Leonard J. Pellman Shihan, Page 2

Pellman Sensei circa 1972

During his second stay in Japan, Pellman spent a month or more in residence with each of several instructors, including Fujino Kazuō Sensei (kendō) in Kessennuma, Itō Toshiharu Sensei (aikidō) in Toyohashi, and Higa Yasuhiro Sensei (Okinawa kobujutsu) in Nagoya.  Between these residencies he traveled extensively throughout all four of the main islands of Japan:  Honshū, Kyūshū, Shikoku, and Hokkaidō.  It is not an exaggeration to say that he has seen more of Japan than most Japanese citizens. 

In retrospect, however, the most significant event during Pellman Shihan's 1973 stay in Japan was the wedding of his "sister" Michiko.  It was a traditional Japanese wedding, involving several changes of her wedding kimono, a lavish banquest, music performed on Japanese instruments like the samisen, koto, and shakuhachi, and a demonstration of iaidō—the art of drawing the samurai sword—by her uncle, a godan (5th degree black belt) in the art and direct descendant of a high-ranking 17th century samurai.  "I was spellbound," Pellman recalls, "Amazed and terrified at the same time by the grace, precision, and beauty of the art, combined with its unmistakable deadliness.  I wanted to ask him to teach me, but I was afraid that such a request from a gaijin (foreigner) might offend him enough to kill me!"  Pellman Shihan resolved that day to learn the art of iaidō, but it would be another 15 years before the opportunity arose.  Unfortunately, the 1973 OPEC oil embargo cut short his stay after only six months, forcing him to return to the USA just before Christmas, having only completed half his intended training there.

Career and Transition

Posted by Michiko Pellman on 09 June 2015

JudoUpon his return from Japan just before Christmas 1973, Pellman Shihan embarked on his business career and the next phase of his training in budō.  In January 1974 he started work as a Bookkeeper I in the accounting department of Mission Van & Storage Co., Inc., a local moving and storage firm in Lemon Grove, California.  To balance his academic studies in the field of marketing, his employer had him work a year in the accounting department, then a year in the administrative offices preparing shipment documentation, processing loss and damage claims, and preparing regulatory reports to the California Public Utilities Commission, Interstate Commerce Commission, US Department of Transportation, Department of Defence, Labour Department, and other agencies, before promoting him to manager of the accounting department in 1976.  After successfully transitioning the company from manually kept records to a Qantel 1200 mini-computer-based accounting system in the summer of 1976, Pellman was promoted to Comptroller and made responsible for both the accounting and administrative functions of the company in 1977.  In 1978, he was elected to the company's board of directors and made Vice President & Chief Operating Officer.  Under his direction, the company expanded from two locations (Lemon Grove and Oceanside) to a global network of offices and warehouses in more than 30 countries.  But 1985 would bring a major transition.

Actually, three major transitions occurred in 1985.  In May, Pellman brokered the sale of Mission Van & Storage to a conglomerate.  In July his first of three children was born, and in November, Master Lee succumbed to liver cancer.   These events produced significant changes in Pellman Shihan's career, budō training, and family life.  After working himself out of a job, Pellman became a partner in a military contracting company known as MAPAC, where he worked for the next ten years providing logistical support to the US Department of Defense.  Having a family to support drastically changed his priorities, as well.  And with the death of his primary budō instructor, his training underwent a significant change, too.

Several of Master Lee's students broke away from his organisation shortly after his death, forming their own dojang.  Michael Conniry Sabumnim, who had been operating Master Lee's branch dojang in El Cajon, California since 1970, continued doing so.  The main dojang on Convoy Street soon closed, because the number of students remaining after Tim Britt, Lloyd Francis, Daniel Nolan, and others started their dojang weren't generating enough income to keep it open.   In 1986 Pellman Shihan began training in Tang Soo Do under Michael Conniry at the El Cajon dojang.

In 1988, Shimabukuro Masayuki Hanshi began teaching Musō Jikiden Eishin-Ryū iaijutsu at Conniry Sabumnim's dojang on Saturdays, and Pellman Shihan took his first step toward realising his dream to train in the arts of the samurai.  He could not afford an iaitō, so he began his training using his uncle's gendaitō (modern manufactured) shinken (live sword).  At first, Shimabukuro Hanshi was nervous about a beginner swinging a sharp sword in class, but eventually he came to accept it.  What neither of them suspected during those first few months was that a life-long bond was being forged between the two.

