About Daniel Sullivan
I’m Master Daniel Sullivan the Founder & Head Instructor of OC Kickboxing & Mixed Martial Arts. Since 1985, I’ve dedicated my life to researching, learning and developing the world’s most devastating and effective martial arts for real fighting and sharing what I’ve learned with students from all walks of life.
The martial arts have helped me to transform my life in the most incredible ways and I wanted to share this positive transformation with others so they too can experience the positive benefits that I have seen through the martial arts. I have accomplished a lot in the Martial Arts. Here is a partial list of my accomplishments…
- 1st Degree Black Belt, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Cleber Luciano, Gracie Humaita)
- Senior Full Instructor (Ajarn), Muay Thai (Thai Boxing Association USA)
- Third Level Instructor, Mixed Martial Arts (Miletich Fighting Systems)
- Full Instructor, Jeet Kune Do (Dan Inosanto)
- Full Instructor 4th Degree Black Belt, Filipino Martial Arts (Dan Inosanto)
- Instructor (Guro) Black Ikat, Majapahit Silat (Dan Inosanto)
- Instructor, Kalis Ilustrisimo (Antonio Diego)
- Silver Glove, Boxe Francaise Savate (Nicolas Saignac)
Today, I am the Founder and Head Instructor of the most successful martial arts school in Orange County, California and I’ve literally helped thousands of people change their lives for the better through the martial arts. However, it wasn’t always like this. Here’s my story…
A REAL LIFE KARATE KID STORY
My life before the martial arts…
Trouble makers! (Hawaii circa 1982).
I had no direction in life.
Before my introduction to Mixed Martial Arts, I was a rebellious, skinny surfer kid from California who came from a broken family that moved around a lot. My Mom left my Dad and married a hippie, turned us into a hippie family and moved us to Santa Cruz, California where I majored in surfing, skateboarding, smoking pot and cutting school. Then my Mom gave my brother and I back to my Dad in Palos Verdes California where I hung out with the wrong crowds, got involved with drugs and alcohol and got hassled and beat up on by local surfers and jocks. I had no direction in life and no purpose. All I cared about was surfing, so with nothing else going on in my life, at the age of 18, I moved to Hawaii for the surf. There I again gravitated to other surfers all of whom smoked pot, toyed with other drugs, drank and could barely hold jobs. Being a new “Haole” (white guy) in Hawaii, once again I got intimidated and pushed around by locals.
This is me surfing at Honolua Bay, Maui, Hawaii.
The Turning Point
The martial arts gave me a new lease on life.
I was inspired by Bruce Lee.
After a few years in Hawaii, I decided I was going to try to make something out of my life. I moved back to California, to get away from the negative influences and pursue a college education and the martial arts. I was inspired by Bruce Lee. I idolized him. I loved the fact that in his movies, he never went looking for trouble but never took any crap from anyone. I wanted to learn the martial arts so like Bruce Lee, I would never have to take crap from anyone again either!
Bruce Lee 1972
I met Bruce Lee’s god daughter in a college class.
Back in California, I enrolled in College and in Taekwondo classes. Then in a strange turn of events, I met Bruce Lee’s God Daughter and the Daughter of my future Martial Arts instructor in a college class. Her name is Diana Inosanto and her father is the world-reknown martial artist, Dan Inosanto. This turned out to be a life-changing event.
With Diana Inosanto (Circa 1992)
Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do
“There is no debate. Bruce Lee is the Father of Mixed Martial Arts.”… Dana White, President, UFC
These books opened up a whole new world to me.
I found out that Diana’s father, Dan Inosanto was Bruce Lee’s training partner, sparring partner, partner in researching and developing the world’s most combative martial arts, and a legend himself in the martial arts world. Diana was kind enough to let me borrow two books… “Jeet Kune Do, The Art & Philosophy of Bruce Lee” and “The Filipino Martial Arts” both authored by her father Dan Inosanto. These books opened up a whole new world to me.
“Jeet Kune Do The Art and Philosophy of Bruce Lee”, “The Filipino Martial Arts” and “Absorb What Is Useful” by Dan Inosanto.
It was like a museum of the martial arts.
Then Diana invited me to her home where I was blown away to find out that the entire place was like a martial arts museum with photos of Bruce Lee, Dan Inosanto and many other Martial Arts Masters and certificates and awards all over the walls. There were antique Filipino weapons everywhere and book shelves full of every book ever written on the martial arts, the combat sports and anything related to physical fitness etc. And the garage was full of all of Bruce Lee’s custom-made fitness and martial arts training equipment. Bruce Lee died in 1973 (twelve years earlier) and Dan Inosanto ended up with much of his old equipment.
The more I learned about Bruce Lee and Guro Dan, the more fascinated I became.
