept his hands up nice and tight and I just could not seem to phase him with kicks or punches. See we didn’t do full contact karate at that time. We pulled our punches and this guy was used to getting hit all the time…he just had his way with me.
L. Madahar: Fighting against the western boxer, he obviously had boxing gloves on and as for yourself being a Karate man; did you have to wear some sort of hand protection or gloves as well?
Marc Mcfann: Yes. I had my little point karate sparring gloves and he wore his eight or ten ounce boxing gloves. He just kicked my ass in really short order there wasn’t anything I could do about it. But, since I was a high school wrestler I got to be the “wrestler” to fight a karate guy, from another school and I beat him. I got his legs, got him down on the ground and pinned him. So I won one and lost one but it opened my eyes up to the value of some of the other concepts that would help me later on. Then at eighteen, I went into the military.
L. Madahar: Before we move onto your military years, we’ll continue with the mixed fighting/martial arts matches for the moment.
These aren’t the modern day MMA competitions you’re talking about are they? I mean when did these MMA shows take place?
Marc Mcfann: Sure! This would have been in the late sixties, maybe between1968 and 1970 when Aaron Banks and promoters like him were doing this sort of thing. It was nothing like the MMA/UFC matches of today. Although; it does kind of remind me of the very first MMA matches where we had the Ninja guy versus the Sambo guy and kung fu guy versus the Shooto guy and the BJJ guy versus the Pankration guy. It was “mixing” one art against another. That’s what I mean by “mixed” martial arts.
L. Madahar: You’ve served in the military, how did it affect your martial arts training?
Marc Mcfann:I went into the military in 1973 and stayed in there for 23 years. I got to travel around a lot and that’s when my martial arts really got to spread out because of travelling in the military.
In the military they moved me around quite a bit; my first station was in Central America for 2-3 years and I trained down there in both Judo and Karate. In California I did the same and started to get into a little bit of boxing there. Then I went to St. Louis and the surrounding area for 2-3 years where I did Judo and Karate, a lot of competing in both styles and tried to pick up a little more boxing, which I still didn’t really feel comfortable with. It seemed like every time I moved I had to switch to a different style of karate. It was like starting over all the time…a different style meant a bunch of new forms to learn, and each style had there own little idiosyncrasies. Sparing was mostly the same but those forms…It was a pain in the ass. Judo was always the same. Moving from place to place did not change the training. I always enjoy the judo. I was back moving all over the world; I was stationed in California, St. Louis, Arizona, Texas and then Florida. I spent a couple of years here in England, 3 years in the Philippines in the late 70’s where I got introduced to Kali and a little bit of Silat. Mainly I taught Judo there and trained in Okinawan Kempo Karate there. Then I spent around 14 months in Korea and did Hapkido the whole time I was there. I also spent a lot of time in Japan and Okinawa. When I got back to the states in 1983 I met a guy who trained with Larry Hartsell and Tim Tackett. We became training partners and I started training with Larry Hartsell, Tim Tackett and Ted Lucay Lucay.
They of course turned me towards Guru Inosanto, so I started training with him all about the same time. I spent every penny I had in those days on seminars and camps. Guru would talk about his instructors like Arjan Chai, Paul de Thours, Leo Gaje, etc. So I started training with them as well.
Then I got to meet and train with some of Guro’s senior students. Guys like Paul Vunak, Burt Richardson, Damon Caro, Chad Stahelski, Rick Faye, Terry Gibson, Greg Nelson, Erik Paulson and Rick Young. That’s how I met Rick Young. I first met Rick Young in the states back in the eighties. I think it was the smoky mountain camp (1985 or 86). That is also when I met Erik Paulson…same camp. I saw Rick Young every year in the states…sometimes twice or three times a year because he would be over there training. Then I got stationed over here and he was really the only person I knew in the UK.
So it was a good opportunity for me when I came over here. I made a lot of new friends I never would have made. I’m still coming over here today because of those friends like Ewen Campbell, and all my other students that I have trained with over here. But Guru Inosanto is the one who opened up all the possibilities to these other instructors. He is such an inspiration, a perpetual white-belt himself, he trains harder than all of us do…trust me! Very few of us can keep up with him, not even the young guys can keep up with him. There is not a day in his life where he is not willing to put on his white-belt and go in and learn from somebody. He will learn from anybody, he will always tell you I learn from my students, I learn from my peers and I learn from my instructors. I think that’s one attitude I’ve adopted that keeps me hanging in there and keep on training!
