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Bruce Lee's Influence on Today's Reality-Based Martial Arts

Updated: Jan 29

Jim Wagner Jim Wagner visiting Bruce Lee's Statue

If you can get your hands on one, take look a through any martial arts magazine in the entire world that was printed before the year 2000, and you’ll notice something missing from all of them that we take for granted today. That something is reality-based content, and by “reality-based” I mean the techniques, tactics, and training methods of law enforcement, military, bodyguards, criminals, terrorists, bouncers, executive protection, bouncers, private security, etc.

Yes, prior to 2000 there was the occasional article written by a cop or a soldier, but those articles were usually about stick fighting, knife fighting, or gun disarms, but that was the exception and not the rule. And, the articles that were written by those professionals were basically the same content already inside the many publications, but with the addition of the still shots of the practitioners wearing police or military uniforms.

There was nothing about surviving an active shooter, a bombing, combat first aid, a sniper attack, the use of moulage and stage blood for realistic training scenarios, and many other things we are facing now. At that time the mainstream martial arts knew nothing of Israeli Krav Maga, KAPAP, HISARDUT or LOTAR. Nobody outside of Russia knew anything about Systema.

The law enforcement term and system “defensive tactics,” or military “combatives,” were virtually unknown to the civilian martial arts community. However, that all changed when in November 1999 I wrote my very first article for Black Belt Magazine in my monthly column titled High Risk. It appeared on newsstands (for there were no digital issues at that time in history) in December, and it was this January 2000 issue that started off the second millennium, a new era for the martial arts, with the birth of the reality-based movement. I should know, because I coined the term “reality-based self-defense,” and just over three years later named my newly formed system Reality-Based Personal Protection, to make a clear distinction between the sport-based and traditional-based martial arts.

Yet, the reality-based movement that I founded would have been delayed by years had it not been for Robert Young, the newly appointed editor of Black Belt Magazine, who solicited the readers, via a letter from the editor, to provide him with any new ideas for the publication, if anyone had any. I came forward, and the rest is history. However, what isn’t well known, for I have never written much about the connection before, is how the late Bruce Lee influenced me in the creation of the reality-based movement. Therefore, in tribute to my Grand Master, of which whom we are all honoring this month of November, I’m going explain this little-known part of the martial arts history.

I started my martial arts training at 14 years old when a friend of mine from Middle School, Alfonso Uceda, taught me the basics of Korean Tae Kwon Do. He had been a student under Rich Roth at Olympic Karate Studios in Atlanta, Georgia before moving to Southern California, and had also attended a seminar by Bill “Superfoot” Wallace. After a year of private lessons with Alfonso, behind a local grade school a few times a week, he told me, “I taught you everything I know. You need to go to a martial arts school if you want to learn more.”

Although I was disappointed that our training together was ending, I took his advice and sought out a school within walking distance. My mother was willing to pay for the lessons at the nearby Japan Karate-Do Ryobu-Kai in Anaheim, California, which was not far from Disneyland (that investment certainly paid off). The instructor was legendary Kiyoshi Yamazaki, and he took me under his wing.

By the time I worked my way up to green belt, Alfonso invited me to go see the movie Enter the Dragon starring Bruce Lee that was playing in a theater in Los Angeles. I had never heard of this recent legend before, for he had died five years earlier.

After watching this classic martial arts movie, I was convinced that I had to study Chinese Kung-fu also. I couldn’t help but be impressed with Bruce Lee’s fluid powerful techniques on the big screen, and I knew that I was missing that in Karate. Three days later I went to my Karate lesson, and before class began, I privately asked my sensei, “I want to also study Kung fu. What do you think?”

Mr. Yamazaki snapped at me, while glaring at me with his piercing samurai warrior-like eyes, and with his heavy Japanese accent barked, “Kung fu no good!”

I wanted to reply, What do you mean ‘no good,’ but just I saw all of those incredible moves by Bruce Lee, but I dared not. I didn’t know why, but I knew I had just crossed the line with him. I was indeed young and naïve. Had I watched a few more dubbed Hong Kong made Kung-fu movies before shooting my mouth off, I would have picked up on the animosity between Karate and Kung-fu practitioners. Just as the Bamboo Curtain existed to separate the West from the East, so too there was an “invisible curtain” separating the various martial arts systems from one another even in the United States of America. In 1976 you just didn’t mix systems. You stayed within one system, and you were loyal to one master. That was just the way it was.

