The Story of Gentle Ways

History By Founder Vern Borgen, 2005  This year marks the 20th Anniversary of Gentle Ways, Inc. and I thought it would be fun to let everyone know how our organization got started and how we got to where we are today. I began teaching at NDSU as an assistant instructor to Leigh English in 1978. Leigh moved to the east coast in August 1980 and in September Sam Rudd, Norden Lunde and I began teaching judo at NDSU. Sam, Norden and I were all brown belts at the time. The "Class" was part class and part club. The practices were held in the Wrestling Room at the Bison Sports Arena, the space was huge, we had 4,800 SF of mat; and 80 students in the beginning, intermediate and advanced classes each quarter. Thinking back I think the only thing we really had was a passion for judo! While on vacation in California in 1980 I met Gerald Lafon, who put me in contact with the United States Judo Association (USJA). I got a response from Phil Porter; he put me in touch with two judo black belts from Valley City, ND: Tim Cruff and George Colwell. Tim and George served as technical advisors to the judo club for over a year. In the fall of 1980 the students formally organized the NDSU Judo Club; there were about 25 people in the club in 1981. We had a great time, sponsored tournaments and clinics; and socially, the club was a very tight group. In 1981 F. Robert Whelan, 5th dan judo, started a judo dojo in Fargo called the Physical Arts Training Center. The Center had judo, karate, gymnastics and dance. I had responsibility for 4 judo classes a week there and was also teaching 3 classes a week at NDSU. I earned my black belt while training with Sensei Whelan. Unfortunately, the Center was in an old building, without adequate insulation and it failed in the second year due to excessive heating costs over the winter. We had a lot of fun at the dojo and as a group wanted to continue to bring the local community into our judo program. Early in 1984 I started to develop plans to form a non profit corporation, so we could establish a local judo dojo. This corporation became known as Gentle Ways, Inc. I contacted several local fraternal organizations, shared with them our dream and received a donation of $1,000 from the Fargo VFW to get started. I wrote the constitution and bylaws and worked with a local attorney to incorporate Gentle Ways. I rented an old church at the corner of 5th Street and 6th Avenue that was formerly "Mother's Records," a record store and head shop. The NDSU Judo Club set about painting and preparing the building for our first practice. I rented a wrestling mat and in February of 1985 we started classes at the new dojo. Over the summer I bought lumber and we built a plywood floor with 500 tennis balls as springs. Then in the fall of 1985 I purchased a new mat for the dojo. We had a smooth and steady growth over a period of a year and a half. The kid's classes, on Saturday mornings, led by Sensei Bill Lucas, grew to about 25 students. By the Fall of 1985 we were having a Saturday afternoon tournament once a month. But in the winter of 1985 and 1986 we experienced several very cold months in which our utility bills were over $1,000 each month. We slowly ran out of money; I had already put in over $12,000 of my own money and was giving engineering time to the landlord every month as part of the rent and I personally couldn't afford to give another cent. I tried the Fraternal Organizations one more time but didn't get anything, it was time to find a cheaper place to work out. We closed the doors in May of 1986 and moved the program to Trollwood Village for the summer, and practiced in the loft of an old barn. [As a side note, at the time I really felt that my investment in time and money was going to be a money maker! The reality still hasn't settled in completely!] In the Fall of ?86 we moved the judo program to the basement of the Civic Center. In the spring of '87 we put on a demonstration at the West Acres Shopping Mall, I was approached by one of the senior staff members of the FM YMCA and was invited to teach judo at the Y, which I accepted. The NDSU Judo Club continued as a separate organization on-Campus. So at this time there were 2 Judo classes at NDSU and 3 classes per week at the YMCA. The NDSU Judo Club was working out 1 or 2 nights a week on their own. Bill Lucas was teaching the Kids Judo. About 1990 Michael Smith began teaching a judo class on the south side of Fargo near 32nd Avenue South, in a building that was rented by Jim Grimestead. Master Grimestead is the head instructor at Red River Traditional TaeKwonDo. That judo program lasted for