Admired Martial Artists Month


There are some martial artists who just strike a cord with you.  There’s something special about them.  They make you want to work harder, be a better martial artist, and be a better person.  The following are some of my favorite martial artists.  I know each and every one of them personally.  In fact, most of them, at one time or another, either have been or are currently my teachers. 

March is going to be “Admired Martial Artists Month” here at Black Belt Mama; and I couldn’t be more excited to be featuring posts written by these amazing martial artists.  Some of you may have heard of them; some of you may have even met some of them at training events that have taken place around the country and the world.  One thing about them remains constant though. . . they are greatly admired and I am honored to be featuring one of these incredible martial artists each week during the month of March. 

Kyoshi Ann Marie Heilman

Mrs. Heilman is co-founder of the HKA, has been a student since 1968 and holds ranks of 8th Dan in Karate and 8th Dan in Kobudo. She has also been awarded her Kyoshi License making her one of the highest ranked women in the world and the highest in the Okinawa Kenpo system. Mrs. Heilman was also inducted into the Alliance Hall of Fame in 1996, making Mr. & Mrs. Heilman the only husband / wife team ever so honored. She was also named Pennsylvania Instructor of the Year along with Mr. Heilman. She has also been a World and National Champion in kata and weapons during her competitive career. Mrs. Heilman is recognized as one of the leading teachers of Women’s Self-Defense Programs in the States. She teaches, along with her husband, at the Heilman Karate Academy.

For the first few years of my training, I’d heard stories about Kyoshi Heilman from others who knew her.  There’s a story floating around about several men following her late one night.  Smaller in stature, she realized she had some possibly unwanted company, turned around to face the young men, and used the strongest voice she could muster to ask them what they wanted.  They walked away.  They were smart men.  I’ve watched Kyoshi H. throw 20-year old guys around with no effort at all. She’s an amazing martial artist and an amazing woman and I’m excited to introduce her to you here. 

Kyoshi Heilman’s posts:
Why Your Child is Not a Black B elt March 2008
Why a Kid Needs to Learn to Fail Successfully March 2009

Sandan Matthew Apsokardu

Matthew Apsokardu has been a student of the martial arts for 12 years and has acquired the rank of 3rd Dan Okinawa Kenpo Karate, 3rd Dan Okinawa Kenpo Kobudo.  He has also studied Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Kenjutsu for 3 years.  Matthew has participated in various martial art/self-defense demonstrations and has taught for 7 years.

Matthew graduated from Penn State University with a BA in Professional Writing.  His writing has appeared in the following publications: Blur: Creative Nonfiction anthology, Woven With Words: Historical Anthology,, The Houston Chronicle, Extra Law, eMediaWire, The Nosey Historian, Masters Magazine (pending), among others. He also has his own blog, Ikigai Way.

He has previously posted here on “Black Belt Mama” and also writes reviews for “The BBM Review.”

When I first started attending karate classes, I avoided “Mr. M’s” classes like the plague.  To be honest, I was really intimidated by him.  A college student at the time, he would walk into the dojo wearing this black gi and you just knew you didn’t want to mess with him.  Then, his class schedules changed, I moved up in rank and I started attending Mr. M’s classes.  He pushed me to become better and spent as much extra time as I needed to teach me things I needed to know.  He also took extra time with Big I too, which meant a lot to both of us. I knew his classes would be challenging but they made me work hard and think like never before. Now I have the distinct honor of calling him my teacher, my training partner and my friend.   

Sandan Apsokardu’s posts:

Holding True with a Warrior Mind December 2007
Where Will We Take the Martial Arts March 2008
The Importance of Control (Less Boring Than It Sounds) March 2009

Hanshi C. Bruce Heilman

Mr. Heilman has been a student of the arts since 1961. He holds ranks of 9th Dan in Karate, 9th Dan in Kobudo and 3rd Dan in Ju-Jitsu. He has been awarded his Hanshi (Grand Master Teacher) License in Karate & Kobudo and his Renshi (Teachers) License in Ju-Jitsu. He is Founder and President of the International Karate Kobudo Federation, President and Director of the Okinawa Kenpo Karate Kobudo Union, Founding Member and Vice President of the Union of Martial Arts Federations, and a past Board Member of Master Odo’s Okinawa Kenpo Karate Kobudo Federation, and serves as a Board Member of four other traditional martial arts organizations. In 1995, he was inducted into the United States Karate Alliance Hall of Fame, and in 1996 he was named Pennsylvania Instructor of the Year. In 1999 he was inducted into the Pennsylvania Karate Hall of Fame. He has also had an excellent competitive record becoming a multiple World and National championships in kata and weapons. Hanshi Heilman is recognized as one of the leading traditional stylists in the world today. He runs his own dojo, alongside his wife, Kyoshi Heilman.

