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Koga Magazine Publication – Biographic Tribute to OSensei Ronald Duncan


By Barron Shepherd

As a teenager in the late seventies and early eighties growing up on the east coast I read martial arts periodicals such as Black Belt magazine and Official Karate magazine. Official Karate covered mostly east coast martial arts while Black belt was predominately west coast.

One person stood out in Official Karate magazine and that was Prof. Ronald Duncan. I waited patiently for each issue to come out hoping to read more about him. Not all issues had articles featuring him but the ones that did were my favorites.

Movies featuring ninja began to spring up as well “Shogun”, “The Last Ninja”, “The Octagon” and “Enter the Ninja” to name a few. By the mid eighties, the market was saturated with Ninja movies, magazines and anything Ninja related. It seemed almost every month one of the Ninja magazines would feature Prof. Duncan.

Later, while in the military I remember seeing a movie called “American Ninja”. It was basically about a man who as a boy was taught to survive in the jungle and he then went on to join the military where he encountered a band of ninjas that were determined to kill him. The reason, no American was supposed to know Ninjutsu.

As I think about O’ Sensei’s upbringing and his trials and tribulations concerning ninjutsu that he shared with me, it seems as if the “American Ninja” movie took some pages out of his life as a basis for it’s script, albeit to the extreme, but it did somewhat parallel. He had trained as a boy, honorably served his country in the military, and by the sixties he was the first American to teach ninjutsu in the U.S. He would come under fire. The reason, no American was supposed to know ninjutsu.

Prof. Ronald Duncan personified integrity as a sensei, a mentor, as a student of life, as a father and as a friend. A private and humble man whose integrity was larger than his art and it shaped all that he was. He believed in the importance of hard work and hard decisions, of loyalty and dedication. He was one of the pioneers of bringing martial arts to the western world, and even more so as a black man in the 60’s who dealt with trying times while spreading the knowledge of the martial arts.

While evolving martial arts trends drew practitioners to various arts as sport or competition, Prof. Duncan taught the martial arts, the sciences, strategy, tactics and psychology derived from the samurai and the shadow warriors, known as the ninja. He lived, practiced and taught these arts with honor, discipline, love and passion. Qualities all of us can learn from today.

O’Sensei as he is affectionately known by his many students was born in Panama on June 4th 1937. His father worked with Untied States military personnel stationed in the Panama Canal Zone. He began training in boxing at the age of seven under professional boxer Ernest Reed. He grew up in an area where many of the elite military forces of that country were training in jungle warfare.

In 1954 he immigrated to the United States and in 1955 he began training in Kempo under Tatsuo Uzaki. His training in kempo under Uzaki also covered Tanto jutsu (knife fighting) and bojutsu. It was the beginning of a long and very involved career in many aspects of the martial arts.

In 1956 Prof. Duncan Joined the United States Marine Corp and went thru boot camp at Paris Island. He was exposed to both Judo and Jujutsu. He became a member of the USMC Judo team at Camp Lejune.

While at Camp Lejune O’Sensei trained judo, jujitsu and knife techniques with Ernie Cates in Jacksonville, NC. Ernie Cates’ dojo was where a lot of Marines would go for training in the martial arts. It was a hard core school of training. An excellent martial arts student he crossed trained constantly and took advice from everyone. He was in the same group of students as Don Nagle, Jim Giles, Don Bohan, Rick Nemura, Bryan “Chick” Burk, Howard George who was the 1960 Greco Roman Wrestling Olympic Champion and Pat Barris who was twice Pan Am Judo Champion.

In December 1959 Prof. Duncan moved to New York and began teaching at St. Johns Recreational Center in Brooklyn, some of the people who came thru the rec center were Thomas Lapuppet, Ron Van Clief, George Coffield and Moses Powell.

Prof. Duncan met and began training with Naraki Hara. Hara sensei was a former member of the Japanese Imperial Army during WWII and was trained at the Rikugun Nakano Gakko a Military intelligence training facility that specialized in training personnel in covert activity and guerrilla warfare.

Hara Sensei taught Hakko ryu Jujutsu and Goshindo Kempol Jujutsu. Hara’s methods seemed exceptionally brutal and effective. O’Sensei later became one of Hara’s closest students and assistants.

Prof. Duncan also continued to serve his country as an active reservist in U.S. Marine Corp Reserves from 1959 until 1962. In 1964 O’Sensei opened his first martial arts school which was located at 519 Court Street in Brooklyn. The Bushido School of Self-Defense offered instruction in knife-fighting, knife-throwing, stick-fighting, and various forms of unarmed combat. The training was hard, grueling, realistic and often bordered on brutality.