L. Madahar: You were stationed in the Philippines; did you get a chance to train in any of the Filipino martial arts, if so what style or system were you training in?
Marc Mcfann: It was the Balentawak system of Kali, which I learned there. It was fine but I really didn’t embrace it, it didn’t excite me. I felt that my wrists were too stiff, the sticks were too big. Then when I started seeing what Guru Dan did, it was just so much more sophisticated to me, so much more challenging, and to this day, it still is.
L. Madahar: What were your first impressions of Guru Dan when you met him? What did you feel like after you had your first session with him?
Marc Mcfann: In the beginning I didn’t know what kind of seminar I was going to get but I remember being pretty much overwhelmed by it. But, I kept hanging on and Guro said “If you only take one or two things away, every time, then you have bettered yourself, you have improved yourself”, because a lot of that stuff just went over my head quite honestly. My partner and I would go back to the room and try to get a drill going and I had no idea.
At that time things that now seem so simple to me, things like heaven six, hubud and drills like that made me struggle. What you have to understand is that it depends on where Guru Dan is doing the seminar. Because some places you go to the level might be fairly high because maybe he’s been going there once or twice a year for fifteen or twenty years. On the other hand it could be very basic. Guro was recently speaking about a seminar he did. Guru said he tried to get the students to warm up by shadow boxing and he was like “Wow, they don’t even have the basic fundamentals” So if you are at this seminar its going to be a very basic seminar.
My students often complain of being overwhelmed and that things go over their heads and they get frustrated. So I tell them if you take one or two things away you’ve improved yourself. To this day, (and I’ve been with Guru for about twenty years now) at any time he wants to, he can to turn it up and make me feel like a beginner. He can do it in a heartbeat. Just put me out of my comfort zone and make me feel like a white belt all over again and I love it! That’s why I keep training with him, as long as he’s teaching then I’ll be training with him.
L. Madahar: You were well into the martial arts way back in the sixties, when Bruce Lee created a few ripples in the martial arts world. Did you feel any of its affect or were you aware of his articles or Bruce Lee himself?
Marc Mcfann: I kind of heard about him but he didn’t really make a huge splash until after he died. I took off to the service in ’73 so I was not in the mainstream of American martial arts (Black belt magazine etc) I was in Panama from ’73 to ’76. So I didn’t catch that Bruce Lee buzz. My first Bruce Lee movie I watched was the movie “Enter the Dragon”. It wasn’t until I met Larry Hartshill and Guru Dan that I realised the connection. I was never really a big Kung Fu or theatre fan but I like the films no more or less than any other movies.
L. Madahar: Okay what would you say is your favourite martial art nowadays? And have you had to modify your training in any way to compensate the ageing process?
Marc Mcfann: I think when I was younger I enjoyed the Judo, grappling, Jiu-Jitsu and submission type stuff. I’ve trained a lot over the years with my good friend Erik Paulson. He is such an awesome martial artist. I still do a lot of grappling and I still enjoy it.
But about three years ago I was in an accident and crushed my right foot. I had to have the heel rebuilt with metal plates and screws. So when someone grabs that foot for a lock I just tap. Then two years ago I had a complete hip replacement on the left side. That has really helped me get back on track with my Grappling and Silat. I have better mobility now. There is nothing that I have had to completely give up due to age or injury. I still do everything. I spar (grappling, Thai boxing, boxing, kali, or MMA) everyday. I want to be a good example for my students. I hate people who are always making excuses as to why they can’t/don’t train. I have a sign in my school that reads, “Once you get really good at making excuses, it’s hard to get good at anything else.” I also stay active outside the gym. I run a farm. I raise sheep and rabbits. I ride my horses; I go deer hunting all season long. I don’t have time to slow down.
