The Four Founders’ Awards Nominating Essays for the 2018 Award Recipients



Prof. Cahill Prof. Estes Prof. Law Prof. Rickerts
Sara Robles Willima Gessner Dianna McKinzie Thabiti Sabahive

Sara Robles, recipient of the Professor John Cahill Award
Outstanding Tournament Competitor of the Year

I have watched Sara compete in different events this past year. She has such a good spirit about her. She gives it 100 percent effort every time she steps on the mat. She is willing to Uke for students from other dojos that compete as singletons and are in need of a partner. She shows the true spirit of Kokua. Her technique improves every time I watch her compete. For someone at such a young age to have that presence about her motivates others to be great. Of the mat she is always helping and smiling with such a good attitude. Don’t sleep on this one, she will be great someday. This is why I believe Sara should receive the Cahill award for competitor of the year.

Willima Gessner, recipient of the Professor Bud Estes Award
Outstanding Contribution to the AJJF

Dr. William Gessner, or Dr. G. as he was known by his students, made an enormous contribution to the AJJF, specifically, for the growth and spread of the Danzan Ryu system in the northeastern United States. 

In the 1960s the AJJF had apparently attempted to increase membership and growth outside of the west coast by incorporating practitioners of many different jujitsu systems. In fact, the then Northeast Regional Manager was not at all a practitioner of Danzan Ryu, or Kodenkan Jujitsu as we referred to it back then. When Bill succeeded him and became AJJF Manager of Region IV, covering the states as far west as Illinois, and as far south as Virginia, he began to change all that. 

Bill’s Sensei, Commodore Mann, was a student of Professors Chuck and Kitty Smith (now Fowler). As is not uncommon in this system, as a colored belt, Bill began assisting with instruction. When Commodore learned he would soon be deployed to Viet Nam, Bill was only a Brown Belt, but Commodore tested him on all the techniques for Shodan and asked that Professor Bud Estes would please take the responsibility to promote him when his time-in-grade came due. When Commodore left, Bill took over the responsibility for running that dojo. 

During this time, Bill connected with Ed Kent, his predecessor as Manager of Region IV. Ed and other AJJF Schools in New York City practiced their own individual styles of Jujitsu. Bill worked out with them all. In 1970, Bill arranged for Professors Bud Estes and Lamar Fisher to come back east and teach a weekend-long seminar in New York City. After that, he began bringing those professors as well as Professors Tom Ball, Jane Carr and Pat Browne and others to his dojo, East Stroudsburg Kodenkan, in Pennsylvania for what became the Annual Regional Convention. 

Since the AJJF was involved in sport Judo as well as Jujitsu back then, Bill also reached out to the United States Judo Association, and began teaching Jujitsu at their summer camps hosted by Jim Bregman in West Virginia. 

Coming onto the scene as Regional Manager at this time presented several challenges. One was the occasional phone calls from people who had received registered blackbelt ranks with the AJJF and wanted to know if he could teach them the system, since they didn’t know any of it. He dealt with these inquiries with great diplomacy, offering to help them and/or redirected them to someone else closer to where they lived. 

Another difficulty was getting ahold of the Regional Funds, which were being kept by another non-DZR practitioner in Virginia. We drove down there one day, a trip of about 5 hours each way, to meet with the gentleman who had been the previous treasurer and Bill got the problem resolved. 

During this time, Bill was teaching classes at East Stroudsburg University through both the student club program and in academic classes offered for both Physical Education Majors and nonmajors; ran a children’s club as part of a nearby recreation program in Portland, Pennsylvania; had students of his begin classes in two other nearby communities; presented Jujitsu Demonstrations as part of several school assemblies, various civic groups, and as part of a Regional Health and Physical Education Convention. He was later introduced at a local Karate Demonstration as “The Grandfather of Martial Arts in [this] county.” 

After Ron Jennings and Tom Trakas, a couple of blackbelts from the west coast moved to New Jersey, Bill began arranging a rotating schedule of monthly clinics among the three sensei. When Roy Lonnberg moved from California to New York State, the clinics expanded. Also, by this time, Bill had several blackbelt students of his own, and the clinics spread out to include suburban Philadelphia. This served to build a sense of community among the students and solidify the growth of the AJJF throughout the Region. 

