The 50-Year Club
The 50-Year Club honors those individuals who have dedicated at least 50 years of their lives to practicing and promoting Danzan Ryu Jujitsu. We are fortunate to have such dedicated individuals in our midst. The honorees are listed below, and includes the year he or she began the study of Danzan Ryu Jujitsu.
1948 – Professor Lamar Fisher
1950 – Betty Fisher
1952 – Professor John Congistre
1954 – Professor William G. Randle
1956 – Kathi Congistre
1956 – Patricia Rebmann
1957 – Professor Tom Ball
1957 – Professor Don Cross
1958 – Professor Larry Nolte
1959 – Professor Dennis Estes
1959 – Professor Tom Jenkins
1959 – Professor Rory Rebmann
1959 – Professor Clyde Zimmerman
1960 – Professor Jane Carr
1960 – Jan Ball
1960 – William Gessner
1962 – Gary DeGarmo
1966 – Professor Mike Belzer
1966 – Professor Kevin Colton
1966 – Professor Sheryl Hager
1966 – Professor Tony Janovich
1967 – Robert Reish
1970 – Professor George Arrington
1971 – Jess Green
1971 – Professor Robert Hudson
1972 – Professor Tom Hill
1972 – Barb Gessner
1948 – Professor Lamar Fisher, Judan
Professor Fisher first became a student of Professor Bud Estes in 1948, and taught at the Chico Judo and Jujitsu Academy from 1950 to 1972. He achieved the rank Godan and title of Professor in 1956. Prof Fisher also taught women’s self defense courses for 10 years at Butte College. In 1972, he became school head of the Nibukikan in Chico, California. He was promoted to Kudan in 1985, and Judan in 1995. Prof Fisher was the Senior Professor of the AJJF up until his death in 2009.
1948 – BETTY FISHER, member of the 50 year club.
Betty Fisher met Lamar Fisher in 1950 at a dance in Paradise Pines. She soon came to realize that if she wanted to see Lamar she needed to become involved in Jujitsu. She began classes in the Old Chico Record building with Lucille Estes as her Sensei. Lamar and Betty were married in 1951. We all heard Prof. Fisher say many times over his lifetime career in the AJJF, “Just never forget that you don’t interfere with my Jujitsu”. Betty and Lamar soon began raising their family of three boys. All three at some time or other tried Jujitsu. However, they all found swimming much more to their liking. Betty and Lamar involved themselves with the boys in the swimming circuit for twenty three years. The family has continued to grow to twelve grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. We thank Betty for her continued support of Prof. Lamar Fisher throughout their life together.
1952 – Professor John Congistre, Judan
Professor Congistre began his training with Professor Ray Law in Oakland, California, and practiced there until the dojo closed in 1969. He has studied and competed in sport judo, earning the rank of sandan. Prof Congistre has also trained in karate, kendo, and massage. Prof Congistre is currently the Treasurer of the AJJF. The Shoshin Ryu Yudanshakai have recognized Professor Congistre’s rank of kudan and have made him a life member.
1954 – Professor William G. Randle, Judan
Professor William G. Randle, Judan, began jujitsu in 1954 at Prof. Law’s dojo in Oakland, conveniently located eight doors down from his grandparents’ home. He opened his first dojo in 1958 in his parents’ garage in Santa Monica. In 1962, he started his second dojo at the Santa Monica and Palisades YMCAs. In 1965, he left the Santa Monica dojo in the hands of his blackbelts and went to study at the Holy Cross Brotherhood in Ohio and Texas (while running a dojo at St. Edward’s University.) In 1972, he returned to Santa Monica, opened the Westside YMCA Jujitsu dojo, and has been sensei there ever since. Professor Randle and his lineage are responsible for over 250 Danzan-Ryu black belts, dozens of schools, and his blackbelts reach down to 5th generation.
Character development is the primary focus of Prof. Randle’s teaching. Professor Randle is a former Director of both the Westside and Santa Monica YMCAs, and serves as House Committee Chair and Board Member of the Santa Monica Rotary Club. Throughout his decades of involvement with jujitsu, Professor Randle has epitomized the concepts of Ohana and Kokua in his daily life. Some of his favorite sayings, oft repeated at the close of class, are “we turn ability into responsibility” and “service above self.” In that regard, Professor Randle has truly mastered the art of Danzan Ryu Jujitsu.