1976 was also the year that I first discovered Black Belt magazine on my local newsstand, and I bought my first issue (December 1976 issue) with my allowance money. Although all the articles inside were about Karate and Judo, Editor Paul William Kroll, in his letter to the readers titled BLACK BELT and the Martial Arts Change, wrote, “In order for the martial arts to remain healthy and growing, we must somehow break through what one person called ‘the provincialism of the dojo.’ We must reach out and attract more people of all ages and all strata of our society.”

The new “frontier” Paul William Kroll also said that he wanted to explore was introducing articles about “internal energy (ki),” and acupuncture. OK, the magazine was not exactly heading in the direction of reality-based, but changes were happing slowly. What really caught my attention in my first issue were the Ohara Books about the Chinese, Korean, Okinawan, and Japanese martial arts. There were also several advertisements for Bruce Lee books. So, I thought to myself after seeing this, Why can’t I study Karate and Kung-fu at the same time? I didn’t want to give up Karate. I loved the system, the subculture, and even Kiyoshi Yamazaki even though he snapped at me, and yet I want to explore these different martial arts that I was becoming aware of.

For the next couple of weeks in my Karate classes I knew I was getting the cold shoulder from Kiyoshi Yamazaki. I don’t know if it was because I had offended him because of the question I had posed to him earlier, or if a fellow Karateka had told him that I was secretly looking for a Kung-fu school, which I was, but the atmosphere had definitely changed. I received the “message” loud and clear. Of course, I had no animosity toward my sensei, nor do I to this day 45 years later, because I’m still “old school” where I have nothing but respect for him for imparting his knowledge and skills upon me. It was merely time to move on.

As I continued to buy Black Belt Magazine I eventually saw an advertisement that caught my attention. Dan Inosanto, friend and protégé of Bruce Lee, was going to be in Aspen, Colorado teaching a combination of Bruce Lee’s system Jeet Kune Do, Wing Chun, and Filipino Kali. The Aspen Academy of Marshal Arts, run by Marshall Ho’o, was a one-month immersion program, and labeled as a “modern-day Shaolin temple.” I just had to go. I brought this ad to the attention of my mother, and to my surprise she sent me there, all alone, as my 16th birthday gift. Not only did I take a cross-country trip by myself for the first time ever, but I was going to learn the same stuff I saw Bruce Lee do in Enter the Dragon, and more!

Meeting Dan Inosanto literally changed the trajectory of my martial arts studies.

Two weeks into the training in the Rocky Mountains, at 7,000 feet above sea level, my fellow classmate, Jose Luis Hinojosa, and I lost our daily ride up to the Academy from the town of Aspen. Mark, our roommate, had to return home early to participate in a Karate tournament, and with him went his black 1975 Datsun 280Z. When Dan found out that Jose Luis and I had no transportation up to the Academy and back he said, “You can ride up with me each day.” Needless to say, not only was it a blessing that I longer had to squeeze into a sports car, but having one hour each day, 30 minutes up and 30 minutes back, with our famous teacher, all to ourselves, five days a week for a couple of weeks, we learned things about Bruce Lee that were not in the movies or printed in books. We were getting it first-hand.

This is two of the walls in my room at 17 years old. A Bruce Lee poster dominates the center of the wall, with a well-worn Kali stick above it.

Although I specifically went up there to learn Bruce Lee’s system Jeet Kune Do, I also discovered that Dan’s Filipino Kali was just as important to me as JKD, especially when Dan told me, “You know that part of the movie in Enter the Dragon where Bruce is fighting everyone underground with the double sticks?” and I nodded my head up and down in expectation of a secret coming my way, “I taught him all that. Bruce was a natural at Kali.”

Larry Hartsell, also a student of Bruce Lee, taught alongside Dan for a week at the Aspen Academy of Martial Arts. The specialty he taught was grappling. I related to Larry because, like me, he started studying the martial arts at 14 years old. We had something else in common, but that would not be for some years later for me – being a Military Police soldier.