Around 1980, Bill and I had stopped by another USJA Judo Camp in New York and met Lono Ancho, who was teaching a self-defense course there. Apparently, he had lost touch with the Okazaki System since leaving Hawaii and was ecstatic for us having reconnected him with it. We visited Ancho quite frequently at his home in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York, and also brought him into the AJJF. 

Another connection made during that time with a “cousin” of Danzan Ryu, was Jerry Kunzman, a student of Duke Moore, who was a student of Professor Law. Jerry was living in Danbury, Connecticut and practiced both Judo and a modified Danzan Ryu jujitsu system developed by his sensei. Jerry is now an AJJF Allied Professor with the rank of Kudan. 

By going to Judo tournaments and camps, Bill was in his very charming and compassionate nature a great example of the DZR system as found within the AJJF. Bill drew several Judo instructors into the AJJF, through both the Regional Clinics, Convention, and his ready awareness to visit any school with people interested in learning the system. 

Bill’s passion for Jujitsu easily merged with his work as a Physics Professor at East Stroudsburg University. He once made a presentation for the Pennsylvania Academy of Sciences on “Physics in the Martial Arts.” He adapted that into a more suitably applied class for the Regional Convention on “Physics in Jujitsu.” However, he will always be best remembered for his classes entitled “Dirty Rotten Tricks” or “D.R.T.s” These were a list of about 36 techniques that were very subtle, yet exceedingly effective. And, anyone who ever took a class with Dr. G. can attest, his classes were always very enjoyable. 

Bill began Jujitsu older than many, passing his Sandan exam at age 50; testing and passing Yodan at age 66. He produced eleven blackbelts in Danzan Ryu, nine of whom opened schools of their own. Besides establishing the annual weekend-long seminars, which continue now twice a year within the Region, he also ran AJJF Ranking Exams, served for 15 years as Regional Manager, taught at AJJF Regional and National Conventions, and continued to help teach jujitsu classes till the very end of his life. 

Bill’s enthusiasm for jujitsu, appreciation of each student as an individual, and life lived practicing kokua taught many the essence of this system. It was Dr. G. who would say that Jujitsu was much more than the techniques. That if the student wasn’t able to “live” the principles in their life outside the dojo, they had totally missed the point of this system. 

I believe he is an example for us all to follow.

Dianna McKinzie, recipient of the Professor Ray Law Award
Outstanding Contribution to the Youth of the AJJF


Sensei Dianna McKinzie is nominated for the Prof. Ray Law award for her outstanding work at Wasenshi Kan in the youth program. Sensei Dianna McKinzie is the youth instructor at Wasenshi Kan dojo as well as co-head of Hale O Lima Kokua dojo. She created the youth program at Wasenshi Kan and has been the instructor since ever since. All of my children have been and are currently instructed by Sensei Dianna since they were old enough to start Jujitsu 7 years ago. She is an excellent youth instructor, patient and encouraging as well as disciplined. She holds classes that the children look forward to as they are fun while still instilling proper jujitsu techniques and AJJF values. Three of her students who have moved to adult classes still come to youth class as Sempais. She makes sure each student is encouraged to learn and move forward in their arts and at their own pace. No student is neglected, even if they are slow to progress. When the Pee Wee class closed recently, she readily accepted two of those students to her class with no reservations. One of the new students from the Pee Wee class, Lori Santiago’s grand-daughter is diagnosed ADHD. Sensei Dianna is extremely patient and caring with her. She cheers each student’s milestone accomplishments which makes them eager to learn and strive towards the next. One can see the bond between student and teacher. In Sensei Dianna’s kids class, each student is Ohana.

Thabiti Sabahive, recipient of the Professor Dick Rickerts Award
Outstanding AJJF Sensei of the Year

Sensei Sabahive has been involved with DZR since 1994 as a junior. He has 11 primary black belts (kids!) in DZR and 8 black belts under them (grandkids!). He has developed many projects in DZR to include; College Dojo Methods – dealing with Turn-over and Semester planning, After School Programming, Youth Class Programming and Revised Curriculum for a Commercial Dojo Model. He has been active within the YMCA for 24 years so far. He has associated dojos across the United States to include Hawaii. He has served in multiple positions within the AJJF organizational structure. Everytime he moves, he opens a new dojo for the AJJF. His students love him dearly both on and off the mat. He sets a standard of professionalism for his students and they in turn demonstrate through actions that they received the highest level of those teachings.