For the many students that Larry taught worldwide his death is 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.
For many people Larry will be remembered for the time that he spent with the martial arts legend Bruce Lee, but for a lot of Larry’s students he will be remembered for his insight to 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 upsurge in the last decade, Larry was one of the few guys in the world who was singing the praises of grappling whilst most of us where still in nappies. What’s more Larry was utilizing and teaching functional grappling before most of was aware there was a difference. Certainly 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 Caroline, where he gained his black belt. In high school he both played football and wrestled before he moved some years later 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 with 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 U.S army in Viet Nam. Larry continued to research and train in many different styles and on leaving the army went through his wilder days working as a bouncer and Deputy Sheriff where he had many fighting encounters and tried his hand at both boxing and tough men contests which were not too dissimilar to the Vale Tudo and No holds Barred contests that we see displayed in such organisations as the UFC.
It was during this period that Larry tried and tested many of the skills that he had learnt and was always looking for the opportunity to test out those skills. Larry talked very little about this period of his life and sometimes came across as a little embarrassed about the things that he had done during this time, but it has to be noted 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 the reasons I first came into contact with Larry was because of his knowledge of being 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 encyclopaedia of martial art technique and drills and was constantly looking for the new innovations in training practises and technique. Cross training was not a “buzz” word for Larry but was an integrated part of his system and the fact that he was doing this some 30 years before the majority of us had “cottoned on” to this concept 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.
Larry can be credited with such students as Erik Paulson and Scotland’s own Rick Young who have been shining examples of grappling, but many well known names have studied with Larry for both conditioning and grappling knowledge. 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 take kindness for weakness”, which probably summed up Larry as a person.
Sifu Leif T. Røbekk form Norway, are continue to teach and promote Sifu Larry Hartsell´s Jeet Kune Do Integrated Grappling Arts. Røbekk has been teatching Sifu Larry`s in weekly basis sinse 1990.
Other great hig sertefy instructors under Sifu Larry Hartsell is:
Ron Kosakowski USA Frank Burczynski Berlin Wes Bennett USA Prof Bono USA Tim McFatride USA Cory Smith USA
They were not only high ranked by Hartsell but also truly friends in a personal level.