I never set out to have such a diverse and exciting background, but one thing led to another over the years, and as a result I thank God that I've had the opportunity to impact many lives in the martial arts, law enforcement, corrections, military, and counterterrorist communities. In recognition of some of my achievements Black Belt magazine, thanks to the most most votes of the readers, inducted me into the Black Belt Hall of Fame as Self-Defense Instructor of the Year 2006, the "Academy Awards" of the martial arts community, and simultaneously I was inducted into the Budo International Hall of Fame for Outstand Achievement in the Martial Arts 2006. These were awarded to me for developing reality-based concepts and training methods that were featured monthly in their magazines. I've even received honors that were totally unexpected, like in 2000 when I was appointed as an honorary member of the Brazilian Air Force for training their Air Force's counterterrorist team known as GEPA.
The roots of the Reality-Based Personal Protection system
At the age of 14 I frist started learning self-defense from a high school friend, Alfonso Uceda, who had been a student of Bill "Superfoot" Wallace in the Korean martial art of Tae Kwon Do. Today Alfonso is a security officer, and has been for many years, at one of the largest casino/hotels in Las Vegas, and we have maintained our friendship ever since.
After a year of private lessons behind a local grade school Alfonso said to me, "Jim, I've taught you everything I know," and he advised me to expand my horizons by studying different martial arts systems. Although I was disappoionted at the time, I took his wise advice and I enrolled at the Japan Karate-Do Ryobu-Kai in Anaheim, California. My new instructor, Kiyoshi Yamazaki (the same man that trained actor Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1982 movie Conan the Barbarian), was a strict disciplinarian and traditionalist. In addition to the Karate he taught me, the weekly regiment also included Judo, Kendo (the way of the sword), and other ancient weapons training (tonfa, sai, staff, and nunchaku). In 2007 my path would cross with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's when the governor came to the Joint Forces Training Based at Los Alamitos, California to provide leadership during the California wildfires of October. I was a sergeant at the time with a Military Police unit, and I was activated to State Active Duty and assigned to the Tactical Operations Center for Operation Fall Blaze.
On September 25, 1977 I was awarded my green belt from Kiyoshi Yamazaki. Then, as I was working on my brown belt, I saw my first Bruce Lee movie at the dollar theatre, Enter the Dragon (four years after Bruce Lee's death), and I immediately wanted to learn Kung-fu. When I told Mr. Yamazaki that I also wanted to learn Kung-fu Mr. Yamazaki responded in his broken English, "Kung-fu no good." I decided, then and there, to leave the school. Alfonso Uceda had already put me on a path to learn different systems, which was unheard of at that time in history, and so for me it was a natural progression.
I hooked up with some Vietnamese immigrants at my high school who taught me Vietnamese Kung-fu. This lasted a couple of months, and then I moved on. I then went to a local Hawaiian kenpo school within walking distance in Newport Beach until it closed down several months later. The instructor had taken a samurai sword to the school in the middle of the night in a drunken rage, and he completely destroyed the place. I was told that he ran up north to became a lumber jack in the state of Washinton. One of his black belts, Jeff Huff, who discovered the destroyed school the same moment that I did, took me under his wing as a private student and taught me the very traditional martial art of Po Keck Yin Yang Kung-fu, and some ballet dance exercises for balance, for several months before he moved out of the area. Jeff had served with a Special Forces unit when he was in the U.S. Army, and the fact that he has been an actual warrior and was a martial artist appealed to me greatly.
As a birthday present from my mother, in 1978 she allowed me to attend a one week martial arts training camp, called the Aspen Academy of Martial Arts, nestled in Aspen, Colorado; a long way from home for a 16-year old. I took lessons from little known instructor at the time Dan Inosanto - protege of the late Bruce Lee. It was there that I learned the basics of Filipino Kali (a weapons system), Jeet Kune Do (the system Bruce Lee created), and Wing Chun (Bruce Lee's original system he studied from Yip Man). I also had the opportunity to train with the late Larry Hartsell in JKD grappling techniques; his specialty. It was that very same year that Dan told Black Belt magazine in an interview that he feared that Filipino martial arts would die out. Of course it didn't, and he is credited today as the man who revived it, and also making Jeet Kune Do popular worldwide.
Like most martial artists in the 1970s Bruce Lee was my hero, and I got to hear the stories about Bruce Lee and the history of the Philippine martial arts, because Dan gave me a lift each morning from my hotel room to the training site twenty minutes away.
Dan Inosanto found out that I lived in California only 45 minutes south of his school and he invited me to train at the Filipino Kali Academy in Torrance. Dan Inosanto awarded me my first training certificate for 40 hours of instructions on August 25, 1978. A month later, from 1978 to spring of 1980, I made every attempt to drive up to the school as often as I could. Usually it was twice a week. As such, I was one of the original Jeet Kune Do / Kali students under Dan Inosanto and Richard Bustillo. It was great, because sometimes there would only be a few of us training in the training room, and we would get a lot of individual attention from these masters."
