|CHRISTOPHER N. GEARY
||PROFILE OF A MARTIAL ARTS MASTER
"Professor, Congratulations! I am so incredibly proud and happy for you. Your drive and determination to pursue a goal are strengths that you have in abundance. I can only agree with the things Dr. Nesbitt has said about your character and ability to run your own system. There is no doubt in my mind that you will continue to develop and improve it in the years ahead and I am sure it will be a legacy to you.
Again, my warmest, sincerest and most heartfelt congratulations to you for a well-deserved recognition. It's not hollow or 'bought and paid for', but yours for many years of singular determination and focus on your desired outcome. This along, quite apart from any actual martial art, is something that we all can learn from, and something that I hope all your students see and seek to emulate. I'm proud to know you and to have been associated with you - even in the small way that I was."
~ David Wallace
I have never been the type of person who is satisfied with past accomplishments. Life is more rewarding when you are striving for new challenges than when you are standing still. It seems that I am always looking ahead to the next achievement.
After five years as a member of the National College of Martial Arts, I was grateful for all the guidance and encouragement that had been provided to me by Hanshi Lou Angel. However, it was time to make some changes, so I began looking for new challenges and opportunities to excel as a person and as a martial artist. After doing some research, I got in touch with Dr. Keith Nesbitt, Sr., a world-renowned Grandmaster who lives in Marion, NY. We talked for a while and Dr. Nesbitt checked out my background, and he decided to promote me to the rank of tenth-degree black belt (Judan 10th Dan), the highest black belt ranking in the martial arts.
On July 10, and July 12, 2006, I received a letter and two certificates in the mail from Dr. Nesbitt (click here to view). At my request, Dr. Nesbitt post-dated all three items for September 1, 2006. In the letter, he welcomed me to his organization, the International Martial Arts Masters Federation. The Black Belt Certification says that I have been promoted to “Judan 10th Dan” rank and “found to be of good character, sound morals, and a leader among martial artists everywhere.” The other certificate says that I am the Founder of my system, Christopher N. Geary’s Shaolin Ch’uan Fa, and that I am “hereby registered with The International Martial Arts Masters Federation as Soke/Head of Family with all rights and privileges hereto appertaining.”
Being promoted to Tenth Dan by Dr. Nesbitt made me the second youngest Judan (tenth-degree black belt) Grandmaster in the world at age 35, and the youngest person in the United States ever to have achieved this rank through legitimate means. Grandmaster Eizo Shimabukuro (Photo) of Okinawa, Japan, received his tenth-degree certification from Kanken Toyama in 1959 at 34 years of age. On September 1, 2006, a reporter from KPTM Fox TV visited my Corporate Headquarters to interview me about my promotion to Tenth Dan. Click here to view the interview. As we all know, media people sometimes like to put their own spin on things, which can lead to inaccuracies. For example, they said, "That's why Professor Chris Geary said he is the top dog in kempo karate." I never said that. Also, when they said, "Today he was recognized as the youngest tenth-degree....," they faded into a picture of Sijo Gascon, from whom I received my sixth-degree black belt in 2004. And when they mentioned my tenth-degree black belt, they faded into a close-up of my sixth-degree black belt that I received from Hanshi Angel in 2004, not the tenth-degree black belt that I received from Dr. Nesbitt in 2006. At the end they said that I had three schools, but at that time (September 1, 2006) I had two schools, not three. I would like to thank my students Russ Dunham and Dr. Mark Milone and also Ken and Pam Kilzer (parents of children in the school) for coming out to support me and to be interviewed. (The interview with Russ Dunham was included in the news broadcast, but the others were not.) In addition, I would like to thank Steven Wray and Jim O'Connell for coming out so I could demonstrate techniques on them for the news clip.
You might wonder why I used the word “legitimate” above. Many people are unaware that some martial artists try to trick the public by promoting themselves to the rank of tenth-degree black belt or by having their students promote them. Needless to say, this type of promotion is meaningless. Legitimate black belt promotions are made only by someone of higher rank, not self-proclaimed or awarded by someone of lower rank (such as a student). During my career in the martial arts, in my black belt rankings, I have received ranks, titles, and recognition from seven different martial artists/organizations of higher rank than myself.