1956 – Kathi Congistre, Sandan
Kathi Copley Congistre began her training in Professor Law’s Junior program August, 1956. Through Law’s Junior program, Kathi taught future AJJF Professors Don Cross and Rory Rebmann. Kathi received her shodan February, 1962, Nidan March, 1963 and Sandan in 1965. Kathi married John Congistre, her first instructor in 1966. Kathi, along with John and the Rebmanns, have co-chaired several AJJF Conventions and worked on Shoshin Ryu and Ohana Conventions.
1956 – Patricia Rebmann, Shodan
Patricia Copley Rebmann began her training in the junior program under Professor Ray Law in Oakland, California. At the age of 12, Patricia met another student by the name of Rory Rebmann and she and he were later married in 1968. She continued to train at Laws until 1969 when the Dojo closed. It was in 1973 when she and Prof. Rory Rebmann began the Amador Judo & Jujitsu Studio, located in Livermore, California. She is a past recipient of the Prof. Burt Aspinall award and helped to host a multitude of AJJF Conventions and Ohanas. She still is very actively involved in instructing youth and the everyday running of the dojo.
1957 – Professor Tom Ball, Judan
Professor Ball began jujitsu with Bud Odom and received his shodan in 1958. He taught at UC Davis in 1964 as a yodan and founded the first martial arts dojo in Davis since World War II. Hundreds of students from around the world studied with him from 1964 – 1972. Prof Ball is currently school head of the Shingi Kan. He has also helped establish the AJJF’s Danzan Ryu Restorative Therapy Program, now known as the Danzan Ryu Seifukujitsu Institute, and sits on the Standards Committee. He has been the Senior Professor of the AJJF since 2009.
1957 – Professor Don Cross, Shichidan
Professor Cross began his training with Professors Ray and Marie Law in Oakland, California. Prof Cross has also studied tai chi chuan, judo, kempo, Goju Ryu, Shotokan Karate, kendo, Sil Lum Kung Fu, and chi gong. Prof Cross has served on the AJJF’s Board of Managers as the Manager of Regions and the Manager of Internal Relations. He also helped develop what would become known as the Danzan Ryu Seifukujitsu Institute. Prof Cross was the sensei of Jujitsu-Do Martial Arts Center for 33 years and currently serves as the Vice President of the AJJF.
1958 – Professor Larry Nolte, Shichidan
Professor Nolte began his training with Professor Tom Ball. In 1960, he was awarded his shodan by Professor Bud Estes and Tom Ball. He became school head of the Medford Judo Academy in 1962 and has coached wrestling at the high school and junior high levels for more than 30 years. Prof Nolte has also trained in sport judo, karate, and Danzan Ryu Restorative Therapy. More than 40 of Prof Nolte’s students have been promoted to black belt and the Medford Judo Academy remains the oldest continuously operating dojo within the AJJF. Prof Nolte also graduated from the 2003 Okugi course taught by Professor Tony Janovich, where he received a Kaidensho and teaching title of Shihan. Prof Nolte currently serves as the Secretary of the AJJF.
1959 – Professor Dennis Estes, Shichidan
Professor Estes holds a black belt in Danzan Ryu Jujitsu that is recognized by both the American Judo and Jujitsu Federation and the Kodenkan Yudanshakai, as well as a black belt in Daito Ryu AikiJutsu. Prof. Estes began training in 1959, at the age of six years old. He and his father Art Estes began training with Jay Monahan in Pullman, Washington. Monahan Sensei trained in both Kodokan Judo and Shudokan Karate while in Japan and later in the San Francisco Bay area in Danzan Ryu Jujitsu under Prof. Ray Law.
After moving to Utah in the early 1980’s, Prof. Estes and his father opened the Estes Bushido Jutsu Kan in Lehi, Utah. This was in 1982. A year later Art left this dojo and started Yamanaka Kodenkan in Pleasant Grove, Utah. Dennis continued as Sensei of the Bushido Jutsu Kan. While instructing here he had 5 students reach the rank of black belt. This school has been turned over to Robert Hodgkin and Tom Greenwood. In 1986 Dennis moved to Eureka, Ca. and within six months had started a new dojo. This one he named JOBU SHIN KAN, which translates as School of the Strong Martial Spirit. This school has produced more than 21 black belts, 5 of which were charter members.
