from Martial Arts Illustrated, by Terry L. Wilson
The Dog Brothers. An unusual name to be sure, but after watching these guys in action it’s obvious that they run on a different octane of testosterone than others of their species. The Dog Brothers claim to fame is that they beat each other to a pulp with hard rattan sticks for fun. “Real Contact Kali” is the name of their game and they play it for real. They use the term “Real Contact” to distinguish themselves from tournaments that use the term “Full Contact” but the fighters and/or the ticks are padded. In the early days of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, before there were rules, the Dog Brothers were approached by the UFC about participating in a special weapons event to be held between the semi-finals and the finals. There were extensive conversations held. Eric “Top Dog” Knaus, the group’s best fighter, would have carried the flag for the Dog Brothers. But after seeing the Dog Brothers in action, the UFC had to pass. In a letter to Marc “Crafty Dog” Denny, the group’s guiding force, they wrote:
“It is with great reluctance that we must tell you stickfighting, such as your group has pioneered in the USA, is just too extreme for the UFC at this time. We have the utmost respect for your group’s skill and fighting spirit.”
Then they were approached by the World Combat Championships. This time it would have been three fights with Top Dog, Salty Dog, and Crafty Dog carrying the flag for the group. But again, upon reflection, the suits were concerned about political and legal consequences and decided to pass. One would expect that a group that was “too extreme” for the UFC in its heyday or the WCC would have to be a bunch of testosterone troglodytes. Yet the group has the unexpected credo of “Higher Consciousness through Harder Contact” (c) When asked about this, Crafty Dog explains:
“There are too many ways that human ingenuity can come up with to damage someone else irreparably, especially with a stick, for us to think up and be able to enforce rules against all of them. The spirit of the fights is that of members of the same tribe helping each other to prepare to defend the land, women, and children of the tribe. Both going too hard and going too soft are counterproductive. In this spirit, what might be too much for one man to handle, could be too little for another. It is a sign of respect for your “opponent” to really go after him-you are saying you respect and believe in his skill and spirit to deal with it, yet at the same time even in the adrenaline of the moment you are looking out for his welfare so as to not damage him irreparably and thus weaken the tribe. It is in your best interest that he be as good a warrior as possible when you stand together in battle.
“A stickfight is an intense adrenal experience. The Learning that takes place in this altered state is of an entirely different order from ordinary learning. The greater the intensity of the fight, the greater the need to simultaneously tap into a centered awareness that keeps you from taking the shot that would be too much. The cultivation of this duality, i.e. greater adrenaline & greater centering, is what we mean by the full credo: “The greater the dichotomy, the profounder the transformation. Higher Consciousness through Harder Contact.” It is our hope and belief that this deeper learning carries over to the rest of one’s life; and should one ever need to use one’s skills that it will be done with a calmness that allows for good judgement as well as good skill.” ENDQUOTE
Prior to his introduction to Kali, Denny live in New York, where he began martial arts in Fu Jow Pai (tiger claw) kung-fu. After graduating from Columbia law school, the budding attorney moved to Washington DC, where he trained in tae kwon do. “This training gave me a base and some skills to work from, but it wasn’t really what I was looking for,” said Denny. “Then one day I met this guy on a beach in California when I was visiting my brother. He told me about Dan Inosanto’s Kali Academy. I’d never heard of Kali, or Dan Inosanto, or any of the arts it offered, but I was curious so I checked it out. I’ve been there ever since. So much for being a lawyer.”
The Dog Brothers were born in May 1988 during three days of non-stop fighting organized by Denny and Knaus, known within the group as the “Rumble at Ramblas”. These fights became the core of the groups video series with Panther Productions, featuring Knaus, the group’s best fighter and an outstanding technician trained by Grand Tuhon Leo Gaje of the Pekiti Tirsia system from the island of Negros in the Philippines. Most of the fighters came from Knaus and Denny’s “After-midnight Group” at the Inosanto Academy, as well as Knaus’s friend from his Pekiti Tirsia days, Philip Gelinas, and Arlan Sanford, who Knaus and Denny had met the year before at the national “full contact stickfighting” tournament, (which Knaus won for the third time). Sanford, soon to be known as the “Salty Dog” would become a co-founder of the group along with Denny and Knaus.
The intense crucible of fighting for three days forged a special bond amongst the men there. The “Dog Brothers” name came about because there were three fighters with the name of Mark/Marc. “Somebody would say ‘hey Mark’ and three guys would answer, so we started looking for some nicknames,” explains Denny. “Well, something happened that led to someone calling me ‘a crafty dog.’ So that became my name. Mark Sanden was 18 years old so we called him ‘Puppy Dog.’ Mark Balluff always fought with a mix of everything so we called him ‘Mongrel.’ During an interview Mongrel spoke well of the feeling of brotherhood that the group was developing and that evening I was reading a Conan the Barbarian comic book. While leading his men into battle Conan said ‘Come on you dog brothers!,’ and there it was. The combination of three nicknames based around dogs plus Conan’s call to arms gave me the name I was looking for. Eric obviously was to be “Top Dog” and so the dog thing was off and running and “the Dog Brothers” were born. Since then the name has revealed itself to be a more fortuitous metaphor than we realized at the time.”
