In 1984 I read the book The War Against Terrorists by Gayle Rivers. The beginning of the 1980s saw increased terrorist attacks globally, and American targets were no exceptions: the U.S. Air Force Base bombing at Ramstein, West Germany on August 31, 1981, three American nuns were murdered outside San Salvador, El Salvador by a right-wing death squad on December 4, 1981, a U.S. citizen was seized by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and held for ransom on April 8, 1983, the bombing of U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon on April 18, 1983, the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut on October 23, 1983, a U.S. Navy officer was shot by the November 17 terrorist group in Athens, Greece on November 15, 1983, and the list goes on. The book inspired me to start studying case studies on terrorism, which in turn led me to read books on counter-terrorism tactics and S.W.A.T. structure and techniques. Since the first S.W.A.T. team was development in 1967, by the then-inspector Daryl Gates of the Los Angeles Police Department, there were not a whole lot of open source books on the market at the time, and the Internet would not become public for another ten years later. I was only 22 years old at the time.
By 1985 I had a handful of students I was giving private lessons to while earning a living as an Art Director for an advertising agency called Advertising Design Centre. I was also attending Orange Coast College in the city of Costa Mesa. I blending what I had previously learned in Karate, Judo, Kung-fu, Jeet Kune Do, Wing Chun, Filipino Kali and I experimented with the modern tactics that I had learned in the U.S. Army and I called it Wagner’s Modern Fighting Methods. I designed the logo which depicted an M-16 rifle and a shuriken within the outline of a shield. A shuriken (Japanese for "sword hidden in the hand") is a traditional concealed weapon shaped like a star with sharp points, and are sometimes called throwing stars.
I had the opportunity to use my martial arts skills on “the big screen” by appearing in the 1985 film Fury to Freedom. The movie is based on the true life story of Raul Ries; a very angry martial artist, Vietnam veteran, who was about to murder his own family but then suddenly gives his heart over to God becoming a pastor and preaching the Gospel to those he had wronged. I played the role of a 1970s gang member who has a fight scene with the lead actor of the film. The film, directed by Erik Jacobson, is still in circulation today. CLICK HERE to watch the movie, and see if you can see me in it.
On September 3, 1986 I placed a display advertisement in my college newspaper, called the Coast Report, to attract new students to my new system. I decided not to place the Modern Fighting Methods logo in the ad knowing the college newspaper would probably deem the ad "too violent" and not print it. For this ad I decided not to go with a logo at all, and the advertisement appeared on page 4 of the paper.
A few months later I designed another logo that would represent my system calling it the “strong arm holding a scimitar sword.” The sword represented all weapons, both ancient and modern. The severed arm represented the war arts (martial arts) of the Western World and the Southwest Asia sword represented the war arts of the East. I believed that the two worlds had to be infused together in order to have the best of both worlds.
I spent many hours practicing my marksmanship skills with his AR-15 rifle at the Jamboree Shooting Range in Irvine, California. At the end of the year I placed another 3” x 5” display advertisement in the Orange Coast College newspaper again, only this time I had moved and I had my contact information listing the new city I had moved to. The headline of the ad read, SPECIAL WEAPONS TRAINING COURSE. The text read, This is a private hands-on course designed to familiarize the average person with modern weapons, skills and tactics for the purpose of self-defense. Training includes knife fighting, Filipino stick fighting, handgun, automatic assault rifle, modern strategies. $150.00 for 12 sessions. I realized that both the traditional martial arts, and even the revolutionary martial arts of Jeet Kune Do, at the time, were not just deficient in teaching a blend of modern weapons and hand-to-hand combat, but completely void of such a mixture; not to mention no realistic scenario training.
The Orange Police Department was alarmed by my advertisement, and for good reason. It was an advertisement one might expect to see in Soldier of Fortune magazine, but not in an urban newspaper. The female police investigator who contacted me by phone warned me not to teach any firearms training. I heeded the advice, and I toned things down quite a bit in my next advertisement. I eliminated any reference to firearms, and the police never called me again. I put my ideas about teaching firearms on hold, for a few years anyway, but I followed through with other innovative techniques and training methods.