In 2003 Professor Estes left Eureka, California and moved north to Gresham, Oregon where he opened JoBu Shin Kan Hoku. The original dojo was left in the care of Sensei Jon Sylvia and Prof. Estes carried the name with him adding Hoku (north) to differentiate between the two schools.
Prof Estes trained with his father as his Sensei until he reached the level of Nidan. At that point his training switched to Prof. Robert Hudson with additional training from Prof. Tom Ball. In addition he trained with several gifted martial artist in and out of jujitsu. Professor Estes has said, “Without the training and development of Senseis Estes, Hudson and Ball I would not be the martial artist I am today.”
1959 – Professor Rory Rebmann, Hachidan
Professor Rebmann started jujitsu in 1959 at age 11 under Prof Ray Law. As part of his training, Prof Rebmann studied Shotokan Karate and Bushido Jujitsu. Prof Rebmann also holds a godan in Kodokan Judo and a hachidan in Goshi Jujitsu. He was awarded the Kodenkan Heritage Award for 2001. He is currently the owner and head instructor of the Amador Judo & Jujitsu Studio in Livermore, CA which has produced many national judo and jujitsu champions. Prof Rebmann was the previous president, vice-president and central office manager of the AJJF.
1959 – Professor Clyde Zimmerman, Hachidan
Professor Zimmerman began his martial arts training in Sherman Oaks, California in 1959. He studied Kodokan Judo, Danzan Ryu Jujitsu, Shotokan Karate, kung fu, and aikido. In the early sixties he opened a dojo in Encino Park, CA and started a judo team at St. John’s College in Camarillo, CA. After college, Prof Zimmerman went into law enforcement receiving P.O.S.T and B.P.S.T. certifications. He then began teaching both for law enforcement agencies and in his own dojos in California and Oregon. He next moved to Gardnerville, Nevada, opening a successful dojo in Carson City, NV. For his work there Prof Zimmerman has received many awards including the Luciano Service Award and Instructor of the Year Awards from the Shoshin Ryu Yudanshakai and the American Jujitsu Institute.
1960 – Professor Jane Carr, Kudan
Professor Jane Carr is our leading lady professor of the AJJF. She began her studies in Redding, CA in 1960. She is also ranked as Lakan Isa in Modern Arnis. Her specialty field is in realistic Rape Prevention courses. She is one of the original founders of the AJJF massage program, and continues to serve on the Danzan Ryu Restoration Therapy Standards Committee (formerly known as the DZR Seifukujitsu Institute). She has held many offices in the AJJF. She is an active member of the AJJF BOP, and serves on the Sr. Professor’s Council. You will find her teaching DZR Jujitsu and Restoration Therapy at dojos, seminars, and conventions. Professor Carr is Shihan at the Redding Jujitsu Academy, Inc., and teaches Monthly Black Belt classes at the dojo with her daughter, Professor Sheryl Hager. These activities are as important to her as her immediate family. Prof. Carr’s motto: “Keep young and healthy by doing, learning and enjoying life to its fullest”.
1960 – William Gessner, Yodan
When Bill moved to northeastern Pennsylvania in 1960 to take on a teaching position at East Stroudsburg University, he joined the AJJF and began studying jujitsu with Commodore Mann, a student of Professor Chuck Smith.
After one year, Commodore was deployed to Viet Nam, and, although only a Brown Belt, Bill took over the classes that Commodore had started at the local YMCA. Before he left, Commodore taught Bill all the requirements for Shodan and asked Professor Bud Estes to oversee Bill’s promotions to Shodan and through the black belt levels.
A few AJJF instructors were sent to work with Bill over those years, until Professors Estes and Fisher came back east in 1970 to run a seminar at Ed Kent’s dojo in New York City. Ed was then the Director of Region 4, AJJF and Bill used to work out with him frequently, also earning Shodan in Ed’s Eizan Ryu System.
