Like Father Like Son

Mark Dacascos has become a Hollywood star in part because of the martial art his father Al created

Yu Shing Ting
Wednesday - June 02, 2010
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games, as well as in the video game-turned-film Double Dragon co-starring Scott Wolf.

Dacascos says he stays in shape by practicing muay thai on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and cross-training exercises along with some yoga on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He also continues to take improv, acting and voice classes. As for his martial arts expertise, that can be credited to his parents, who were both martial arts champions.

“They were my first teachers,” he explains. “My mom Malia, who raised me from 6 years old on, was the No. 1 fighter and forms competitor in the U.S. for around five years, and the first woman on the cover of Black Belt magazine.”

Then there’s dad Al, who founded the martial art known as wun hop kuen do. Al was born in Hilo and raised in Eleele, Kauai, before moving to Oahu, where he attended Farrington High School.


“My first introduction into martial arts started at about 6 or 7 years old watching my grand-dad practice the Filipino martial art escrima on the island of Kauai,” recalls Al. “He would practice his art early in the morning before he went into the sugar cane fields and it was interesting for me to see.

“Eventually, when I moved to Honolulu, we lived in the Palama area and I went to St. Theresa School, and going from my house to school, many times the public school kids would beat me up. So my dad said, ‘You’re not going to get beat up anymore, we’re putting you in judo,’ so I learned judo and I stayed with that for awhile.”

From there, Al went on to study many other types of martial arts, including jiujitsu, western boxing, kung fu, karate, kenpo and escrima. He then became one of five black belt instructors in Hawaii in kajukenbo, and then took all of this training and evolved it into what he calls wun hop kuen do.

In the mid-1960s, Al moved to the Mainland, where he opened a martial arts school, first as a small club out of his garage in Hayward, Calif., and then from a space on East 14th Street in San Leandro, Calif.

He then moved to Colorado, where he opened six more schools before moving to Hamburg, Germany where he lived for 10 years. He eventually moved back to the U.S. settling in Portland, Ore., for 18 years.

Then in 2002, his mother passed away and Al decided it was time to move back to Hawaii. Shortly after, he went through a divorce and then reunited with Leed, his high school sweetheart. The two married in 2006.

Now, 67, Al has close to 100 schools around the world, including more than 60 in Europe (run by his students). He also has a small club in Pearl City, teaches a few students privately and recently opened a club in Houston.

“I’m primarily teaching people to become teachers and my goal is to develop and expand our system,” says Al.

“Also, in March I released a DVD series of reality-based martial arts, Dacascos Tactical Systems, which is designed for police and law enforcement agencies.

“And I hope to one day work with Mark. I have 22 different screenplays that have to be developed and Mark is trying to get into directing.”

Fittingly, Mark shares a similar goal: “For the first show I direct, I would love for my father to be a part of it and help with the choreography.”

Like father, like son, and now grandchildren, Mark says martial arts is a family tradition that is already being passed on to his children.

“I want to really instill the work ethic and discipline in them,” says Mark. “What martial arts showed me is that you have to be dedicated, focused and you have to work hard. I don’t allow them to watch TV Monday through Friday. I’m not saying people shouldn’t watch TV, because obviously that’s my profession so I want them to watch some. But they have school, homework and I want them to go outside to play, so they don’t play any computer games or watch TV except on Saturdays and Sundays.”

As Mark continues to share his many talents with the world, he can also count on continued support from fans and family, including dad.

“Let’s put it this way” says Al. “Mark is living my dream because when I had my opportunity and turned Hollywood down, I regretted it. So when it was Mark’s turn, I said go for it.”

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