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Larry Hartsell Bio

Sifu Hartsell was one of the greatest exponents of JKD and Integrated Grappling Arts in the world.

Larry taught his arts worldwide, and his death was not only the sad loss of a great martial artist, but also the loss of a caring friend who took a personal interest in his students. A lot of people will remember Larry for his time together with martial arts legend Bruce Lee, but for a lot of Larry’s students he will be remembered for his insight in the many grappling arts that he studied and the way in which he incorporated those styles into the core of Jeet Kune Do.

Whilst grappling has seen an increased popularity in the last couple of decades, Larry was one of the few guys in the world who was praising grappling whilst most of us where still in nappies. Furthermore, Larry was utilizing and teaching functional grappling before most was aware there was a difference. Larry welcomed the new awareness into grappling that the Gracie’s brought to the world through the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and the UFC. Larry’s first martial arts experience was learning judo at the age of 14 in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, where he earned his black belt. In high school he both played football and wrestled before some years later he moved to Los Angeles where he began training in Kenpo Karate under Ed Parker. This is where he met his long-term instructor Dan Inosanto with whom he trained to the day he died.

It was at Ed Parkers academy that Larry first met with Bruce Lee as he gave a demonstration on the then little known art of Kung Fu. Dan Inosanto was already training with Bruce Lee and invited Larry to train with Dan in Bruce’s Jeet Kune Do class, but this was soon interrupted as Larry served as a military police officer as part of the US army in Vietnam. Larry continued to research and train in many different styles and after he left the army had some wilder years working as a bouncer and Deputy Sheriff where he had many fighting encounters. He also tried both boxing and tough men contests, which at the time were not too dissimilar to Vale Tudo or the UFC.

During this period Larry tried and tested many of the skills he had learnt and was always looking for the opportunity to test out those skills. Larry never talked a lot about this period of his life and sometimes even came across as a little embarrassed about the things that he had done during this time. It does have to be said though that it was during this time that Larry got a reputation as one of Jeet Kune Do’s “premier fighters”. It is certainly a time that shaped Larry’s progression through the arts and also highlighted to him the need for in-fighting skills and grappling.

It comes as no surprise that Larry was to take the lead in teaching the grappling skills of Jeet Kune Do and this is one of the areas that Larry trained privately with Bruce Lee between 1967 and 1970. In fact Bruce had become very interested in the grappling arts and had sought instruction from some of the top guys in grappling of the day. Larry was to continue this branch of Jeet Kune Do and further study the many grappling arts that were available including becoming one of the first students in America to train Shooto.

Having both respect and most often a deep knowledge of the history and techniques of various grappling systems it comes as no surprise that students all over the world sought out his expertise in the grappling arts. One of Larry’s abilities was that he was able to convert from stand up to the ground in a seamless joint of technique. It is often forgotten how good a boxer he was and how knowledgeable he was on Bruce Lee’s original art of Jun Fan Gung Fu.

Larry was an encyclopedia of martial art techniques and drills and was constantly looking for the new innovations in training practices and technique. Cross training was not a buzzword for Larry but more of an integrated part of his system, something he was doing some 30 years before the majority of us followed in his footsteps. This says a lot about the lead Larry had in his training and conceptual development. Larry was one of the forerunners to the MMA scene we see today, but as Larry himself was quick to say, he was only a part of it and often talked in detail and admiration about many instructors who he saw as great innovators.

It is this humility that was one of the most endearing features of Larry’s personality as he very rarely gave himself the credit he deserved, often pushing the spotlight away from himself and onto his instructors and students. On many of the seminars that Larry taught he often concluded with a question and answer section where he was always open and honest with his answers. No subject seemed to be off limits and he was as happy to talk about Bruce and some of the things he had seen Bruce do as well as his many experiences with some of the top instructors in the world, but he always mentioned that he learnt so much from his own students and was very proud that his students were able to think, study, fight and apply techniques for themselves.

To the day he died Larry was teaching and practicing in the arts that he loved and was a constant inspiration to his students and friends.

Often seen as the quiet guy of Jeet Kune Do in his former years, wearing his infamous t-shirt with the slogan “Don’t mistake kindness for weakness”, which probably summed up Larry as a person.

Students like Sifu Leif T. Røbekk from Norway, Ron Kosakowski from USA and Frank Burczynski from Germany continue to teach and promote Sifu Larry Hartsell´s Jeet Kune Do Integrated Grappling Arts. They were not only high ranked by Hartsell but also true friends on a personal level.

Photo Gallery

  • Larry Hartsell poses with his representative in Norway, Leif T. Robekk.

  • Sifu Larry and his long time student relaxing after a seminar.

  • Sifu Larry gives a demonstration with Leif T. Robekk. From a seminar in the 1990's.

Larry's Quotes

  • "I always encourage students to attend any seminars they want. When it comes to knowledge, you owe allegiance only to yourself."
  • "The Jeet Kune Do principles apply to grappling when I think of the Attack by Drawing [principle], where you deliberately see an opening for the person to come in so you can counter..."

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