I not only looked up to Dan Inosanto as my current instructor at the time, but as my mentor in my formidable martial arts years. In fact, when I went into the United States Army Dan wrote me a letter, which I have kept to this day. He was always an encourager, and I never once heard a negative thing come out of his mouth.
At 18 years old I started teaching my friends at high school Jeet Kune Do, Filipino Kali, Chinese Kickboxing and Wing Chun. Teaching came naturally to me, and I knew even at that early age that I would become a self-defense instructor. Although I had only been training in the martial arts, practically every day, for four years, I could hold my own against various black belts from other fighting systems. This "can do" attitude I had, and desire to pass on knowledge to others, always kept me experimenting, and coming up with innovative techniques and training methods.
Both Dan Inosanto and Richard Bustillo were way ahead-of-their-time in late 1970s, and they encouraged all of their students to learn different martial arts and experiment with them. After all, Bruce Lee's philosophy for the martial arts was, "Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is uniquely your own." Therefore, I wanted to experience for myself what was useful and useless during this period while I was still in school: European fencing, Chinese Kickboxing, and Greco-Roman wrestling. This was two decades before the term "mix martial arts" came into vogue.
Eventually Dan Inosanto and Richard Bustillo parted ways, the reason they never made public, and over the years I popped in a few times at the Inosanto Academy in Marina Del Ray, California. However, by the age of 25 I decided to move on in my martial arts studies. By this time Dan Inosanto had become world famous, and I always felt fortunate to have learned from this legend in small intimate groups, and even one-on-one time with him, but I felt a lot was still missing from the systems he had taught me. It was my time in the U.S. Army that first got me thinking about "reality-based" concepts. It wasn't until 2002 when I finally crossed paths with Richard Bustillo again, and it was at the California Peace Officers Association's yearly training event called "ARPOC" in San Diego, California. Richard, a Reserve Police Officer, was teaching a defensive tactics course while I was attending a Child Abuse seminar at the same event. Over dinner Richard gave me a complete history lesson on the Jeet Kune Do system, and what had become of many past JKD instructors.
On September 9, 1980 I enlisted into the United States Army. I went through "Boot Camp" (the official name was Basic Combat Training) at Fort Jackson, South Carolina and I was extremely impressed to the degree of realism that the military trained its personnel, which would gave me many ideas for the future Jim Wagner Reality-Based Personal Protection system. Unlike the sparring I had done in the dojos in Boot Camp we were actually training for the real thing - war: simulated battlefields, replica enemy weapons, live-fire targets that were painted like Russian soldiers, smoke, explosions; the whole nine yards. Even the best training that I had experienced at the Filipino Kali Academy had never trained as realistically as what the government offered. That is to say, the inclusion of props and special effects as part of the training environment.
After the Army I plunged back into my martial arts studies and I hooked up with Ted Lucaylucay who ran a small martial arts school in Huntington Beach, California. Ted was another popular JKD and Filipino Kali instructor at the time who was personally trained by Dan Inosanto, and who had struck out on his own. After several months of training with Ted, I started teaching Jeet Kune Do and Filipino Kali privately, and I dropped in occasionally at Dan's new school in Marine Del Ray (near the Los Angeles International Airport). A few years later Ted Lucaylucay passed away.
Since I had trained with a few of the top Jeet Kune Do and Filipino Kali instructors of that day, from two different schools, I never bothered to ask Dan Inosanto and the others instructors if it was okay to teach the system. I just did it. Dan Inosanto didn't seem to have a problem with it, and I never asked for a piece of paper stating that I was an "instructor." Things were much more casual back then, unlike the traditional martial arts, and there was a lot of freedom and experimentation. The whole JKD concept was just catching on worldwide in the early 1980s, and I was helping make it happen in my community.
I enrolled myself in college graphic arts courses, and I studied the French language to pursue a career in advertising. French would proved to a very good decision, but not for my advertising career. Years later I'd go on to teach the Jim Wagner Reality-Based Personal Protection in Frech speaking France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Québec, Canada.
After my first semester at Orange Coast College I got work right away and I started working as a production artist for Val-Pak Direct Marketing Systems. A year later I landed the position as Art Director for Mammoth Publishing, and a year after that the Art Director for CCM Publications. I then went on to work for a couple of advertising firms. These skills in marketing and advertising would prove useful during my law enforcement career when I promoted my training company HSS International, co-owned with three other police officers, and then the Reality-Based Personal Protection system. Some of these same skills are still passed down to to my Reality-Based instructors. After all, all self-defense schools require advertising and marketing, standar business practices, and leadership.
