SGPT Interviews John Spezzano

By Navy SEAL Veteran Brad McLeod
john spezzano interviewJohn Spezzano is a 30-year veteran of the martial arts, full instructor of Jun Fan gung fu / jeet kune do concepts and the Philippine martial arts under Dan Inosanto. Spezzano is also qualified to teach maphilindo silat (under Inosanto), wing chun (under Francis Fong) and muay Thai (under Chai Sirisute). He is a Russian Kettlebell Certified instructor under Pavel Tsatsouline.

SGPT: Tell us about yourself?

JVS: In a nutshell I am a full time martial arts and kettlebell instructor based out of Los Angeles, CA. I have been training in martial arts for 30 years and teaching them for the last 16. I teach a variety of arts including Muay Thai, Filipino Martial Arts, Pencak Silat, Wing Chun, Jeet Kune Do, and Savate.

I am an RKC certified kettlebell instructor under Pavel Tsatsouline and recently wrote a book on kettlebell training for Black Belt Magazine called “The Martial Arts / Kettlebell Connection.” The kettlebell got me started in resistance training and over the last couple of years I’ve expanded my studies in that regard by going through the multi-level certification process offered by the folks at Gym Jones in Salt Lake City. It has been eye-opening, to say the least!

SGPT: Did you have an athletic background growing up?

JVS: As a kid I played soccer from elementary school through high school. I tried out for the wrestling team in high school but I don’t think I made the cut! It was during high school that I started training in Karate and Judo with a local instructor. I was bitten by the bug immediately!

SGPT: how did you become interested in martial arts and weight training?

JVS: As far as martial arts go, I always loved the Saturday morning “Black Belt Theater” type of movies and I wanted to check it out. Plus I was a small kid and felt I needed a way to defend myself. Weight training came much later for me. In college I did what every knucklehead does and went to the gym, had no idea what I was doing, chatted up some girls and called it a day. It was only after my good friend Dr. Mark Cheng introduced me to “hard style” kettlebell training that I really got into it. The kettlebell started me down a path of fitness and I’ve seen my fitness go through the roof since embarking on the Gym Jones method. Honestly I’m more fit now than when I was in my 20s. And I was competing in kickboxing at the time so I wasn’t too bad off!

SGPT: Can you tell us about the book you have written on this subject?

JVS: Black Belt wanted a book that would show the benefits of kettlebell training as it pertains to martial artists. They are truly too many to list here: takedowns, takedown defense, punching, kicking, kneeing, footwork, grip strength, you name it just about every aspect of martial arts training benefits from kettlebell work. Plus the kettlebell by nature is a power endurance tool and combat sports follow a power endurance type of output so the transfer is not just for one’s technique but also for one’s sport specific conditioning.

So in the book I outline a number of exercises. Some foundational, others for fun but they all serve a purpose and if the reader follows the system and how it’s laid out the material will be very easy to learn and pay dividends in training. I’ve known Mark and Lisa (from Gym Jones) for years but never got into the training until about a year and a half ago. During the writing of the book I realized one of the big things many athletes miss out on is the concept and practice of recovery. It’s easy to go hard, but doing so every day will diminish performance down the line so arguably the most important chapter in the book is the one on recovery and Mark and Lisa were kind enough to allow me to share the Gym Jones approach to recovery with the reader. I would add that as a guy who turns 43 this November, I know all too well how important recovery is and I practice what I preach.

SGPT: Do you have other methods of conditioning for martial arts (running, rowing, Crossfit, etc)?

JVS: I think many things are sport specific and martial arts are no exception. If you want to fight in the ring you’d better start learning the technique of how to kick and punch and then start getting kicked and punched while you’re kicking and punching someone else! Fitness is VERY important but there is no substitute for understanding and being able to perform the technique of one’s sport.

I use the training methods from Gym Jones both to help myself and clients reach an acceptable level of GPP and also to help my performance in competition. (I still compete in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.) The way I punish myself in the gym, fitness is never a concern for me on game day. Nor should it be.

SGPT: You have made several pilgrimages to train at Gym Jones. Can you tell us about that experience?

