As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Here are a few to give you an idea of Sifu Rob's training background and experiences, but honestly, he'll tell you none of this crap matters much. Regardless of how experienced or qualified your Sifu (Teacher) may be, you're still the one who has to try out the techniques for yourself, absorb it, see if it works for you, and make it your own or not.
Rob is a JKD Full Instructor certified under Beale's Combatives and Sifu Kevin Beale in the lineage of Sifus Bob Bremer (original student of Bruce Lee), Jim Sewell (original student of Bruce Lee), and Tim Tackett (2nd generation student of Bruce Lee under Dan Inosanto) teaching Jeet Kune Do (JKD) as passed down from Bruce Lee through his students in the Los Angeles school until 1973. In addition, he earned his Senior 1st and 2nd rank in both Chinatown Jeet Kune Do and JLJFI Jeet Kune Do. Rob is also a certified USA Boxing coach and certified O.M.A.F. Kickboxing Coach. He is affiliated with multiple martial arts organizations including Mick Thornton's B.O.T.M.A. and SoCal Applied Wing Chun Academy.
However, he started martial arts nearly thirty years ago studying Northern Praying Mantis Kung Fu. In 1998, he transitioned to Wing Chun Kung Fu, the original martial art of Bruce Lee. He's had the opportunity to study multiple martial arts with renowned masters from all over the world from Japan to Korea to Hong Kong and elsewhere.
Sifu Rob took advantage of the opportunity to train at Ip Chun's school in 2016. This was not just a photo-op. In his own words, "Like many schools in Hong Kong, the class structure was very open. Usually, you just find a partner and do Chi Sao (Sticky Hands) after you warm up with forms." He worked out with one partner while there who was pretty good. What was interesting about training in Hong Kong was that the Wing Chun really was not much different from what you experience in the United States or elsewhere. Often, we think if we go to the source like Hong Kong, the teaching will be pure and better. However, Rob visited 8 different schools in Hong Kong and found that on average, it was not really better over there than in the U.S. So, if you desire to visit Hong Kong, definitely do so, but don't expect the training to be significantly different. He went to better understand Bruce's experience, why he developed Jeet Kune Do, and how it branched out from Wing Chun.
In terms of JKD, these gentlemen have directly or indirectly had the greatest influence on Sifu Rob's progression in the art of Jeet Kune Do. In particular, Sifus Kevin Beale and Mick Thornton have taken the time over the years to develop his knowledge and application of JKD primarily through 1-on-1 lessons and small group classes. Sifu Beale has a wealth of knowledge with a background training championship boxers and holding instructorships in Jeet Kune Do, Bujutsu Kempo, Pacific Archipelago Combatives, Aiki-Jitsu, and Close Quarter Combatives. Sifu Mick Thornton is a JKD Full Instructor, Founder of Blending of the Martial Arts, and member of both the Philadelphia Historical Martial Arts Hall of Fame and World Karate Union Hall of Fame. He has extensively trained in JKD, Filipino Martial Arts, and Combatives.
The next best thing to being in a real no holds barred fight is competitive sport fighting such as kickboxing where real danger still exists (you can get knocked out or injured). It was important to Rob to apply JKD in an actual fight, not just sparring. He wanted to make sure not only that it worked, but that he could make it work when it counted. "You never know until you have someone trying to knock your head off! It was a unique experience fighting in Japan. The mentality was different from what some experience in the United States. In America, the usual motto is to hit and not get hit. However, in Japan, perhaps due to the heavy influence of Kyokushin Karate and other Karate styles, they don't mind getting hit as long as they can hit you back harder! This gym was special with many former local champions training together. It was always hot, always sweaty, and you always left sore!"
Sifu Rob also went to South Korea to train with whoever he could find and he found Grandmaster Kim, a 9th Dan Black belt in Taekwondo. From him, Rob learned how to kick faster, stronger, and higher. One of Bruce Lee's friends and influences was Master Jhoon Goo Rhee, known as the Father of American Taekwondo. Grandmaster Kim is also a legend in his own right in South Korea. (Rob always tells the story of how Grandmaster Kim made him do 250 sit ups)
In terms of providing Rob with the basis from which Bruce developed Jeet Kune Do, Sifu Don Presto had the greatest influence on his understanding and application of Wing Chun Kung Fu. From him, Rob learned the proper structure and form in Wing Chun, how to generate power in a short distance, and advanced trapping. According to Jesse Glover, Bruce's first student in America, many practitioners lack power in their application because they don't understand how to generate power the way Bruce did from his knowledge of Wing Chun. Rob would train with Sifu Don at 5am during the weekdays and a little later on the weekends. They mostly trained through private lessons as there weren't many people who either heard of the class or found them. "It was an incredible experience and I'm forever grateful for the lessons Sifu Don has taught me in order to improve both the trapping and power elements of JKD."
Sifu Chien Yeh was the first to bring Wing Chun to Japan. He's a student of Lo Man Kam, nephew to Ip Man. "It was excellent training with his students and learning from each other. His students were all very friendly although many did not speak much English. Like Hong Kong, it was mostly Chi Sao although we did do some drills as well. I also learned Sifu Chien Yeh is an excellent chef! If you're ever in Yokohama, go see him!"
Sifu John first started Rob in Wing Chun Kung Fu back in 1998. From him, Rob learned relaxation, the use of energy and sensitivity, tactile awareness, and the basics of Chi Sao (Sticky Hands).
Sifu Wong is among the best Wing Chun instructors in the world today. Among the 8 schools Rob visited, he was the most humble and welcoming. That may sound normal, but in Hong Kong, Sifus can be very suspicious of visitors! "It's just like in the movies! I can't tell you how many schools I went to and was turned away or was only allowed to train elementary movements because they didn't know me or was bitter toward my lineage of Wing Chun. It's crazy, but Sifu Wong was not like that and his students were extremely helpful. I learned a lot from them about structure, alignment, trapping, and getting to the centerline. Thank you, Sifu Wong!"
Although Sifu Rob had been teaching for years, he opened Chesapeake JKD Academy in 2019. They teach Jeet Kune Do to small groups and now, through the JKD Process, have been able to share this incredible art with students all over the world. These are all founding members and have been with our local school since the beginning. "Really can't say enough about these guys. Not pictured here, but still founders are James, Kane, Ben, Nick, Michael, Marlon, Daniel, Melvin, Malachi, and Josh. They train hard, but most importantly, we're all family." That's what makes our group what it is. In the words of Bruce, "Under the sky, under the heavens, there is but one family." That's what our JKD is all about, dedication, family and community.