In 1986 the Reality-Based foundation is poured
In early 1986 I began teaching my own "mixed martial arts" that I named Modern Fighting Methods. I started off by advertising in my college newspaper, which netted a few good students from the ad. This advertisement caught the attention of the Orange Police Department who wanted to know exactly what I was teaching, because they were concerned as to the content of the instructions. I was openly combining traditional martial arts with the military skills I had learned at Fort Jackson at Basic Combat Training. With only one phone call from a female detective I reassured the police department that I would drop the firearms portion of the training. Keep in mind that no civilian martial arts schools at that time in history were combining the martial arts and firearms. Fortunately for me I had not taken any of my students to the gun range before the "investigation." My promise satisfied the detective. Of course, another reason the authorities were concerned about me was the fact that I did not have four walls in which to teach my students. I was teaching at Hart Park just off of the 22 Freeway.
One of my original students, Mike DiGiovanni (who is still my good friend today, and is my oldest student at 81 years old), attended one of my courses and later invited me to teach a Tuesday night class at Lou Michelson's converted home garage that he had turned into a Japanese Karate dojo in Huntington Beach. Lou was a professor at the Golden West Community College nearby, and he had a love for the traditional martial arts. He had a book published by titled Karate-Do. Mike convinced Lou that a little bit of instructions from me teaching Filipino Kali would give the brown and black belt students some needed variety, and that it would help to retain student enrolment. Lou agreed and I taught in the garage each Tuesday night for about a year.
That same year I was the Art Director of the Advertising Design Centre in the city of Orange; a small advertising firm handing print media. Three years into my employment there the owner of the firm was offered the position of publisher for a computer magazine in New Hampshire, and he tried to sell his business. He asked if I wanted to buy it, but I turned it down. With no suitable buyers I was "promoted" to the position of Chief Executive Officer, and I was responsible for liquidating the company's assets, laying off the employees, and eliminating my own job. It was an agonizing, but educational, six months, but when the buisness finally closed, for nobody bought it, I saw it as an opportunity to change careers. I loved the work, but I hated the fact that everything "was due yesterday." It's a very fast pace occupation.
My devoted Modern Fighting Methods student, Mike DiGiovanni, was the Maintenance Supervisor for the City of Costa Mesa, and knowing that I was looking for a new job he suggested, "There is an opening for custody officer at the city jail. I think you would be perfect for the job with your martial arts and all. I know the sergeant in charge, Sergeant Yezbick. Are you interested?"
I told him, "I'm tired of the advertising business and I can't see myself getting back into it. Yes, I'm interested." Mike wasted no time and he took me on a tour of the jail. The place gave me the creeps, and after the tour ended I didn't have the heart to tell Mike that I didn't want the job. However, when I went home that night I realized that if I took the job, even if only for a year, that I would be a much better qualified martial arts instructor in the long run. After all, it was criminals that were the ones who were going to attack my students, and I had to confess to myself that I didn't know the mind of the criminals at that time. Working in the jail would give me the experience that I needed. It would be good for my martial arts resume.
I applied for the jailer position, went through the lengthy hiring process (written exam, oral board interview, background investigation, psychological examination, and medical examination), and then, to my surprise, I was hired by the Costa Mesa Police Department in December of 1988. It was the perfect gift for an unemployed person who had no desire to return to his former career.
For the first time in my life I wore a badge, the badge of a corrections officer for the Costa Mesa Police Department Jail, which had 16 felony and misdemeanor beds, 6 trusty beds, a drunk tank, two solitary confinement cells, two booking cells, two visitor cells for communicating with prisoners, and a large drive-in sally port where police officers would bring in their prisoners. Prisoners could be kept for up to 72 hours at the jail, and trusties could be housed there for one year.
In 1989 I attended the Corrections Officers Academy held at the Orange County Sheriff's Department. Upon graduation I, Custody Officer Wagner, had the duties booking and housing prisoners. These were men and women arrested off of the streets and brought straight into the jail. They ranged from anything from murderers, rapists, and child molesters, to drunks and theives. The Costa Mesa Jail was their first stop before going court or off to county jail or to prison. Needless to say, when they come in off of the streets many of them are angry and violent.
When a prisoner wanted to fight me there was no pepper spray, stun guns, or tasers for us in those days; at least not in Sergeant Yezbick's jail. It was pure hand-to-hand combat. Having two years in a custody setting I came to learn the mind of the criminal. I lived nine hours a day with these men five days a week. Had that been all I did in my career, just the two years in the jail, it was more real world training and experience than most of civilian martial arts instructors out there. I dealt with, on a daily basis, the very 'enemy' that most martial artists train to go up against. I didn't have to wait for that 'what if' day. They came to me every single day. If you don't think jail is a good place to get self-defense experience, then try spending a couple nights in one in any good size city.
In 1989 I was still teaching in Lou's Huntington Beach garage, which was pouring of the foundation of the future Reality-Based Personal Protection system (not to be officially available to the public until January 21, 2003). It was there that I first introduced paintballs guns into the training curriculum for realistic robbery and terrorism survival attacks, combat first aid, and I started running more and more on realistic scenarios, and less and less pattern drills and cooperative partner training.
