Interview with Mr. Kelly Worden

Q. How long have you been in the fighting arts?

A. I am 46 years old, so I have been involved in the fighting arts for over 35 years. Traditional arts entered my life in junior high school at age 13. I was first introduced via a round kick to the "nuts", whoa, what a shocker that was. It didn't take long for unsupervised technical information to seep out into the alley behind the good 'ol Dairy Queen. Formal classes included Judo, Tae Kwon Do, and Isshinryu karate. Most importantly, the guys I trained with were not financially well to do. So early on we exchanged curriculum and material because it was an issue of survival. We were in rational context "Poor Boy JKD" practitioners without even knowing it. Before JKD had made it into main stream martial arts we were blending styles because it was the natural path of least resistance. Oh yeah, we couldn't care less about politics. Politics is an issue of having too much time on your hands and not focusing on the core of martial growth and "personal development". Style never kicked my ass, but fighters with attributes and personal skill have! I would have to address the art of boxing at this point. Boxing was the foundation of my fighting from the age of 9 years old. What I learned early on established a fighting spirit and a tolerance for physical contact. Yes, boxing is a Martial Art and getting involved in boxing introduced me to pure aggression while karate incorporated a technical foundation for analyzing fighting concepts.

Q. What Instructors had the most influence on you as a martial

A. My Dad taught me how to box and got me involved with the Boys Club Boxing Program. The "old man" was a tough S.O.B. What was discipline yesteryear would be considered abuse today, but that's a different story. Nonetheless, I didn't walk his path, so I must respect his commitment to old family values. Ron, my older brother was truly a street fighter, so living in his shadow was a training ground in itself.

He taught me to ride, rumble, and rock & roll, and not necessarily in that order. If anyone defined combat at an early age for me, it was him. There were many bruised egos throughout the town of Tacoma to attest to that fact. His aggressive nature wasn't necessarily out of place, it just kind of blended with Tacoma. To make a long story short, he did his time in a variety of ways, and he was always respected as a streetfighter and feared by a lot of people.

At one time I tried to introduce him into martial arts but he just wanted to kick the instructor's ass for "all the horse stance shit". He didn't have the patience for training, he just wanted to fight, and he did that a lot! My brother was my reality teacher... I would put him first and foremost above the karate technicians that influenced my early development. He's living a peaceful life and no doubt had to fight for that freedom. Some fights are internal. Others are with the rest of the world. The secret is taking advantage of the lessons, which he did.

Ed Lewis, a long time student of Pioneer Steve Armstrong schooled me for over eight years in Isshinryu karate and other arts. Ed also boxed and introduced the Northwest to full-contact karate. I assisted Ed in almost all facets of the arts. We incorporated Tai Chi, Pakua, Eskrima, and other elements to round out each individual's personal skills. It was a structured attempt to format freedom. The system was called "Yao-Mun Nomad" and we were "wanderers of the arts". Very few achieved the insight awarded me via Ed's sacrifices which motivated my personal commitment to personal freedom. (Read Loner)

J. Cui Brocka was my first traditional Arnis instructor. Cui would only instruct me if I also attended his Shotokan karate program. Although this was a contradiction, (i.e., going back into the structure of karate), my desire to learn Combat Arnis ruled over my distaste for traditional karate. Honestly, it did me good to re-establish a foundation, 23 Shotokan katas and three years later, I received instructor status in Combat Arnis as well as a second dan in Shotokan.

There are many who were motivators and have added insight into my training over the years: Earl Squalls, Richard Bustillo, Sonny Umpad, Steve Armstrong, Jim Ingram, Sugar Ray Seales, Jesse Glover, Ed Hart, Dr. Brett Jacques, Ted Lucay Lucay, Leonard Trigg, and Taky Kimura just to scratch the surface. Also brothers of the art: Jim Keating, Bob Anderson, Joe Simonet, Chris Charnos, and Maurice Smith. Heck, there are just too many people to mention. I respect all those who have taken a stand to represent honesty above commercial "chop-socky".