Before heading back to California, Dan suggested, “You should start coming to my school in LA. There’s much more I can teach you,” because he knew that I was hungry for more, and that I lived only 50 minutes south of his school in Orange County. I took him up on his offer, and after my high school classes ended I drove up there twice a week in my stepdad’s dune buggy for two years.

Dan Insanto and Richard Bustillo’s martial arts school, the Filipino Kali Academy in Torrance, California, was not only a training facility where I learned Jeet Kune Do, Wing Chun, Filipino Kali, and Chinese Kickboxing, but it was a mini–Bruce Lee Museum. It was not officially a “museum,” but Dan had original Bruce Lee items in there everywhere making it feel like a museum: original photos and JKD signs on the walls, and Bruce’s Wing Chun Gung fu dummy he used to practice on (nobody was allowed to train on it).

Although I never met Bruce Lee, as a Jeet Kune Do student, he was indeed my Grand Master, and his portrait hanging on the wall overlooking us was a reminder of that every training session.

Anyone who has studied Bruce Lee’s book Tao of Jeet Kune Do, published in 1975, knows that he was a pioneer of the martial arts. In this book it is evident that he not only studied various martial arts system, but he mixed them as well. Again, this was revolutionary at that time in Western martial arts history.

Dan Inosanto kept this philosophy alive and well by quoting his friend often in class, “Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own.” Many of my fellow classmates did exactly that when they moved on: Ted LucayLucay who founded the LucayLucay Kali/Jeet Kune Do Association, Paul Vunak with his Progressive Fighting System, Richard Burton with his JKD Unlimited, Mark Denny “Crafty Dog” of Dog Brothers Martial Arts Association, Brandon Lee carrying on his father’s legacy, and me of course.

Dan didn’t just quote Bruce Lee, but he lived it. He also made us, his students, live it. When he opened his new school in Marina Del Rey, called the Inosanto Academy, he brough in Salem Assli (who just died a year ago on November 5, 2021) to teach Savate (French kickboxing). Many instructors would have felt threatened bringing in an instructor of another martial arts system to teach their students, but not Dan. In fact, after I had trained with Salem, Dan brought in yet another instructor to teach us, and he was Chai Sirisute who taught me and my fellow classmates Muay Thai. After a few years at the Filipino Kali Academy and little time at the Inosanto Academy, plus attending a few martial arts schools closer to home (Kenpo, Tae Kwan Do again, and Western boxing) simultaneously over the years, I was thoroughly mixed.

When I was going through Boot Camp (Basic Combat Training) as a Soldier in the United States Army, arriving at Fort Jackson in September 1980, I discovered very quickly that there was something lacking in Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do, and all the other systems I had studied. That missing something was firearms, explosives, and modern military tactics. It’s not Bruce Lee’s fault this was absent from JKD, he just didn’t have a military or law enforcement background to draw upon.

However, Dan Inosanto had served as a paratrooper with the 101stAirborne Division from 1959 to 1961, but for whatever reason none of that training or experience was blended in what he taught in his schools. Karate and different martial arts were being taught in the military, but military skills were not being taught in civilian martial arts school. At the time in history, it was a one-way street. Nonetheless, the fertile soil of martial arts diversity that Dan Inosanto had plowed in my young mind was ready for the seeds of “war arts” my Army training and experience fell upon.

When I was in the United States Army, as early as in Boot Camp, I started teaching private lessons to some of my fellow Soldiers. While I was stationed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina Dan Inosanto wrote me a letter since I was a part of the JKD family.

Throughout my four years in high school, from 1974 to 1980, martial-artist-turned-actor Chuck Norris was a big star among the martial arts community, and that’s because of his appeared as the villain in Bruce Lee’s movie The Way of the Dragon (1972). However, it wasn’t until his movie Breaker! Breaker! (1977) that he caught the attention of the general public. From there he began to take on the roles of either a former Soldier or a law enforcement officer, which gave the martial artist character a reason for carrying firearms.