In 1990 I boldly approached the S.W.A.T. commander, Lieutenant John Fitzpatrick, and offered to provide his 15-man S.W.A.T. team with an OPFOR (Opposition Force). I was referring my ten top students who I would train to be the "bad guys" for a variety of tactical responses: warrant services, hostage situations, terrorism, and gang warfare. The invitation was accepted and I, under the supervision of team leader Sergeant Ron Smith, created a fictitious "terrorist cell" called the Baleric Liberation Army (BLA). This cell was named after the Baleric Community Center in Costa Mesa where I was publicly teaching Jeet Kune Do / Filipino Kali once a week, and my women's self-defense program Women Against Rape (WAR). I named it after very first training video I produced in 1988.
For three months I, also known by my nom de guerre "Abu Mussa" (father Moses in Arabic) among my team, prepared the BLA "terrorists" for the big training event with the S.W.A.T. team. Digging up as much information as I could find at the time about terrorism (a time in history when personal computers were just starting to become popular, and before the Internet was a resource) I had simulated bombs made by a friend of mine, I taught small unit tactics, and I studied the terrorist attacks that occured in the 1980s. When the training event day finally came I, and my terrorist cell, went up against the Costa Mesa Police S.W.A.T. team in an abandoned building slated for demolition. The event began after sunset. Both teams were equally armed with paintball guns (a time before Airsoft guns and Simunitions FX).
After two hours of Close Quarter Battle the S.W.A.T. team eventually prevailed, although I had managed to avoid capture by climbing onto a second story ledge and doing a spider drop to the ground below in the courtyard out of sight of the perimeter team.
Highly pleased with the training that I provided to the S.W.A.T. team I was invited to set up two more S.W.A.T. training events. The second opportunity was a hostage situation involving a fictitious "East Los Angeles Hispanic gang" with the story line of a robbery that went bad. This training was organized by Officer Mike Cohen, and a few months later the second opportunity was a another lengthy scenario for the S.W.A.T. Crisis Negotiation Team organized by Officer Bob Fate under the supervision of Sergeant McErlain.
By year's end I applied for the position of police recruit, which was the first step in becoming a sworn police officer. In the United States law enforcement officers and soldiers swear to protect the Constitution of the United States of America "against all enemies foreign and domestic," thus the term "sworn." The opposite is a "civilian." Once again I had to go through the hiring process taking a written test, physical agility test, stand before a three panel oral board, background investigation, psychological examination, and finally a medical examination.
I liked being a jailer, but after a while I felt like I was 'doing time' in the jail myself. I wanted a career with a little more adventure, and I didn't just want to deal with criminals in custody, but I wanted to deal with them in the streets. I wanted to arrest wronger doers. That is why I decided that my next goal was to become a patrol cop.
While working in the jail, and waiting for the police recruit process to run its lengthy course, I obtained a business license and opened up a martial arts school, which I named The Academie of Fighting Arts located on Grace Lane in the city of Costa Mesa. The logo was a strong arm, framed by a border, holding a simitar sword. It was at this time, 1990, that I was the first martial arts instructor in the world to paint the interior of of a self-defense school completely flat black: the floors, the walls, and the ceiling. There were no mirrors on the walls, no racks of ancient weapons, no certificates or flags mounted to the wall, nothing. It was just four walls and some spot lights above. I looked at my training toom as a "stage," and not a place to be ascetically pleasing.
I was also was heavily into props at this time to enhance the scenarios. Break-away furniture, plastic baseball bats, plastic toys in the shape of tools, stage blood for wounds, and even a car was rolled in through the industrial pull-up door from time to time.
This was also the revolutionary period for experimenting with various layers of safety equipment, sound effects, and lighting.
After two years working in the jail I, and an outsider applicant named Mitch Johnson, were selected for the two police recruit positions. Mitch and I beat out over a hundred other applicants.
Pinning on the badge
In 1991 I, sponsored by the Costa Mesa Police Department, entered the police academy - the Orange County Sheriff's Department Training Academy Class 104 located in Garden Grove, California; one of only six "stress academies." A stress academy is run like a military Boot Camp. It was also the regional academy where dozens of law enforcement agencies from all around Southern California sent their police recruits for 21 weeks.It was here that I trained with the shotgun, pistol, baton, and police Defensive Tactics. Like my military training before, I was deeply influenced by the realistic conflict scenarios that my academy instructors put me, and my fellow recruits, through.
On June 21, 1991 I, Officer Jim Wagner, was sworn in by Captain Rick Johnson as a full-time police officer at my graduation from the Orange County Sheriff's Training Academy Class 104, The Smallest But The Mightiest. Two days later I was out on the streets as a full time paid police officer with the Costa Mesa Police Department, to be trained by my three Field Training Officers (FTOs): Phil Myers, Russ Rose, and Vietnam veteran Dan Hogue. At this time in hisory the city of Costa Mesa had a population of approximately 100,000 people (located 30 minutes south of Los Angeles), and the police department supported approximately 165 sworn officers. My police badge number was 414 (the four hundred and fourteenth sworn police officer in the department's history).