The more I learned about Bruce Lee, Dan Inosanto (Guro Dan) and the combative martial arts and the more I absorbed, the more fascinated I became. I found out that at the time of Bruce Lee’s untimely death, he and Guro Dan were on a mission to research every martial art and combat sport in the world and to combine the best parts to create the ultimate Mixed Martial Art for real combat. They called this research “The Tao of Jeet Kune Do”.
Dan Inosanto and Bruce Lee in Hong Kong 1972.
He’s the man who’s done the most research into the world’s combat arts.
The death of his best friend, Bruce Lee, left an indelible mark on Dan Inosanto and made him even more determined to continue to research and develop the world’s most combative martial arts in search of the ultimate martial art for real fighting. Guro Dan kept researching, learning and training in the different martial arts and to this day, still has not stopped. He’s the single man who’s done more research into the world’s combat arts than any other individual on the face of the earth.
I decided to follow in the footsteps of Bruce Lee and Dan Inosanto.
The idea of learning, researching and developing the different martial arts left a big impression on me. I knew that these were hard acts to follow, but I decided then and there to do my best to follow in the footsteps of Bruce Lee and Dan Inosanto and to devote my life to learning and teaching the martial arts.
Eventually Guro Dan Inosanto took me under his wing.
I started training hard with several of Dan Inosanto’s student’s including Richard Bustillo, Chris Kent, Cass Magda, Jerry Poteet and Ted Lucay Lucay with the hopes of being accepted as one of Guro Dan’s students. I even learned some things from Diana Inosanto. Eventually Guro Dan Inosanto and his wife Paula took me under their wing and began teaching me several different martial arts including Jeet Kune Do, Muay Thai, the Filipino Martial Arts and Pencak Silat.
With Dan and Paula Inosanto circa 1988.
The more I learned, the more I became like a sponge.
Getting to train directly under Guro Dan only intensified my longing for knowledge, my desire to become one of his top students and to eventually become a certified instructor directly under him. The more I learned from Guro Dan, the more I became like a sponge. He became the single man I respected more than any man in the world and became like a second father to me.
Training inspired me to change my life in amazing positive ways.
Training with Guro Dan inspired me to totally change my life in amazing positive ways. He lived a clean lifestyle with no drugs or alcohol and he inspired me to do the same. He had accomplished great things through the martial arts with a HUGE following of students all over the world. He’d been in many Hollywood films including Bruce Lee’s “The Game of Death” and he did nothing but martial arts all the time. He leads by example. He encouraged me to set goals and never give up and helped provide me with direction in life.
Daniel Sullivan with Dan Inosanto circa 1991
Guro Dan was just like Mr. Miyagi only 100 times better!
They don’t call me Daniel-Son for nothing… I started my martial arts journey with Guro Dan Inosanto in 1985, one year after the movie “The Karate Kid” came out. To me, Guro Dan was just like Mr. Miyagi from “The Karate Kid” only 100 times better! Around the same time period Guro Dan stunt-doubled for Pat Morita (Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid) making the comparison even more notable. And just like Daniel-Son in “The Karate Kid”, since learning the martial arts from Guro Dan, I’ve NEVER been threatened or beat up by another human being.
Pat Morita (Mr. Miyagi) with Ralph Macchio (Daniel Son) in “The Karate Kid” 1984.
The training gave me the confidence to pursue my goals.
Training with Guro Dan gave me the confidence to pursue my goals, to never back down in the face of adversity and to stand up for myself and not be intimidated by people. It also helped provide me with the perseverance to finish college. I got my Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration from the University of Southern California in 1990 with an emphasis in the Entrepreneur Program. Guro Dan also inspired me to pursue a career in the martial arts which is definitely the hardest but most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.
Graduation from USC Business School 1990
I dreamed of surfing and training all over the world.
Since I was an adolescent, I dreamed of surfing the best waves in the world. I also wanted to travel to exotic places and train in the local martial arts. My success from teaching the martial arts allowed me to do exactly that. I’ve traveled all over the world for the best surfing and all over Asia for the best martial arts training.
This is me, surfing in the Mentawai Islands, Indonesia in 2012.
Guro Dan Inosanto Talks About Daniel Sullivan…
“Daniel Sullivan started his training at my Academy in several different martial arts including Jeet Kune Do, the Filipino Martial Arts, Muay Thai and Pencak Silat in 1985. By 1991, Daniel had achieved Apprentice Instructor credentials in Jeet Kune Do, the Filipino Martial Arts, Muay Thai and Majapahit Silat and opened his own school in 1993.
He carried on training hard with me for over a decade and graduated from the Inosanto Academy with Full Instructor Credentials in Jeet Kune Do and the Filipino Martial Arts in 1999. Since then, Daniel has continued to train with me and to research and learn several different martial arts both in the USA and abroad and has achieved Black Belt Level in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Senior Full Instructor Level in Muay Thai and a Silver Glove in Boxe Francaise Savate among other accomplishments.
