The AJJF lost one of their most beloved yudanshas this year. Most of you know him because he was a 50 Year Club inductee at the last convention and was always teaching the AJJF youth at camps and conventions. I’m talking about my Sensei, Jess Green.

Sensei Jess was always a kid…a big kid. He grew up in Calistoga and that’s where he found his “first love” at the young age of 13 years in 1970 under Professor Gene Edwards, a student of Professor Bud and Lukie Estes. Ultimately what got him on the mat was watching the “Green Hornet” and “Billy Jack,” and he loved Inspector Clouseau. As a school teacher, he shined on the mat. He was always laughing about something! Jujitsu was his pulse, like many of us who step on the mat and never leave it. I saw his passion for the martial art, including the healing side where he did massage in many spas in Calistoga. After class, we spent the last half hour or so doing massage and telling Jujitsu stories. He believed you could protect others from harm and heal them as well by with massage. His motto was “If you can break something, you better know how to heal it.” He used to accuse me of going to class half the time just for the massage! He was particularly proud of the time when Hachiro Okazaki, Master Henry Okazaki’s son, came on the mat to massage him after class with Professor Gene Edwards and Professor Bud Estes. Jess believed massage completed the circle of Danzan Ryu as a whole.

His second home, like he used to say, was Sis-Q Ranch where Sr. Professor Ball and his wife Jan hosted Camp Kodenkan for the adults and youth where he spent every summer for the past 35 years. He had a gift for teaching youth, and that’s where I met him long ago. As a boy, I never really had friends but Sensei became not only my friend, but my best friend. He was my Ohana.

Jess, the moment we met years ago, I knew you would be my best friend and we would be inseparable. Jujitsu brought us together in an unspoken bond that very few people know. You taught me to believe in myself. You showed me perseverance, dedication, and how to use Jujitsu in everyday life, even off the mat. Jess, your spirit will be here with me. I will remember you. I know I can go on the mat where your light was always shining, and your spirit will be there to guide me through the tough times.

I promise you, Sensei that I will take on a student and own the responsibility of sharing with them the same gift you gave me in an embrace of Kokua. You made me the man I am today, vastly different from the boy I was a long time ago. I remember to this day your mat rule: If we say the word “can’t”, we got thrown. I don’t use that word, on or off the mat. Your lessons are ingrained in me. I know I can, I will and I believe! We must not forget who Jess was and keep him in our hearts.

Truly, writing this article and painting a picture of the person you were was one of the hardest things to do. Because of you, I am not just Conor, I am Sensei.

-Sensei Conor Witham