In this Video, Kensho Martial Arts head instructor Roger Luri talks with martial arts legend, actor, producer and fight coreographer Ron Balicki of Martial Arts Research Systems about their Chicago JKD – mixed martial arts roots in the early 1980’s under Grand Master Fred Degerberg, Guro Dan Inosanto et al.
Roger Luri: Hey, Roger Luri here. I’m here with Ron Balicki. Ron, we’ve known each other for what?
Ron Balicki: 30 plus years, I don’t know.
Roger Luri: About 35 years, I think, now. It’s been a long time right?
Ron Balicki: Yeah.
Roger Luri: Ron and I started training together at the Degerberg Academy in Chicago about 35 years ago.
Ron Balicki: It was like ’82, somewhere in there.
Roger Luri: Somewhere around there, yeah, right. At that time, it was awesome because our instructor for Degerberg, Fred, is really a trendsetter in martial arts.
Ron Balicki: If you think about it, he was doing a lot of things that nobody had done school-wise. You could think Bruce Lee’s putting different martial arts and stuff together, but he was doing a full blown university almost.
Roger Luri: Right, and back then there was no internet or anything like that. If you wanted to learn about martial arts, it was word of mouth or you had to know somebody. Fred just had this huge network that he had created. He would bring in some awesome instructors. We trained people.
Ron Balicki: The whole Savate team from France he brought in.
Roger Luri: Right, in the mid 1980s we had ten people come from France, Richard Sylla and some of the top Savate people at that time.
Ron Balicki: Yeah, and then you had people like Leo Gaje and Eddie Geoffrey and Angel Cabales, the De Thours brothers, my father-in-law Dan Inosanto. It was really progressive in that way. I think in a way it helped him to where he just ruled everything because he was such a … Degerberg had such a powerhouse place.
Roger Luri: People would come. It was cool because people would come from all over to come to these seminars because it was the only place you could train with these people. At that time we would get these soldier of fortune type people and all kinds of people would come in. It was a real experience. We had all kinds of people come to train with us.
Ron Balicki: Remember Dan Goodwin, Spider Dan?
Roger Luri: Spider Dan Goodwin, yeah.
Roger Luri: Spiderman, a lot of people probably don’t know Spider Dan Goodwin these days, but he was very famous back then. He was the guy who climbed the Sears Tower.
Ron Balicki: The World Trade Center.
Roger Luri: He was the first guy to climb these buildings like that. He was one of our students at Degerberg back then.
Ron Balicki: It was wild because, you’re right, it was colorful. You’d get people from all over the world. I mean it was kind of cool, but because you think of people even like Charles Biederman. You got this Swiss banker and everybody from either actors. You’d get a lot of actors, which was kind of cool for Chicago. It’s not the Hollywood thing, but it would draw in people like that, a lot of strange characters, but a lot of cool characters too.
Roger Luri: Fred, from his background growing up in Chicago, he started doing martial arts when he was a little kid with his grandfather and his dad, boxers, wrestlers. He was doing this from when he was a kid and he started from when he was a kid started doing judo and karate. His whole thing was about what would work on the streets. That was his whole thing. I think similar to Bruce Lee, in a way, because Bruce was all about, didn’t really care about where this or that came from but wanted to see how he could work it in and I’ll make it work in his style.
Ron Balicki: I think he and Bob Beal kind of had a similar mission because Bob was kind of drawing from a lot of different things. I don’t know if you ever heard of Bob Beal but if you look him up, another pretty colorful guy because from what I heard is I think they tried to keep Mohammad Ali away from him because they thought that he might hurt him.
Roger Luri: Right, Bob was a devastating puncher and he had destroyed a lot of fighters in the ’50s. He was a real technician. He had this whole curriculum which was really the base of our curriculum at Degerberg that we started with, which was why when myself and other of us at that time started fighting we started beating all people because we had this system that we had developed, this systematic thing with boxing and kick boxing that I don’t think to this day people don’t have. Fred was really ahead of his time with all that, I think.
Ron Balicki: Then there was the whole Dr. G thing with Bando. People come into the school for a long time and then obviously the Wing Chun thing we had Randy Williams. You and I would spend tons of time with him. It was cool, and I kind of do miss it, having that forum.
