The Four Founders’ Awards Nominating Essays for the 2019 Award Recipients



Prof. Cahill Prof. Estes Prof. Law Prof. Rickerts
Conor Witham Pete St. Pierre Marek Kozlowski Jose Duenas

Conor Witham, recipient of the Professor John Cahill Award
Outstanding Tournament Competitor of the Year

The purpose of this essay is to nominate Conor Witham for the American Judo and Jujitsu’s Professor John Cahill award which is for the person shows the most competitive spirit.

In my opinion competitive spirit has nothing to do with winning a contest. It has more to do with how competitions can forge someone’s body, mind and spirit. How the competitor grows esoterically through contest. I’m not talking just about the AJJF competitions here either. I am talking about the hardest competition of all, getting through life.

I share here two quotes and a story that have become something I read just about everyday and that apply to Conor.

The first is from a tv show called Dallas. “Any man can win when things go his way, it’s the man who overcomes adversity that’s the true champion”

The second, from Tony Robbins, “Just because you failed in the past or right this second, does not mean you will fail in the future; the past does not equal the future”

And a story from Tony Robbins, “Ya know, a lot of people look at life as hard and that they just can’t get ahead. And they get depressed. Do you know that you’ve already won at life ? Yes it’s true. Ya know one day, you got up, you put on your best running shoes and clothes and boom ! Off you went. And you raced and raced and finally reached the finish line. Now you couldn’t be first and you couldn’t be last. You had to arrive at just the right time. Because thousands of other sperm were trying to fertilize that egg. But you, yes you, You made it ! You won the race of life and fertilized that egg and were born. All the other sperm lost. Yes, you already won, don’t you forget that. And now, everything else is just icing on the cake.”

Now Conor has certainly had his challenges in life. He has been at the brink of death through cancer and fought back with a vengeance and beat the cancer. Fire ravaged his town and yet he kept going. I know Conor works as a barber and he must be a great one and I’m sure achieving that was tough. But through all of these challenges and over the years I’ve known him. I have never seen his spirit dim. Quite the opposite, Conor is among the few that has a drive to keep going no matter what. And that competitive spirit is why I know he deserves this award.

I can see the effect that his competitive spirit has changed him through his Jujitsu and particularly in the freestyle tournaments that he and I compete in together. For many years, in the freestyle tournaments, I have not wanted to have Conor as my uke nor did I want to be his uke. He was very rough and treated the tournaments like a fight. And with the lack of control he had I was afraid that some of my friends or I would get hurt by him, accidently. But Conor is not like that anymore. He is not that Conor anymore. The challenges that he has overcome in life have changed him. A true champion is not rough and uncaring to his competitors. An elite champion does not go around bragging or boasting, and a true champion, although out to win, is not out to win at any cost. And now I will say that Conor is a true champion. A true elite competitor. I really enjoy competing against him and look forward to it. He is someone for other people to look up to.

Conor competes in many different tournaments throughout the year and win lose, he is an awesome example of what a competitor should be.

Pete St. Pierre, recipient of the Professor Bud Estes Award
Outstanding Contribution to the AJJF

I would like to nominate for the Bud Estes award, Pete St. Pierre.

I have known Pete for about 30 years and I remember a long time ago when he started to become involved in the AJJF operations committee. It was at least 10 years ago…Probably a lot longer.

Pete is probably one of the hardest working AJJF officers. He has to go between the BOP, BOD and the ops com. So he is constantly in meetings when it comes to convention time,. I see him work from sun up to way after sun down. But through it all he always keeps a wonderful demeanor. Every time I see Pete at the convention he is happy and enjoying his work. But you got to know the man is probably always rushing to get to his next meeting but even so, if you need something from him, he will stop what he is doing and give you his full attention for however long you need to talk with him.

One thing that he is exceptional about is helping the new ops com members. In particular he suggested to me that I would make a great member of the ops com committee. He suggested the clinics and contest position. He assured me that I could handle it and would help me to succeed. And sure enough after I was elected to the ops com in that capacity, Pete was always there for me. Helping me learn the job and giving me all kinds of advice anytime I asked for it.