about a year, as I recall, and folded when Michael took a job out of town. In 1995 Ken Nysether approached me; he wanted to start teaching judo in Bismarck. Ken started teaching classes in Carrie (Erickson) Sorenson's garage (now Russell's wife). Gentle Ways loaned Ken some mats and gave him some money to start. This marked a turning point in the structural operations of Gentle Ways -- we were no longer a local organization, we had our first satellite club. Several other clubs followed in succession: Sam and Jeff's club in Saint Cloud, Nels' club in Minneapolis, Steve and Jane's in Minneapolis, Tim's in Valley City (now at MSUM), the Red River dojo in Fargo, the Rough Riders Judo Club in Dickinson headed by Jeff Ficek and Nick Lambert. And as of January 2005, there is talk of establishing a study group in Fergus Falls that will be headed by Dane Ankeny. In the mid '90s we attached Tim Cruff's Hakkoryu Karate Organization to Gentle Ways as a subsidiary. Over the years, many outstanding judoka trained with us. Tim Cruff and George Colwell, both 2nd dan judo, trained with us in 1980 and 1981. Mike Penny, head coach of the Grand Forks YMCA Judo Club, drove to Fargo a couple of times a week for several years to train with us from 1980 to 1984, he currently has a club in Omaha, Nebraska. Tom Belmont, head coach of a judo program in Oakes, North Dakota, trained with us at least once a month from 1980 to 1984. Lee Sands, a national competitor at San Jose State, was from Moorhead and every time he visited his family he would stop by for a workout. Bassam Aljazayurli, 3rd dan judo, twice Kuwait national champion, trained with us from 1981 to 1986. Marko Yarek, physics professor at NDSU, national place winner in Yugoslavia, in judo and Greco Roman wrestling, trained with us from 1982 to 1985. Ken Hashimoto, 2nd dan judo, a competitive judo player in high school, trained with us while he completed his studies at NDSU from 1984 to 1990. Rene Capo trained with us a couple of times in '86 & '87, he attended college at MSU on a football scholarship, later he competed in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics. Dr. Oscar Fernandez, M.D., 3rd dan judo, two time national judo champion, Pan American Bronze medalist, while completing his Residency in Fargo, trained with us from 1988 to 1992. Tom Layon, National and International Kata champion, National Masters Shiai Champion trained with us a couple of times. There were a couple others whose names I don't recall at the moment -- one was a policeman from Taiwan, 1st dan, another was a 3rd dan from Japan, and a good brown belt named Eric Elbert from Florida. I'm sorry I didn't keep a diary! I am guessing at the dates as I have nothing but memories to guide me -- and my mind has never been good with dates and now I am getting old on top of that!!! Over the years Gentle Ways has sponsored many clinics: 1. Charlie Robinson, 7th dan judo, Chairman of the USJA Promotion board, was here for a one week summer camp in 1990. Charlie sponsors an annual judo camp, "Camp Bushido West," in northern California every summer. I have been to that camp 4 times. Others in our group have also attended the camp, some people multiple times. I met Charlie originally at Camp Bushido in Colorado Springs, CO in 1982. Charlie took us under his wing and started calling us the Nodakians, a name he still uses to this day. 2. Sensei Jose Bueno has been to Fargo 4 or 5 times. Sensei Bueno received an International Silver Life Time Achievement award for his long service to the martial arts community. The first I heard about Sensei Bueno was when NDSU students returned from Camp Bushido West one summer, excited about this new instructor they had met. 3. Tim Cruff has sponsored Darrell Craig on three occasions. Sensei Craig is an internationally recognized author, martial artist and a wonderful teller of stories. 4. Steve Cunningham, 6th dan judo, has been to Fargo 3 times. Steve serves as Technical Director for United States Judo Association (USJA). Steve was an uchideshi to Taizo Sone, who was a direct student of Jigoro Kano, Kotaro Okano and Hidekazu Nagaoka (10th dans under Kano), and Zenpai Kondo (Jujutsu Menkyo Kaiden), among others. Note: I have been extremely particular about who I have invited for clinics, there are horror stories of guest instructors injuring clinic participants and I felt it was my responsibility to prevent that from happening here. One of my criteria has been that I have trained personally with an instructor before I invite them to Fargo, or have a personal friend or student who has. In the case of Steve Cunningham; I got such a good feeling through my correspondence with him that I decided to give into my intuition and invited Steve here in October of 1988 without having trained with him previously. And it was a very good decision!!! 