Although portraying a martial artist this way was groundbreaking, the fighting techniques Chuck Norris used against the bad guys in these early movies were always scripted to having him fight with empty hand techniques; mostly disarming armed attackers and knocking them out with a punch or a kick. It wasn’t until his movie Lone Wolf McQuade (1983) did he start to combine shooting at criminals with empty hand techniques. It must be noted that the movie First Blood (1982), starring Sylvester Stallone, who played the role of a U.S. Special Forces Vietnam War veteran named John Rambo, included a mix of hand-to-hand combat and shooting scenes – lots of shooting. This genre was followed by Chuck Norris in the movie Missing in Action (1984), Missing in Action 2 (1985), Code of Silence (1985), and many more to follow.

In 1982 I played my first game of Paintball, only a year after the game was invented. It was originally called “Survival Game,” and it was played using a marking gun that used a CO2 cartridge to propell paint-filled balls that would break upon impact.

Any hit on a human target was a “kill.” For protection only goggles and surplus military fatigues were worn.

Immediately after this experience I went out and bought two paintball guns and I started incorporating them into my martial arts training, and I was the first civilian self-defense instructor to do so. Instead of just telling them how to get behind cover to protect themselves during a gang shooting or terrorist attack, using non-firing training guns, now I was able to fire projectiles at them.

There was no, “You didn’t hit me,” anymore. When students got hit, there was no doubt about it. Paintballs hurt, and a black and blue mark for a few days on the body is a constant reminder of failure. When airsoft guns first appeared in the United States in the early 1990s, I was the first self-defense instructor to recommend that they be used as a training tool by all martial artists.

Just a year after Paintball went public, I joined in on my first game of “Survival Game.” After this I then introduced paintball guns to self-defense training. Then in the 1990s, when airsoft guns came on the scene, I was the first self-defense instructor in the United States to introduce them.

Although I had taught private lessons, for free, to fellow Soldiers, and a few students after my service, it wasn’t until I got married in 1986 that I decided to start teaching professionally, and I wanted to do it under my own name. Therefore, I named my system WAGNER’S MODERN FIGHTING METHODS with the tag line UNARMED AND ARMED SELF-DEFENSE. My new system made firearms and military tactics the priority. That was evident by my logo, which prominently showed an AR-15 rifle over a shield with a throwing star (shuriken).

The hand-to-hand combat I started to teach was a mix of Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do and Wing Chun, along with traditional-based and sport-based martial arts techniques that I thought were realistic for modern situations. No sooner had I placed an eighth page advertisement in my college newspaper to draw students to my new system did my local police department contact me by telephone to find out what I was “up to.” Apparently, they didn’t like the clip art of an AR-15, Israeli Uzi, shuriken, and a combat knife boldly displayed in the add, or the words “designed to familiarize the average person with modern weapons, skills and tactics for the purpose of self-defense.

They obviously had never heard of a martial arts instructor “combining firearms training with martial arts training” before, at least not in Southern California, and they were extremely concerned that I was forming some sort of militia group under the guise of “self-defense.” I assured the investigating detective on the other end of the line that I wasn’t looking for any trouble, that I was a veteran, and I was going to used paintball guns as a training tool, and go to the gun range for any live-fire training.

Going off on my own to spread my Reality-Based techniques, tactics, and training methods I named my new system Wagner’s Modern Fighting Methods, which brought about the disapproval of the local police department.

I wasn’t sure if he just couldn’t grasp my intent to combine the two worlds, or worse yet, that he did in fact fully understand what my intentions were and he wanted to shut me down before I even started to prevent me from taking the martial arts in a perceived dangerous direction in his corner of the world. After all, the police had never viewed the traditional-based or sport-based martial arts as a threat before. They were considered benign to the government. Somehow mine wasn’t.

Although I thought this fear odd at the time, as if citizens shouldn’t be able to adequately protect themselves, this same concern was later repeated in my career when I taught my very first seminar in the country of Holland in 2006.

Without me, or my host Maik Konstantinides, knowing anything about it, every day the Amsterdam Police Department had registered a different undercover police officer to attend my one-week course. On the fifth and final day, a deputy chief of police came up to me privately after the lunch break and politely, but authoritatively, said to me, “We were very worried about what we heard you were going to be teaching. You know, we have the power to shut you down, and the power to have you never teach in this country again.”