Daniel is a well rounded instructor with a broad knowledge base in striking, grappling and weaponry. Over the years, Daniel has produced many top quality students, fighters and instructors. I highly recommend OC Kickboxing & Mixed Martial Arts (Daniel’s Academy) to anyone in the Orange County Area who is interested in training in the martial arts.”… Dan Inosanto
My 4th Year Full Instructor Certification From Sifu Dan Inosanto From 2002
He introduced me to Master Chai.
Guro Dan is my instructor and my mentor in the martial arts. He’s also the most open minded martial artist I’ve ever met. He introduced me to MANY different martial arts, connected me with a lot of great instructors and inspired me to pursue research and training in other martial arts systems. He trained me in Muay Thai and he introduced me to his Muay Thai instructor, Master Chai Sirisute.
Guro Dan Inosanto and Master Chai Sirisute
The Most Powerful Striking Art In The World!
The kicks, the knees, the elbows, the clinch. I loved it.
I was so fortunate to meet the Father of Muay Thai in America, Master Chai Sirisute (Ajarn Chai) in 1985 and I started training with him right away. I was shocked by the raw power and effectiveness of Muay Thai and Master Chai! How is it possible that small Thai people can generate so much power in their strikes? Muay Thai blew my mind… The kicks, the knees, the elbows, the clinch. I loved it. That’s why I’ve stuck with it since 1985.
With Master Chai Sirisute circa 1987
I became a Kru and I’ve taught Muay Thai ever since.
I tested and was promoted to Muay Thai Instructor (Kru) in 1991 under Ajarn Chai and the Thai Boxing Association (TBA) and OC Kickboxing is the Official Orange County branch of the TBA. I’ve taught Muay Thai ever since. Teaching Muay Thai has been so rewarding for me and I’ve produced many great Muay Thai students, instructors and fighters over the years. I hold the coveted Senior Full Instructor (Ajarn) level under the Thai Boxing Association USA (I’m one of only a few individuals to hold the highest level under the TBA).
My Senior Full Instructor (Ajarn) Certification From Master Chai Sirisute From 2011
Here’s what Master Chai has to say about me…
“Ajarn Daniel Sullivan have been study Muay Thai with me since 1985 until today. He did work hard and still do. Also he been work a lot of different martial arts not just Muay Thai. The way I see he is very good teacher. Also he is very discipline and hard worker. All his students do very good in Muay Thai. A lot of discipline in OC Kickboxing & Mixed Martial Arts school. Over years, Ajarn Daniel and OC Kickboxing produce many quality students, fighters and Muay Thai Instructors (Krus) under Thai Boxing Association USA.”… Chai Sirisute
Master Chai (Kicking) and Guro Dan Inosanto (Holding pads) 1980s
Training in Thailand is amazing!
I’ve sojourned to Thailand twice to train in the Thai Boxing camps there and it’s amazing! The training is second to none. The experience of training in the camps in the birthplace of Muay Thai is incredible. And watching the fights at Rajadamnern and Lumpini Stadiums is something that every Muay Thai player should do at least once!
Training in Muay Thai at Jitti Gym Bangkok, Thailand 2009
Filipino Martial Arts
The Most Deadly And Effective Martial Art For Combat!
The ability to fight with or without a weapon.
I started in the Filipino Martial Arts in 1985 (the same time I started in Muay Thai and Jeet Kune Do). At first I wasn’t sure about the need to learn to use weapons like sticks, knives and swords but the more I learned the more I understood that empty hand fighting techniques come from weaponry and how learning the weaponry enhances the empty hand skills. Also, the empty hand skills of the Filipino Martial Arts as taught by Guro Dan Inosanto were the most devastating street fighting techniques I had ever seen.
Me with Guro Dan Inosanto in his backyard circa 1991
The Filipino Martial Arts quickly became my favorite martial art!
The Filipino Martial Arts quickly became my favorite martial art! I would never want to have to choose only one martial art because I’m all about cross-training but if I had to pick one, it would definitely be the Filipino Martial Arts. It’s the most complete martial art in the world. You develop the ability to fight with ANY type and combination of weapons. Having the capacity to defend yourself with ANYTHING you pick up or nothing at all is very empowering. And the empty hand skills stand on their own with devastating striking and grappling techniques that give you the power to use almost every part of your body as a human weapon. But the best part about the Filipino Martial Arts? It is so FUN to do!
Gracie Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
The World’s Most Effective Grappling Art!
The ability to dominate even bigger and stronger opponents.
When the first Ultimate Fighting Championship took place in 1993, I was already a martial arts professional with my own martial arts school. I had heard about the Gracie family and their amazing grappling art and I already aspired to learn it. But when I saw Royce Gracie dominate everyone he faced so easily in UFC #1, I knew right away that Gracie Jiu-Jitsu would be my next pursuit. I wanted the ability to dominate opponents once the fight hit the ground.