Hanshi Heilman has an infectious laugh and personality.  When you’re around him, you know you’re in the presence of someone special. I have never seen someone so “in the zone” while doing kata.  I’ve also never been hit so insanely fast as when I first sparred with him.  You just don’t see it coming (It could be because you’re blinded by his continuous grin).  Full of amazing stories about trips to Okinawa and training with Master Trias and Master Odo, Hanshi Heilman is a true gem of a martial artist.  I am honored to train in his dojo, and I’m honored to present him here.

Hanshi Heilman’s Posts

An Overview of Okinawan Kobudo March 2008
There Are No Stances in Kobudo March 2009

Kyoshi William Hayes

Major Hayes was born on May 15th, 1945, in New York City and enlisted in the Marine Corps in August of 1964.  While on active duty he served at a number of major posts including two tours in Iwakuni, Japan, and three tours on Okinawa, where he capitalized on the availability of martial arts instruction in an effort to continue his karate training, which began in 1960.  He also served two voluntary tours of duty in Vietnam (66-67 & 69-70).  During his second tour as a Staff Sergeant he was part of a martial arts demonstration team and helped teach over 450 Vietnamese Nationals.  His efforts resulted in a number of awards and commendations.

In 1973, after only nine years of service, Hayes was selected for both the ranks of Gunnery Sergeant and Warrant Officer.  He chose to become a Marine Officer and graduated as his platoon’s honor man from the Warrant Officer Candidate Course in February of ’74 and thereafter served in a number of key billets as a Warrant Officer, Chief Warrant Officer, Company Grade Officer, and Field Grade Officer.  He retired in the grade of Major in October of 1990, the highest grade attainable in his military occupational speciality at the time. 

The Major is the Past President of the U. S. branches of the Okinawan Shorin-ryu Karate-do International Association and is also the past Historian of that Okinawa-based organization.  He publishes a quarterly international martial arts newsletter and is the author of an award-winning book, My Journey With The Grandmaster.

Major Hayes’ teaching credentials as well as his red and white obi were personally awarded to him by his instructor, Grandmaster Eizo Shimabukuro of Okinawa.  Bill Hayes is one of the most senior and well-known of the Grandmaster’s students and has dedicated much of his life to the study, preservation, and development of Okinawan martial arts.  Major Hayes has appeared on the cover of OFFICIAL KARATE magazine and is listed in the Encyclopedia of Martial Arts (Martial Arts: Traditions, History, People).  He has also appeared in England’s FIGHTING ARTS INTERNATIONAL and Norway’s SVARTE BELTE (BLACK BELT).  He has demonstrated Okinawan Karate and weaponry on several television programs and is featured in the 1994 video GREAT KARATE INSPIRATIONS.

Bill Hayes has been inducted into both the Karate Masters’ Hall of Fame and the American-Okinawan Karate Association Hall of Fame.  He is a charter member of the Marine Martial Arts Federation and is the recipient of both the NAACP’s Roy Wilkins’ Meritorious Service Award and the Marine Corps League’s Distinguished Service Award, which were bestowed upon him as a result of his martial arts expertise.

Major Hayes is currently the Director of the Okinawan Shorin-ryu Karate-do Research Society and is one of the United States Marine Corps’ three Subject Matter Experts on Close Combat, having been instrumental in the development of the Corps’ new and highly touted Marine Corps Martial Arts Program.  He is an International Executive Distributor with the Pharmanex nutrition product company and strives to improve the connection between good health and good martial skills.  He lives, trains, and teaches in Stafford County, VA.