After letting that sink in for a few seconds, giving me just enough time to imagine myself being put on the first plane out of Schiphol Airport, he continued, “But, after all my officers reported to me daily on your classes, and after what I saw myself attending this class today, we like what you are doing, and you may continue to teach in Holland.

Also, would you be interested in training our police department?” This turned out to be a very fruitful relationship because I helped develop many of their police programs, which in turn were taught to other law enforcement officers throughout the country. One year I was even issued a police badge and made an honorary Police Officer Instructor of the Amsterdam Police Training Center (Politie, Regiopolitie Amsterdam-Amstelland).

Always on the cutting edge (pun intended), I was the first to introduce combat first aid to the civilian martial arts community.

I guess the reason my local police didn’t share my revolutionary vision for making civilian martial arts more realistic, which included using paintball guns, was that during this time in history the MILES (Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System) was only being used by the military, and it would not be for another two years before the law enforcement officers in my county would be training with it.

Since most law enforcement agencies were also not using paintball guns for realistic training, what I tried to articulate to the detective was foreign to him, and he warned me that if I taught “in his city” I would be paid a personal visit. I took the threat as a possible arrest for something, and I decided to turn my dream into a reality another way.

A way that would keep me off the police’s radar.

In the following advertisements I placed in my college newspaper, I didn’t mention firearms at all. Rather, I listed the training as a mix of knife fighting, Filipino stick fighting, simulated situations, American boxing, and Chinese kickboxing. It was in the “simulated situations” that I would introduce firearms and military tactics to my students. The police never bothered me after that.

I taught courses for the City of Costa Mesa (left), but on the side, out of public view, I trained a select group of students how to be terrorists. I was given permission by the police department to train an OPFOR (Opposing Force) for the SWAT team.

In December 1988 I was hired by the Costa Mesa Police Department to be a jailer. After several prisoners attacked me, a couple of them life-and-death fights that I obviously survived, and in those days we didn’t carry any less-lethal weapons in the jail to protect ourselves, I realized that many things I had been taught in the traditional-based and sport-based martial arts were not adequate for real conflict against criminals. So, taking Bruce Lee’s advice, I did a major overall of my martial arts arsenal and I followed the formula - absorbed what was useful then rejected what was useless and I made it my own. I “made it my own” because having been in the Army, and now gaining real-world first-hand knowledge about the mind and behavior of criminals, coupled with having taught a wide range of people for eight years by then, I started developing my own original techniques, tactics, and teaching methods.

After I had gained a fair number of students, even police officers, an opportunity has arisen for me to teach for the city’s Community Services Department. The City of Costa Mesa allowed me to teach two different courses, but since it was a city government sponsoring my courses, I had to repackage it for the general public. The first course was titled STREET SELF-DEFENSE, which I listed as a mix of Filipino Kali, French Savate, Thai Boxing, American Boxing, Wing Chun, Jeet Kune Do, plus “police and military tactics.” I also inserted a phrase that I started to use, and that was “Simulated Reality Training (SRT).”

The second course I named Women Against Rape, and in the course description it stated, “situations that seem so realistic you’ll wish at times that you’d never signed up for the class.” That course was so far ahead of its time that SWAT magazine published my article titled Close-Quarters Combat FOR WOMEN ONLY (November 1988 issue), and five of the seven photos in the article showed paintball guns: me pointing out the features of the paintball gun to my female students, a woman firing from “her bed” at an attacker about to leap upon her, students on the “firing line” in a shooting stance, a woman taking aim as I supervised her, and a photo realistic human target with paint splatter around the holes in the paper.

Of course, my belief at the time, and it still is, that every law-abiding American citizen should learn how to use a firearm since it is our God-given Constitutional right (the Second Amendment), then edged weapons, followed by impact weapons. The very last resort is empty hand techniques and tactics. 80% of one’s training should be weapons, and 20% empty hand.