Without a doubt, Remy Presas planted the most responsive seed of growth. Professor Presas spent much personal time instructing me on the connecting lines of movement that separated yet defined style relationships. Professor taught extraction and integration as the way to adapt or even mimic the attributes that separated one style from another. Yes, using all paths as the connecting tissue to develop a complete comprehension of what each art's strategy is and attaching or inserting "that essence" into the weak points of other existing styles. The "Art within Your Art" sounds exactly what JKD is suppose to express....

Remy tied the lines together. Most importantly he was very vicious and complete on all levels of body alignment and attachment. Early on when Remy came to the U.S., he gave the shit away, meaning whatever you could pick up and absorb was yours. Shazaam! Remy said I had a computer mind and his art was what I needed. What made me different? I never really made much money teaching martial arts and I did custom painting for bread and butter so I could train in whatever system or whatever method of martial art I wanted to. Anything I threw at the grungy boyz that trained with me, we did. I dropped everything and did nothing but Modern Arnis. During the saturation of concepts I added all my prior years of training and curriculums. Remy taught me relationship and extractions to movement, distinctly evolving my system into a Filipino JKD. From there I developed the sibat system and referenced the long pole or staff to modern arnis curriculum. Anyo or form relationships were spliced and integrated with silat from my personal research to evolve and form the Natural Spirit kuntao format and continue the progression leading to freedom of expression with foundation. Recently a martial arts periodical addressed rank in modern arnis.... in 1988, Remy promoted me to Datu of modern arnis. Remy saw the glimmer in my eye and took a chance and that pissed off all kinds of people. Nonetheless, he is very proud of my success and commitment to martial arts. As Remy said, "Just do your work and forget about what anybody says." The ranking structure of any system is only an issue for those who choose to be a number. Remy Presas freed me from the bonds of systems, including his own. By promoting me to Datu, he entrusted me to expand on the foundation of modern arnis,from my perspective. But freedom does have it's price. It's spelled: L-O-N-E-R.

Q. Bruce Lee, Remy Presas, and Jesse Glover have all influenced you greatly as a martial artist. What are some of the greatest lessons/insights you received from each of them?

A. Bruce Lee? I didn't even know him!! What can I say that isn't a coat-tail ride on his sacrifices? Sadly, too many have ridden Bruce's magic carpet in an effort to control the very freedom he professed, almost purposefully confusing the hell out of (almost) everyone. So, simply put, what free enterprise did for America, Bruce Lee did for the martial arts. I consider the motivation of current JKD leaders to parallel the efforts of capitalist industry, dictating exactly how we will be allowed to view the the world. The sacrifice Bruce made to free the people has been clouded by reinstated traditional beliefs that somehow a JKD certificate makes a better fighter (read: not practitioner)--more efficient, more capable of extracting the functional aspects of any fighting art. JKD certificates are about control and agenda. Getting certified in JKD is almost a slap in the face, especially if the path is dictated. There are thousands of renegade JKD fighters worldwide, all following the path intended: the one they personally choose. Today's renegade prefers to include iron and steel (firearms and edged weapons) and believes in the only person that may actually be able to save his ass... himself. What happened to Bruce Lee's quotes about blind reverence? I rarely depend on Bruce Lee's quotes to define freedom... I took Bruce's advice to seek and speak my own truth. It's our world now; don't we owe it to ourselves to follow the path and honestly breathe freedom?

Well, now that we are inside my art, let's bring Jesse Glover into the equation. Our relationship is one of mutual respect, yet I consider Jesse my senior in life as well as martial training. Jesse filled in the lines after contact is made with just a reference point the senses tune in. Neuromuscular training is a substantial attribute of JKD Jesse provided insight and a method of training to develop strong forward pressure attachment. Let's put it this way, I respect Jesse as a leading innovator of conceptual teaching. Most importantly Jesse didn't push a big price tag attached to the "Certification AGENDA" currently associated with learning any aspect of JKD It's no wonder Jesse claims no direct connection to JKD, he teaches Non-Classical Gung-Fu. Interestingly, senior JKD instructor Taky Kimura has always expressed the fact that Jesse and his students were the best fighters Bruce Lee ever developed.. Hummm...that fact is still respected in the inner circle...... is it JKD? I'm not sure, but the original premise is to develop fighting skills, not to collect certificates....