During the time from Shodan to Nidan Bill began teaching jujitsu classes at three other locations: a local high school, a small rural community recreation program, and at East Stroudsburg University, where he managed to get not only a club started, but also got Danzan Ryu incorporated as part of the academic programs for both general students as well as physical education majors.
When Ed Kent stepped down as Regional Manager, Bill took over the position, one that he held for 15 years.
After 10 years of teaching, Bill finally had students rising to the level of Shodan themselves, a trend which led to the spread of Danzan Ryu Jujitsu throughout Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. Bill began hosting Professors Estes, Fisher, and Ball, and later many other AJJF Professors for the annual Regional Conventions he held starting in 1973. The Region has continued to sponsor at least one, and sometimes as many as three such Regional Seminars to this day.
Although he retired from running a dojo, Bill continues to be active in Jujitsu by occasionally teaching at his wife Barb’s dojo at Rutgers University, as an instructor at some of the Regional Seminars. He also used to serve as a examiner for several of the AJJF exams that are part of the Regional Seminars.
1962 – Sensei Gary DeGarmo, Godan
Sensei Gary DeGarmo began martial arts with Kodokan judo in 1959 while serving in the US Army, earning his Brown Belt in 1962. That same year, he began his studies in Danzan Ryu under Sensei Lee Garrett and Sensei “Buster” Norton, receiving his Shodan degree in 1964. He received his judo Nikyu from the AJJF in 1967. After the retirement of Senseis Garrett and Norton, Sensei DeGarmo ran the Medford YMCA Judo dojo.
Sensei DeGarmo joined the Medford Judo Academy in the late 60’s, continuing his study under Sensei (now Professor) Larry Nolte, and was promoted to the rank of Godan in 2010.
He currently assists Professor Troy Shehorn in the kid’s classes and instructs during the adult classes. Sensei DeGarmo received the 50 Year Club award from the American Judo and Jujitsu Federation in 2013.
1970 – Professor George Arrington
When we talk about Danzan ryu jujutsu we find that relationships and friendships often last decades in this art. Nothing could be a better example of this than my own relationship with Prof. George Arrington.
We first met on the mat when George signed up as a student at the dojo my father, older brother and myself started in Reston Virginia back in 1970. I was 14 years old and George was two years older. After teaching there for two years our family moved back to California and George and a few other dedicated students continued to practice what they had learned on their own, with my encouragement from 2,000 miles away. I visited them twice in 1972 and in ’73 to continue their training and in 1974, George flew out to So. Cal. to take his shodan exam at the Penmar Judo & Jujutsu Kai.
George returned to Virginia and opened up his own dojo and continued to immerse himself in the practice of the physical arts but also to delve into the history and traditions of Danzan ryu, Professor Okazaki and his first generation students who transplanted the art from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland.
In the 90’s George pursued a career opportunity out in San Jose, Calif and while he was there, he sought out Prof. Sig Kufferath who was one of Prof. Okazaki’s most senior personal students who was still alive and discussed how he could continue and deepen his Danzan ryu training. Prof. Kufferath advised George to contact his most senior student, Prof. Tony Janovich and ask to join his dojo. George followed the correct protocol and requested my permission which I gave whole heartedly. Over the years at Prof. Janovich’s dojo George proved himself as a dedicated student and received the ranks of godan, rokudan/professor and shichidan plus the Kaidensho titles of Renshi, Shihan and Hanshi. George also attended the special Okugi training that was held by Prof. Janovich in 1993 and in 2007 to honor the memory of both Prof. Okazaki and Prof Kufferath
In 1995 George created the Danzan.com website which is one of the most comprehensive martial arts websites I have ever seen. It is a treasure trove of information for both students and teachers of Danzan ryu.
In his “spare” time George has also managed to write and publish seven books that help reveal many unknown facts and details about various aspects of our art that we may hear about from time to time but never have a source to refer to.
He also produced a DVD that documents the history of Danzan Ryu in So. Calif.
George’s latest project is a series videos that breaks down and describes the Japanese kanji that we have all seen in the mokuroku or graduation certificate that Prof. Okazaki presented to his nidan graduates of the Kodenkan. By providing some historical context, he is able to show us how each character is written stroke by stroke
Jess’s interest in martial arts was sparked when he was just a young boy. A family friend, who was in the Army and on his way to Vietnam, stopped by the family home and taught the young Jess some kicking and punching. He thought that was pretty cool. And of course after seeing the Bruce Lee action film The Green Hornet, Jess was more than curious.
