In the early 1960's, as the Vietnam War was just beginning to heat up, young American service men began to be deployed to the Asian theatre in increasing numbers. Recruited from all walks of life, and all areas of the country, young men interested in serving their country set off on an adventure that would change their lives in many ways.
Among these troops were a select few whose fates would intertwine due to two key factors.
On arrival at Basic Training for the Military, one of the first tasks at hand is the process of "sorting" the personnel. Each new arrival is tested in dozens of areas of intelligence, inclination, and aptitude. Do poorly on the tests and one might have a military career involving latrine cleaning. Do well, and other opportunities are made available.
In the U.S. Air Force, there exists a super-secret cadre called the "Security Services." This group is closely affiliated with the National Security Agency. Entry into the Security Services requires a background check that, if passed, will entitle a Security Services troop to handle the most sensitive "top secret, codeword, cryptographic" materials in the United States arsenal of intelligence. Entry into the Security Services also requires that one be in the top 10% of Intelligence Quotients in the U.S. military. This was factor number one.
Factor number two, while Martial in nature, was not "Military connected" per se. In the early 1960s, America was beginning to learn a bit about Asian Martial Arts. Most of what was known was portrayed (wrongly, in most cases) by Hollywood. There was a distinct aura of mystery surrounding the Martial Arts, and there were very few places where a person could go for training, no matter how strong their interest. But for those with that interest, who found themselves deployed to Asia in the Military, Martial Arts training became readily available.
The founding members of the Brotherhood of Veteran Warriors enjoyed the great good fortune of coming together as a result of these two factors. There are (primarily) three locations that most, if not all, of these men share an experience of.
Okinawa is the birthplace of modern Karate. It is, if you will, the "Mecca" of Martial Arts, and the most dedicated Martial Artists make regular pilgrimages there for advanced training to this day. The Jinbukan Dojo, a Goju Ryu school headed by Sensei Katsuyoshi Kanei, (deceased) provided fertile soil for nurturing the Martial interests for several of our founders.
The Republic of the Philippines had no part in the birthing of modern Karate, but has its own strong Martial Arts culture, with arts like Silat and Arnis. The combination of a Martial Arts culture, having been conquered by Japan in World War Two, and the relatively close physical proximity of the two nations, resulted in many Filipinos being "early adopters" of Okinawan and Japanese Karate systems. The Crosswinds Dojo, a "mixed system school," in Angeles City, headed by Sensei Marcello Umipeg, (deceased) became the nexus for the warriors who have come to be the founding members of the Brotherhood of Veteran Warriors.
Finally, all of the founding members of the Brotherhood of Veteran Warriors found themselves serving in Vietnam. While there, several of them served additional duty as Karate instructors for their various Bases. Jim Botsford and Ed Sumner were the Base Instructors at Ton Son Nhut Airbase near Saigon. Virgil Lucas taught at Pleiku. Duke Ali Sheriff-Bey taught at Bien Hoa.
After leaving Vietnam, the founders took many disparate paths in their lives. Several decided to make the Military a career. Some returned to civilian life, taking advantage of the GI bill to further their education. As too often happens, "Life" got in the way, and physical separation, new duties and goals, and families to raise, led to a "losing touch." Decades went by. Each person continued to train as a Martial Artist, each following a path different than any of the others.
Then, in late 2004, David Wilson, who had been a student at the Tan Son Nhut dojo under Jim Botsford and Ed Sumner, decided that he wanted to start training in Karate again after a 35 year absence from the art. This led him to think about the Sensei's he'd had in Vietnam. "I'd trained in a few other schools and styles after leaving Vietnam, but never felt that the training was anywhere near the quality and intensity of what Jim and Ed had given me. As a result, I just stopped going. As I started training with my new Sensei, Pedro Bernardy, I found that intensity again, and it made me think of Jim and Ed. I'd remembered Ed telling me where his home town was, so I decided to try to find him."
