Valley man earns world honors for developing martial arts technique
Induction into the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio, in March 2000 capped 30 years of involvement in Goju-Shorei for Johnson Lane resident Dave McNeill.
Many of McNeill’s students will honor him at a party during the American Jujitsu Institute’s Ohana Celebration in Hawaii in February.
At the Hall of Fame ceremony, McNeill was honored as Headfounder of the Year and Outstanding Master Instructor. Over the years, he estimates he has taught 400 to 500 students.
“There is a high dropout rate in the martial arts – it isn’t for everyone,” said McNeill, whose students are chiefly from the United States and Australia. “However, those students that stuck with it, they are the cream of the crop with good hearts. I’m looking forward to the party.”
McNeill didn’t start to train in the ancient martial arts until he moved to Reno in 1971, when he took a job as a data processor with the Department of Transportation. Raised in Idaho and living in San Diego, he preferred high contact sports.
“When I was in the fourth grade I came down with polio,” said McNeill. “The doctors put me in a wheelchair and said I would never walk again. I didn’t buy into that.”
McNeill proved the doctors wrong by becoming mobile with the aid of crutches and braces, and eventually ridding himself of those aids as well.
He took up boxing, swam competitively and in San Diego he played football “real-man style,” without pads.
“When I moved to Reno I was looking for something to replace football,” said McNeill. “I found Alexander Archie and Goju-Shorei Karate.”
With Archie as his instructor, McNeill obtained his black belt, but in 1982, illness struck again. McNeill was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylisits, also known as AS or bamboo spine. The disease attacks bones and joints and fuses them together. Especially affected is the spine.
“I went to the top AS guy at Stanford, but he didn’t give me much hope,” said McNeill, again facing the prospect of living his future years in a wheel chair. “There is no known cure, but I knew I wasn’t going to let it get to me. I pushed myself -you know, a rolling stone gathers no moss.”
Burdened with anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers, McNeill turned even more to karate for relief and exercise.
McNeill decided that the Goju-Shorei system needed a fresh approach with the teaching of weapons, specifically weapons that were legal and practical. He selected the cane, fan and knife, and with the consent of the governing body of Goju-Shorei, McNeill developed a structured weapons system that could be used by the public for self-defense as well as Goju-Shorei students.
The cane became the central focus of the system.
“You don’t have to be infirm to carry a cane. It used to be a fashion accessory,” said McNeill. “But when you think about it, who are the people who are attacked most frequently? The infirm are a target -people in wheelchairs, people who rely on canes. This weapons system meets the true tradition of marital arts – self defense with weapons that are legal and practical.”
Once the tools were identified, McNeill then had to create the katas, techniques and exercises for the new system, and establish ranking requirements.
“I competed in many tournaments in the 1980s, and the judges didn’t know how to categorize the cane,” said McNeill. “It has been a whole educational process. Many people refused to give credence to the cane as a weapon. I think if I had a mantra, it would be to attack all paradigms. If they hold up, perhaps they are true.”
In 1994, Goju-Shorei formally adopted McNeill’s weapons system.
“I am really blessed,” said McNeill. “I look back and wonder, how the heck did I do that? We are inspired only a couple of times in our lives. This was one of them.”
McNeill now has schools all over the United States and Australia. One student is a quadriplegic who has trained to an advanced belt. Another student is 77 years old. He has received personal testimonies from many handicapped students on the positive effect of the weapons system on their lives.
“Even though crime statistics are down, I don’t believe people’s fear is down,” said McNeill.
While McNeill developed the Goju-Shorei weapons system, his wife of 39 years, Mary Ann, focused on another aspect of marital arts traditions, the herbs and liniments associated with massage. McNeill was so impressed with the rejuvenating benefits of massage that he and Mary Ann now teach massage to all of his students.
“When they get dinged, we throw them on the table and get them back in shape,” said McNeill. “I have a new respect for how fragile and at the same time how durable is the human body.”
A heart attack in 1995 slowed McNeill down, but just for a while.
“The polio as a kid may have affected a valve in my heart, but I think it was stress-related,” said McNeill. “I haven’t had a symptom since I left my job that same year.”
McNeill continues teaching students, and in the back of the school is a workshop where he makes canes for his company, Cane Masters. He travels all over the world conducting seminars on the Goju-Shorei weapons systems and has made several videos on the subject. Tom Clancy also featured the combat cane in his novel, “Net Force.”
“The cane is such a practical tool and is legal everywhere in the world,” said McNeill. “But the fan is quickly becoming my favorite. I love what it can do.”
McNeill and Mary Ann have a son and a daughter who live in the Reno-Sparks area and four grandchildren. Their son used to be the top fighter in Nevada, but his game of preference is now golf. Their son-in-law is an advanced black belt and the assistant coach of the U.S. Sport Jujitsu team.
“It’s too young to tell for the grandkids,” said McNeill. “They range in age from 9 to 4 months.”
In addition to keeping supple with a daily regime of martial arts and a well-deserved massage, McNeill fights off the debilitating effects of AS by eating properly and taking plenty of vitamins.
“Mary Ann and I have a pact that we will see the age of 100 together,” said McNeill. “I’m having a great life, and it is far from over.”