5. Moe Oye, the head coach from the University of Manitoba has put on 3 clinics in Fargo also. Sensei Oye took me under his wing, so to speak, in the early 80s, and invited me to stay at his home and train with the University of Manitoba Judo Club on numerous occasions. 6. Hal VonLubbert has been to Fargo twice. Hal was a national champion wrestler and national place winner in judo. Hall was internationally ranked even when he was in his 50s. I met Hal at Camp Bushido in Colorado Springs, CO. 7. Karl Peterson has put on two Iaido (sword) seminars in Bismarck. Karl is a student of Sensei Dale Schwertfager, master swordsman and Takeda Ryu Jujitsu master. I was fortunate and got to train with Sensei Schwertfager for several years. 8. Keo Cavalcanti, 6th dan Zen Judo, has been to Fargo twice. I had written Ed Szrejter, then the executive director of the USJA, a letter about the lack of opportunities for judo clubs practicing judo as a martial art. Ed forwarded my letter to Keo and I got a nice response from him about Zen Judo. A few months later, while on a business trip to Washington DC I met Keo and it was just like we were long lost brothers! We trained one afternoon in his dojo and I was hooked with Keo as an instructor and with Zen Judo as a Martial art. One of my students, Ed Stockwell, after graduation moved to the east coast and trained with Keo. Ed is currently a sandan in Zen Judo and has is own judo club in Charlottesville. 9. Mark Berger, bronze medallist in the 1984 Olympics was here once. I had trained with Mark at the University of Manitoba. 10. Leigh English returned to Fargo and put on the first clinic at the Gentle Ways Dojo on 5th street and 6th avenue soon after we opened. 11. F. Robert Whelan, 5th dan judo. I first met Bob at an invitational judo tournament sponsored by the NDSU Judo club in the spring of 1981. After the shiai each coach was asked to teach some of his favorite techniques. Bob started the Physical Arts Training Center in Fargo in the fall of 1981. 12. At the same clinic I met Mok Tokko, 5th dan judo, professor at UND. Sensei Tokko ran the Grand Forks YMCA Judo Club prior to Mike Penny. 13. Phillip Porter, 10th dan judo put on a clinic in Fargo several years ago. Sensei Porter was one of the originators of the USJA and the founder of the USMA. I met Phil though correspondence when he was the president of the USJA and then met him in person when I attended my first Camp Bushido in 1982. 14. Ed Szrejter, 8th dan judo, was a guest instructor at Kangeiko one year. Ed was the executive director of the USJA for many years. Tim Cruff trained in Ed's Judo Club at Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station for many years and I had trained with Ed at Camp Bushido. 15. Francis Glaze, 5th dan judo, National and Pan American Kata Champion. Jana Seaborn brought Francis here for a kata clinic. Jana and Francis earned a gold medal at US Nationals in the Goshin Jitsu. Francis is the co-chairperson for the USJF Kata Clinic. 16. Clint (Chip) Olmstead, 6th dan jujitsu, put on a one day clinic for us in the late 80s. Chip also taught Goju Ryu Karate at the Gentle Ways Dojo at 5th street and 6th Avenue. 17. And the infamous John Holms from Minneapolis, the founder of Jacket Wrestling, also put on a clinic in Fargo in 1985. That was a relationship that started, peaked and died in about 3 months! It was shortly after this clinic that I instituted my rule that I would never invite anyone to Fargo without personally training with them first. It was not that anybody was injured at the clinic, nobody was. In fact we really learned a lot, John is a knowledgeable martial artist and an excellent teacher, but the experience overall left such a bad taste in our mouth that I adopted the new rule. 18. Mike Bowser earned a black belt in judo in Fargo and while attending school in San Diego earned a 1st dan black belt in Iaido and 2nd dan in DaitoRyu Jujutsu. Mike was also one of the few people who have been selected for Chiba Sensei's advanced class (Chiba is a famous Aikido teacher who is VERY selective about his advanced students.) Mike put on several mini-seminars for us. 19. Guy Hagen earned his brown belt in Fargo and went on to earn a 3rd dan in Aikido and black belts in several other martial arts. For many years he has been training with Sensei John Mensores in Florida. Guy returned to Bismarck last summer and put on a clinic. Jeff Ficek arranged for Guy and his sensei, Sensei Mensores to put on a clinic in Dickinson in November 2005. 