Jon Rister – head instructor in the Rister international martial arts instructor association Kali Eskrima FMA, Wing Chun Silat pentjak, Jeet Kune Do, Close combat tactical solutions.
1. Dear Sifu Rister, describe please yourself. Where were you born?
I was born in Southern California, however spent most of my time in Oregon as a child. We lived in mountains where there were no proper bathrooms or running water. We ate what we grew and raised chickens and cows. Bathed in streams in summer and from a bucket in winter. At 15 years old I moved to Texas and things changed again. I worked as labor for my food and lodging until I could join military at age 17.
Who did you study? I trained in boxing and wrestling first I don’t know the names. When I was 19, I started training with Dan Inosanto in the Filipino Martial Arts(FMA), Jeet Kune Do (JKD) and Silat. I was also training with Francis Fong in Wing Chun, Larry Hartsell Jeet Kune Do Grappling, and Master Chai (Surachai Sirisute) in Thai boxing.
Did you serve? Yes, I was in an Army unit Aviation unit and worked with UH-1 Huey, AH-1 Cobra, and UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters during early 80s, no overseas deployments.
Where did you work? After the Army I worked many construction jobs and handy man jobs that paid for my training. I spent 20 or so years working in some very tough areas of Dallas and Fort worth. Like with the construction Job, there were many opportunities for close combat lessons. By this I mean being attacked for real with real weapons, sometimes taking them away and sometimes the other thing.
2. How did you first get into martial arts?
I first started martial arts when a school opened right near my work. I knew I needed more training for self-defense due to my work was often with people just released from jail or prison and I had many fights and near fights.
What was the impetus? I wanted to learn a martial art that was organized and taught all those things like the military had trained. Something to use, to improve my mind and body. Not just to fight. I was lucky to find the Inosanto lineage.
What martial arts have you mastered in your life? I spent most of my life on edged weapons arts like Kali, Eskrima and Wing Chun. Although I did lots of grappling and kick boxing training though I do not gravitate towards the way of sports.
3. Who is your first master or mentor?
My first mentor and I have a bad relationship now, so I won’t mention his name. He was also a student of all my instructors. A former Army Ranger and a real hard ass. He didn’t pay much attention unless you paid a lot of money, and that I did. He worked me very hard, and I owe him a lot for that.
Who is the most beloved? This is the hardest question to answer I loved them all Francis Fong was close to me, I think. He led me places no other person would. I am who I am because of him, and I can see through walls because of him. So, I have to say that. I will say they all had a place Larry Hartsell I identified with as a man. He was a real man and an example of a fighter. Dan Inosanto is the human side of martial arts, and his love of learning is a great example. It’s hard to get near to him though and that’s all I will say.
4. Tell please about Rister International Martial Arts. What martial arts do you focus on now?
We focus on learning what is real and what is most effective and efficient. We want to take other instructors and help them do the same. Our arts that we focus on are Kali and Wing Chun. However, we believe in only what is real and what can make us better. Anything will be taken in and used. What does the military use? What do criminals use? Finally, who will we most likely have to fight or kill. We view all arts through the eyes of truth and do not care where it comes from. So, do we then do Jeet Kune Do? It’s best for the political parties in martial arts to decide that I think. My goals are to take a student and make them better at whatever they need. Most of them don’t even know. We try to develop and evolve.
What are your students most interested in today? Mainly It seems weapons arts have the most attention. Most of my students today are other instructors who seek to learn a different way of thinking. Many are older and need to survive the streets. they worry about threats of violence on a day-to-day basis. Some however just want to play and so we take them as practice partners and do the best they can.
5. What do you think Kali means?
Kali or Ka Mu Lihok means to use the body as the weapon. Arnis? Arnis means to harness the hands or arms (weapons) Eskrima? (Escrima, esgrima) Eskrima is simply combat and how to fight in battle. Lost on most modern teachers of Eskrima who see it as a game or something like sport. It is as defined simple armed combat with the goal to victory as a science of combat.
What are the differences between them? To me the main difference is of course who is teaching. My eyes see Arnis as a stick art or sport art. I see Kali as the warriors adaptation of all types of combat to achieve skill, ability, awareness, nobility, correctness, to understand tactics and strategy and to attain spiritual strength and spiritual combat. Eskrima is a science to teach and learn victory in combat. Simple and like math. Eskrima (to Skirmish) is a simplification of the art of war created more as a model for soldiery, Fighting with weapons, skill at arms.