Along with the uniform, badge, and gun came everything one would expect in an urban sprawl just south of Los Angeles: robberies, rapes, murders, domestic violence, car chases, stabbings, gang activity, and every other sort of evil. During my time of the force I had been shot at, attacked with a knife, and got into plenty of hand-to-hand conflicts. For most of my eight years with the force as a full time sworn officer I was out on the streets doing police patrol. That's what I preferred, and for the last few years with the force I chose the part of the city that had the most crime - Area 1, the southwest side.
One of my sergeants, Sergeant Santee, a martial artist practitioner himself, urged me to study with him at Steve Tarani's school in Orange County. He taught Jeet Kune Do and Filipino Kali; my old arts. This was before Steve became involved with law enforcement. Steve also hosted the famous Leo Giron (Filipino Kali), and I attended his seminar.
In 1992 I, along with three fellow police officers, formed the tactical training organization we named Hike Stalk Shoot, which we changed later to HSS International as the business grew. I was one of the original founders, member of the Board of Directors, and the creator and chief instructor of all of the self-defense programs. I also created the entry level sniper course for the company, as well as spear headed several of the martime operations courses. The more the company grew, the more challenges I took on. It was a "laboratory" for techniques and tactics that attracted the best in the world: U.S. Border Patrol, the FBI, U.S. Marshal Service, U.S. Navy Provost Marshal Office, Los Angeles Airport Police, and more.
On March 11, 1994 I finally earned a place on the S.W.A.T. (Special Weapons and Tactics) team thanks to Lieutenant Ron Smith's support. For most police departments in North America this is the top-of-the-food-chain, and I took full advantage of the opportunities. It was through this conduit that I learned about logistics, command post operations, hostage negotiations, entry team tactics, and police sniping. On the job training included courses with the Los Angeles Police Department S.W.A.T. team, the U.S. Army 19th Special Forces, the Orange County Sheriff's Department Tactical Training Center, and U.S. Marines Division Schools MCB Camp Pendleton (Advanced Sniper Course, Military Operations Urban Terrain MOUT, Helicopter Rope Suspension Training HRST, and Range Safety Officer RSO).
On October 3, 1994 I joined the United States Air Force Auxiliary Civil Air Patrol, Falcon Squadron 40, and was stationed at the United States Marine Corps Air Base El Toro, California as a pilot. Okay, I wasn't flying F-18 fighter jets, but my Cessna 172 was still a thrill. Ever since I was a boy I loved aviation.
In the early 1990's the United States military was desperately wanting to learn and incorporate police tactics since many military missions at the time were turning into "peace keeping missions" or humanitarian missions. I, and other law enforcement instructors, had the opportunity to train military units in S.W.A.T. and Defensive Tactics because of our expertise and close proximity to various military bases, and in turn we were allowed to participate in military courses. It was an equal exchange of ideas and tactics. I actually went through hundreds of hours of scout sniper courses with the U.S. Marines through Division Schools Scout Sniper School with the 1st Marine Division at MCB Camp Pendleton. "Quiet professionals" like Sergeant Parisi actually arranged law enforcement sniper courses for sworn officers, compliments of the United States Marines. Sergeant Kevin Ekhoeff allowed me to participate in MOUT (Military Operations Urban Terrain) courses, and a once-in-a-lifetime HRST (Helicopter Rope Suspension Training) course. Sergent Julio Garcia ran me through small arms courses, while Sergeant Frank Ortega hooked me up with SOTG (Special Operations Training Group) where I got to move and shoot through state-of-the-art shoot house, and some rappelling courses (rappelling and fast roping) thrown into the mix. The arrangement worked well for a few years, I taught Defensive Tactics and S.W.A.T. tactics to the Marines, and they basically "adopted" me. I spent so much time training with the Marines that I became a part of the Marine culture. The only difference with my uniform and theirs when I trained with them was that my Battle Dress Uniform had on subdued Costa Mesa Police SWAT patches. It was a good six year realtionship.
When I went through the three-day Range Safety Officer (RSO) course on Range 131 at the MOUT Assault Course (MAC) with the Marine instructors, so that I could teach live-fire courses on the base, I, along with fellow Costa Mesa S.W.A.T. officers Dan Erber and Phil Myers, did everything the Marines did: live fragmentation hand grenade throwing, an obstacle course combined with live-fire shooting drills, and lots of shoot house training with electronic pop up human silhouette targets. The course produced the best range safety officers possible, and we had to know the military range regulations inside and out.
While participating in a myriad of courses at Camp Pendleton, both military units and other law enforcement agencies using the base for their own training, discovered my unique approach to training and my seamless blending of Defensive Tactics with edged weapons and firearms skills. It wasn't long before I was getting offers from not only different U.S. Marine units, but from agencies and units as well: U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group (SOG), Department of Defense Police, San Diego Sheriff's Department, Los Angeles Probation Department, Los Angeles School Police S.W.A.T., U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marines Provost Marshal Office, Drug Enforcement Administration (thanks to my student DEA agent Jeff Clancy), and the list goes on. Then, by 1996 I found myself being invited by foreign units to train in their countries: German GSG9, Brazilian G.A.T.E., Argentinean G.O.E., Helsinki Police Department, and various units in Spain, Mexico, and Israel.