The publication Women & Guns also published a similar article I had written two years later, and it even had on the cover of the magazine (the April/May 1990 issue) a photo showing seven of my female students on the “firing line” with replica pistols as two assistant instructors supervise them.

Although guns were an important part of Women Against Rape, later in history to be renamed Women’s Survival, the realism also included scenarios where an assistant instructor played the role of a police officer, even dressed in a police uniform, and took the report from the “victims” (part of the post-conflict training) as if a real crime had taken place.

From the get go I was big into not only teaching realistic and effective techniques, but also teaching pre-conflict and post-conflict.

The following year, 1991, I was hired as a police recruit, and sent to the police academy for five months. Upon graduation, and receiving my badge and gun, I was a patrol police officer. As a police officer for eight years, which included three years on the SWAT team, I experienced what any police officer experiences in a city of 100,000 people south of Los Angeles: robberies, burglaries, car chases, gang activity, domestic violence, writing traffic tickets, and a couple of people who tried to hurt or kill me.

Obviously, my fighting knowledge, skills, and teaching methods became more and more refined. There was no more what is theory and what is reality? when it came to the martial arts for me because I was immersed in a life of violence. I lived it literally every day. However, by this time in my life I had developed the us against them mentality, and I stopped teaching civilians.

The “us” was law enforcement, and the “them” were the civilians. I’d stop teaching civilians for a full decade. Instead, I found myself teaching not only law enforcement officers outside of my own agency, but federal agencies and military units throughout the United States were requesting that I teach them also.

At the Inosanto Academy in Marina Del Rey, California there were all kinds of original Bruce Lee memorabilia throughout the school. In this photo stands, from left to right, Muay Thai instructor Chai Sirisute, Moroccan Karate Champion Mohammed Jounir, Dan Inosanto, me, and one of my students, Mike DiGiovanni who today is 85 years old and practices my Knife Survival techniques every morning.

This photo was taken when Black Belt editor Robert Young was watching me (in the red helmet) teach U.S. Marines and SWAT team members defensive tactics/combatives at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Here I am an unarmed “bad guy” challenging two SWAT officers.

For those 10 years of teaching “the world’s elite,” while simultaneously still being a law enforcement officer (municipal police, then a deputy sheriff team leader of a dignitary protection unit, then a U.S. federal agent counterterrorist) I was teaching off and on around the world because foreign agencies and military units also wanted me to teach them. Although I referred to any self-defense training that I gave to law enforcement as “defensive tactics,” and any self-defense training I gave to military personnel as “combatives,” which were generic terms at the time and still used today for these groups, the blend of techniques, tactics, and training methods were uniquely my own.

As I mentioned before, in 1999 the new editor of Black Belt Magazine, Robert Young, wanted any reader with any new ideas to submit them. So, I did just that. I basically wrote to Mr. Young that Black Belt Magazine was ignoring the other half of the martial artists, the “war” artists: corrections, law enforcement, and the military. I promised him that if he allowed me to write regular articles for the publication that not only would those “who fight for a living” start reading the magazine, but the civilian readers would embrace my “reality-based” techniques, tactics, and training methods as well. After, Mr. Young personally watched me teach a class (full contact hand-to-hand combat and realistic scenarios) at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton to the Marines and local SWAT teams, he was sold. He said to me, “This is the real thing.”

However, he told me that I wasn’t just going to just write articles for Black Belt Magazine, but I would be given my own monthly column, which I named High Risk; a police term for the most dangerous situations. And, true to my promise, the professionals started reading the magazine, and martial artists around the world were indeed given new and original content. Most readers liked what I presented, but many hated it, and they made their hatred of me and my methods known with many letters to the editor over the years. For example, before terrorism was a problem in the United States, many practitioners and instructors didn’t see any need for my articles on how to survive a terrorist attack. Then America was attacked on September 11, 2001 and a year later I was the first person in Black Belt Magazine to appear on the front cover holding a real firearm, two no less.

One in my gun hand, and a second one in my tactical vest. Then before active shooters in the United States were a thing, some martial artists wrote that learning how to survive a shooting by rifle fire was a complete waste of time. One prominent martial arts instructor wrote, “What’s next, learning how to survive a nuclear bomb?” Well, because of that snarky comment I did write an article about surviving not only a nuclear blast, if one is far enough away from it, but also how to survive a “dirty bomb.”