I put the White Belt on and immersed myself in BJJ.
I found Master Cleber Luciano (a 5th Degree Black Belt and World Champion), put the white belt on and immersed myself in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). I steadily worked my way up from White Belt to Blue Belt to Purple Belt to Brown Belt to Black Belt and I recently got the First Degree (one stripe) on my Black Belt.
Training with my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Instructor Master Cleber Luciano in 2011
I wanted to remain on the cutting edge.
A lot of martial arts instructors aren’t willing to start all over again from a beginning level, put a White Belt on and begin the learning process all over again but that’s exactly what I did. I wanted to make sure my knowledge and skill were on the cutting edge and current to make sure I was offering the very best to my students.
My Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt Certification from 2009
Here’s what Master Cleber Luciano has to say about me…
“I have had the honor to train Daniel Sullivan for the past 15 years. He is a “Real Deal” Black Belt and awesome coach. He produces great students, coaches and champions. I really admire him because he never stops learning and he is always striving for more achievement. I’m very proud to have him as my Black Belt and friend.”… Master Cleber Luciano
With Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Legend Professor Rickson Gracie and Master Cleber Luciano 2011
Mixed Martial Arts
The Ultimate Combat Sport!
The marriage of striking and grappling.
Having a Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and high-level Muay Thai and Boxing skills is not enough for Mixed Martial Arts. You have to be able to put it together and you need wrestling skills as well. Lucky for me, my Jiu-Jitsu coach is a great wrestler. I’ve spent hundreds of hours in one-on-one training with Master Cleber perfecting my wrestling skills.
Miletich Fighting Systems
I was a big fan of Pat Miletich since he became the first UFC Lightweight Champion (under 200 lbs) in UFC 17 after winning the UFC Lightweight Tournament in UFC 16. Then he really impressed me when he became the first UFC Welter Weight Champion in 2001. This was after the UFC changed their weight divisions. I knew that not only was he a great fighter but also a great coach when he coached Matt Hughes, Tim Sylvia and Jens Pulver who all became UFC Champions in their respective divisions.
Training With Coach Pat Miletich in Bettendorf Iowa When MFS Was On Top Of The World With Matt Hughes and Tim Sylvia Holding UFC Titles at the Time.
He was impressed with my striking and grappling skills.
I invited Coach Pat Miletich to do his first seminar at OC Kickboxing in 2006. He was impressed with my striking and grappling skills and invited me to his academy in Bettendorf Iowa to be a part of his instructor training program. Upon completion of the camp, he awarded me a third level instructor credential in Miletich Fighting Systems right then and there.
My 3rd Level Instructor Certification From Coach Pat Miletich
Boxe Francaise Savate
Boxing with the feet as well as the hands.
Anyone who thinks that Savate is not a great Combat Art has NEVER sparred with a good Savate player. The footwork, the angling, the illusiveness and the ability to hit and not be hit is unequaled in the martial arts. The movement looks identical to the way the best UFC fighters of today move. Constant movement and constantly working for angles to unleash a barrage of rapid fire kick and punch combinations.
The best Savate players in the world would stop by.
I was first introduced to Savate in the 80′s at the old Inosanto Academy of Martial Arts on Glencoe Avenue where some of the best Savate practitioners in the world would occasionally stop by and sometimes conduct seminars etc. Also, my good friend and training partner Professor Salem Assli is one of the best Savate people in the country and one of the top Savate instructors on the international martial arts seminar circuit.
STX = Savate Thai Cross Training.
Then in the early 90′s when the Inosanto Academy moved to Manchester Avenue in Playa Del Rey, I met the Savate expert and French Full Contact Champion, Professor Nicolas Saignac (Nic). Nic and my good friends Chad Stahelski and Erik Paulson had a kickboxing class in the mornings at the Academy that consisted mostly of sparring. This is where the term STX (Savate Thai Cross Training) was born. A lot of the best Muay Thai, Kickboxing and Savate people in the Los Angeles area would stop by to spar. It was a great class to test and improve your skills with sparring drills and live sparring. Professor Nic blew my mind with his ability to hit and not be hit. When you try to hit him he’s not there and when you least expect it, he’s hitting you!
In the mid 90′s I got serious about learning Savate.
I loved to play around with Savate up until that point but didn’t get serious about it until the mid 90′s. Then I decided that I was really going to get committed to learning the system. I enlisted Professor Nic as my instructor. Savate came easy for me because of my strong background in Muay Thai, Boxing and Jeet Kune Do Kickboxing. To me Jeet Kune Do Kickboxing and Savate are almost identical. In fact, Jeet Kune Do Kickboxing is drawn from Muay Thai, Boxing and Savate. I quickly advanced in the System and was awarded the Silver Glove and a teaching credential by Professor Nic with several Silver Gloves from France in attendance. Since then I’ve produced a lot of great Savate players and fighters.