Roger Luri: It was a great time and place. It’s funny that now there’s all this information available on the internet. You can go and find out about this or that or the other thing. You know, you really don’t, until you go train with somebody that’s when you learn, right, and so it’s a …
Ron Balicki: I found that early on because my father-in-law told me that he would get videos from his students. They’d send it to him and he’s like, “Oh yeah, they’re getting it, they’re getting it, they’re getting.” He would go and he’d put hands with him, he goes, “They don’t have it.” It’s great and I think the video thing is amazing and I utilize it, but to a point. There still needs to be contact because that’s what this whole thing is about is just feeling it and doing it. It’s a good way to see if whoever you’re with is worth or whoever you’re after, sought after, let’s see this guy so you can go to YouTube and look at him.
Roger Luri: It’s a great introduction of things and it’s a great training tool that you can use to review things in your mind and get it straight. It’s just the contrast, that, not to make it sound like we’re like fossils now right, but just think how it was then when there was no internet and you had to just really seek things out and you had to hear about an instructor from somebody and you’d have to go see him and say, “Hey, what can you do?”
Ron Balicki: Here’s the thing, when I was coming up, and I know you were with me most of the time, if you had this “master” from somewhere come in and he’s doing it you worked it so hard and you were detail note taking, and then you went home and worked it because if you didn’t, you lost it.
Roger Luri: You weren’t going to get it again.
Ron Balicki: There was no video .
Roger Luri: You got one shot right?
Ron Balicki: Yeah, and I don’t know how many times that he left, I’m like, “What did he do? I lost it.” It was a different time but it was good because it made us grill it. You were grilled to just drill it.
Roger Luri: Somebody showed you something, you wanted to work it as much as you could right now and get that in as much as you could get it into your memory and get it, to really learn it because you knew that if you didn’t do it now it was going to be gone.
Ron Balicki: I remember I’d be with Larry Lindeman and he’d be like, “Are you notes or am I on notes?” Literally he’d be hawk eyeing what’s going on. He’s going, “Write this, this, and this.” I was like secretary and I’d write it or we’d reverse it the other way because otherwise some of those so in depth obviously. If you lulled, if you went to the bathroom, came back, “Huh?” It was gone.
Ron Balicki: There was no video back then. It’s great that we have it, but there is something about that drilling and doing and even writing it versus just going I got it on video to look at. A lot of times people don’t go back and look at it first. I know that.
Roger Luri: That’s one thing I think people who train with you, Ron, and I think that people who know you, you are just so awesome at just really putting those ideas down and keeping a curriculum. You’ve got the most awesome curriculum out there and it’s because you’ve assembled it over time like that. That’s the one thing I find that you and Guro Dan Inosanto really have in common. You guys really know how to put it together.
Ron Balicki: but that’s it. That’s where I’m thinking I got it from was just seminars going, “I’m going to lose it.” Maybe if I’d grown up today in that age and doing it I would go, “We’ll have it on video.” I would’ve forgone that. I took more notes in martial arts than I did at school. It was just because I didn’t want to lose all this stuff. To this day when I train with him he’ll let me video being Dan Inosanto, but I still run and I take notes and I have to, and then I just make a master list, and that’s all my curriculum is is it’s their material. The most I do is just reshuffle it because I like it here because I think you just kind of give it the pecking order you want.
Roger Luri: Keep it organized. I mean and that’s the one thing that about Guro Dan is each art that he does, he stays true to that art.
Ron Balicki: He does.
Roger Luri: He keeps that art really pure, and that’s an awesome thing.
Ron Balicki: He gives credit.
Roger Luri: That’s another thing that I think you do really a great job of is that you keep that curriculum pure. It’s one thing … We do a mix of martial arts and that’s what we’ve always done with Fred. I think that’s the one thing that Grand Master Fred that had in with Dan is that though we didn’t and put these arts together to make it like a street smart kind of thing, like using things from different areas like Bruce Lee did, we still trained in each art individually and you do Thai boxing, you do Thai boxing. You do Savate, you do Savate. You do Silat, you’re doing Silat, from this style and this style. You’re working it individually right?
Ron Balicki: Yeah, and the cool thing is you and I are starting to travel and do this for other schools too. I’m hoping that you’ll come out and try it out with us. He’s, I think the best and that’s why I have you every year, so that’s it.
Roger Luri: Thank you sir.