Datu Kelly S. Worden Martial Art innovator By Rey Javier

Dynamic, unpredictable and this interview won’t end there, hold on to your seat we’re going for an emotional roller coaster ride with martial art innovator Kelly S. Worden.

Trying to be respectful, when I approached Kelly Worden I asked him how I should address him? He just looked at me and stated “you can make that call if and when I earn your respect, in the meantime call me what you want but say it with a smile!”

Doooough, I almost felt like Homer Simpson so I checked the bottom of my shoe just to see what I might have stepped in, everything seemed clear so let me get started.

In the words of the late Kajukenbo founder Sijo Adriano Emperado “Man, when he moves, Datu Kelly Worden has Kajukenbo written all over him!” That was the first words out of Sijo’s mouth many years ago in Eugene Oregon when Datu Worden fulfilled a request by longtime friend Professor Bob Suttles to present a personal demonstration for Sijo Emperado when both men crossed paths while visiting at a seminar in Oregon.


. The Few in the martial arts industry do not know who Datu Kelly S. Worden is; like many progressive martial artists he has earned a reputation for speaking his truth. That said, you either love him or hate him; and with a wide smile and borderline sinister laugh he simply states “I can accept that, the martial arts are full of confused insecure practitioners and then there are the real deal world players; you can’t make everyone happy nor do I try.” Worden openly states, “I think the true difference between the two is in function over flash, real players comprehend the acceptance to deal with violence in society, and the willingness to accept change while allowing the natural evolution of the fighting arts to become real again. This is a socially responsible approach to honestly provide functional skill sets to those that are seeking them out; people know the difference to a degree. America can develop its own solution, that’s what Kaujkenbo did years ago. Kajukenbo and Jeet Kune Do have similar paths towards personal development, Jeet Kune Do just did not place much initial emphasis on a ranking systems as did Kajukenbo.

Martial arts has changed a great deal from when Bruce Lee was shaking up the industry with progressive thinking and personalized developmental strategies. Much of martial arts training today offer what is sometimes referred to as “flavor of the month.” That simply means marketing the art that has become most popular overnight due to a recent action adventure movie, a new mass marketed system, or a new fighter’s style that may have recently won a major mixed martial art sporting event current fast fix mass marketed system of Krav Maga is not a bad thing but it’s simply a commercial attempt to fill a “give it to me now” void. It has done just that but with limited depth. Krav Maga is an offshoot of the Russian military art of Sambo/Sombo and has extracted a similar approach to development as the Sambo/Sombo Wheel. Historically the Russian’s were forerunners in the development of battle ready integration martial combat efficiency and for the most part that art is still very elusive and minimally publicized.

Easy accessibility is just one of the many benefits of Jeet Kune Do and Kajukenbo as well as other progressive arts such as Filipino Arnis, Kali, Escrima, Muay Thai, and Wing Chun. There are also many Americanized hybrid martial art approaches that are also accessible, acceptable, and for the most part “working towards keeping it real! In the big picture, industry instructors know who is progressive and who is packing their wallets teaching questionable multi-marketed commercial martial arts that look pretty but in reality can barely scrape by in a school yard scuffle.”

Ouch! Gee I guess what I heard is true; man, talk about compassion this should be a fun interview.


Old School Kajukenbo players Marc Davis and Ted Sotelo with Worden in L.A. Marc Davis embraced the teachings of Worden as early as 1980 and became one of Worden’s earliest black belt students.

Since this interview will also be published in Trent Junkers "NW Connection Magazine" and many of the readers are Kajukenbo practitioners I asked Datu Worden about his opinion regarding Kajukenbo. In Worden’s words, “over the 30 years I have had many friends and students who are actively involved in Kajukenbo. Kajukenbo was the predecessor to Jeet Kune Do and offers the progressive adaptability of what we now understand Filipino martial arts to also offer. To a degree Kajukenbo and Jeet Kune Do are very similar yet Bruce Lee seemed to have wanted to eliminate the structural need for belt ranking while validating function specifically through fighting skill development.

Kajukenbo legend Bob Anderson has been both a student and colleague of Worden’s for over 30 years. Here Datu Kelly S. Worden instructs a clinch seminar at Anderson’s Tapout gym in Palmdale California

Internally it is difficult to balance the scale of who’s who without some sort of seniority within the fighting arts, structural integrity is important yet so is freedom of expression. Additionally once a name or style has been defined people want to neatly wrap it into a descriptive specific package with little or D

Datu Worden has instructed seminars for both Taky Kimura and Richard Bustillo’s JKD Groups.

Worden often refers to Modern Arnis as the Filipino equivalent to JKD when it is instructed conceptually. “That’s what made it Modern Arnis and not traditional arnis, Professor Remy Presas was ever-changing and always unpredictable;” but that is just another controversial technicality Worden is willing to address if and when questioned about his perceived opinions and the similarities of the different arts.