By the time young Jess was in 7th grade, jujitsu had been in Calistoga since about 1970 when Professor Gene Edwards brought the first DZR club to Napa Valley. When three of Jess’s friends invited him to join Prof. Edwards’s class, he did! He still remembers his first day in the dojo—class ended with a massage, which he remembers as being “pretty slick!”
What also appealed to Jess was the positive attitude from DZR based on the philosophy “I can and I will.” See, as a kid he had always wanted to climb the ropes, which proved to be too difficult for him. However, jujitsu gave Jess the inner and outer strength to do so, and by the time he was a junior in high school, he could do it. Now he was hooked!
By the time Jess was a green belt in 1984, Prof. Edwards had him running the kids classes, and then in 1990, when Prof. retired from teaching in California, he turned over the Calistoga Jujitsu Institute to Sensei Green.
Sensei is a natural teacher who specializes in youth classes. He’s taught the youth of the AJJF at many conventions and Kids Camps, making jujitsu fun-and-games for kids who grow up loving Danzan Ryu. Ultimately he changed the name of the dojo to Asobikan Calistoga Jujitsu—Asobikan meaning “fun place.”
Sensei Green is an AJJF Yodan, knows Seifukujitsu, and has served the federation as a past member of the Council of Senior Instructors.
His advice to those just beginning their own 50 year journey in Danzan Ryu: “When it feels like it’s uphill, it is. But the view is so much better at the top!”
Fifty years is a long time. And a half-century of commitment to the AJJF and Danzan Ryu is a most admirable accomplishment. We congratulate you, Sensei Jess Green on this commendable achievement!
1971 – Professor Robert Hudson, Kudan
At 67, Professor Robert Hudson has become a pillar of the American Judoand JuJitsu Federation. In 1970, he began as a student at the Oakland YMCA under the tutelage of Mike McGurk, a student of Prof Ray Law.
He was awarded his Black Belt in November of 1974. He opened his first dojo, Budokwai Dojo, in 1976, the first of 5: Renkiohen, Honshin Kan, Fudochi, Halau O Ho’Oaana. Over these years, he has produced a very large Black Belt family, three of whom are now professors, Prof Tom Ryan, Prof Dennis Estes, and Prof Hillary Kaplowitz. Many of his
students have become very active in the AJJF.
Being the instigator of our National Massage Program, now called AJJF Seifukujitsu Institute, he has overseen the development and
propagation of this very successful and important program.
Bob has held many offices throughout his dedication and is now the
Vice-President of the AJJF. He was awarded Kudan in April of 2013.
In 1978, he became my student. I have seen him become an instrumental part of our organization. His dedication to the AJJF and Danzan Ryu over the last several decades have provided an opportunity to present him with this 50-year pin and induction to the “50 Year Club”.
It is my honor to be asked to introduce Professor Tom Hill into the 50-year Club of the AJJF. I first met Professor Hill in 1983 at Camp Kodenkan Midwest where I was testing for 1st degree Black Belt. During my exam, as many have done before me, I got very amped up and I was starting to get overly aggressive. In the middle of the exam Professor Hill came out onto the mat and with his back to the exam board grabbed a towel and handed it to me and said, “You’re doing great, but you need to slow down a little. So, take a deep breath wipe the moisture off your face and get back to it you’re doing fine”. This of course was unheard of at the time and from that point forward I felt a very strong kinship to Professor Hill. However, my new bond of friendship was sorely tested later in the very same camp. I had pulled a muscle in my back so badly that I could not get up off the bed. Professor Hill upon hearing this came into the room where I was lying down and grabbed my new black belt off the back of the door, threw it down on the ground and kicked it saying,” I’m not sure you really deserve this”. Try as I might I could not get up off the bed to strangle him as I wished to. Professor Hill and I have been best of friends since that time
Professor Hill began his study of Danzan Ryu Jujitsu in 1972 with Sensei Doug Kiehl. For many years afterwards he divided his studies between Sensei Kiehl, Doctor Bill Gessner and for those years even Professor Pat Browne. (For those of you who are familiar with the legend of the Donuts of Trakis, this is also when Professor Hill first met Sensei Tom Trakis). But that is a story for another time. In 1983 when I first met Professor Hill, Tom had asked Professor Browne to be his Sensei. That began a series of summers when Professor Hill would travel to the Midwest Camps and spend a few extra days studying with Professor Browne. In 1994, after the tragic passing of Professor Browne, Professor Hill approached Senior Professor Tom Ball and asked him to then become his Sensei and he remains his Sensei to this day.