JVS: Like I said earlier I’ve known Mark and Lisa Twight for years. They are like family to me. I met Rob MacDonald on my first trip out there a couple years back and liked him from the get go. Rob has a lot to offer the athlete who is willing to work. The sensitive ones don’t do so well with Rob, though they’d be better of if they toughed it out. Mark Twight is very likely the smartest man I’ve ever met and probably will ever meet. He thinks things through like no one else I know. Everything you could possibly want to know from a training perspective is covered. So is nutrition for general or specific goals and of course the essential practices of recovery. Everyone who goes to the facility in Salt Lake for the first time expects to see crazy people doing crazy things. It’s not like that at all. It’s just people who are willing to work hard. The bar is set high there. When you’re surrounded by people doing something you either do that thing or you go somewhere else. It’s really that simple. Dan John said, “Working out is basically picking up something heavy and putting it down.” Like everything Coach John says, that pretty much sums it up with an amazingly low word count.

SGPT: What is one thing you have learned at Gym Jones that you can share with our readers?

JVS: Stop making excuses for not training. You are either willing to do what it takes to improve or you’re not. Be honest with yourself and you will be much happier.

SGPT: Can you tell us more about the style of martial arts that you train in? Who do you train with in California and what is that facility like?

JVS: I spent nearly 20 years studying directly under Dan Inosanto. For those who don’t know he was Bruce Lee’s protege in the 60s who carried on the tradition of Jeet Kune Do, arguably laying the carpet for every MMA fighter¬†out there today. In addition to JKD, Mr. Inosanto also teaches Filipino Martial Arts and Pencak Silat and I teach all those arts as well as Muay Thai under Chai Sirisute, Savate under Nicolas Saignac and Wing Chun under Francis Fong.

I taught at the Inosanto Academy of Martial Arts for 14 years and left recently to pursue my own practice with my good friend and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instructor Shawn Williams. I teach the Muay Thai and Kettlebell programs at Five Star Martial Arts here in Los Angeles. We are actually in the process of expanding our facility right now. It’s pretty exciting having been open only a year and a half! We’re adding a second training room for the martial arts and we’re putting showers in our new changing rooms. Plus my strength/conditioning room is pretty much doubling in size. Pretty cool! Check for more info!

SGPT: How do you prepare yourself mentally for sparring against tough opponents?

JVS: When I was new my first kickboxing coach was a very tough guy named Chad Stahelski. (These days he’s a well known stunt man and stunt coordinator.) He had arms the length of a gorilla’s and the compassion of one too! One day I got tired of him just hammering me every round so I decided to just shut my eyes and land a right hand no matter what the consequences. I landed it. And then I ran my butt off for the remainder of the round! In essence, you just have to accept you’re gonna eat some to give some. It’s something that is not innate but it is essential. The best fighters in the world get hit. Becoming OK with that concept makes your training go much better and the challenges in life so much easier to deal with!

SGPT: You travel every year to Georgia for advanced martial arts training. Can you tell us about that?

JVS: My Wing Chun teacher is Francis Fong. He is based out of Johns Creek, GA, and every year he has three training camps for his instructors from around the world. We all descend on Atlanta for a few days of great training and it’s a terrific time had by all. Every time I train with Sifu Francis I learn something new, no matter how long I’ve been training and how long I’ve been with him.

SGPT: Do you practice Yoga or have other means to calm your mind and restore your body?

JVS: I do not do Yoga, though primarily because I simply don’t have time. Between running the school, training my clients, training myself, teaching my group classes and seeing my wife once in a while there’s not much left on the clock. I used to do yoga years ago and I think it has a lot of benefit. Most of my restoration processes are done with a Grid roller, lacrosse ball and Tiger Tail. Plus I get a massage monthly and take contrast showers nearly daily. My mind is pretty well set already, but the body needs constant reminding…

SGPT: What is next for you?

JVS: Next I’d like to get the business here at Five Star running well enough that I can hand the reins to a manager and focus on my training again. There are only so many hours in the day and a lot of my martial arts training has had to take a back seat while the business gets going. Don’t get me wrong, I still train more in a week than most people do in a month but by my standards it’s not enough to keep me progressing. I’d like to compete well in the Pan Ams next year (BJJ tournament) and in a few years get my black belt under Shawn.

I also train Balintawak Eskrima with Grandmaster Nene Gaabucayan here in LA and I’d like to become an instructor under him as well. Mr. Inosanto always reminds us of Aristotle’s famous saying that “teaching is the highest form of learning.” If you enjoy learning you will do it forever and it will keep you fresh. And always, ALWAYS, lead from the front. There is never an excuse to do otherwise.

SGPT: Thanks for the interview John.

JVS: Thanks for taking the time Brad!

Check out more info and train with John Spezzano at

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