In 1996 the Costa Mesa Police Department promoted me to the rank of corporal (also known as a senior police officer). Most of my career, as I stated earlier, with this department was on patrol, but I also did two years as a D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officer trained by the Los Angeles Police Department (working police bicycle patrol and patrol for these two years at the South Coast Plaza Mall when school was not in session), the S.W.A.T. (Special Weapons And Tactics) team for three years, and I was a defensive tactics instructor assisting Senior Officer Dave Dye at the Citizen's Police Academy for a year. My police patrol duties included responding to all calls, self-initiated calls, traffic, prisoner transport, on-call as a S.W.A.T. officer, and court testimonies; a total of eight years as a full time paid sworn police. Summing these eight years up - I loved it. In a busy city, with a lot of crime, no other job in the world tests person more, No other job can give a person such a wide variety of experiences: confrontations, helping a lost child find his way home, holding a man's sliced arm together while the paramedics come rolling up code 3, car chases with lights and siren, bomb searches, death notifications, foot chases, finding drugs in people's pockets, and the rank smell of a jail at midnight. Nothing even comes close.
When the demand for my training services became substantial (Defensive Tactics, small unit tactics, and firearms training courses) I decided to leave full time law enforcement and became a Reserve Police Officer with the same city for several months in 1999. I handed my Letter of Resignation to Chief Dave Snowden, who later became the Police Chief of the Beverly Hills Police Department for several years, to pursue my new career as a private contractor to police and military units through my training corporation HSS International, Inc. that, by this time, had been in business for four years. My services were in great demand, not only domestically but internationally, and I took full advantage of the opportunity. It wasn't the wisest move financially, but personally it was rewarding.
During this season of my life I enjoyed attending bus assaults courses with German cops, I loved fast roping with the Marines, I had a blast doing a hull searches under a huge war ship with the Honolulu S.W.A.T. Maritime team, I thought it was cool to eat guacamole and fried meat after training with my Mexican Police S.W.A.T. students, and to eat freshly smoked salmon on the edge of an icy river during lunch with a Quinault Indian police officer up in the state of Washington. I have had literally hundreds of experiences that made me feel alive, and I was perfectly content with my new occupation. I crammed in several life times into one, that's for sure. To some it may have seemed impossible to do all of the things that I did. However, to me it was simply my life. I have always followed my personal motto, if you're not living on the edge you're taking up too much space." However, not wanting to fully give up my law enforcement career I applied as a Reserve Deputy at the Orange County Sheriff's Department (the fifth largest sheriff's department in the United States), and I was sworn in one year later in 2000; it took that long to go through the hiring process. After all, as a Costa Mesa police officer my department had sent my through the Orange County Sheriff's Training Academy ten years earlier; first to the Corrections Officer Academy in 1989 (4 weeks) and then to the Police Academy (21 weeks), and so I was already practically one of them. As such, I was quite familiar with the Sheriff's Department's culture. When my new supervisor, Sergeant Wilfred Moreno, took a look at my file, and he saw the amount of training and experience I had, he, with the authorization of Sheriff Mike Carona, promoted me to the rank of sergeant with full police powers (Level 1 Reserve Designate due to my past experience and Intermediate P.O.S.T. certificate) only a few months later, and placed me on the newly formed Dignitary Protection Unit (DPU) as a team leader and Defensive Tactics and Executive Protection instructor. During this stint, working out of the Katella Facility in the city of Orange, I was a bodyguard for diplomats, celebrities, VIPs, and a personal bodyguard for the Sheriff himself. Working part time gave me the freedom to teach Defensive Tactics and tactics full time for HSS International, and also kept me "in the game" of law enforcement.
The two years at the Sheriff's Department (2000-2002) was a time where I not only perfected my bodyguard and firearms skills, but where I became involved in other high-speed training: Gas & Oil Platform (GOPLAT) takedowns off of the coast of California, bus assault, tactical rappel courses, aircraft assault, ship assault, tactical swim and SCUBA courses, police maritime search & rescue, helicopter assault, foreign sniper courses, and lots of police and military Defensive Tactics courses. Some of the courses I created for the company during this time period were: Bodyguard Combatives, Entry Team Combatives, Patrol Combatives, Institution Combatives, Investigator Combatives, and Probation Combatives. Many law enforcement agencies and military units either sent their personnel to me or I was invited to train at their facilities; including foreign police departments and military bases.
After the shocking terrorist attacks on the United States of America by Al Qaeda terrorists on September 11, 2001 there were only three official federal law enforcement counterterrorist teams (CT) in the United States: the original being the United States Marshal Service Special Operations Group (SOG) formed in 1971 (an organization I had officially trained on numerous occasions out of the San Diego, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C. offices), the FBI Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) founded in 1982 in preparation for the Los Angeles Olympic Games (I had not trained the HRT, but I did trained a couple of their FBI regional S.W.A.T. teams, notably the Los Angeles and Phoenix offices), and the United States Federal Air Marshal Service (FAM) created in 1968 (the counterterrorist agency I was to serve). Of course there were numerous federal anti-terrorist task forces around the country at the time, as well as military counterterrorist teams, but federal military teams are not legally allowed to operate on American soil in a law enforcement capacity.