L. Madahar: Silat has more of a mystery to it than a lot of the other arts? What are your feelings on this?
Marc Mcfann: I think it has more mystiques because of the lack of schools and instructors I’ve trained in three different types of Silat. The Buti Negara System with Pendekar Paul de Thours. I did that with him for several years and was never very good at it. I don’t think it fitted my body very well. Then I started with Pendekar Herman Suwanda and became an instructor in the Mande Muda system in 1995. The late Terry Gibson and I were training partners for a long time and he and I went down to Indonesia together to train. I really enjoyed the Mande Muda system and I still teach it. I enjoyed my relationship with Paul Herman his death was a great loss, especially as we had become friends. I also studied the Mafilindo Silat under Guru Dan which is by far my favourite. Guru takes all of his Silat influences, mixes them up, filters them out and represents them in a format that is good for him. He also shows us how it was taught to him originally and then how he likes to do it. He sorts through that for us, so that we end up with a much more functional product.
L. Madahar: Moving on, mixed martial arts seem to be the flavour of the month, now days. It would be interesting to hear your views on the present day Mixed Martial Arts, UFC, Cage Rage, etc. as you had taken part in matches in the earlier years. Many people see them as the future of the martial arts?
Marc Mcfann: Well lots of people say that Mixed Martial Arts are the future but I don’t think we should necessarily turn around and say that Mixed Martial Arts or UFC is the ultimate art. I think that it may be the ultimate sport. We have always had combative sports like boxing and wrestling. Those are combative sports that are derivatives from martial arts. Judo is a combative sport that is derivative from a martial art. So just because we have MMA does that mean Judo, boxing and wrestling are going to fall off the map. Is Olympic or Amateur boxing going to disappear? Of course not, however; if you want to combine the elements of striking, grappling, submission etc, together then yes, MMA absolutely.
A lot of people say that it’s not the spirit of the “true” martial arts. Yes! There is a degree of sensationalism with a lot of hype and talk. That’s okay as long as people understand that that’s showmanship, that’s business. Boxers did that all the time, get in each others faces and talk crap. Muhammad Ali used to talk crap about George Foreman and get him mad; well these guys are doing the same thing. It gets people into watch the fights and buying pay-per-view. I don’t see a down side.
These guys that get out there who paint their hair green and come in with big tattoos that’s just part of their show. The only difference in the showmanship that they’re doing and the showmanship that they do on World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is that the MMA fights aren’t fake. Whereas the WWE is choreographed, that’s the only difference. I don’t have a problem with them making money off that. They’re honest about it, I feel sorry for people that think WWE is real and they’re going in and paying for it. You can enjoy it as long as you know it is choreographed entertainment. If you think it is real then you’re going to end up marrying your cousin.
L. Madahar: There are a lot of books out on JKD and other Martial arts, Have you got anything planned other than your DVD’s and videos?
Marc Mcfann: Yes, actually we just finished a Ground Fighting book. We took pictures for it in August with Snow publications; they’re the same ones that just did a book for Bob Breen. It should be out in the book stores here by now. I have not seen it yet but I know it is available on Amazon. So everybody please go out and buy it so I have more training money.
L. Madahar: As a veteran of the martial arts, for somebody new coming into the martial arts what would you recommend to them?
Marc Mcfann: I would ask first to define what they want to get out of the martial arts. If they say fitness then I will tell them to go and join a health club and get into aerobic kickboxing. It is a quicker and less painful way to get fit, if fitness is all you want. However if they say they want self defence that’s a different story. I’m not a big fan of short term self defence courses. I believe you need to immerse yourself in some type of contested martial art for self defence. There are martial arts that aren’t really contested. For example Aikido or Tai Chi, they are not very contested; you don’t have Aikido grand championships, they don’t have fights or championship belts as such. Maybe that’s not necessary but I do think it’s necessary, that whatever you practice, be contested if you’re interested in self defence. If you are practicing a striking art, that has to be contested, if you are practicing a grappling art or submission art or whatever it has to be contested. The same goes for weapons arts; I think a lot of Kali people are guilty of not contesting the kali.
L. Madahar: What about the Dog Brothers and recently I saw some similar stuff with Sayoc Kali?
Marc Mcfann: The Dog Brothers do a lot of full contact sparring. I think you should fight full contact with a stick… I still do occasionally. Its high risk for injury like doing MMA so I don’t recommend it as a career. When you do full contact stick fighting, with real sticks, there’s never a time where you wonder if you’re going to get hurt, just when? You’re going to get hit and you’re going to get hurt and that’s okay because everybody gets hurt if you do a contested martial art. But if you go out there with inadequate protection, using real sticks you’re also going to get injured. And that means you can’t train. In the IBS (Inosanto Blend System) of kali we train using abecedario, sumbrada, solo training, impact training, and visualization as well as sparring. At my school we are now doing our knife sparring with those “shock knives.” It puts that “pucker” factor in the knife sparring with out the risk of any real injury. I think we need to continue to explore more proficient ways to contest the Kali.