My Savate Silver Glove Certification Signed By 5 French Silver Gloves Circa 1998
Here’s what Nicolas Saignac has to say about me…
“Daniel, I would like to thank you for everything you have done to promote and help Savate grow in the USA. I first had the chance to meet you 20 years ago and am amazed not only at your school but more specifically at the Savate program you have built. The number and caliber of the students who have been competing at the highest level is a testimony to your teaching and dedication to the art. Through OC Kickboxing, I have had the chance and privilege to promote more Silver Gloves than in any other school in the country. Your program definitely ranks among the top in the USA. When I see your students competing I am proud of the message they send to the martial arts world and the way they represent Savate. Thank you again Daniel Sullivan for your help and support!”… Nicolas Saignac
My Savate Instructor, French Full Contact Champion, Nicloas Saignac
Majapahit Martial Arts
Maphilindo Silat: The Fighting Arts Of Malaysia, Philippines And Indonesia
The Exotic Martial Arts of Southeast Asia
My instructor, Guro Dan Inosanto is a big proponent of Silat, the fighting art of the ancient Majapahit Empire which included Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Burma, Cambodia, Laos and most of Southeast Asia. I love it too. The exotic nature of it, the sound of the drums beating, getting low to the ground and fighting from there, the way it sometimes looks like a dance. But what I like most about Silat is the devastating nature of the techniques. These moves are designed to finish someone as in incapacitate or kill.
Guro Dan Ionosanto Demonstrating A Silat Move on Me Circa 1991
I love the way Guro Dan teaches.
I was first introduced to Silat by Guro Dan at the Inosanto Academy. Then I began training and trained extensively with the Master of Pencak Silat Serak, Pendakar Paul De Thouars. God Bless His Soul. Before his untimely death, I also trained in Pencak Silat Mande Muda with Pendekar Herman Suwanda. But the bulk of my Silat training came from Guro Dan Inosanto. I love the way Guro Dan teaches. He always focuses on the drills and techniques as opposed to the forms. I was presented a teaching credential in Majapahit Martial Arts and Maphilindo Silat in the early 1990′s from Guro Dan. I was recently awarded the Black Ikat in Silat as well by Guro Dan. Although we don’t offer a class on Silat currently, I teach some of the best moves in our Filipino Martial Arts classes.
My Level 2 Silat Instructor Certification From Guro Dan Inosanto From 1999
The Art Of The Blade
Economical motion with edged weapons
Because I love the Filipino Martial Arts so much, I’ve traveled 10 times to the Philippines to study the art. I’ve trained with several different Masters in several different styles but during my last 8 trips to Philippines I’ve concentrated my efforts on Kalis Ilustrisimo with Maestro Tony Diego. Of all the styles I learned in the Philippines it’s my favorite. It’s blade oriented and focuses on using the edge of the blade for attacking and the flat side for defending. It’s very economical in it’s motion and extremely combative. I was awarded a teaching credential in Kalis Ilustrisimo by Maestro Antonio Diego in March of 2012. I went back in December of 2012 to update my training.
In Manila Philippines With My Teacher, Mang Tony Diego The Head of The Kalis Ilustrisimo System 2011
Maestro Antonio Diego talks about me…
“Ok Guys from America, People from America, if you want to learn the art of Ilustrisimo, an old system of fighting, try to locate Mr. Daniel Sullivan. He can give you the real system of Ilustrisimo. You will be satisfied with his system because he has the real one we are practicing here. Thank you.”… Maestro Antonio Diego, Manila Philippines
My Second and Non-Revocable Instructor Certification Awarded By Maestro Tony Diego to Teach Kalis Ilustrisimo Anywhere In The World 2014
A Lifetime Dedicated To The Martial Arts
Martial Arts Training Is A Process Not A Product.
Keep training until they “put the nails in the coffin”.
Most martial arts instructors get a Black Belt and then they’re done learning. I took the lead from my teacher, Dan Inosanto who believes you can keep learning and teaching the martial arts until they “put the nails in the coffin”. By no means do my efforts and accomplishments in the martial arts match or come close to those of my teacher and mentor, Guro Dan Inosanto, who is now 76 years old and still trains and teaches every day. But I am always striving to learn more and to improve my programs and curriculum to benefit my students and members. I want to make sure my students are getting cutting edge knowledge so they can get the most benefit from what they’re learning and can defend themselves so they never have to be intimidated, beat up or pushed around the way I was as a kid.
The OC Kickboxing & Mixed Martial Arts Story
OC Kickboxing started in the garage.
What is now OC Kickboxing & Mixed Martial Arts, Inc. started in the shared garage of my apartment building in Redondo Beach, California. It was 1990 when I was first certified to teach Jeet Kune Do and the Filipino Martial Arts, first by Guro Burton Richardson, and soon after by Guro Dan Inosanto in the same year. I started with one or two private students in the garage who I trained for free or for next to nothing.