After all, I was trained by the United States Army and Army National Guard for nuclear warfare, and as a counterterrorist I trained and worked with the FBI and other agencies to know about dirty bombs, and since it was a part of my “reality,” and I felt that sometime in the future such an attack could occur, why not share it with my students and like-minded martial artists? Here we are now, in 2022, and some serious threats are being slung back and forth about using nukes by the Chinese, Russians, North Koreans, and Iranians, and in turn there are responses of retaliation by Western nations if they dare use them.

Just recently the United States government has purchased $290 million worth of radiation sickness medication (romiplostim) for government officials. So, despite the criticisms from my critics over the past 22 years, I’m still writing for Black Belt Magazine, and thanks to this publication the Reality-Based movement was born, which has literally saved many lives around the world.

In 2006 I was voted by the Black Belt readers, 70,000 readers at the time, as Self-Defense Instructor of the Year for the Black Belt Hall of Fame. It was at this award ceremony that I had the privilege of meeting Bruce Lee’s wife, Linda Lee, and his daughter Shannon Lee, both remarkable ladies. When I told Linda Lee Cadwell that I studied her husband’s Jeet Kune Do under Dan Inosanto and JKD masters, and how much I admired her late husband, she told me how impressed she was about my background and accomplishments.

That’s because she, and everyone in the room attending the Hall of Fame ceremony, saw a 2-minute 49-second video presentation that Black Belt Magazine had produced showing parts of my history, from my start in the martial arts as a teenager to developing Reality-Based. It also showed the covers of my book, titled Reality-Based Personal Protection, and the many videos Black Belt Magazine produced about my system. The voiceover on the video stated towards the end, “For his more than three decades of expertise, and the ingenuity to bring a fresh approach to self-defense training, Black Belt is proud to induct Jim Wagner…”

I was the first person ever to be on the cover of Black Belt magazine with a firearm, and holding it no less (left). The next time I was on the cover (right) I was back in the military Reserve Soldier Combatives instructor. By this time the civilian martial arts community were used to me blending the martial arts with many tactical techniques, tactics, and training methods.

When the readers of Black Belt Magazine selected me as Self-Defense Instructor of the Year 2006 for the Black Belt Hall of Fame I had the privilege of meeting Bruce Lee’s wife Linda Lee and his daughter Shannon Lee.

Writing for Black Belt Magazine is, without doubt, what launched my new system, Jim Wagner Reality-Based Personal Protection, around the world. It’s because of those professionals reading this publication that I ended up teaching at the Israeli Police Academy and then for the Israeli Defense Force at the Wingate Institute Bahad 8; the very place where Krav Maga was born. It was Major Avi Nardia that read my articles in Black Belt magazine, viewed one of my videos, and then emailed me stating, “None of our knife systems are any good here. I like what you are teaching. I think it is better. Will you come out and teach my unit?”

I accepted the invitation, and now I am part of the martial arts history of Israel, because several police and military units incorporated my original Knife Survival techniques and tactics, and because I convinced Avi to teach KAPAP outside of Israel it’s now known throughout the world. Thousands of KAPAP students around the world, from Argentina to Austria, even wear my logo that I designed for Avi Nardia. It’s because of Black Belt Magazine that German national counterterrorist team GSG9 flew me out to St. Augustin, Germany, not once but twice, to teach all four of their teams, and that led to me training all kinds of German police agencies and military groups. My fingerprints are all over many of Germany’s current fighting systems, and even their Air Marshal program that I helped develop after 9/11. It’s because of Black Belt Magazine that I found myself teaching the Helsinki Police Department, Amsterdam Police Department, NATO forces, the DEA, San Diego Sheriff’s Department Training Academy, London Metropolitan Police, Trinidad & Tobago Anti-Crime Unit, and many more. But, as I stated before, none of this would have happened, not by me anyway, had it not been for Bruce Lee’s influence on me.

“Grand Mater Bruce Lee, you helped me to BE A HARD TARGET, and also those whom I’ve taught.”

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