Another dog analogy could be that these guys fight like cats and dogs minus the cats. The only protective gear the combatants wear is a fencing mask and street hockey gloves. Back in the ’80s the fencing masks used were what Salty Dog describes as “pre-Ralph Nader– basically a screen door wrapped around your head.” The eyes were thus protected but one strike knockouts were a real possibility every time one fought. The idea was to wear as little gear as possible. Salty and the other original Dog Brothers lament the current fencing masks protective capabilities “It’s getting harder and harder to knock someone out.”
As Crafty speaks, the observant eye will notice a missing tooth from those “pre-Ralph Nader” days. “I wanted my art to be real.” he says. “There are those who are content with the exercise aspect of their art. But I wanted to know what I could do. Of course there may be a price. We understand that bones might and do get broken. Two years ago we had guy whose knee cap was split in half. In addition to the split knee cap we have had a couple of broken ribs (Top Dog fighting the bokken) lots of broken hands (knuckles, fingers, metacarpals) and some broken forearms. Occasionally a finger nail gets knocked off. And of course, lots of nasty bruises all over the body is a given following a match.”
The Dog Brothers “Real Contact” dog fights are called “Gatherings of the Pack” and are held twice a year. The only requirement to fight at one of the Gatherings is the right attitude. To help set the mood, Crafty Dog gives a brief talk to the fighters at the beginning of the day. “No judges, no referees, no trophies. One rule only, be friends at the end of the day. This means our goal is that no one spends the night in the hospital and that everyone leaves with the IQ with which they came. No suing no one for no reason no how no way. Protect yourself at all times and all copyright belongs to Dog Brothers Inc.”
The right attitude is only part of what it takes to become a Dog Brother. In addition to fighting over several Gatherings at a certain level, this is accomplished by getting to know the other brothers and letting them get to know you. Then someone places your name in front of the “Council of Elders”, which by virtue of biological reality consists co-founders Crafty Dog, Top Dog, and Salty Dog. “The first level is “Dog” Crafty explains. “One must be accepted into the tribe. The next level is “Candidate Dog Brother.” At this time the candidate must show a level of realization in fighting that we expect of a “Dog Brother.” Typically, we look for this level to be maintained for at least three Gatherings. Then, one reaches the grand exalted status of “Dog Brother.”
For most people, it takes a special type of training to be able to survive and thrive in such an experience. Crafty feels there is much more here than being a sweaty, smelly psychopath with a stick. “The range of skills required for our fighting is quite broad and in my opinion an excellent testing vehicle for a man in the world today. The goal is to have real skills throughout the entirety of one’s life, not only when one is a young competitive athlete.” With this in mind, he has founded Dog Brothers Martial Arts, (DBMA) and for very understandable legal liability concerns, does business as Dog Brothers Inc. Martial Arts.
He sees DBMA as a “system of many styles”. Thus DBMA draws not only upon his own experience (approximately 125 fights) but that of all the quality fighters in the Dog Brothers over the 10 years that the Dog Brothers have been at it , especially Top Dog “the best I’ve ever seen.” The idea is that someone who comes to DBMA has a broad spectrum of ideas, structures and techniques with which work in developing his own expression as a fighter. The idea, as he sees it is pure JKDC, what he calls “Smuggling Concepts across the Frontiers of Style.” (c)
The core of the system is FILIPINO MARTIAL ARTS (FMA). The three principle systems drawn upon are Inosanto Blend (Guro Dan Inosanto), Pekiti Tirsia (Grand Tuhon Leo Gaje), and some Lameco (the late Punong Guro Edgar Sulite). Silat is considered to be an integral part of the FMA, and in the case of DBMA it includes some of the Indonesian Silat system of Bukti Negara.
Some of the distinctive features of the DBMA system are:
1) There is a strong emphasis on developing the ability the complementary hand to act as the dominant hand. This is required, in Crafty feels, not only for reasons of body symmetry or to be a better stickfighter, but also to have true empty hand FMA skills. Crafty encourages people to develop strong siniwali fighting skills as part of learning to fight empty handed. In his opinion, if you cannot fight with two sticks (and fighting with siniwali is much harder than doing siniwali drills) it is dubious you can use your stick skills empty handed where you will be fighting with two hands. Of course, ultimately it is up to the student to decide how much he wishes to cultivate ambidexterity, but usually he should first put in enough time at this to have a basis for an opinion.