Jesse opened the door to the reality of Bruce's foundation art of gung fu. He didn't have to take me as a student, but he did. Jesse never dictated anything to me, only guided me to self-realized answers. In Jesse's eyes, Jeet Kune Do died with Bruce Lee. No doubt it did. Hitting that wall of information makes one believe that there is no guidance system to self-discovery. Jess was instrumental in pointing out key instincts like self-preservation and the thought process of evaluating everything you do in your training for function and, most important, practicality. Meaning, can you pull the shit off in the heat of the moment or can you modify it if something goes wrong? If not, you know the answer to that one. Some doubt the function and effectiveness of what Bruce originally taught. My experience leads me to believe the opposite, and I stand behind Jesse Glover's theories, principles, and teaching methodology to the degree it has become an integral part of my own teaching curriculum: the Natural Spirit system, or what has been referred to as renegade JKD. Through Jesse's guidance I have extracted and redefined what is functional at specific entry points of a confrontation. Through his help, as well as that of Escrimadore Sonny Umpad, my centerline methodology has been improved dramatically. I hold them both in high esteem and consider them pioneers in the progression of American martial arts.

Taky Kamura, the soft-spoken, eloquent peacemaker, was another one. A victim of the intern camps during WWII, Taky has no problem comprehending humility. Let's get past that and talk about his insight--no doubt the art of fighting without fighting and teaching without touching. Are all our learning skills based on physical touch? Hardly. Taky is an enlightened man who has seen many come and go, including Bruce Lee. Taky was one person out of the many JKD practitioners I approached who was really only interested in my personal progress and not what I could do for him. Taky's most endearing feature or quality to me was that he embraced and guided me without agenda, negativity, or anything else that didn't make me feel I was number one and looked upon by others (including the Spirit of Bruce Lee) as one who spoke the truth. Through my frustration of dealing with JKD, Taky reassured me on numerous occasions that honesty, self-examination, and personal reflection continue to be a vital part of any person's JKD and personal path. To quote Taky Kamura, "If Renegade Jeet Kune Do is Kelly Worden's Jeet Kune Do, so be it."

Ted Lucaylucay, was a good friend, whenever we spoke we laughed for hours. He was JKD's second renegade (since Bruce is number one). Look up the history on Lucaylucay and you'll find one of the most extensive backgrounds and balanced curriculums of anybody that calls himself a JKD practitioner. Small in stature, Ted's dynamic personality could fill a room with martial intent and spirit. Chastised in the early 70's as the kid who went public with JKD, Ted was reprimanded in a number of ways as well as made an outcast - a renegade, so to speak (only to be followed by those who chastised him and brought JKD out on the seminar circuit in exchange for financial gains and national exposure). But who really cares? It's all history from here. What is important is Ted realized the truth and he was the one who was trying to get it out. Meaning, JKD could be consumed by the masses, and in America, that's probably the best place to start. Ted realized, by exposing the overlapping principles of different arts, one could easily experience the simplicity of JKD yet have the ability to analyze fighting methodology in a martial arts manner or mind-set. So Ted actually stood up and was one of the first to add tool development and break from structured school or tradition to more self-expressive curriculums. Suffice it to say, somewhere down the path Lucaylucay also discovered that freedom without foundation also has its downfalls. Too many people grab the concept path and abandon training methods before they have seen the light or have
the physical ability to execute the methodology with precision. No matter what style, the technique is only as functional as the person who comprehends it. Ted dedicated his final years to systemizing the Lucaylucay method of martial arts. Knowing that JKD is a self-realized path, Ted chose to establish strong foundations through methodology teaching while allowing the student to expand and find his Jeet Kune Do on a natural level.

