One of the “hobbies” I’ve done over the years is martial arts. I grew up wrestling (no instruction, just boys being boys) with my older cousin. I ended up on the losing end more often than not, due to him being bigger, of course, but whether he let me win or I genuinely found the right grip at the right moment, I did win a few.
When my mom re-married, the man I call “Dad” tried to teach me and my new little brother a little Taekwondo. This wasn’t formal instruction, and we didn’t learn any “katas” or whatever the Koreans call it. We didn’t go to one of the local dojos to obtain instruction from there, either. He taught me my first knife throwing instruction, and I probably still have that modified case knife in my old room at their house if I bothered to go looking for it.
I joined the military (U.S. Navy) in late 1995, and while we didn’t do any unarmed combat training, I learned proper firearms handling for combat situations while I was in.
After my oldest daughter was born, I started having nightmares about coming home from six month deployments, and her hiding behind my wife’s skirts, pointing at me, and asking, “Mommy, mommy… who’s that man?” I didn’t renew my enlistment, because I wanted my kids to know who their daddy is.
While I was in college, I returned to my interest in martial arts. A friend of mine in the Navy had known an old shipmate who had done “ninjutsu.” I went searching for anyone teaching the art. I couldn’t find any dojos online that that taught it near me, but I did my research and learned that the Bujinkan was what I was looking for. I found a “home study” course (cringe) that I bought into initially, because at the time I felt it was better than nothing. I devoured the course, but I knew I was lacking. I was still searching for a group to work with me on this, because you need a training partner or three to make any kind of progress. A partner gives you feedback, helps you understand when you are applying a technique properly, or where you’re failing to apply it at all. I eventually stumbled up on a small “training group” (not a dojo) that was active in central Arkansas, and one of the members offered to pick me up once a week to go to instruction.
I was nervous, since I hadn’t really had any formal training, but I was welcomed with open arms, and it didn’t take long for me to notice my own improvements which were rapid.
The way this training group worked was for us to all work together on the basics, katas, rolling, falling, and whatever the “topic” of choice was for the week, month, or quarter. Once a quarter, this elderly gentleman would fly into town and do a weekend seminar. He was gruff but gentle. He was full of wisdom. He would teach a specific topic, run us ragged with learning it, but we would all be laughs and smiles by the end. We were all bruises and bumps, as well, but that’s all part of the learning. He would finish the weekend with rankings, to let us know where he thought we were at in our progression. This man was Ed Martin, also known as “Papasan” amongst his friends in the Bujinkan.
My very first seminar with him is one of the happiest weekends I can remember. He taught cane that weekend, and to this day, the cane is still one of my favorite defensive tools. I still have the cane I bought from that seminar, and keep it in my car most of the time. I came away from that seminar feeling more battered, bruised, and abused than I can recall feeling in any other moment in my life, but none of that really “hurt.” It was a good kind of sore, and it melted into life lessons I will always remember.
At the 2002 Taikai, I received my Shodan (first degree black belt) from this man, alongside Jeff Schafer, and Robert Lamkin III. I stopped going to trainings when my senior level work load got to be too much for me to attend while still maintaining my grades. I’ve been back a couple of times, but have had life interruptions that have been problematic for continuing my training. The last time was just before my youngest daughter was born. I’m hoping to go back again, but only time will tell if I can ever get things in order enough to maintain and grow in the art again.
On July 14th, I received the news that Papasan passed away. He touched many lives, not just our little training group, and he will be sorely missed by many. His wisdom was ageless, and he will continue to touch the lives of new students for years to come, just by virtue of those students learning from HIS students. He was a great man, and the world is a sadder place for his loss.