After 9/11 the United States government believed that there was going to be many more attacks on American air carriers and suicide bombings at American airports. The government was desperate for qualified active law enforcement or military personnel who were recently discharged or who were able to leave their units. Initially the priority in the hiring process was to recruit anyone with Special Operations (SPECOPS) experience, as was indicated on the original application form. When I applied I ranked as HIGHLY QUALIFIED, and I was selected for the U.S. Federal Air Marshal Service program under the authority of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The Department of Homeland Security did not exist until a few months later on November 25, 2002.
After I, Federal Agent Jim Wagner, completed 146 Federal Air Marshal missions Al Qaeda activity in the aviation transportation sector became rather quiet, largely because passenger aircraft had become "hard targets" due to the new cockpit fortified doors, more Federal Air Marshals on flights, and Al Qaeda knew that passengers would tear them apart if they attempted another 9/11 style sky jacking. At the same time the FAM program was also experiencing mass quitting due to a lot of internal problems. I too found the conditions to be intolerable. Then, to my surprise, my reality-based self-defense articles in Black Belt magazine in North America, and my articles in Budo magazine in Europe, that was printed in five languages, along with my recently released training videos on both continents, started becoming popular throughout the martial arts community. As a result other martial arts instructors were starting to define what "reality-based" was and was not, and I saw that not everyone in the martial arts community was fully grasping what Reality-Based, as I envisioned it, was truly about. For all of these reasons combined I resigned from the federal government on September 11, 2002; the one year anniversary of 9/11. Had I stayed on with the program I would have flown to New York City for a mission. Instead I spent this last day on an HSS International event up at the Burro Canyon Gun Range attending an Israeli firearms course taught by my good friend Major Avi Nardia of the Israel Defense Force (Reserve). Through my urging, Avi would go on to popularize the original Israeli military martial KAPAP worldwide.
A couple of months later, on January 21, 2003, I formed his own company, and I launched the Jim Wagner Reality-Based Personal Protection system.
Back to training the world's elite
Once again I was allowed to have photographs of my face published, and I began teaching the world's elite teams full time again. This time it included the U.S. Coast Guard Sea Marshals, the U.S. Air Force Security Forces Space Command, the U.S. Army Military Police, and then in December 2003 for the Israel Defense Forces. I was once again invited to train in Israel, only this time it was for new recruits, and their Special Forces selection program, at the famous Wingate Institute where the Israeli martial art of Krav Maga was born. However, I was not teaching on the civilian side of the facility, but on the military side of the house known as Bahad 8. Very few foreigners have been invited to teach there, and I was honored that the Israelis wanted me to teach their top military instructors parts of my new system. However, it was a two-way street. I also received instructions by the Israelis in a firearms training course using only Israeli weapons, Close Quarter Battle, counterterrorism methods, and bodyguarding. When it comes to the Israeli martial arts I somewhat of an expert due to the unique exposure I received. I had the opportunity to study Hisardut, Krav Maga, LOTAR, and KAPAP. In fact, it was my articles in Black Belt magazine that actually opened the world's eyes to other Israeli martial arts other than Krav Maga. Through this venue I let the world know about Avi Nardia (KAPAP), Moni Aizik (Commando Krav Maga), Dennis Hanover (HISARDUT), and as a result these men are now well known personalities in the martial arts community. Although I do not teach any Israeli systems I certainly incorporated many of things I has learned from them, and I give credit where credit is due. Likewise, there are Israeli police and military units using many of my techniques and tacts, such as the Israeli Air Marshals and LOTAR counterterrorism school using my Knife Survival system.
Since 1991 I had only been teaching government agencies. Before that, as you have read, I had taught many civilian courses, and even spearheaded one of the most popular women's self-defense courses of its time (1989) called Women Against Rape, but admittedly I had developed the "us verses them" mentality over the years; a common attitude among law enforcement officers. This is a common phenomenon where law enforcement officials no longer trust civilians, and they tend to limit their circle of friends to only cops. Then Johan Lai, one of my former deputies from the Dignitary Protection Unit and close friend afterward, convinced me that civilians can also be on the "front lines" of crime and terrorism, and that all law abiding citizens should be taught how to defend themselves as much as any first responder. After all, the aircrafts that were seized on 9/11, and purposely used as missiles, didn't have any military or police personnel aboard to protect the people. It was those brave souls on United Airlines Flight 93 who fought back against terrorists even though they all perished in a field at Shanksville, Pennsylvania. When a robber sticks a gun in the face of his victim the police are not going to be there, nor will they be there with a rape victim, or with the victim of a gang related drive by shooting, or - you fill in the blank.
