John Emerson's Martial Arts Page

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Martial Arts Training
Martial Art Philosophy
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My close quarters combat experience began with high school wrestling in Florida. With no experience I joined the team as a freshman. I pinned my first opponent. All my matches didn't go that smooth but I knew I had talent. By the next year (sophomore) I made Varsity. However, during that off-season I injured my shoulder in a motorcycle accident which forced me off the team my junior year. I took several years my shoulder to fully heal. For quite some time I had toyed with the idea of studying martial arts. While attending Saint Petersburg Junior College in 1983 I had to take a physical education class and "Karate" was an option. I figured what the heck and signed up. Not only would I learn martial arts, I'd get college credit for it. I began studying under Darryl Schraeder. The "Karate" class actually turned out to be Tae Kwon Do. After one semester I received an Orange Belt.  Then the college switched instructors and I came under the charge of John Graden, who had just taken over for Walt Bone, who had died tragically in a plane crash. Since technically I was still under the auspices of the college, I was able to retain my orange belt. However, Mr. Graden's system was entirely different. I took extra classes and trained really hard and earned my green belt in six weeks and brown belt (4th kyu) in 9 months, almost unheard of. Mr. Graden left the college the following year and I continued to train under him at his newly created school. I studied under Mr. Graden for the next 2 years and achieved the rank of 2nd Degree Brown Belt (2nd Kyu). I then moved to California in 1987 for 2 years. I yearned to continue training but did not have the financial or transportation wherewithal to do so. Then by chance I stumbled upon a school in Riverside, CA called Hop Do Sool, developed by Grand Master Tom Sun Gwak. This art combined Tae Kwon Do punches and kicks with Yoga, Grappling, Judo, Kata, and Sparring. I signed up and within 2 months I received the ranks of Yellow and Orange Belts in one combined test. A month later I abandoned training for a year. I then trained with the Red Dragon Dojo in Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, for 2 months, sparring with their Black and Brown Belts. In 1989 I returned to Florida and picked up where I had left off with Mr. Graden. I received my Black Belt (Shodan) in October, 1990. I owe a lot to Mr. Graden. More important than the martial arts he taught me, Mr. Graden taught me respect and humility, qualities which I lacked. He helped transform me from a cocky, arrogant punk into a more humble man. For that, I thank you Sir.

Way to go!
Mr Graden presenting me with his own personal Black Belt

Concentrating on my next move!

Approximately 6 months later I decided to expand my martial arts background and left Mr. Graden's school. I then studied Aikido for 2 years under John Messores, often assisted by my original instructor, Mr. Schraeder. I achieved the rank of 5th Kyu (Blue Belt). This art added some joint manipulations and throws to my skill set. The sport of Triathlon then got my attention and I left Martial Arts in 1992 to become a Triathlete. In 1995 I moved to New Jersey because of work. In late 1996 I met Felix "Willie" Pagan in Dover, NJ (coincidentally the town I was born in), quite by accident. I stopped into a restaurant to eat dinner after a long day at work and noticed a sign on the wall which read, "Dover Escrima Club." I asked the owner what it was all about. "Willie" then commenced with a 2 hour explanation of Filipino martial arts. This opened up a whole new world to me in my training. Before then I wasn't even aware that the Filipino arts existed. He then asked me if I wanted a "demonstration." That in turn ended up being a 2 hour training workout. The first thing I immediately noticed was that my Tae Kwon Do black belt went right out the window. I was instantly twisted into a pretzel begging for my fingers back. I had never seen anything like it. We then worked the rattan sticks for a while and I loved it. It all came so natural to me. I finally left and went straight to Home Depot to buy some dowels and electrical tape to make my own "sticks." I returned the next day for more. The next thing I found out was that Willie was the only member of the club. Basically, every person before me who got the "demonstration" never came back. Well, I did and I'm glad I did. Because I was the only one around I got to train privately with him in the Filipino Arts of Escrima, Arnis and Kali, combined with Joint Locking and Knife Fighting for 3 years. I can honestly say that Willie is the "baddest" man I have ever met or trained with. I also trained on occasion with his talented son, Daniel Pagan, in Grappling and combined close quarters combat in Dover and Boonton, NJ. A couple of years later I trained with Sifu Frank Viggiano, at Martial Arts Concepts in Dover, NJ, for one year (May 2002-May 2003) in Jeet Kune Do, Escrima (Stick Fighting) and Grappling (Sambo). With Sifu Frank I took what I had learned with Felix Pagan and brought it to another level, having the opportunity to practice my techniques with numerous opponents of various sizes and abilities. As a side note, it was me who introduced Frank to Willie, who then taught him stick fighting, which he learned expertly.

Since then I have moved to Pennsylvania and my structured training has been limited.

Recently I have been training by myself at home. Current influences include: MasGuru Greg Alland (Kali-Silat), Greg Park AKA Choson Ninja on YouTube (Weapons), Bas Rutten (Conditioning & Striking), Dan Inosanto (Escrima/JKD/Kali), Kelly Worden (Travel Wrench, Blades, Locking and Trapping), James A. Keating (Blades, Locking and Trapping), Sammy Franco (Realistic Street Fighting), Matt Furey (Conditioning), Pavel Tsatsouline (Flexibility and Conditioning), David James (Vee Arnis Jitsu), Paul Vunak (JKD) and Jim Grover AKA Kelly McCann (Close Quarter Combatives, Blade and Firearms Training). I also draw upon the techniques from the Israeli art Krav Maga.

Once in a while I get a chance to train personally with MasGuru Greg Alland on weekends in New York City.


At my first tournament in 1985 I was the Runner-up in Brown Belt Fighting
Lightweight Division, at the US Open.