2) Panuntukan (FMA empty hand striking skills): In the Filipino systems that teach panuntukan, they often begin with the motions based on single knife, double knife, or espada y daga. The DBMA progression in this area begins with siniwali motions. This aligns more readily with the Krabi Krabong part of the curriculum (see below). Silat is integrated with the Panuntukan from the beginning.
3) The stickfighting range theory is based upon seven ranges, not the usual three. Surprisingly enough, two are outside of largo, called “snake range”, which has nothing to do with snake-type disarms, and “stick square”. And inside of corto there are standing and ground grapple.
4) Competent staff skills are seen as important. “If you are going to be a good Kali man, you want to have the skills to work your way through a cranky crowd. ” says the Crafty Dog, “You need to be able to pick up what the environment offers. Rarely will it be a rattan stick of perfect length and diameter. Often you will need two hands to handle your improvised weapon.”
5) For a FMA centered system, surprisingly little times is spent on disarms. In terms of results for time invested, the DBMA idea is that a grasp of the general principles suffices for most people.
6) For an FMA centered system, there is a unusual amount of grappling. BBJ plays an important role, both for the Vale Tudo (unarmed) system and for “Dog Brother Stickgrappling”. Those who can are encouraged to train with the Machado Brothers-who are right up the street from the DB’s “main den” in Hermosa Beach, CA and are teachers to Top Dog and Crafty Dog-not to mention Dan Inosanto- who trains with them five times a week.
Although they continue to search it out, unfortunately little of the Filipino grappling has survived the trip to America. During his one month of training in the Philippines this past summer with Top and Sled Dog’s teacher, Grand Tuhon Leo Gaje, Crafty had his first real exposure to Filipino grappling. It most certainly does exist.
C) “DOG BROTHER STICKGRAPPLING” is a unique blend of BJJ and Inosanto Blend as well as some of stick subsystem of Bando Python thanks to the assistance of the legendary Dr. M. Gyi, Grandmaster of the Bando system.
One of the most controversial parts of the Dog Brothers videos was the showing how grappling can happen even in a stickfight. Crafty goes even further saying that a fighter skilled in the technique can close against most opponents with relative safety, gear or not. Most opponents? “Well, not Salty Dog” he chuckles, “Trust me on this.” He pulls back his cheek to show a missing tooth.
Once in grappling range the presence of a stick changes things in important ways. For example, posting in guard is a good way to get your elbow cracked by a punyo. A good stickgrappler has good stick skills, good grappling, and good stickgrappling and can keep track of all three simultaneously. This is a good trick and can be a quite effective. This area is one of Crafty’s favorites.
D) KRABI KRABONG, is the weaponry and empty hand art from which Muay Thai Kickboxing descends. Ajarn (Thai for “guro”) Salty Dog, who is certified by the Buddaiswan Institute in Thailand leads in this area. He has dropped more than one shocked stickfighter who thought you can’t kick in stickfighting. In the DBMA teaching progression this area comes first. Crafty explains, “It interfaces nicely with people’s kickboxing/striking skills. It is primal and power-crazed. The drills are simple, hard and fast, and key point here, they get people moving their stick and their feet at the same time. Functional fighting skills are developed in short order. Once people can do the KK, in my opinion they are better prepared to train the skills of the FMA with a truer understanding of what it is to have a man coming at you with intent. Some top fighters, such as Salty Dog and Rain Dog, have this seemingly simple structure at their core.”
E) DBMA takes seriously the FMA claim that the motions of armed and unarmed fighting are the same. Even during grappling, striking continues to be relevant and the Crafty Dog firmly believes that the FMA have much to offer. This however, is “closed door” material.
Asked if he has anything more to add, Marc “Crafty Dog” Denny replies, “As Nobel laureate Konrad Lorenz points out, Man is an animal with an aggressive instinct. Whether we like it or not, this instinct will discharge, just as the lack of sex leads to a wet dream. Aggression in nature has three purposes: to spread a hunting species out over territory, for rank within a social group, and for reproductive rights-classically two males fighting over the female or the female in defense of her young. Yet in today’s world there is no initiation for the young male, no ritual space to ground this energy, and so it floats, inchoate, spontaneously erupting. I believe that many of the terrible things we read in the newspapers today would not happen if this energy were given its place, acknowledgement, and guidance.
“Some say the world has too much violence, therefore we shouldn’t teach violence. I disagree. To quote Carl Jung, “The idea is not to imagine figures of light, but to make the darkness conscious.” When we go into a fight “too extreme for the UFC” with no judges, no referees and no trophies, trusting only to the fighters, something very special happens. Of course there a moth and the flame quality to the experience, but I deeply believe that our way of doing things triggers an awareness that to go as deeply as possible into an experience of the true primal core that one must go equally in the opposite direction into a calm wordless state. Wild Dog once said “In the silence of a stick buzzing by your head, you realize which self it is you wish to truly defend.” I think this is very right. Perhaps even more important than the fight experience is the special altered state which comes in the days afterwards. It changes your life.”