I know from some of the other people on the ops com, that he has done the same for them.

The other thing about Pete is his professionalism and treating the office with respect. Many meeting in the AJJF would start late or go on and on if not for Pete keeping everyone on schedule.

So, why should Pete receive this award…It is because of his long dedication to the AJJF and his tireless effort to the inner workings of the AJJF.

Marek Koslowski, recipient of the Professor Ray Law Award
Outstanding Contribution to the Youth of the AJJF

I would like to nominate Sensei Marek Kozlowski for the Law Award.

Sensei Marek opened his dojo on the Northside of Chicago in 2011 where he runs kids and adult classes in this Polish community where he has made an important contribution. Because he was born in Poland and speaks Polish, his involvement in the Polish community by bringing Danzan Ryu to the children has made an impact. He is a respected yudansha in his community through the service of DZR.

Sensei teaches about 40 kids not only DZR, but judo, which is a renewed focus in the AJJF. He attends local
kata and judo tournaments with his team of children, who bring home the medals. This next year he plans on traveling with his judo team to competitions out of state. His students are very excited that the national convention is in Chicago this year where they will enter the National Kata Contest.

Sensei Marek is self-employed teaching DZR and judo full-time. He is involved with festivals and events in his community doing demonstrations and also promoting Seifukujitsu since he is licensed in massage–eager to place his elbow for restoration work. What a great example to his students of the spirit of DZR!

Sensei’s work with the children of his dojo represents his long commitment to their development. Some have been with him so long that they are ready to test for their DZR shodan. This is rare for students who start as children to stick with DZR long enough to develop into AJJF blackbelts. Their sensei must be doing something extraordinary!

Sensei Marek has come a long way in his Danzan Ryu training from student to sensei. He is living proof of what Master Okazaki use to do in his time. And he is an exemplary representation of the commitment and achievement we saw in Professor Ray Law’s development of children– a number of whom are our own professors today. Sensei Marek is building character and confidence in the children on the Northside of Chicago’s Polish community–which will surely translate into the strengthening of the AJJF in the future.

Because of his devotion to the children of his dojo, his involvement in the Polish community, and the sheer numbers of children he has successfully reached, it is only fitting that Sensei Marek Kozlowski be nominated for the Ray Law Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Youth of the American Judo and Jujitsu Federation!

Jose Duenas, recipient of the Professor Dick Rickerts Award
Outstanding AJJF Sensei of the Year

Jose Duenas has been a force in the Chicago area, strengthening DZR in the region by building programs, providing both martial and healing opportunities, and building bridges.

Jose is committed to DZR. His youth programs transition nicely to adult programs, where his students learn the boards, attend kata and freestyle contests, and travel locally and out of state to attend camps and clinics.

In addition to martial programs, Jose is involved with healing as well, hosting healing weekend workshops and attending healing arts conventions. He is an outstanding resource for the community where he works on those who need an elbow or a hand to heal. He adds cupping and Lomi Lomi to his repertoire, and invites other well-known healers to share their knowledge with his dojo.

Jose builds bridges by participating in inter-school sharing. He hosts randori tournaments, bringing participants and families together. He has been a guest instructor at local dojos and clinics for youth and adults, and teaching Okazaki healing at the regional level. He exposes his students to out-of-the-house arts by inviting guest instructors skilled in Filipino knife and stick fighting, Lua, Iaido, and Ogawa Ryu. He also supports local dojos in their programs and clinics, and has been an important member of this year’s national convention’s core planning team.

Sensei Duenas has a beautifully decorated storefront dojo with kata boards displayed on the walls, a tori gate over the shomen, and scrolls of kanji hanging around tatami mats. Midway Kodenkan just celebrated its 10th Anniversary with an Open House and Christmas party. May he continue in his commitment to DZR so that he can celebrate his 20th, for his contribution to students of DZR makes him an outstanding candidate for the Dick Rickertts Award for Sensei of the Year. Sensei Duenas has touched so many lives, and helped to build the dream of the founders of having a dojo in every state.