Westminster College (Fulton, MO)
Football and Martial Attributes
Part two of a series titled Bruce to Bosa
In the first article of this series, I briefly described the role that the Dallas Cowboys and Dan Inosanto played in introducing martial arts, especially Jeet Kune Do and Filipino Martial Arts, to the NFL. In this article, I describe the spread of martial arts, two particular benefits of using martial arts training in football drills and overlooked advantage of martial arts training—providing an outlet for our players after they have finished their playing careers.
Let’s begin this article with a truism: while there are obvious differences, football and martial arts require similar commitment to physical and mental preparation. And, because there is a great deal of hand combat taking place across position groups—especially in the trenches—cross training football players in martial arts can be exceptionally valuable.
Martial arts, in particular Filipino Martial Arts and Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do, were introduced to the NFL in the late 1970’s. Soon the training had spread far more widely that the Dallas Cowboys. Several other teams invited Dan Inosanto and his students to train their linemen. In addition to Inosanto, Tim Tackett (also a student of Lee and Inosanto) was an early teacher to the NFL. Here you can see him training the San Francisco 49ers in 1984. And here, the 49ers in 1990. I urge you to watch and study these videos. Notice the similarity between the martial arts influence decades ago, and the commonality between the techniques Tackett taught in the early 1980’s and you, in all likelihood, are teaching your defensive players. At about 1:30 in the video taken in 1984, for example, you can see an uppercut into the armpit. Although the video does not show this in a game setting from an edge rusher, in this video you can see a similar motion by Broncos’ linebacker Von Miller at about 3:52. And you’ve seen it used on countless other sacks. When you watch these videos, don’t be surprised if you’ve seen many of these techniques before. That’s the point—as I noted in the first article, “much of what has become commonplace training methodology began in Dallas in 1977.”
But, while the techniques have spread, they’ve also begun to see additional sources and methods have been refined. For example, some coaches have refined techniques especially for use in football. If you have had the pleasure of learning from Blaise Winter at a clinic, you’ve been introduced to at least some advantages that martial arts training can offer the defensive line with hand combat skills to subvert offensive line technique.
Some MMA coaches, such as Bruce Lombard (there are certainly others, but I know him because he’s written for Football Toolbox and trained one of my favorite offensive linemen John Urschel) have specific curricula designed for football coaches and players interested in adding a combative side to their game.
In fact, the use of martial arts has become so common that the NFL has written about it. Players benefit from consistent “[h]and combat training … designed to sharpen the player’s ‘weapons for battle.’ This type of training requires a partner, who provides the athlete opportunities to focus on spacing, timing, accuracy and speed specific to their sport.”
By now, golly… I hope I’ve convinced you that training hand combat has great reward for football players and coaches.
But, I want to add a bit more here. As coaches, we spend a great deal of time preparing our players for life after football. We want them to graduate from high school, where the vast majority of players step onto the field for the last time. If you coach in college, you want them to go to class and make good life decisions so that that when they are done competing for you they can go onto lead lives that matter. Even if they make it the professional ranks, they are likely to retire before they are 30.
Martial arts training can help with finding their paths for many former players. First of all, as noted above, the mental and physical discipline required to excel in both can be very similar. It should come as no surprise that many former football players have made a mark in MMA contests. Bob Sapp, a former lineman at the University of Washington was an early crossover between the sports. More recently, former Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker made the post-retirement move to MMA, at age 48.
Most importantly, however, martial arts can help former players remain active. Players don’t always transition to life after football smoothly, and too often become much more sedentary after their playing days are over. Obesity in retired professional football players has been oft discussed. However, this issue reaches much lower than the professional ranks. And because more than one million high school athletes play football across the United States, this needs to be the frontline of post-football health. Encouraging high school players to remain active after their playing days may also help them minimize weight gain and encourage them to remain active into adulthood.
Because of the vast number of martial arts, there are many options for a former football player to choose from. MMA, boxing, BJJ, or Muay Thai are excellent ways to remain highly conditioned. Jeet Kune Do and Filipino Martial Arts are excellent options as well. More obscure like Silat, capoeira, or glima are worth researching.
In conclusion, martial arts training has proven its value across the football landscape in past four decades. Much of the techniques that are now commonplace have their origin in the early martial traditions introduced in the 1970s and 1980s. However, perhaps the more important reason to teach and coach martial arts is to provide a foundation for a lifetime of fitness for the players after their playing career is over.
Part III will introduce the readers to hubad, one of the most common drills in Filipino Martial Arts and explore training drills primarily for the defensive line and blitzing defenders. Other position groups, including offensive line and wide receivers will also benefit from this drill and its many variations.
Coach Gibson joins the Westminster College Blue Jay coaching staff after five years with the South Callaway Bulldogs, where he coached the defensive line. The Bulldogs were the Eastern Missouri Conference champions twice (2016 and 2018) and the 2019 Missouri Class 1, District 6 champion.
In addition to coaching, Gibson is also the John Langton Professor of Legal Studies and Political Science at Westminster College. He is a founding instructor at the Kali Academy of St. Louis, having earned rank as a Red Tag Instructor in Dog Brothers Martial Arts under Punong Guro Marc “Crafty Dog” Denny, as an advanced instructor of Pacific Archipelago Concepts under Hock Hochheim and as an associate instructor of Apex/Inosanto Blend Filipino Martial Arts while a student at Apex Martial Arts.