The USC Kali Club
Burton Richardson, my senior, close friend, training partner and instructor from the Inosanto Academy established the USC Kali Club on the University of Southern California campus in 1987 as part of the University’s Intramural Recreation Department. Since we were friends and training partners already, I was one of Burton’s first students.
The USC Kali Club on the USC Campus With Burton Richardson, Guro Dan Inosanto, Paula Inosanto, Chad Stahelskli and the Rest of the Crew Circa 1989
The ultimate environment to become a Warrior and a Scholar
The USC Kali Club was amazing and so convenient because I attended USC at the time. I was so fortunate to have a martial arts club with an outstanding instructor and a bunch of great training partners like Chad Stahelski on campus. I could ride my bike or walk to training. We would train in Kali (Filipino Martial Arts), Muay Thai, Jeet Kune Do and Silat at USC almost every day! Plus, the Inosanto Academy was only about a 30 minute drive from campus. It was the ultimate environment to become both a Warrior and a Scholar!
Taking over the reins
In 1991, Guro Burton Richardson opened his own school in Long Beach, CA and bestowed the honor upon me of taking over the already well-established USC Kali Club. This is how I really got my start teaching. And as Aristotle once said, “Teaching is the highest form of understanding”. I am very grateful to Burton for giving me the opportunity to teach and share my knowledge with others, for teaching the martial arts is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.
With My Good Friend, Training Partner And Instructor Burton Richardson at the IMB Academy in the 1980′s
The USC Kali Club provided me with great teaching experience, but it barely paid anything. Having just graduated from USC, a private school, I had accumulated a massive amount of debt in both student loans and credit cards and my credit was shot. So even though I wanted to, starting a martial arts school wasn’t really an option for me. Also, I felt like I had a lot to learn and accomplish in the martial arts before I could become a professional martial artist. So I took a full-time job. I would work 5 days per week, teach two nights per week and train at the Inosanto Academy two nights per week in four back to back classes with Guro Dan and train on Saturdays as well. I worked, trained and taught like this for about three years until I got “laid off” (fired) from my job. There was one priority in my life (the martial arts) and everyone knew it including my boss.
My first attempt
Having just been fired from my job, I took the opportunity to try and go full-time into the martial arts. I didn’t have a facility but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I started offering private lessons to anyone anywhere in the greater Los Angeles area. My motto was “have skills, will travel”. I would teach anywhere, in the garage, in the park, or in your home to groups or individuals and for a reasonable rate. Those were interesting times! My main marketing method was flyers that I would place in different places to try and drum up business. Not an easy way to make a living but I was free and doing what I wanted to do!
The Long Beach Era
Not The Perfect Scenario, But It Was A Start.
A small group in Long Beach
In 1993, some guys in Long Beach who were interested in Jeet Kune Do and Muay Thai found my flyer and contacted me to teach their small group. They had rented a commercial building (part of an old theater) on Anaheim Street in the “bad” area of Long Beach to practice martial arts. The group grew to about 10 or 15 people plus a few private lessons. Then they offered me to take over the space. Since I had no money and no credit this was the only opportunity I was going to get to have my own commercial space, so I jumped on it.
A dream come true
The rent was $650 per month and it had a room upstairs where I could live. I was getting my own commercial space on a busy street for less than I was paying for my apartment in Manhattan Beach and I could live there too… What a deal! OK, it wasn’t the most ideal location but I had my own brick and mortar business, a martial arts school. I would no longer have to work for anyone else and I could do what I love to do, the martial arts… My dream come true! I named the business “Daniel Sullivan’s Martial Arts Gym”.
A lot of weirdness going on
The building was the first theatre ever built in Long Beach California and I had one fourth of it. To tell the truth, the spot was a little bit weird to say the least. The guys who rented the spot and handed it over to me actually used it for more than one purpose. They practiced martial arts there but they also partied and threw parties there and used it for a place do drugs and sleep if they were too drunk or too loaded to drive. There were make shift bunk beds made of two-by-fours and plywood everywhere kind of like a shanty town. They had cut a hole through the roof so they could party on the roof which was fine, until it started to rain.
The unit next to me was kind of the same situation with a lot of drug addicts crashing out there and a sound room where bands would play and practice including Sublime. I met the lead singer of Sublime, Bradley Nowell there before he died of a heroin overdose. And how ironic that the next unit over contained a methadone clinic. So, they could shoot heroine with all the druggie musicians and walk about ten steps right next door to a methadone clinic to try to get cleaned up. How convenient.