Datu Worden is well known for the concept of “Connecting the Systems” and in his truth there are many connections to multiple systems. None the less the progression should never stop, according to Worden “the natural evolution of my system still continues today by integrating other arts that also fulfill specific voids in the modern practitioners’ search for technical efficiency. Non Classical Gung Fu, Muay Thai, Brazilian JuJitsu, Indonesian Silat, Russian Sambo/Sombo, American Boxing, impact/edged weapons and firearms etc, all provide personal developmental stability for combat efficiency. Beyond that, researching the original content and intent of traditional karate is often overlooked. There is an amazing amount of connections to self-defense efficiency simply by adjusting the range, reversing the energy, and implementing attachment as opposed to the physical separation of techniques offered within the strategy of the commercially accepted block and punch techniques karate has evolved to. It is not about style; a style or system can only provide a template for foundational skills to flourish, any fighter worth his grain is self-evolved and adapts to not only the threat level but the environment.”

Worden credits his real world applications to the very fact he has been instructing 1st Special Forces soldiers in progressive and functional tactics for years. “The soldiers offer immediate feedback, if my tactics are not effective soldiers might be injured or die; I will not accept style over function!”

“I don’t teach grappling, grappling is for sport application; I teach ground fighting, we live in a concrete world so use it to your advantage, immediately neutralize the threat and regain positional control!”

Of course I had heard of Natural Spirit Int’l, but I had to ask; “What is Natural Spirit and isn’t it kind of an esoteric name for a martial art?” Worden responded, “Yeah I suppose a person with limited insight would look at it that way, hell I’m not that deep and I figured it out. Let me see if I can add some clarity to my logic. First and foremost and no doubt un-politically correct, I’m an inner-city white-boy, that’s not a derogatory reference and people shouldn’t be so thinned skinned to believe everything has racial overtones; just a fact, deal with it. I don’t speak any language other than English and that’s almost questionable, probably more like Caucasian Ebonics, having fun yet? Okay, “Natural” means our body has physical capabilities and limitations. As we age or become injured our skill sets and movements must adapt and maintain a level of function and efficiency with the least amount of maintenance. Yes we can reach outside the box and develop amazing flexibility and strength and we should challenge ourselves to excel but do so without forcing injury or distorting our natural ergonomic physical integrity. Bottom line, if I get injured, cut, or shot I may still have to fight so adapt and overcome naturally by seeking longevity in your physical training regime. “Spirit” is also fairly simple to explain; every threat is different; adapting to the conflict is about intent. You must be able to regulate your spirit or the level of physical intent in a split second. A minor fist fight can escalate into an improvised weapon situation without warning; weapons instill fear, fear activates adrenaline and accelerates the level of intent needed to neutralize the threat. With today’s force continuum laws stringently enforced controlling your spirit is as essential as having the physical skill sets to engage in a self-defense conflict so simply put Natural Spirit is balance Daniel San. “Int’l=International” refers to the very real fact that I place no limitations on what cultural arts are studied by my students or association instructors when they are seeking additional strategies, techniques, or tactics to continue the natural progression of individualized evolution; all that in a nut shell is Natural Spirit International.


Interestingly enough Worden seems to bring a great deal of credibility to the table with many senior practitioners supporting or endorsing his opinions and methodology. Worden wears many hats within the martial arts industry including Radio talk show host; during one of his many archived On the Edge radio shows he interviewed Jeet Kune Do senior Taky Kimura who publically stated “Kelly Worden is an American Icon of progressive martial arts!” Not a bad endorsement from someone who was considered Bruce Lee’s closest friend and confident. I myself would never question a legend such as Taky Kimura, who could?

Recently Kelly Worden was awarded and promoted to Senior Instructor of the IMB Academy and a Second Generation Instructor of Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do personally by Richard Bustillo another living legend and martial art icon. Sigung Bustillo stated, “I’ve known Kelly Worden over thirty years and he’s never approached me for certification, I owe it to the martial arts community to set the record straight, Kelly Worden is one of the best JKD instructors in the industry!”

Worden’s heart and soul is martial arts, in his words; “I have been blessed with great teachers and mentors who have openly assisted in my development through guidance and leadership and not restraint or authoritarianism. I owe my personal evolution to Ed Lewis, Cui Brocka, Professor Remy Presas, Jesse Glover, Taky Kimura, Richard Bustillo, Leonard Trigg, Ted lucaylucay, Sonny Umpad, as well as my students and colleagues within the art. Each unselfishly offered me a piece of the puzzle, not just martial skill but the elements of life and martial skill development; Mind, Body, and Spirit, Natural Spirit”




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