Q. The material on your most recent videos "Destroy, Trap, Lock" and "The Ultimate Street Fighter" had a great deal of filipino and wing chun influence, is that an accurate description of what you are currently teaching?

A. Each video is a synopsis of material from my research, extracted to provide a cohesive path to personal expression. I focused on these particular strategies because through diligent training the principles will inspire self-examination. Further down the path of development, tool development and conceptual foundation techniques establish a broader degree of application when s tyle glorification is eliminated, meaning "a punch is just a punch". This allows the situation to flow into a natural response instead of preconceived solutions dictated by limited input. Yes, I have extracted a great deal of material from Arnis, Kali, JKD, and Non-Classical Gung fu. I have had very little Traditional Wing Chun. As a matter of fact very little of what I do is pure. Due to the fact I was introduced to violence at a early age, I was unimpressed with traditional systems. What worked in the alley was a lot different than what was taught as MARTIAL ARTS. I like to call what I do "Poor Boy JKD" no doubt a little more honest approach to finding what will work for you in you're neighborhood, without "buying into the JKD certification brigade". Hey I got a question, was Bruce Lee certified in ANYTHING? I'm confused at the current path to JKD freedom. Let me get this straight, we are no longer extracting material, but extending the path to include certificate collecting. Not even choosing that path, but having the program outlined and dictated as the way... Sorry, but that is bullshit, sadly those who have bought their way in have "Missed the Boat"... I don't care how the JKD propaganda campaign is advertized! The fish still smells funny, I'll catch my own.

Q. When (and how) did you realize you had a unique perspective on realistic self-defense?

A. Anyone who lives a street-style existence catches on real quick. No rules dictate survival. Hesitation dictates having to react to someone else's attack, which is not good. Progressively, weapons and environmental tools of endeavor become the norm rather than the exception. Losing a fight deepens your desire to get beyond the humility and physical pain of a good ass-whoopin'. That
process became a way of life, and I grew by continually reassessing the function and value of my survival instincts. Most importantly, I learned from every situation, positive, or otherwise, as well as
the mistakes made by those close to me. I didn't have to experience prison or death to understand the devastation of violence. That was a gift of sacrifice from family and friends. From exposure to the biker groups and, later, multi-ethnic martial artists and street rats; death, violence, and prison came real close to home. I never forget the ghosts. I may not wish to remind myself, but I never forget my fallen or incarcerated brothers. My life is a direct reflection of those who suffered so I can continue to live.

Q. What is different about your martial arts curriculum, opposed to what is currently being taught by traditional instructors?

A. Hell I'm pure American, I can't even order chinese food...soooo I don't include terminology. Just the facts, no uniforms, please don't bow to me, shake my hand... as far as curriculum, the material is in my videos. Currently I have completed 18 videos and they cover a very broad spectrum and actually "connect the systems" and separate the bullshit... Well that's what the people say, so it is probably better if the practitioners abroad make those distinctions......

Q. Do you have a martial arts philosophy that guides you in your teaching and personal training?

A. Let's call it a conscience! Maybe some of the boxercise, karate Robics, Taebo-kali-cha cha instructors should take a minute and look at the garbage they call martial arts... Things are changing quickly, ruthlessness is knocking on society's door. I will not look people in the eyes, take their hard earned money and give them something that is not tailored to their needs. As if some sort of packaged program is going to provide a generalized answer for the masses. I feel as if instructors are playing craps with peoples physical well being. People know the difference.. no sooner does karate enrollment decline from turning the art into a daycare, the same money-masters "trash" the Boxing and Kickboxing industry. Martial arts promoted by BFD Finance company is just a joke, a very sick joke. The sickness will be self-induced and maybe fatal when the BFD official BlackBelt tries to protect their family from a vicious assault. So what's my philosophy? No Bullshit, No Contracts, No Egos, and be prepared for the worst....Always forgive,(not trust) even your enemy, because I have been him on a different day, in a different situation..... other than that, Karma and Balance... Daniel san!