The other neighbors
On the other side was a gay bar, but not your ordinary gay bar. It was a cowboy themed gay bar with very masculine gays donning cowboy attire and driving up in big 4 wheel-drive trucks. The front door had a sign with a silhouette of a cowboy that read “Enter In The Rear”. To make it even more interesting there were “ladies of the night” walking up and down the street and gang members doing drug deals on the phone booth out in front. About one block away on the same side of the street while I was there, some gang members walked into a business and put a bullet into the head of a merchant because he couldn’t get the wedding ring off of his finger in time so they could steal it.
Preparing the site
OK, so it wasn’t the most family-oriented location to have a business, but it was a start and my options were very limited at the time. So I got to work converting the place into a martial arts school. I ripped out everything to open up the space with as much floor space as possible, had a makeshift shower built (because I had to live there) and got it ready to move in. I took a lot of pride in it and did my best to make it look professional. I did all the work myself, painted everything including the logos on the walls and the sign out in front. I painted the exterior of the building white one day. The next day it was covered with graffiti, so the following day, I painted the outside black which solved the graffiti problems.
Opening the doors
I operated on the premise “Build it and they will come.” but to my shock and amazement, they didn’t come. There I was, open for business, I taught the best martial arts in the world, I learned from the best, I had a big sign out front on a busy street, but where were all the people? Even my USC Business School entrepreneurship degree didn’t seem to be helping me. I could never get more than 30 students at a time there. After about 6 months I had to take a full time job just to support the business and my massive debt.
My routine became, depending on the day of the week, commute to work, commute back to my martial arts school to teach or commute the Inosanto Academy to train. (I never stopped learning from Guro Dan the entire time. I was at the Inosanto Academy for four classes per night two days a week every week for 14+ years.) Then I would also teach on Saturdays.
Doodoo hits the fan
Being in such a bad neighborhood definitely had it’s drawbacks. I got into several street fights there in Long Beach because a lot of people were looking for trouble. I fought my way out of all of them without incident. Then one night while teaching a class, a group of little gang-banger kids between the ages of 12 and 16 showed up to cause trouble. To make a long story short, they ended up threatening to come back and “pop a cap in me” in front of my students. What am I supposed to do? Beat up on a bunch of kids? Because of that incident and several others, my students (grown men) started getting scared to even show up there at night. This is not good for business.
An angel comes along
In 1995 with 10 years of martial arts skills under my belt but no money and no credit to move to another location things were looking bleak. Luckily, a friend from the Inosanto Academy and student of mine, Jin Young, suggested that I move to Orange County and offered to assist. I already wanted to move the business to Orange County, so I liked the idea. He leased an Industrial unit for me in his name in Costa Mesa to move the business to and rented me a room to live in in his home in Newport Beach. This was a godsend!
The Costa Mesa Era
A Change For The Better
A small industrial warehouse in Costa Mesa
The unit in Costa Mesa was a 1,200 square foot “vanilla shell” industrial unit and the rent was the same as what I was paying in Long Beach, $650 per month. At the time, I was afraid to pay any more than that since I had seen no success with the school up to that point, so it worked out well. Also, a lot of my students were from Orange County, so I didn’t have to start over. We moved locations but kept the name “Daniel Sullivan’s Martial Arts Gym”.
Daniel Sullivan’s Martial Arts Gym just before changing the name to OC Kickboxing & Martial Arts. Circa 1995
These were hard years. I lived in Newport Beach, worked full time in the graphics business in Torrance, had my school in Costa Mesa and trained two nights per week at the Inosanto Academy in Playa Del Rey. For years, I had five hours of sleep per night. I would sleep during every lunch break and often at red traffic lights. I caught myself falling asleep at the wheel while driving on the freeway regularly. Even though we moved to Orange County, business didn’t improve much at all. At the end of the month, I would break even with the business or have two or three extra hundred dollars in my pocket for all the hard work I was doing. I finally took a pay cut for a full time job in Irvine which made life a little easier. But it was still hard working full time, running a business and training. That’s all I did.
Doing my best to look tough. Circa 1996
Getting canned again
In 1997, I got fired from my full-time job once more. This turned out to be a gift. I decided to go full time, full on into the martial arts again. But this time the outcome was a little different. I collected unemployment for a few months and began working full time in and on the martial arts school.
Some key changes
I was there to answer the phones for the first time. I started to learn more about the business side of a martial arts school. I made the business more mainstream and renamed it “Orange County Kickboxing & Martial Arts”. Kickboxing for fitness was getting big at that time so I started to ride that wave. I bought some free-standing heavy bags and began offering kickboxing classes on the bag which attracted women. Women attracted men and the business began to grow. This was the winning formula, a combination of the more hard core martial arts classes, like I always taught, plus kick boxing for fitness classes to attract women and others who wanted to get fit without getting hit. In a matter of a few months, I matched the income from my job with the business income. Then in a few more months, I doubled the income and never looked back.