Therefore, on January 21, 2003 I made a decision to teach a civilian version of all my techniques and training methods under the new name of Reality-Based Personal Protection. I continuted to teach police agencies and military units, but now there was a system "with teeth" for civilians.
Reality-Based goes global
Once the decision was made to go public with the Jim Wagner Reality-Based Personal Protection system Black Belt magazine immediately put their weight behind my ideas and filmed the DVD series Reality-Based Personal Protection, that had eight titles: Knowledge Domain, Defensive Tactics, Ground Survival, Knife Survival, Crime Survival, Terrorism Survival, Handgun Survival and Women's Survival. On the other side of the ocean Alfredo Tucci, the publisher of Budo magazine headquartered in Spain, commissioned me to work on several DVDs: Police & Military Knife Defense, Special Operations Knife Offense, Police Ground Tactics, and Police Baton Tactics, Metric Leg Strikes & Block System, Defensive Tactics, Multiple Attackers, Police & Security Arrest & Control, and several other titles, which to this day are some of Budo's top selling DVDs. Then, Boker, the famous German knife maker, asked me in 2005 to design "the ultimate tactical folder," which I did called the Jim Wagner Reality-Based Blade. This knife became so popular worldwide that a whole series of Jim Wagner knives were developed and marketed. This in turned opened up a whole new market for the Reality-Based Personal Protections system.
Executive Protection to the stars
Besides teaching Reality-Based Personal Protection courses worldwide, producing DVDs, and writing books and articles, I got more and more involved in security consulting, and a couple of Executive Protection companies threw some work my way. In 2006 I accepted a two-week assignment where I protected movie stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie at their Malibu home. A few months later I also provided executive protection at the 63rd Annual Golden Globes Awards pre-event party that included Shirley McClain, Matthew Perry, Scott Bakula, and Tom Arnold.
2006 also saw the released of the Jim Wagner Reality-Based Blade having teamed up with German knife maker Boker. This is a tactical folding knife designed by Jim Wagner himself and features a few original ideas that have been patented. Jim's unique knife is only finding its way into the hands of military, police, and security professionals, but it is bringing knife enthusiasts into the Reality-Based Personal Protection system - specifically into the Knife Survival courses.
In 2007 four more Jim Wagner Reality Based Blade knives were released making the Jim Wagner Reality-Based Blade an even more succesful series. German publisher Wieland also released my first German language book titled Kampfmesser-MesserKampf and a second book a few months later titled Messerkampf (Knife Fighting). Finishing up the year was the release of my second book with Black Belt Books titled Defensive Tactics for Special Operations.
In 2008 I once again appeared on the cover of Black Belt magazine (February issue). Like previous years before, I taught several courses in Europe, and went to Australia for second time. In July of 2008 Boker released the Jim Wagner Reality-Based Fixed Blade to complete the series. This knife and sheath was designed specifically for law enforcement and military Special Operations. At the end of the year Budo International released Jim Wagner's DVD titled Conflict Exercises.
In 2011 I was inducted into the Masters Hall of Fame receiving the Silver Life Achievement Award. This is also the same year I joined Facebook (jimwagnerrbpp), Twitter (jimwagnerrbpp), and started posting training videos on YouTube.
10 more years of military service
On March 5, 2016 I retired, honorable discharge, from the California State Military Reserve, and I also received a certificate from the Calfornia Army National Guard for 10 years of honorable service. Seven of those years were with a Military Police unit, and the last three year with the Security Forces of Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos, California. My final position was NCOIC ISC SECFOR (Noncommissioned Officer In Charge of Installation Support Command Security Forces), which is a fancy name to describe being in charge of 25 soldiers who guarded the Joint Forces Training Base at Los Alamitos, California, with the rank of Master Sergeant (E-8).
Jim Wagner has trained hundreds of defensive tactics and self-defense instructors since forming his system on January 21, 2003. Not one person has ever said a negative word about the content in the courses. Here is a typical comment from an instructor who graduated from Level 1:
"Jim Wagner's Reality-Based Personal Protection Instructor Program provided me with invaluable information, techniques and experience that have enhanced previous training modules from a variety of sources. I am a professional fighter and instructor, a former United States Marine Veteran and Personal Protection provider. Prior to taking the Jim Wagner Reality-Based Personal Protection courses I had spent 21 days in New Orleans during the Hurricane Katrina Disaster providing security for personnel and assets for a major oil company. After NOLA and Katrina I was deployed to Afghanistan working in a variety of operational positions in Southern Helmand Province and Kandahar. During the week long training at Jim Wagner's Los Angeles training facility, Jim touched on every essential aspect of personal survival in a hostile situation, from situational awareness, personal protection techniques, criminal and terrorist survival instruction, and then really drove the point home with "reality based scenarios." I am very impressed with Jim Wagner's professional credentials and skill set. I will continue my training and personal relationship with Jim Wagner for years to come and recommend his training to my own students and clients. My personal opinion is that the Jim Wagner Reality-Based Personal Protection Program is the finest in the industry today."