Q. What is your opinion on the grappling phenomenon that has seized the martial arts community in recent years?

A. That question is kinda funny, it seems martial arts is a misplaced fashion. There is nothing artful to kicking somebody's ass. It is even further from "art" when I think of a loved one or myself getting our teeth kicked out by a gang-banger. Reality is still an issue grapplers must face. In self-defense the ground is a very hard place. I prefer to describe my method as ground fighting, the path to the ground is full of obstacles. All fighters need to come to the realization environmental tactics will dominate any style. Padded flooring is a far cry from concrete, gravel, a parked car, or any multitude of tactical options. The issue of controlling the impact of the takedown is more important than all the armbars a grappling program will teach you. In 1980, I opened a gym with Professional Boxer and Olympic Gold Metal winner Sugar Ray Seales. My group trained in a ring, fighting consisted of anything functional was acceptable as long as it didn't turn to anger. Grappling has always been a intricate part of my system. I remember taking a big boy down that I couldn't lock up. I ground his face into the carpet and wall till his face was bleeding, he accused me of cheating... Did he tap? Yes, I still instruct the same way, with just a little more technical skill. My advice is to find a grappler without "God" status and train to improve your ground awareness. A spyderco does not recognize "God status" and sadly many grapplers have a false sense of reality when it comes to knife or improvised weapons. Hey am I piss'n anybody off yet?

Q. Do you teach any type of ground fighting/grappling in your school?

A. American wrestling from junior high and high school is part of the foundation art. Early introduction into Judo provided the major throws and locks. Small Circle JuJitsu introduced the intricacy of manipulation. Aikido energy channels and footwork proved to enhance all movements and in many ways allow attachment to be a bridge that connects or separates the attributes of the established arts. Extractions from Arnis/Kali and Sibat integrates Dumog into the equation, Dumog is a copulation system of throws, sweeps, takedowns, locks, and grappling drawing from almost every system of martial arts that entered the Philippine Islands. Dumog has always been a part of Arnis. I consider Dumog a sub-system and extracting the essence is achieved by recognizing the overlapping lines of attachment and position. Remy Presas trained in Sambo and became quite proficient. Even today he credits much of his groundwork to Sambo. I am currently training with Dr. Brett Jacques in Sombo (today's spelling) with emphasis on ground-fighting and group avoidance if the ground is the only alternative. Grappling in our class includes the striking tools and controlled use of eye gouges, biting, twisting of flesh, and dulled folding knives.

Q. When you say Natural Spirit is an attitude, what do you mean, exactly? What kind of attitude?

A. When I say Natural Spirit, I mean what is natural for your nature. When we speak of our nature, we have to reflect on what has influenced our natural person from the ground up. If we've never been kicked, we don't know how to act. That being the case, you have to take the pacifist and teach him about violence. On the other side, you have to take the kicked dog and try to help him distinguish between who means well and is compassionate and who is just playing him for a fool and is gonna kick him later. We are all predators, or we are prey. The sooner we comprehend that, the sooner we add that to our Natural Spirit and begin to evolve into the person we're going to be. Everything falls within the natural category, from our religious belief to our physical makeup, to the people who have influenced us. So you can't really separate natural from spirit, in my belief. It's basically a flow of life.

Q. What do you feel is (or will be) your greatest contribution to realistic self-defense?

A. I'm far from the only guy out there. As I said earlier, I'm no doubt a product of those people who have influenced me. That being the case, I'm committed to truth, and it doesn't have to be mine. But truth must also be efficient, functional, and affordable. One of the best contributions I can make is getting the exposure and recognition I have received and continue to receive. And that is the gift that I want to be known for. That and the fact that even a guy like me can pull it out of the hat, align himself with strong and powerful people who also believe in the truth, and not waver from my values or goals. Basically that means that whatever I have achieved, those who come after me should be able to make those same commitments and sacrifices to their art, their family, their students, and the martial community of the future.


