The Don Bohan / Rick Niemira Memorial Martial Arts Championships

Submitted by: Diane Ortenzio-Cooling, Roku-Dan (Sierra dojo)

On June 26 a group of OI members traveled to Virginia to attend the Don Bohan & Rick Niemira Memorial Tournament. It was a one-of-a-kind event that Masters Cooling and Ewing, Mrs. Ewing and myself had the good fortune to attend.

Master Wayne Wayland, one of Master Bohan’s students, conceived the idea three years ago and managed to bring together many of the first generation students of Isshin-Ryu and the Bando System under one roof. Almost every branch of Isshin-Ryu was represented, and it was refreshing to see everyone come together for discussion, competition, and camaraderie.

We arrived Thursday and joined several other early attendees for a special dinner. In attendance were Master Tom Lewis, Sensei John Bartusevics, Dr. Maung Gyi, Master Bob Maxwell, Sensei Miriam Niemira, Masters Adler, Fierro, and Hovey, just to name a few.

On Friday, a series of seminars were held on several different subjects: I shared time with Master Brian West and covered tournament kumite. (Later, someone asked Master West how long we’d been presenting seminars together…he said, “We just met today!” But it’s a testament to how well everyone meshed for the entire weekend.) Master Javier Martinez presented tuite applications from kata; Masters Denny Shaffer and Clyde Stanley covered street self-defense; Master Tokumura Kensho worked with the crowd to teach an eku kata; and Dr. Gyi finished with a seminar on Min Zin – generating, storing and transmitting internal energy.

That evening, a panel of first generation Isshin-Ryu and Bando students was convened and asked questions about their training and recollections. Some had not seen each other in 40 years or more. The weekend was dedicated to Master Don Bohan, who passed away in 1998 and Sensei Rick Niemira, who passed away in 1988. Both were Marine Corps veterans. Sensei Miriam Niemira gave an inspirational talk about her husband’s last days, and several panel members recounted stories of his exploits as a DC police officer and karate-ka. Master Bohan was remembered for starting many dojos across the country, and his dedication to Isshin-Ryu and Bando.

On Saturday, the tournament drew many competitors. There were a number of unique events that could be entered: A Chinto kata division was held with 52 competitors of all ranks entered; a continuous sparring division, fought according to Bando rules, where the fighters went at it for 2 minutes. No points were called or kept – the judges voted on the winner at the end of the match. Despite the 100 degree heat (the high school failed to turn on the air), every competitor put out everything they had. Teresa Barnette, whom many of you know from the Isshin-Ryu Hall of Fame tournament, competed in both the point and the continuous sparring divisions consecutively. She came away with grand champion trophies in both divisions. Edgardo Martinez gave a phenomenal kata performance and won both the Chinto kata division and the Men’s Grand Champion in kata.

For me, this was an opportunity to meet people that I had heard stories about, or read about, over the years. The stories they related were priceless. It gave me a better measure of the people who pioneered our art, and the times in which they lived. Even better, it was a wonderful weekend to reconnect with old friends, make new ones, and spend time with my sensei and his lovely wife.

Many thanks to Master Wayland and his family for their diligence in making this event happen.