Dog Brothers Are A Unique Breed

from Black Belt Magazine
LOS ANGELES-Marc Denny, also known as “Crafty Dog,” is, along with Eric “Top Dog” Knaus, co-founder and head instructor of Dog Brothers Martial Arts Inc. At 6-feet-l-inch and 190 pounds, Denny cuts an intimidating figure as he wields his single or double sticks in the face of oncoming attacks by a fellow “Dog Brother.” This interesting and extremely effective system has been turned down by the Ultimate Fighting Championship as “just too extreme.”

At their Gathering of the Pack, an event that has been held semi-annually for eight years, the Dog Brothers and other martial artists test their skills in “real-contact” stick fighting. This, according to Denny, is basically a Vale Tudo-version of Kali with one or two sticks. Denny says there are only three rules: “Use any attack you can think of, be friends at the end of the day, and no suing no one for nothin’ no how, no way!” The credo of the Dog Brothers is “higher consciousness through harder contact.” ? The term “real contact” is used to distinguish it from “full contact,” which usually means one or both fighters and/or the sticks are padded and some techniques are prohibited.

The Dog Brothers name is symbolic as well. According to Denny, it came about because he saw that men practicing the martial arts seemed to have the behavior patterns of a pack of dogs: this pack versus that pack, hierarchy within the pack (Who’s the top dog? Who’s second? Who gets to breed?), etc. What is most important, however, is the bond of the pack. “It is sometimes said that if you’re not the lead sled dog, the view’s always the same,” Denny said. The bond, therefore, leads the students into different aspects of training, rather than to the who’s-better-than-whom debate. The metaphor of dogs includes some of the qualities dogs seem to have: courage, fidelity and loyalty-all of which the Dog Brothers try to incorporate into their training.

Twice a year, during the first week of May and the third week of September, they hold a Gathering of the Pack event, the arena for their real-contact stickfighting. A free event so far, it has no judges, referees or trophies. Fighters have 90 seconds to get the match going, and they are allowed to continue as long as something “interesting” is going on. Denny and Knaus trade off as ringmasters. This is basically an anything-goes-but-with-sticks competition. Kicks, elbows, knees, punches, and sticks to the head are all encouraged. Fighters wear minimal padding and begin with single or double rattan sticks. A fighter can tap out or get knocked out. However, knockouts rarely happen. When someone is seriously stunned, there is no shame in bailing out. Yet no one wants to lose the pack’s respect by being a quitter. Each participant chooses what is right for him.

According to Denny, the benefits of real-contact stickfighting include attaining a stillness of mind that allows one to avoid ego games or to avoid letting an opponent push one’s buttons. Students learn that they can walk away from a fight, but if they have to mix it up, they know they possess a thorough knowledge of how to protect themselves.

It is important to realize that Dog Brothers is an association, not a specific art. Not all participants are a part of Dog Brothers Martial Arts Inc.-which does have a distinctive theory, material, techniques and progressions developed over the course of literally hundreds of fights. (Most of the first-tier Dog Brothers have participated in more than 100 fights each.)

What kind of people put on little or no padding and beat each other with sticks? Strangely enough, a wide range of people. You might expect the contestants to be sweaty, smelly psychopaths with sticks, but they’re not. The organization has among its members self-proclaimed techie nerds, jocks, attorneys, Mr. Moms, martial arts instructors, even doctors-anyone who feels he needs this sort of training.

One of Denny’s students is a prison guard. He works in a high-adrenaline, intense, dangerous environment with convicts who have weapons at their immediate disposal-he runs the kitchen in a federal prison. This man is looking to cultivate his skills in a very real and immediate way. Many people who come to the gatherings are martial arts instructors who want to make sure that what they teach is effective. They’re looking to test their arts and themselves. Denny, a student of Black Belt Hall of Famer Dan Inosanto, tries to absorb to the best of his ability Inosanto’s teachings and Jeet Kune Do Concepts. He’s also had extensive private training with Edgar Sulite of the Lameco system which, he reports, has helped him clean up his movements. Knaus bases his stick work on what he learned of Pekiti Tersia Kali from Leo Gaje. Arlan Sanford has been exploring the Thai art of krabi krabong. As head instructor of Dog Brothers Martial Arts Inc., Denny says he draws mostly from Kali and Silat and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. There are also elements of Jun Fan kung fu and Muay Thai.

Denny currently trains with the Machado brothers in Brazilian jujitsu. Even though he is a mid-level student, he finds that what he learns from them is vital in many of his real-contact matches. “Grappling with a stick with Vale Tudo rules is different in some important ways than a jujitsu match,” Denny said. “But that foundation must be there.” Using Kali or silat skills in hitting range and mixing them with the Brazilian jujitsu in grappling range, he seems to win more than he loses.

Training for real-contact stick fighting consists of surprisingly little actual sparring, for the Gathering of the Pack events usually fulfill this need. There is, however, much psychological training, and personal experiences are brought in to pass the effective techniques from teacher to student. Once a student has fought for real, his training becomes very different, and he has less of a need to prove himself in the workouts. This is when the students really begin to learn, Denny says.

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