(Photo by Thomas Sanders)
For some, teaching is nothing more than a steady
master George Kirby, it’s a calling that he’s uniquely
and undeniably suited for.
Long before the Brazilian
revolution swept the United States, the amiable Kirby
began studying the gentle art to help deal with the
stress of grad school. Little did he know that his
tutelage under sensei Jack “Sanzo” Seki was the
beginning of a martial arts journey that would shape
America’s understanding of jujutsu for decades to come.
By 1968, Seki could sense Kirby’s potential as an
instructor and told him and fellow-student Bill Fromm
about an opening at a local YMCA in Burbank, California.
When Kirby pointed out that as brown belts they were too
inexperienced to teach, Seki responded, “Now you’re both
black belts. Act like it.”
And so began the teaching career of one of traditional
jujutsu’s most respected and beloved masters. A year
later, Kirby followed another one of Seki’s suggestions
and collaborated with Fromm to form the
Association. Under Kirby’s stewardship,
first as president and now as chairman, the AJA has
grown into a governing body renowned for bringing
together jujutsu practitioners from around the world.
He’s also the founder and chairman of the Budoshin
Ju-Jitsu Dojo Inc., a nonprofit educational foundation,
Budoshin Ju-Jitsu Yudanshakai,
a research and educational foundation.
Kirby’s collaborations are too numerous to list in their
entirety, but a few of the groups he’s donated his time
to helping are the Budo Centre International, Nippon
Seibukan, Shorinji Ryu JuJitsu Association and World
Head of Family Sokeship Council.
Despite his busy schedule as an ambassador of the arts,
teaching has always been Kirby’s passion. Following his
sensei’s advice, Kirby taught jujutsu and self-defense
at the Burbank YMCA until 1974, when he received an
opportunity to expand his program with the Burbank Parks
and Recreation Department. His partnership with the city
lasted until 1996, when he decided to take on the
challenge of launching a new jujutsu program for the
city of Santa Clarita, California, where he continues to
share what he’s learned. Along the way, he perfected his
craft in the public-school system, where he taught
jujutsu and social studies for nearly four decades.
Following the Rodney King controversy, Kirby worked with
a handful of other nationally known martial artists to
develop for the Los Angeles Police Department what would
become one of the nation’s best arrest-and-control
training programs. In 1998 the city of Los Angeles
awarded him a Certificate of Appreciation for his role
as a defensive-tactics consultant on the Civilian
Martial Arts Advisory Panel.
The LAPD isn’t the only organization to recognize
Kirby’s outstanding work. The California Branch Jujitsu
Federation twice awarded him the title of Outstanding
Instructor, and he’s earned the Amateur Athletic Union
Jujitsu National Sports Award and a certificate of honor
from the Federation of Practicing Jujutsuans.
His dedication to teaching extends well beyond the
classroom and the dojo. A prolific writer, Kirby
has penned a half-dozen
jujutsu, and his essays have appeared in numerous
publications, including Black Belt. He’s also
preserved his teachings digitally with an eight-part DVD
In 2000 Kirby reached the pinnacle of his profession
when he was promoted to judan, or 10-degree black
belt. In recognition of his 40 years of teaching,
Black Belt is proud to induct him into its Hall of
Fame as 2007 Instructor of the Year.
(This profile originally appeared in the December
2007 issue of Black Belt.)