Dave called directory assistance for Ed's old home town, and asked for "anyone named Sumner." He got Ed's Aunt, who gave him Ed's Mom's number, who gave him Ed's cell number.
Ed Sumner picks up the narrative from there. "I was working in my office one morning, and my cell phone rings. I answer, and hear, 'Hi, does the name David Wilson ring any bells for you?' I started thinking 'who named David Wilson would have my cell phone number?' I drew a blank. I said, 'I'm sorry but it doesn't.' 'What if I called you Sensei?' came the reply. 'Dave Wilson, Saigon, 1968?' I practically shouted. 'That's the one!' Dave replied.
It turned out that Dave and Ed had nearly been neighbors in the Bay Area for several years, and just didn't know it. Reno isn't that far from Concord, so Ed arranged to drive over for a visit. "We had a great time together," Ed says with a smile. "We hadn't been 'friends' in Vietnam," David notes. "I was an Officer, and couldn't 'fraternize' with the troops, and at practice, Ed was the Sensei and I was the student. But with all that hierarchy stuff washed away by the years, Ed and I discovered a real joy in developing a great friendship. Fortunately, our wives have become good friends too."
"Within a couple of months of Dave's call," Ed says, "I got another call on my cell. The voice on the phone says, 'You probably don't remember me, but my name is Mike Boyett, and I used to train at the Crosswinds Dojo in the Philippines.' I was amazed!" Ed exclaimed. "Of course I remembered Mike. he was a nidan (second degree black belt) when I started as a white belt. I was in awe of the guy, not to mention scared to death of him! I was astounded that he'd remembered me, the lowly white belt in those days."
Mike's input allowed Ed and Dave to get contact information on Jim, and Virgil Lucas. Virgil was able to contact Duke Ali Sheriff-Bey.
After Ed got in touch with Jim, Jim made arrangements to stop by to visit Ed in Reno on the way to Seattle to see his daughter. Word got around, and it was decided to stage a "Reunion Gashuku" in Reno during Jim's visit. Mike Boyett, Virgil Lucas, Duke Ali Sheriff-Bey agreed to make the trip, as did Dave Wilson, and his new Sensei, Pedro Bernardy. Out of that impromptu get-together came the first gathering of what Ed jokingly calls the "geriatric Gashuku." Mike even rode his Honda Valkyrie Motorcycle all the way from Florida for the event.
The venue for the First Annual Brotherhood of Veteran Warriors Gashuku was appropriately modest. "My three car garage and the park adjacent to our home was all we had available, but with my wonderful wife providing gourmet quality meals and plenty of advil, we managed to have a great time," Ed said.
As Jim Botsford observed, "We had the opportunity on a simple, personal level, to rediscover what incredibly great friends we all are, and we discovered that we'd all learned some interesting aspects of Martial Arts that were a little different. We found we could all teach each other things that were new and exciting. Of course, sharing a few old war stories over a cold brew after a good workout was a lot of fun."
"As the first Gashuku was ending," Dave Wilson added, "we all realized that this was an experience worth repeating. We decided to have a second Gashuku the next year. Pedro graciously agreed to host it, and a new tradition was born!"
As the plans were being made for the third annual Gashuku, discussions flowed around an idea. With nearly 200 cumulative years of training between them, and much in the way of simple life experiences as well, this group of Veteran Warriors just might have some valuable knowledge and insights to pass along, even as each participant continues to learn and seek new wisdom. Finally it was agreed that the get-togethers would become somewhat more formalized, and the result is the "Brotherhood of Veteran Warriors."
1. There are many outstanding Karate teachers living and teaching in this country. A trip to Okinawa isn't really a necessity today to receive first hand, excellent training. The journey to Okinawa today is usually a matter of showing respect for the culture, and enjoying the experience of Karate in its original culture.
2. The Crosswinds Dojo included elements of Wado Ryu, Goju Ryu, Choi Li Fut Gung Fu and others.