Bringing out the ghosts of the past is never a pleasant process. Part of our internal defense instincts will allow them to dwell in and consume our daily life with negativity and destroy our motivation to succeed, while another element detaches us from the pain of memories, seeking only positive reflection from the closet. I make peace through karmatic balance and reap the rewards of my life-style, past and present. Does this mean financial freedom, love, success, health, happiness? Yes it does . . . but not all mine. Tranquility is not an option, merely a motivation to believe in. Brief breaths of payback in the karma world are an issue of self-sacrifice. Have you heard the expression it takes two rights to correct (repay) a wrong? The truth lies within that little statement. Your level of commitment to family, society, and the extended arm of brotherhood will directly affect the path you choose. For me it's real tough to be hateful to even my enemy because I have been him on a different day and in a different situation. Someone close to me whom I have embraced experiences
pain and deep loss through violence. It is our duty to consume other people's pain from the past, present, and future, in the realm of food for growth. Most importantly, so we do not become hardened and detached from the most precious gift, life itself. Remember, the more garbage you can eat, the better it will taste.

What are some of your current projects or video releases?

Currently I am producing Silent Fighter training dummies for resale and the response has been great. Each dummy comes with a training video instructing empty hand, stick, and knife concepts. The techniques are easily transferable to self defense applications and most importantly adaptable for individual interpretation. The DTL Impact Kerambit is an impact tool for personal protection, similar to the palm knife, the Impact Kerambit functions on the same lines as knife and the intercepting principles of Arnis and JKD. The overlap of principles is a plus, allowing each individual to adapt techniques from their own background and apply them without the lethal effects of a knife. The instruction videos, Personal Protection Tape 1 and Defensive Tactics Tape 2 feature
curriculum presented in Paladin Press Destroy, Trap, Lock, only relating the movements to the DTL fistload for limb and target destruction, returning back to empty hand and into knife lines to clarify the connection. Police Tactics programs and self defense instructors have evaluated the Impact Kerambit as highly functional. Available through Shomer Tec and Bladetech distributors, as well as Natural Spirit for $9.95 each. Wholesale distributor and instructor programs are currently being developed through Worden's Optimal Response Tactics 1 ("WORTAC 1").

Having instructed a wide variety of people in the knife arts, I am constantly asked about knife designs. Working with makers can be a chore; seems what is functional for the fighter isn't always an easy task to complete for the knife maker. Fortunately, I have collaborated with two of America's top makers Pat Crawford and Bud Nealy on two new knife models. Pat Crawford has completed the Worden Fighter "WORTAC 1" tactical folder, consisting of titanium body, micarta scales, and ATS 34 blade steel available in two sizes to accommodate hand and carry preference. An optional kydex sheath will be manufactured by Tim Wegner's Bladetech allowing personal carry for fixed blade deployment. Pat's craftsmanship is flawless and the Worden Fighter "WORTAC 1" is no exception and will be available in numbered models sometime in January 1999. Bud Nealy is working his magic of steel and should have an introductory model in December 1998. Specializing in lightweight fixed blades, Bud's patented quick release magnetic concealed sheath will be part of the package. Bud offered and incorporated several ideas to keep this model sleek, fast, lightweight, functional and tactically efficient. Release dates are currently unavailable, but should be in production early 1999. Am I excited? HELL YES!! What else is happening? Seminars, video projects, Water and Steel training camps, as well as 3 or 5 day Intensive Personal Training Programs. The personal programs are instructed at the Natural Spirit gym in Tacoma and arranged to cover each person's specific needs. I have provided instruction for practitioners from as far away as South Africa, Australia, and England. That being the case, those coming in from California, New York, or Canada schedule their programs six months in advance. I honestly enjoy providing the I.P.T.P. instructional method and continue to meet a lot of dedicated martial artists and other serious practitioners of martial science. Martial Arts are my life, and life changes daily, always look to your heart........


* MAVR would like to thank Mr. Worden for taking the time to do this interview. Mr. Worden's videos, "Destroy, Trap, Lock" and "The Ultimate Streetfighter", which we've reviewed, are both available from Paladin Press. If you don't have them, check them out, both are VERY GOOD!

In the coming months we'll be trying to bring you some more great interviews from various martial artists whose tapes we've reviewed. Stay tuned!

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