I had heard stories about Kyoshi Hayes before meeting him.  I was told he could hit you 20 times before you even saw the first strike coming.  Was it really true?  Absolutely.  Kyoshi Hayes is one of those people who greets you for the first time as if he’s known you for 30 years.  A nice person all around and genuinely interested in the well-being of others, it was an honor to meet him and learn from him during the summer of 2007.  I’ve had the distinct pleasure of corresponding with him a bit via email and there seems to always be something to learn from this amazing martial artist.  It is my pleasure to present him to you here.

Kyoshi Hayes’ posts:

Our Two “Moms” March 2008

Kyoshi Rick Zondlo

Rick Zondlo has been training for over 30 years and has achieved the rank of 7th Dan Kyoshi in both Okinawan Kenpo Karate and Okinawa Kenpo Kobudo.  Kyoshi Zondlo has also been training in the traditional Japanese art of Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu for 15 years, and has achieved the rank of Shodan.  Kyoshi Zondlo has been recognized by many practitioners and even some publications as an unusual find among martial art instructors.  Kyoshi Zondlo wishes to keep the true nature of old style martial arts alive and demonstrates every day the powerful nature of living through Budo.

As an instructor of one of my teachers, I had heard a lot about Kyoshi Zondlo.  It wasn’t until an IKKF training camp that I got to train with him personally.  His session was full of charts to help explain his concepts and he had even, in advance of the training camp, made weapons for the use of the class.  Kyoshi Zondlo is someone that other people gravitate towards because there is so much to be learned from him, and like so many other amazing martial artists, he is always willing to take extra time to explain and demonstrate his effective techniques. 

Kyoshi Zondlo’s posts:

Where is My Mind? What am I Thinking? I Can’t Do This? March 2008

Kyoshi Nancy Caliguri

Kyoshi Nancy Caliguri, a practitioner of Shorin-Ryu karate, has been and continues to be an inspiration to many. After a motorcycle accident sidetracked her karate competitions, no one expected her to come back again, let alone win, but that’s just what she did. In 2008, after an 18 year absence from competition, Kyoshi Caliguri came back and won a Professional Karate Commission national title in women’s black belt kata and is now nationally ranked. She has also earned a No. 8 ranking by the United States Karate Alliance for 2008. Being in the top 10 is quite an accomplishment. In 2008, she was also awarded the 2008 Competitor of the Year award by the International Karate Kobodu Foundation. Other awards include the Legend of Honor award at the PKC International banquet last August.  She also took 1st place in the state ratings by the PKRA (Pennsylvania Karate Rating Association) in women’s masters kata division and 1st in the region (PA, NY and part of Canada PKC R4) through the PKC in black belt women’s kata and weapons. 


She is currently ranked a 7th dan in by both the IKKF and the USKA. When she started karate in 1975, there were few women involved, but now Kyoshi Caliguri has the opportunity to serve as a fantastic role model for all women in the martial arts. With over 30 years of martial arts experience, a successful martial arts school where she is a Master instructor, and a husband who has been quite successful in the martial arts as well, Kyoshi Caliguri will continue to be a recognizable name in the martial arts for years to come.

I have heard stories about Kyoshi Caliguri for quite some time now from one of my instructors, Kyoshi Heilman. While sidetracked with my own injury, Kyoshi Heilman continued to tell me stories about Kyoshi Caliguri and how after an accident and physical therapy, Kyoshi Caliguri made a comeback. She continues to serve as an inspiration for me, and for anyone about to make a comeback.




Is it going to be a great March or what???  If you have questions that you would like to direct to one of these amazing martial artists, please do so in the comments below.  I’ll make sure that they receive them prior to their post. 

Kyoshi Caliguri’s post:

Self Defense Advice from a Pioneer March 2009

Giveaway Details

This month, anyone who leaves a comment on one of the Admired Martial Artists’ posts will be entered to win a prize. I am currently working on adding more prizes to the list. Currently, those who comment will be entered to win. . .

From Martial Arts Supplies: A pair of Trainer Martial Arts shoes from Discipline
From Turtle Press: Vital Point Strikes book by Sang H. Kim
From Kyoshi Hayes: A one-year subscription to Kyoshi Hayes’ quarterly international martial arts newsletter (which is fantastic and always provides good food for martial arts thought)
From Bags of Character: a custom nunchaku or tekkos bag

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