This is around the time when Orange County Kickboxing & Martial Arts was starting to take off. Circa 1997
Pretty soon the classes were packed… crowded. As my Father always said “Those are the kind of problems you want to have”. So, I took over the adjacent unit and doubled the size to 2,400 square feet. I added a big bag rack and 19 hanging heavy bags in the new unit and removed the wall. Half the gym was full of heavy bags and the other side, open floor space. It wasn’t long at all before the new classes, with double the previous size, were packed too. But it was a one man show. I would teach all the classes, do all the enrollments and even clean the toilets. I would be at the school working from 7 AM to 11 PM everyday except for Tuesday and Thursday nights when I would still attend Guro Dan Inosanto’s classes at the Inosanto Academy. It would have been a lot easier and I’d have made a lot more money if I quit training with Guro Dan and focused 100% percent on running the school but I had a major goal in mind (Full Instructor Certification under Guro Dan). I hired a few employees for the first time and the school grew more. Then in 1999, I graduated from the Inosanto Academy with Full Instructor rank. Upon graduation, I was able to focus on the school 100% and the school and the students flourished. I was able to pay off most of my debt and buy a home.
The Irvine Era
The Big Time
By the year 2000, we had completely outgrown our space and I started looking for another location. It wasn’t easy to find a good spot with enough parking that I could afford. After contract negotiations for several other locations I decided on our current spot. The thing about our current site is it required a LOT of construction work to get it ready. The inside needed to be completely demolished and rebuilt including moving the plumbing and electrical panels and reworking the air conditioning ducting, insulation, lighting and of course tearing down and rebuilding all the walls. I had a student who worked in commercial construction, promised to help out and estimated the remodel would cost $50,000. So, I sold my home to get the $50,000 for the construction which was a lot of money for me at the time. The construction ended up costing $110,000 + and taking a lot longer than we thought which nearly bankrupted the business. Had the construction and city permits taken one more month to complete, I would have no longer been able to pay rent on two buildings and it would have been all over but somehow with a lot of praying, I pulled it off. We opened our doors in Irvine in July of 2002.
The front of the Irvine Academy in 2002
The motivation for moving & expanding
The main motive for moving and expanding was my desire to help as many people as possible with the positive benefits of the martial arts. Also, I had gained so much knowledge in the martial arts that I wanted to share with others. There was not enough time in the day to offer all I wanted to offer with only one room, and therefore, only one class going on at a time. I needed a bigger space with two rooms and two classes going on simultaneously, so we could offer more and reach more people. I wanted to offer lots of classes in different martial arts, with lots of different time slots to cater to people’s busy schedules.
The Irvine location accomplished this and enabled us to offer over 100 classes per week including a Kickboxing Program, a Kids Program and several Martial Arts programs for adults. We were able to put 29 hanging bags in our Kickboxing Room and a boxing ring, and fitness area in our main room plus locker rooms, showers and a sports shop. And the location is great… Centrally located in Orange County next to the 405 and 55 freeways, close to where people live and work.
This proved to be a very successful strategy. However, at only 5,500 square feet, even this situation had it’s limits. It didn’t take long for us to outgrow this spot but we didn’t want to move again.
We had been using the term “Mixed Martial Arts” way before it gained popularity. However, when the term “Mixed Martial Arts” caught on as a popular term to describe what we do, we eventually decided to change our business name from “Orange County Kickboxing & Martial Arts” to “OC Kickboxing & Mixed Martial Arts” to make it easier for people to understand what business we are in.
The second expansion
In 2012, we took over the adjacent unit and now occupy the entire freestanding building in Irvine. The expansion provided us the ability to add a 3rd room and nearly double our size to 10,000 square feet. We have a lot of exciting new features including a new state-of-the-art grappling floor, an expanded reception area and sports shop, a lounge, a new consultation room, two new restrooms, an MMA Cage etc. The most amazing change though… We now offer an unprecedented 127 classes per week with 3 rooms pumping all the time! Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe there is a gym in Orange County that offers even half the number of classes per week that we do.
Dreams do come true
My dream was to follow in the footsteps of Bruce Lee and Dan Inosanto. I wanted to dedicate my life to researching and mastering the world’s most combative martial arts and share my knowledge with those who also want to learn, grow and improve their own knowledge and skill of the combat oriented martial arts.
Like Dan Inosanto, I wanted my academy to be a University for the Martial Arts where aspiring students could find a place to get the most complete education in the martial arts you can find under one roof and to become Black Belts and Instructors in several different martial arts disciplines simultaneously. I wanted to provide a positive and open-minded environment with no egos where like-minded individuals can bond, become brothers and sisters in the martial arts and become legitimate multi-discipline Black Belts and instructors.
I believe this exactly what we offer at OC Kickboxing & Mixed Martial Arts. I sincerely invite you to visit and find out how the martial arts can have a positive impact on your life!