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I have been developing a Martial Arts curriculum and a fitness workout for a school I hope to open in the near future:

Integrated Combat Science: An Adaptive System

I view the martial arts as a science. Science allows us to explore and experiment. I'm open to all styles. I find no art to be "better" than any other. They all have their positives and negatives, advantages and disadvantages, benefits and drawbacks. I take from each what works for me and incorporate it into my training. Basically, I adapt. I see something I like, I study it, I make it work for me and I add it to my technique arsenal. My bag of tricks, if you will. Accordingly, it is difficult for me to train at a "traditional" school. Attaining rank is unimportant to me. Unnecessary formalities bore me. I don't like wasting time on impractical things.

For instance, many "traditional" schools force you to train barefooted or in a traditional uniform or "Gi". To me, this is ridiculous and impractical. Sure, it has it's place in tournaments and tradition but not in the real world and certainly not in the streets. Such views often get me labeled a non-conformer or renegade. I prefer to consider myself more of a maverick. Make it simple. Make it effective. Make it work.

Many people may consider it arrogant for me to develop my own "style". Well, it's a free country and I can do as I like. Admittedly, I invented nothing. I borrowed (stole?) everything. However, the way I combine the ingredients produces a practical recipe for effectiveness and success. Moreover, my style is dynamic. It evolves and expands as I discover new techniques and philosophies.

Martial Art Philosophy

Since I began studying the Martial Arts, I have tried to embrace the techniques which worked for me and develop a philosophy of my own. At the present time, my philosophy contains the following key components:

A breakdown of these components and a detailed treatment of each will be forthcoming.


I believe in an eclectic approach to style. I don't prefer any one style to another. I believe in studying them all as resources permit, and incorporating the techniques from each that match an individual's likes and abilities.

Conditioning (Stamina) and Flexibility

Conditioning refers to one's cardiovascular or aerobic fitness. This aspect cannot be overlooked. I list this item above techniques because in my opinion it is not only more important but in my experience it consistently remains the "make or break" component in a fight. An individual highly trained in technique risks defeat if his cardio fitness is weak. The average person can last approximately 30-60 seconds in a fight before they exhaust themselves. If you can outlast them without succumbing to their techniques then you will most assuredly beat them. Likewise, one cannot properly apply technique without equivalent flexibility. This does not mean that a 70 year old man should be able to kick someone in the head. It means that one should be able to react effectively at a moment's notice without injuring themselves or pulling muscles. Conditioning and flexibility require diligence and constant attention. One cannot rely on rustics. Maintain a fit and flexible body at all times.


Kicking occurs from the farthest range, making them (usually) long distance techniques. There are an infinite number of kicks. Either leg can (and should) be used. They can be thrown from the front or rear leg.


Striking range is the next closest. Strikes can be punches, elbows or other hand techniques.


Even closer than punching, and related to locking is the trapping zone. Trapping includes blocks, redirections and of course, traps. These techniques are useful in many ways. First, they deflect incoming attacks: kicks, punches, whatever. Second, they setup counter attacks. These counter attacks can include kicks, hand strikes, and locks. Since trapping takes place in a "close" fighting zone, the direction in which YOU move determines the counter attack. Moving out a little sets up a hand strike or elbow. Out a little further and you may be in kicking range. If you move in you can still elbow, lock or throw. For the most part, your momentum should carry you FORWARD.


Locks are joint manipulation techniques which should force the opponent to submit. They can be applied to the wrist, elbow, shoulder, fingers, neck, ankles and other joints. Properly applied locks cause unbearable pain. Most opponents need to be "softened up" with strikes before locks can be effectively applied.


Throwing includes basic throws, sweeps, trips and so on. These techniques bring your opponent to the ground. If you prefer to grapple, then throws are essential. Even if you don't like to grapple, a properly executed throw may save you from an "in close" situation.


Grappling refers to combat on "the ground". Many combat encounters end up with both combatants rolling around on the ground. It is similar to wrestling, but differs significantly. In wrestling, each combatant tries to "pin" his opponent's shoulders to the mat. In grappling, you never want your back to face your opponent. Survival is the goal, through submission if necessary, and not avoiding a "pin".


Diversion is the art of redirecting your opponents attention in order to gain an advantage.

Weapons (and corresponding disarms)

Weapons can be traditional or modern (including firearms). They can also be improvised. Almost ANYTHING can be used as a weapon. Almost any weapon can be lethal. Weapons can greatly enhance the chances of winning an encounter. However, they can also be taken away and used against you. Therefore you must be prepared to neutralize and recapture them. Use discretion before introducing weapons into a confrontation. Control the escalation. Practice as many weapons as you can. Locate lethal and improvised weapons appropriately. Always carry a weapon, whether it be a knife, pen, comb, flashlight, whatever. Do NOT be caught unprepared. Consider all legalities. Advise yourself of and conform to all Local, State and Federal Laws but know your rights and exercise them!
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Some of my favorite Martial Arts Links

John Graden's Website
Bas Rutten's Website
Contemporary Fighting Arts: Sammy Franco's Website. Awesome videos and techniques.
KaliSilat.Org: MasGuru Greg Alland's Website
Choson Ninja Youtube Page. Over 400 Training Videos
Combat Technologies Inc.: Sticks & Knives...KEWL!!!
Kelly Worden's NSI Website
Matt Furey's Website
Dog Brothers: Insane Stick Fighting
Balisong Extreme: awesome videos of techniques
Stickgrappler Mixed Martial Arts: no frills, great info, forum links

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Please come back and visit me soon.

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Copyright 1998-2010 John B Emerson
Last Updated 10/12/09