20. Urban Kiernan earned his 1st kyu brown belt in Fargo and then moved to Arizona to attend graduate school. While there he earned a black belt. Urban cross trained in "No Holds Barred Grappling" and Sambo. If I recall correctly, Urban earned a Silver medal at US Sambo Nationals. Urban returned to Fargo a couple of years ago at Kangeiko and showed us some of the stuff he had learned. 21. It seems like Tim Cruff, 4th dan judo, has been with us forever and I mean that only in the best sense of the word! When I started teaching at NDSU many years ago, Phil Porter told me to look up Tim Cruff from Valley City. I did and Tim and I became close friends. Tim has shared his tremendous knowledge over numerous training sessions, uncountable clinics and conversation over so many, many beers that a person could get tipsy just thinking about it. 22. Sam Rudd, 4th dan judo, left Fargo in the early 80s and joined the Army. Much of his tour was spent in Ft Lewis, Washington; he trained there with Jerry Dalien and earned his black belt. Sam has a judo club in St. Cloud. 23. Jana Seaborn, 3rd dan judo, began her training at NDSU in the mid 80s. Jana was a National Kata Champion in 2001 and has placed in National Master's competition on two occasions. Jana is currently the secretary of the USJF Kata Committee and trains most years with the Joshi Judo group headed by Keiko Fukuda, 9th dan. Jana teaches judo at MSUM. 24. The list is yet longer? it includes Jeff Pryzbilla, 4th dan judo, who started his training at NDSU in 1981. Ken Nysether, 2nd dan judo, started judo at NDSU and started a judo club in Bismarck. Russell Sorenson, 2nd dan judo, started judo at NDSU and has joined Ken in Bismarck. Clyde Lewis, 1st dan judo, trains in St. Cloud -- Clyde has black belts in several styles of jujutsu and karate. Randy Marvel started his judo training at the YMCA and is a brown belt in judo -- Randy is the head instructor of the FM YMCA Jujutsu and karate program in Fargo. Sorry, if I missed anyone! Gentle Ways also sponsored many judo tournaments in the '80s. Many of them were local but there were also 4 or 5 State Championships and about as many regional events with contestants from Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Manitoba and Japan. We had an opportunity to see some very fine judo. There are some fine stories, but one that sticks in my mind was a tournament in '82 or '83. Mark Berger and a Japanese Judoka visiting in Minneapolis fought in the open division. Berger went on to a bronze medal in the heavy weight division in the 1984 Olympics. The Japanese Judoka's name was I believe, Fujikawa. Fujikawa had taken a silver metal in the Japanese Collegiate Championships in the under 172 pounds weight category and had earned a silver medal in the World Sambo Championships. Those people in attendance were amazed at the action. Berger finally won with a koka score. Fujikawa just pounded his opponents, I have never seen anyone throw so smoothly with such power. As a group we attended a lot of tournaments with trips to Winnipeg, Dryden, Minneapolis, Wisconsin, Iowa, Grand Forks, Bismarck, and half a dozen trips to US Nationals. There were a lot of clinics and camps also. In addition Gentle Ways has helped pay expenses for sensei and athletes to numerous clinics and tournaments. There have been literally thousands of people in the Gentle Ways program since it started. And people have been what the program is all about, more so than clinics and tournaments. About 2,500 students have come through the NDSU Judo Program, add to that the people who have trained with the other dojos in our system and this is an incredible number of people. About 25 people have earned black belts and 60 to 80 people have earned brown belts while training with us. What a delightful program this has become and an honor for me to be associated with it. My resignation As of Kangeiko this year, I will be resigning as President of Gentle Ways and as the Executive Director of Gentle Ways, Inc. It has been a very rewarding period of time for me and I wish to thank everyone who has contributed something to the growth of Judo in this region. I don't plan to retire from judo. I am going to continue my study of judo, continue to teach at Red River Judo, work on a judo referee certification and a few other projects. Best luck to everyone. Sincerely, Vern Vern Borgen, President/Executive Director Gentle Ways, Inc. Fargo, North Dakota 58102 At Kangeiko of 2005, Sensei Ken Nysether of the Bismarck Gentle Ways Judo Dojo was installed as President of Gentle Ways.