6. Where do you think Kali comes from?
It is known widely as FMA however for 370 years give or take the Spanish dominated much of the globe. We know many aspects of the art are representative of this fact. The movement the use of then blade are indicative of the schools of fencing from Europe. We also must note that there were often (if not always ) Italian, Germanic, and Franco (french) mercenaries who sailed on Spanish ships. Combined with the warrior mind set and aggressiveness of indigenous personnel Filipinos, we must note that even the term Filipino comes from King Philip of Spain.
Philosophically, Kali arrives from what was created for mankind. Does it come from God to man (from Within)? It’s combat, all-inclusive, So, it must come from something of greater origin. Not a place or region.
(added) Historically The roots of Kali on the islands were a tribal warrior art that was influenced by all the people they traded with. Especially being a group of islands and seagoing people. The Spanish of course had a huge influence on the island warrior arts as well as other European nations and the nations throughout Southeast Asia.
What does the Kali machine look like in general?
Kali is the constant refining and sharpening of technical elements, mind set, Mysticism and the will to achieve victory. The machine of Kali never stops, never breaks down. It takes any part that is working and reforms the whole. If I am sick and dying the last breath is then used to kill the enemy or revive a brother warrior. It is not a stick or a blade or a rock or a sling. It is the essence of man and his will to move forward and survive. For instance, Kali has 8 triangles each representing 3 things. For example, mind-feet-hands or drills-technical skill-fighting skill are two of the 8 triangles.
Kali arrives from what was created for mankind. Does it come from God to man? It’s combat, all-inclusive, So, it must come from something of greater origin. Not a place or region. What does the Kali machine look like in general? Kali is the constant refining and sharpening of technical elements, mindset, and the will to victory. The machine of Kali never stops, never breaks down. It takes any part that is working and reforms the whole. If I am sick and dying the last breath is then used to kill the enemy or revive a brother warrior. It is not a stick or a blade or a rock or a sling. It is the essence of man and his will to move forward and survive.
7. What martial art have taken FMA as a basis, modified and used in their understanding, passed off as their system? (Where it is clearly visible.)
Well first one comes to mind is Krav Maga. Although I think in some ways, they are all doing a little of this. Even the term dirty boxing is used to make a fitness art and pass it off as the real thing. It’s not.
8. How did you get started in Jeet Kune Do? What was the reason?
I got started as an accident. I didn’t know about JKD but liked the idea of Tae Kwon Do. I was lucky to run into my first master who was a JKD guy, and he opened my eyes to the many systems of the arts. From there I got any books or study materials. At that time there weren’t many videos at all. I recorded seminars with all my teachers and used them with the books to train and fight. I needed to learn to fight people who were vagabonds or criminals, people who would beat me if I couldn’t put up a good fight. So I became able to at least keep them nervous and to not mess with me because I was willing and able to do damage. I took a long journey to understand JKD as Bruce Lee would have mean one to, its not a style or about technical aspects although they exist in training. The strategy and tactics Mind set and will to be absolutely unique as opposed to following step by step drills and patterns your whole life. It is Eskrima it is Wing Chun it is pure and without error.
9. Many people confuse Wing Chun with Jeet Kune Do. What are the differences?
The differences between them is small at the beginning, vast in the middle and very narrow at the end. Wing Chun is the very foundation of Jeet Kune Do. Modern Jeet Kune Do is a fitness industry used to make money it is Kick boxing or box aerobics. The main difference to me is in the forms of Wing Chun and how if done properly will develop the whole person. If done incorrectly, they are a waste of time, most JKD people think this. If you don’t study Wing Chun you can never understand JKD! Unless you are a real Kali man, and by real, I mean you have the willingness and mind set to adapt and fighting experience plays a huge role in understanding, and fighting experience shouldn’t be limited to sport mind set.
10. How do you assess the current state of martial arts in the world in general?
It is all about money, how many students you have and how much fitness you do. If you make money, you are successful and if you teach for the betterment of yourself and the art, respect your students and teachers then you are seen as unsuccessful in most cases.
Degradation or development? Martial arts as a whole is on the degradation side. People who could be on the very highest pinnacle of the science, of the art, art of the soul, as Bruce Lee might say. Instead, it’s mostly a lie, or a sport. It’s hardly martial arts as I see it. There are a few organizations who still seek the true path, but very few.
This might be too simple of an explanation and answers. I’m not the best at writing (typing skills).