L. Madahar: Bob Spour (my Muay Thai instructor) mentioned something about an instructors test with three minute rounds and instruction in the fire arms could you elaborate on this?
Marc Mcfann: One of the requirements for our instructors test is that they need to get in the ring and fight. It can be Boxing, Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, Thai Boxing, MMA or anything just for the experience. How are they going to relate to their students if they don’t have any experience in competition? In Unified Fighting Arts, which is the banner I teach under, the students are required to take a test to become instructors. It is an individual test. We know what they can do and we push them to meet or maybe just go a little beyond their capacity. The number of three minute rounds depends on how strong the student is and how they do in previous rounds. They spar rounds with a single stick, double stick, staff, Thai-Boxing, submission, MMA, etc. Sometimes you will be unarmed against a stick and you have to crash line and get that person on the ground or the stick under control. So we mix up these situations, we try to test them and put them out of their comfort zones as much as we can so that they are more well rounded as instructors and a fighters. We have also recently added a fire arm requirement. Ewen Campbell takes care of that over here and I handle it in the states. Again, we are trying to make the student better-rounded as martial artist/fighters.
L. Madahar: Many martial arts instructors talk about the spiritual side of the martial arts. Are you a spiritual minded person yourself, if so do you promote or direct your students towards the spiritual dimension?
Marc Mcfann: I think I am a spiritual person. But you will probably never get anybody who knows me to believe that, because I keep that to myself. As far as the martial arts go I think that they are not always the best conduit for ones spiritual development. I think you should try and incorporate your own personal religion and your own personal beliefs into your daily life, including your martial arts, and harmonise everything together.
L. Madahar: Do you meditate?
Marc Mcfann: Yes I do, probably not often enough. I think it’s good just to calm myself down because of all the stress of trying to do all the things I have to do. Then I’ve got to turn around and teach and I like to be a high-energy instructor. You need to give your students enthusiasm; I think if you’re not enthusiastic why should they be? Sometimes I do a little meditation before classes and before teaching a seminar. Since I’ve been here I’ve been teaching all week, all over this country back and forth doing seminars. So sometimes I need to just give myself a couple of minutes so that I can refresh and get a mental “shot of caffeine” in me. So I can give them a good show and get them fired up about learning, so that they feel they are getting their moneys worth.
L. Madahar: Is there anything else you want to say to the readers?
Marc Mcfann: There are a vast, vast number of different systems and martial arts available out there. You can pick up MAI magazine and go through the pages of the different articles covering the different people and personalities. The advertisements for all the different courses and seminars are endless. People spend a lot of money in the martial arts industry on videos, books and courses and such. There are people out there in the martial arts industry who know they are not giving you your moneys worth.
They are taking your money and they know that their product is crap. Whether it’s a video or a book or a lot of times a diploma or seminar or a system or a style. Sometimes marketing and packaging can look very enticing. Put a half naked woman on the front and you can sell it to any eighteen-year-old boy. I would just say define what it is you want in the martial arts, do some research and homework… and buyers beware.
L. Madahar: Thank you, for your time a very informative interview, Marc and will see you in Coventry, next time!
Marc Mcfann: Looking forward to it. And thank you.
L. Madahar: Look out for an in – depth interviews with Ajarn Surachai “Chai” Sirisute, Rick Faye and Bob Spour’s Muay Thai camp - the story of Phraya Pichai Dab Hak
If you would like to arrange a seminar with Marc McFann call Pat Davies on 01224 596968 or www.amag.org.uk
Lucky is a martial arts instructor with 43 years experience and owner of the Total Martial Arts Academy in Coventry and his affiliated to the Phraya Pichai Muay Dab Hak Thai Camp, Rick Faye’s Minnesota Kali Group; and a regular contributor to the Martial Arts Illustrated magazine.
For more information on training in Coventry call Lucky on mobile: 078 34 767 487
Total Martial Arts Academy
Stag Industria Estate
Unit B1 Endemere Road