Leader of the Pack
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After a wild fight in front of the police station, the Americans took refuge inside. Denny put his shoulder against the door as the locals tried to force their way in. When help finally arrived, in the form of more police, Denny was surprised to find himself in handcuffs. After three days in prison (“Not jail,” Denny says. “Prison.”) where he faced down more intimidation, Denny was finally released.
“I made a note to myself right there,” Denny says: “Learn how to fight.”
Growing up in New York City in the 1960s, he had faced a number of situations where he’d been attacked, often by a group. The Kitty Genovese case in 1964—in which a woman was murdered while her neighbors looked on—had also made an enormous impression on the 11-year-old Marc Denny.
“It bothered me deeply that people stood by while someone was preyed on in that way,” he says.
Denny’s life in martial arts went through a number of stages. First he studied Tiger Claw Kung Fu while he was in law school at Columbia University, then he took a year of tae kwon do in Washington, DC. After giving up on the law—“It occurred to me that I didn’t want to be sitting down for the rest of my life”—he moved to California. A chance encounter with a martial artist on Long Beach led him to the world-renowned Kali Academy, which taught a weapons-based style of martial arts developed out of tribal warfare in the Philippines.
Denny was a serious student but he still felt like he was missing something. “I started wondering,” he says, “Just how do these beautiful drills apply when it comes to real fighting?”
He had reached the pivotal moment that every martial artist comes to face. No matter how many forms and drills you do, no matter how high you can kick and how hard you can punch, you wonder: What will I do when it’s for real? Tired of waiting, Denny and a partner decided to find out. Wearing fencing masks and stripped down hockey gloves for protection, they started fighting with the sticks used in Kali. For Denny, the first experience of real contact changed everything.