Adhering to the spirit of what samurai were classically encouraged to do in the old days, Professor Hill decided to broaden his understanding of martial arts in general and Budo specifically. In 1994 Professor Hill began studying Meshin Muso Ryu Iaido and Kendo with Sensei Shuji Matsushita. Professor Hill holds the ranks of Godan in Iaido and Yondan in Kendo and continues his studies to this day. Since following this path, Professor Hill has gleaned a great many understandings about Iaido and Kendo. These have in turn led to deeper understandings about DanZan Ryu Jujitsu and Professor Hill has freely shared these within the AJJF community. Professor Hill is a strong believer in sharing everything he has learned in order facilitate growth and understanding within the AJJF membership.
In the AJJF, Professor Hill is currently ranked as 7th Dan and was awarded the title of Professor in 2006, serving since with distinction on the Internal Relations and Executive Committees.
Tom has been retired for several years from his twenty-year career as County Tax Assessor for Monroe County, Pennsylvania. However, he continues to serve his community by sitting on the Zoning and Hearing Board, serving as a Judge of the Vote and giving lectures statewide from his hard-won expertise.
On the home front, Professor Hill has been happily married to his wife Claudia for 41 years and has two children and two grandchildren.
For my part, I have never met a more well-read, intelligent and even-tempered man. Professor Hill embodies all the characteristics and admirable qualities of the traditional samurai and the modern martial artist. If you are looking for a well thought out assessment delivered in a sane and cogent manner, you will have to search high and wide to find a better source than Professor Tom Hill. The AJJF is lucky to have him, and I have been privileged to be his close friend.
Sensei Barb Gessner started Jujitsu in 1972—the first week of her freshman year of college in Pennsylvania because the girls she knew on the campus were going to East Stroudsburg Kodenkan, and she didn’t want to be left alone in the dorm with 300 people she didn’t know. A couple of weeks later she realized the dojo’s sensei was also her physical science professor, her husband-to-be, Dr. Bill Gessner.
In 1973 Sensei met Professors Bud Estes and Lamar Fisher along with Professor Tom Ball, all of whom have mentored her over the years in her study of DZR.
In 1976 Sensei took over the dojo in Portland, Pennsylvania with both junior and adult classes, and had the first of her students achieve the rank of AJJF Shodan. She also began teaching jujitsu, therapeutic massage and other recreational activities at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey and established an AJJF registered school there, Rutgers Kodenkan.
Sensei learned judo from the very beginning along with jujitsu, and began competing in mostly local and regional tournaments. However, in 1976 she qualified for and competed in the AAU Nationals in Baltimore, Maryland. Women had just started competing in shiai in the early 1970s— prior to that females were only allowed to compete in kata, so she was among the first wave of women allowed in judo tournaments. She continued competing until about 1980.
In 1980 she invited Professors Bud Estes and Tom Jenkins for the first of her annual seminars sponsored by Rutgers Kodenkan and the AJJF, which has continue to this day, with a short hiatus due to COVID.
Sensei Gessner received both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Health & Physical Education. The topic of her Master’s theses was Teaching Styles in Jujitsu. Sensei presented this research in a class at the AJJF Convention in 1987.
Sensei Gessner has served the AJJF in a number of roles, including Manager of Clinics for Region IV; Manager of Events, Clinics and Contests for the Operations Committee; and several years on the Council of Senior Instructors. In 1988 she was the first recipient of the Bert Aspinall Award for service to the AJJF, and in 2012 received the Professor Ray Law Award for contribution to the youth of the AJJF for her successful children’s classes.
We congratulate you, Sensei Gessner, on fifty years of membership, training and service to the American Judo and Jujitsu Federation!