The School’s business card also listed ninjutsu. The ninjutsu class was first of all “closed door” instruction. Not surprisingly, in the mid- to late ’60s the hard core of the ninjutsu class was comprised of only a dozen or so well-read and well-seasoned martial artists. Friday was exclusively ninjutsu night and the single class session often ran from 7:00 pm to 12:00 am there were times when training would last till 2 or 3 am in the morning. No one was admitted in late, no one was permitted to leave early, and visitors were not welcome.

The 1950’s and 60’s was a time in America when whites and blacks were still segregated in much of the country. During Prof. Duncan’s days in the United States Marine Corps in Jacksonville, North Carolina, while he was training under Ernie Cates, Cates had received death threats from the Klu Klux Klan because Cates had allowed a black man to train at his dojo.

America would also become involved in the Vietnam War. It was turbulent time in the United States, anti war protests, peace rallies, the Civil Rights movement, non violent protests and civil disobedience produced crisis situations between activists and U.S. Government authorities.

Many Americans during this time thought only Asians could teach the martial arts. Prof. Duncan also found himself battling those who believed that teaching Japanese styles was an affront to the Asian Culture. He rose above the challenges of the political and social unrest. Unlike much of the country at the time Prof. Duncan’s school wasn’t segregated. His students came from all walks of life, all ages and abilities. He respected and welcomed them all, never criticized anyone and inspired those who attended his classes to not only become better martial artists but better human beings as well.

Students from his school had great success on the tournament circuits of those days and he had already had series of articles published in the martial art magazines of the day. Professor Ronald Duncan became the first non-oriental to be publically recognized in “Official Karate” magazine as a master of martial arts weaponry.

In an article by Official Karate Magazine in August of 1971 the magazine recognizes Sensei Ronald Duncan.

“He is a nidan in the American Ka-rate Federation, a shodan in the Ameri-can Judo and Ju-Jitsu Federation, a shomokoroku in the Nippon Sosuishiryu Ju-Jitsukai, a godan in the Hakkoryu Ju-Jutsu Federation, and, although he doesn’t call himself a Master of Ninjit-su, he’s about the only one. Ronald Duncan is a man of many titles, but all deservedly earned and backed up by a multitude of talents; almost as many as the amount of weapons he is master of.” – Official Karate

A practical practitioner of the martial arts he crossed trained constantly always striving to broaden and develop his skills and knowledge. His Way of the WindsTM system encompasses a comprehensive approach to all of the many facets of Ronald Duncan’s history as a martial artist.

Self defense and combative strategies were the main emphasis of training, his students were exposed to the martial arts techniques of jujitsu, aiki-jujitsu, kobujitsu (weaponry), and Kempo. The techniques within the system rely on the essence of body movements (taijutsu) for unarmed defensive tactics such as joint locking and throws, evasive movements and striking patterns.

Professor Duncan did not neglect modem weaponry. He was a certified instructor and expert in firearms, and competition shooting with over 200 competition shooting awards. Having such knowledge in firearms, Professor Duncan was quite proficient in combative and gun disarming tactics.

Since the establishment of his Way of the WindsTM System O’ Sensei not only taught civilians but he worked with military and law enforcement personnel, and various government agencies in foreign countries. The Federal Bureau of Investigation expressed its appreciation to Prof. Duncan for his “Exceptional Service in the Public Interest” signed by the Assistant Director of the FBI.

Black belt magazine commemorated their 50 years of publication in a 5 part series of articles in which they list the highlights from the martial arts world during the magazine’s first half century of martial arts coverage. In the January 2011 issue, they recognized that O’Sensei Duncan was the first person to teach Ninjutsu in the United States in 1964.

Prof. Duncan was the first to practice and teach Ninjutsu in the states and was a consistent, persistent presence on the martial arts scene. Acknowledged as the

“Once a Marine, always a Marine O’Sensei Duncan “Father of American Ninjutsu” he

working with U.S. Marine Intelligence in 1980 was one who dared to do what others were afraid to attempt first. A polite, quiet, humble man who did not seek fame or fortune but rather he felt a commitment to his students and exhibited a sense of loyalty, respect and fair play to those around him. A hardworking dedicated martial artist, son, a United States Marine, a husband, a father, a grandfather and great grandfather, the eternal student whose teachings, wisdom, expertise and unselfishness have touched so many over the years of his life and his example serves as a true inspiration to us all.

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