Rich, one of my students who had responded to the ad campaign met me in Hart Park to train regularly. After several weeks of private lessons he invited me to go to a climbing and rappelling course with him up in the canyons of the Los Angeles hills. I accepted and got hooked on the sport. My first rappel was off the side of a cliff 60 feet high.
After some more rope training the new interest motivated me to join the Saddleback Search & Rescue Team in Orange County. This was a group of volunteer rescue workers who would respond to emergencies if called upon by law enforcement or fire agencies needing additional help. During the several months that I was on the team I trained with various police search & rescue teams, and I first entertained the idea of a career in law enforcement. However, it would be two more years until I followed through with that desire. I also attended a SERE (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape) course hosted by U.S. Navy instructors. This is the same course taught to downed pilots behind enemy lines. In this course I learned how to live off of the land. Unfortunately, the Saddleback Search & Rescue Team was eventually disbanded due to jurisdictional conflicts and a shrinking wilderness in the OC.
Rich also invited me to be a guest instructor at Lou Michaelson’s garage converted into a Shotokan dojo in Huntington Beach. Lou was a professor at Golden West College who ran a Shotokan class on campus. Although he had plenty of students at the college Lou taught a few nights a week out of his own garage where there were fewer restrictions, for the college prohibited sparring, and where he could make a little extra money on the side. On any given night he had 15 students, and he boasted 100 students in total. I accepted Rich's student’s invitation and I taught a one hour course on Filipino Kali techniques and drills. The students love it, and had never seen anything like it before. Filipino Kali and Jeet Kune Do were just starting to become popular throughout the United States at the time.
One of Lou’s new black belts, Mike DiGiovanni, 49 years old, came up to me and said, “I want to learn some more of that stuff.”
I responded, “I’ll tell you what. I’m making a video, and if you help me with it I'll train you.” Mike agreed and we began working on my first video titled Women Against Rape. We also started training together at Hart Park.
While looking around for women to be in my video Mike suggested that I consider Becky Bruckner who was also a student of Lou Michaelson; a green belt. I agreed and she to became a devoted student willing to learn my new mix of martial arts.
After a few weeks Mike went to Lou and convinced him that he should allow me to teach a Filipino Kali class on a regular basis. Lou agreed since he didn’t offer any weapons training, and the one-hour lesson that I gave had been well accepted. I started teaching in Lou’s garage once a week every Tuesday night.
After a few months I started throwing in some empty hand training into the lessons introducing Lou’s students to Jeet Kune Do and Wing Chun. Lou accepted the new direction at first, but three weeks later he told me that he would prefer that I stick with teaching weapons only. This “restriction” actually motivated me to expand the weapons program.
Using Mike and Becky as my experimental subjects I taught my two devoted “disciples” Roman spear throwing and blocking drills, medieval sword fighting, and lots of Filipino Kali on the football field at Orange High School. Just behind Hart Park, my old stomping grounds, I took advantage of the archery targets on a sliver of land that butted up to the freeway, and we let the arrows fly. In Mike’s backyard we would often throw Shurikens at a thick wooden pine board cut to the height of a man, because those weapons were illegal in California. The thrower throws several at a time trying to make all of them stick. However, after some time perfecting all of these ancient weapons I decided that the real future for the martial arts was in modern weapons and modern situations. I decided to get back to serious training in firearms, knife attacks, and modern impact weapons like I had been doing the previous year with his smaller group.
I started introducing paint guns into the Tuesday night training. I started by teaching my students basic marksmanship, and then I guided them into pistol tactics. In early 1988 I was setting up boxes and hanging black plastic tarps from the ceiling in Lou’s garage to create my own “shoot house.”
In an interview with Mike DiGiovanni, 69, on August 22, 2008 Mike said, “We were doing back then in 1987 and 88 what we now call Reality-Based. We were learning to do room clearing with paint guns. We stacked up boxes and learned about cover and concealment, how to keep a low profile in crowds to avoid fights, and we did airplane hijacking defense stuff long before it became popular. We set up Lou’s place in an airplane configuration, learned how to fight with rolled up magazines as improvised weapons, fight in aisles, and the likes. Jim was toying around with a lot of ideas at the time, which nobody else was doing in the martial arts then. Today everybody is doing what Jim started. It’s a lot easier to build on something that has already been started than to break new ground.”
Copyright Jim Wagner 2003 - 2021 All rights reserved.