Mac Engel

Here’s a piece of Cowboys history you probably didn’t know about

Randy White was one of several Dallas Cowboys who trained under a martial arts expert back in the 1970s.
Randy White was one of several Dallas Cowboys who trained under a martial arts expert back in the 1970s. Star-Telegram

Of the millions of stories dedicated to the Dallas Cowboys, few are more obscure.

Decades before Fox NFL Insider Jay Glazer claimed to be the first to train NFL players in mixed-martial arts and UFC-style fighting, there was a small man doing the exact same thing with the Dallas Cowboys.

Only most people don’t know Dan Inosanto. To martial arts geeks, Dan Inosanto is a bad, bad man. Maybe the baddest. He stands but 5-foot-9, maybe, and is 81. And he can still kick your behind.

You can see for yourself Saturday and Sunday, when he’ll lecture at the Brookside Center in Hurst. For fans of the 1980s classic “Karate Kid,” he is a real Mr. Miyagi.

Inosanto is one of three men to have trained under the master, Bruce Lee, who died in 1973 but remains eternally relevant.

A movie out this week, “Birth of the Dragon,” tells the story of the young Lee’s fight against Kung Fu master Wong Jack Man. According to legend, the fight took place in a San Francisco warehouse in 1964. There is just the smallest of problems: No one ever verified whether the fight took place. It’s more myth than reality; myth has always been a part of martial arts’ lure.

Lee’s films helped make martial arts mainstream in the U.S., and he indirectly had an impact on American football, specifically the Cowboys.

In the late 1970s, Inosanto was a junior high teacher and a part-time martial arts instructor in Southern California when a long-time friend from college, Dallas Cowboys strength and conditioning coach Bob Ward, contacted him. Ward wanted Inosanto to work with the Cowboys.

Inosanto had studied under Lee after the two hit it off in 1964 during one of Lee’s demonstrations in Los Angeles.

Inosanto had also played football growing up in Stockton, Calif., where one of his coaches was an elderly man who was volunteering at his school — Amos Alonzo Stagg, one of the pioneers in the development of American football.

Despite Inosanto’s knowledge of football and mixed-martial arts, he was lost as to why Ward wanted him to work with the Cowboys.

The NFL had just outlawed the “head slap,” which had been made famous by Rams defensive end Deacon Jones. It had been an effective, albeit vicious, move to stun opponents. God only knows how many concussions it caused.

Ward was looking for a “legal” technique to teach players to rip away from opponents. He found it in martial arts and wanted his friend Inosanto to teach it.

Inosanto was listed as “guest lecturer” when he came to the Cowboys’ training camp facility in Thousands Oaks, Calif., in 1977.

Ward was legendary for his lecturers, some of whom didn’t pan out, like a juggler who once talked about eye-hand coordination.

When the slight man walked onto the field, surrounded by giants in uniform, Cowboys defensive coordinator Ernie Stautner asked defensive lineman Randy White, “What the hell is this guy doing here?”

Not everyone bought in, but men like White, safety Cliff Harris, defensive back Charlie Waters and a handful of others embraced Inosanto’s techniques. White credits his work with Inosanto as vital to his career. Cowboys assistant coach Mike Ditka was fascinated by Inosanto.

That year the Dallas Cowboys won the Super Bowl.

Inosanto would later go on to work with the Raiders, Seahawks and Saints, among others, before he left his career as a teacher to become a full-time martial arts instructor.

What he taught, primarily with hand-to-hand technique, became the standard on every level for defensive linemen, offensive linemen, linebackers and some safeties.

A Dallas martial arts expert, Val Espiricueta, has had several Cowboys as clients, from Demarcus Ware to Greg Ellis to Tyrone Crawford. Glazer made his name doing this before he joined Fox.

Inosanto later entered Hollywood where he served as a stuntman and a martial arts instructor on countless films, including the 2011 “Book of Eli,” which featured Denzel Washington.

Inosanto’s life was recently optioned for a Hollywood movie, a part of which will cover his time with the Dallas Cowboys. That could be a movie itself.

Mac Engel: @macengelprof

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