I was honored to be promoted by Dr. Nesbitt, who began training in the martial arts in 1974 and holds the rank of Tenth Dan in two systems. Dr. Nesbitt is President of the International Martial Arts Masters Federation, Vice-President of the Sayokan World Federation, and President of the United States Sayokan Federation. He is a tenth-degree black belt, Founder, and Grandmaster of the Pylsungdo martial art system, and he is also a tenth-degree black belt in Sayokan Goshinkaikan, a Turkish martial arts system. Dr. Nesbitt has 47 schools in Turkey, as well as schools in Iran, Pennsylvania, and New York.
Among his other achievements, Dr. Nesbitt set four world records during the 1980s and 1990s and was recognized in the 1989 Guinness Book of World Records. In 1986 he set a new record for board breaking. A man from Omaha held the previous record of breaking 1,000 boards in 5-1/2 hours, and Dr. Nesbitt set a new record by breaking 1,015 boards in 3-1/2 hours. In 1988 he broke the world record for high kicks, which had to be done at ear level. The previous record was 10,502 kicks in 5 hours and 24 minutes, and Dr. Nesbitt did 10,508 kicks in the same period of time. He explained, “I did it because my sister had a kidney transplant and I wanted to raise money for the Kidney Foundation.” In 1990 he set a new record for brick breaking—100 bricks in 14.7 seconds—and then he went on to break his own record in 1999.
Dr. Nesbitt compared Pylsungdo and Sayokan as follows: “Pylsungdo is real-life self-defense, with no equipment—no gloves, no headgear, no footgear. The only equipment we use is a mouthpiece and a groin cup. It’s full contact, a knockdown system, and it’s somewhat brutal. It’s not for everybody. Sayokan is the Turkish martial art system. It is a knockdown system also, and a system of competition as well as self-defense. Pylsungdo is only for real-life street self-defense; it is not a point system, and it’s not a system for sparring. Sayokan is a tremendous system of self-defense for real life, and it also is a knockdown system for competition.”
In a telephone interview with Omaha writer Janet Tilden on July 5, 2006, Dr. Nesbitt traced his career in the martial arts. He recalled, “During the 1970s there was a man in our church who was a preacher, and he was a black belt. I had known him for about a year before I even knew that he was a black belt. I began training with him, all the way up to first-degree black belt. Then I went to a different teacher. I trained under several good martial art masters and worked my way up to Master’s ranking and then to Grandmaster. I received my tenth-degree black belt in Pylsungdo from Grandmaster Ted Vollrath. He was in a B-rated movie, ‘Mr. No Legs.’ Grandmaster Vollrath was a double-leg amputee and the first man to earn a martial arts black belt from a wheelchair. He lost both of his legs at age 18 to a mortar shell when he was a U.S. Marine serving in the Korean War.”
“Chuck Norris (the famous martial artist and actor) and Ted Vollrath grew up together,” said Dr. Nesbitt, “and when Norris wrote his book on courage, he dedicated part of it to Grandmaster Vollrath and talked about his injuries and how he persevered. For about ten years, Grandmaster Vollrath was responsible for interviewing Pennsylvania candidates for admission to military academies. He also was instrumental in the state of Pennsylvania and throughout the United States for making sure all public buildings are accessible to people in wheelchairs. They did a documentary on him and took pictures of him in front of his church, which he couldn’t go into because it wasn’t wheelchair accessible. Somebody sponsored a bill on his behalf, and they passed a law that all municipal buildings in Pennsylvania had to be wheelchair accessible. It spread to the rest of the U.S., so his legacy goes on today. When Grandmaster Vollrath got sick near the end of his life, he put me in charge of his organization. I was promoted to ninth-degree black belt in 2001, and then two weeks later the Grandmaster passed away and the tenth degree was passed to me.”
“My other tenth-degree black belt is in Sayokan Goshinkaikan, the Turkish martial art system founded and led by Yabgu Nihat Yigit of Ankara, Turkey,” Dr. Nesbitt continued. “Nihat is like a brother to me, and as a matter of fact we call each other brother. He is one of the finest martial artists and individuals I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and training with. In 2002 the Turkish government asked me to come over and review the Sayokan system so they could decide whether to approve it. In Turkey you can’t even teach a karate system unless it’s approved by the government. I reviewed the system and told them it was one of the best I’d ever seen. I had such an interest in it that the government promoted me to tenth-degree black belt in the system and asked me to take it under my direction. Yabgu Nihat Yigit had created this system, but he didn’t have anyone over him. He asked me if I would be his overseer, and I told him he didn’t need me to oversee him, but I would be glad to help him in any way I could. I promoted him to Tenth Dan so that his system could be legitimate as far as politics. He asked me to be a vice-president of the federation in Turkey. I started a Sayokan federation in the United States and then transferred it back to Ankara, Turkey. I’m the president of the federation in this country.”
In addition to being a dedicated martial artist, Dr. Nesbitt is a committed Christian. He is a non-denominational minister with a bachelor’s degree from Faith Bible College, a master’s degree from Faith Bible Theological Seminary, and two doctoral degrees from Southern Indiana Bible College: a Ph.D. in Theology and a Ph.D. in Psychology. He is an ordained minister and Chief Counselor at the New Life Center.
Dr. Nesbitt is retired from the New York State Department of Transportation. He is on Inactive Reserve status with the New York National Guard, where he holds the rank of Captain and serves as chaplain/psychologist. In the National Guard, Inactive Reserve has the same meaning as being retired.
In working with students, Dr. Nesbitt said that he views the martial arts as an educational system that should go far beyond learning how to kick and punch. “Our students should be able to expect certain things from us as teachers and instructors. We need to realize that our job doesn’t stop at the end of a training class. Our teaching should spill over into our students’ everyday lives. I get involved in students’ schoolwork. Students are required to bring their report cards to me, and their grades must be passing. They can start class with a failing grade, but by the end of the first marking period it has to be up to passing or they can’t take the class. If they become a discipline problem at home, then the parents are encouraged to tell me, and most of them do. Then I figure out some sort of discipline. First I talk to them, and then sometimes I have to suspend them from class.”
Dr. Nesbitt puts a high value on developing good work ethics. “If students are 14 years old or older, I want them to pay for their own martial art training. In the State of New York, you can get working papers at age 14 and you can cut grass, you can shovel snow, you can babysit. They need to learn how to work, and they need to learn the value of money. If students pay for their own training it means more to them and they will work harder.”
He continued, “The martial arts are more than kicking and punching—so much more—it’s a way of life that we try to instill in the student. It includes integrity and a good solid sense of self-worth. I teach an American system, so I’m not going to try and get them to learn the Korean language, Korean philosophy or history. When I was coming up through the ranks I had to learn that Wan Ho was a Buddhist monk who introduced Buddhism to the Seoul dynasty of Korea in 686 A.D. I had to learn that fact, and I never forgot it. Did it help me in any way? No. That’s why I would rather have my students learn the English language and be familiar with American History. I want them to know who delivered the Gettysburg Address and where he was when he delivered it, rather than what monk introduced Buddhism to the Seoul Dynasty of Korea. I want to be not just their teacher but their friend, and to reinforce their home life, reinforce a family culture, reinforce the fact that they need to work in this world or they’re never going to go anywhere, and they need integrity. And if they want to know about Jesus Christ, I’ll be glad to talk to them all day long about Him.”
“I’m a non-denominational minister,” said Dr. Nesbitt. “Right now I go to a Baptist Church, but I don’t believe in denominations. I can’t find them in the Bible anywhere, and most of them are man-made. I really don’t care about the sign in front of somebody’s church—all I want to know is this: if they took their last breath and they closed their eyes for the last time, do they know for sure that they’re going to go to Heaven? If they don’t, all they need to do is ask Jesus Christ into their heart, and they’re guaranteed a place in Heaven. That’s all I want them to know. People can talk about doctrine, and they can talk about this church and that church. I don’t want to talk about church; I want to talk about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If you don’t have one, I want to show you how you can get one and you can know for sure that you’re going to go to Heaven. That’s what I preach. I keep it simple.”
As President of the International Martial Arts Masters Federation, Dr. Nesbitt gets phone calls and e-mails from people all over the world. He said, “I have people calling me all the time, and they want rank. They want to be promoted here and promoted there. They hear about my name and my organization, and they read about me. I don’t try to sound boastful; I don’t have to impress anybody. I’m a Christian, and I try to be a humble man; I try to be like Jesus. But people do call me, and I check them out. One fellow from Iran called me. He wanted rank, and he wanted this and that. He told me had 5,000 students and he had several schools. I checked him out and found out he didn’t have any schools. He told me he was a kick boxing champion, and he wasn’t. I found out he was a rice salesman in Iran. There’s nothing wrong with being a rice salesman, but I don’t want people to tell me they’re a whole bunch of other things when they’re not. So then I had to turn him down. That’s why hearing from somebody like Christopher N. Geary is refreshing. I checked out his credentials to make sure he was legitimate before I decided to go ahead. I’ve done that, and he’s very legitimate.”
Dr. Nesbitt believes that too often, decisions about upper rank promotions are made solely on the basis of politics. He commented, “I think politics makes a disaster of the upper ranks in the martial arts. In the upper ranks, sometimes in the ninth-degree and the tenth-degree ranking, they often give rank away. I know in some areas of Pennsylvania, they give rank away like it’s nothing. I hate to see that, because I think the politics is really bad for the martial arts. We need to stay away from all the politics that we can, and just be teachers. If you’re not teaching, your black belt and 50 cents might get you a cup of coffee, because that’s all it’s worth if you’re not a teacher.”
Many people have asked Dr. Nesbitt to promote them to Tenth Dan, but he turns down most of these requests. Dr. Nesbitt remarked, "Some people have their own systems. Some want to start their own system, and they really don’t have a system yet. They want the rank so they can begin one. In other words, they want recognition for something that they’re going to do, rather than something that they’ve already accomplished. I don't think everyone who starts their own system should be a Tenth Dan. I have seen idiots leave their masters and start what they call their own system by changing a few techniques or katas but actually never do anything to benefit the martial arts or their students. [As of September 1, 2006] I have only promoted four people to Tenth Dan, including Christopher N. Geary. That rank is very special, because there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with the rank of Tenth Dan. You need to have character and integrity, because you have to learn how to be a teacher of teachers."
Dr. Nesbitt explained what is involved in being a teacher of teachers: “The Grandmaster has to guide teachers. You have to be able to show a teacher what it means to look at a student when they walk in the door and know whether they’ve had a bad day and how far to push them or back away from them. Or maybe you need to just give them a smile and a hug and say ‘I love ya!’ That’s what a Tenth Dan is. A Tenth Dan is not about how good somebody can fight or how good somebody can kick. Being a tenth-degree black belt means I know how to love my students and I know how to serve them. When I was studying in Bible college, I learned that a leader must be above his people, but he must also be among his people. If he’s not among them, he doesn’t know what their needs are. He doesn’t know how they feel and he doesn’t know how to lead them. So a Tenth Dan must be above his people for authority purposes, but he also must be among his people for the purposes of loving and guiding them. Teachers have to know how the students feel, what they need, what they’re lacking, and if they’re ready for a promotion. Students are not ready for a promotion to the next belt level just because they know a kicking or punching technique. They’re ready for it when their instructor sees that they’ve matured to the next level. For every belt rank, there has to be another level of maturity.”
Some people may wonder why someone would be promoted from seventh-degree to tenth-degree rather than from seventh to eighth to ninth and finally to tenth. Dr. Nesbitt said, “I promoted Christopher from Seventh to Tenth Dan because he has done something that most men at his level haven’t done. I know that he can run his own system, because he’s been doing it for many years. It appears to me that his goals are high, and he has a great love for his students. He is a man of integrity and sound character. When you have a man like that, you want to give him the best that you can give him so that he can be the best and provide for his students the best way. If I had only given him Eighth Dan, there’s not really much difference from Seventh Dan. If you are below the rank of Tenth Dan, there’s always somebody who is looking to have authority over you—somebody who thinks that your students should pay them money instead of you. I didn’t want that. I wanted Christopher to have the freedom to do anything he wanted to do in his system. He has worked so hard he shouldn’t have to be taking the money from his students and giving it to someone else, because he’s doing all the work.”
I appreciate the honor granted to me by Dr. Nesbitt, and I wish him the best of luck in the future. As Dr. Nesbitt mentioned, being a tenth-degree black belt gives me a level of freedom that I didn’t have before the promotion.