Birth of the Seishin-Kan

Posted by Michiko Pellman on 09 June 2015
Land of the Rising Sun

In 1989 Pellman Shihan began teaching karate and Okinawa kobujutsu at Skyline Wesleyan Church in Lemon Grove, California, calling the group the Skyline Karate Club.  The club held a grand opening ceremony in February 1989 at which Shimabukuro Hanshi performed an iaidō demonstration. 

By 1990 it was becoming apparent that the differences in posture, stance, timing, and footwork between Tang Soo Do and iaidō were impeding Pellman Shihan's progress in both arts.  His iaidō exhibited tendencies toward the straighter-legged, front-facing stances, and bobbing gate of Tang Soo Do, while his Tang Soo Do was showing traces of the lower, more angular stances and smooth footwork of iaidō.  It soon became apparent that he would progress faster by training in arts that applied the same principles of stance and movement, so he began training in Shitō-Ryū karate under Shimabukuro Hanshi

In 1991 Pellman was promoted to shodan (1st dan) in iaidō, the equivalent of black belt.  The church facilities were not available to teach additional classes, so in order to begin teaching iaidō, Pellman Shihan leased a suite in a strip mall in Rancho San Diego later that year and opened his first dōjō, changing the name of the Skyline Karate Club to Rancho San Diego Karate.  In 1992 he was awarded nidan (2nd dan) in Shitō-Ryū karate and formally registered his dojo with the state of California.  Shimabukuro Hanshi played a key role in naming the new organisation.  When Pellman Shihan asked his opinion of the proposed name, Yōgikan (養偽館), meaning Righteousness Development Dōjō.  Hanshi told him, "Sounds like dōjō for yakuza, Len-sanYakuza always stress gi (righteousness) and giri (obligation)."  Shimabukuro Hanshi had just founded the Jikishin-Kai International, so over lunch one day at the Jack In The Box near Hanshi's dry cleaning shop, they settled on the name, Seishin-Kan (正心館), which has a meaning similar to Jikishin-Kai.  When Pellman Shihan filed the name registration with the State of California, he gave it the full name it has to this day:  Nippon Budō Seishin-Kan.

In 1993, Pellman Shihan was promoted to nidan in iaidō and Shimabukuro Hanshi introduced jōjutsu into his training curriculum.   Pellman Shihan became instantly fascinated by jōjutsu, which is the art of defence against a samurai sword using only a slender stick, four feet two and one-fourth inches long and .96 inch in diameter, called a .  In 1994, Shimabukuro and Pellman collaborated to write the book, Flashing Steel:  Mastering Eishin-Ryu Swordsmanship, which was published in 1995.

Concurrently with the publication of Flashing Steel, Shimabukuro Hanshi and Pellman Shihan collaborated on the filming of a set of seven instructional videos on MJER iaijutsu through Panther Video.  The following year they collaborated once again to create two videos on Seitei Jōdō for Panther Video and it appeared that Pellman Shihan's life, career and budō were all on a skyrocketing trajectory.

But that changed suddenly ...

A Period of Turmoil

Posted by Michiko Pellman on 09 June 2015
Tang Soo Do Emblem circa 1970

Although his star appeared to be rising in the mid-1990's, the truth was that much of Pellman Shihan's world was built upon shifting sands.  His government contracting partnership was too successful, and had been targeted for destruction by corrupt officials in the Department of Defence.  His real estate holdings were over-leveraged to finance his legal battles against the DOD just as California entered a real estate recession.  Almost overnight, his businesses collapsed and he was forced into what was then the largest and most complex bankruptcy in San Diego County history.  In a matter of months, he lost all his material possessions, including his home.  Worst of all his business reputation was so badly tainted that he was virtually unemployable in San Diego.

When his wife got a job offer from a missionary organisation headquartered near Denver, Colorado, the family jumped at the opportunity for a fresh start in a different city.  So, in December 1994 they moved to Aurora, Colorado, where Pellman also found work as an assistant store manager for Fred Schmid Appliance.  There they began rebuilding their lives.

Pellman soon gained approval from the Aurora Parks & Recreation Department to teach karate-dō, Okinawa kobujutsu, iaijutsu, and jōjutsu at a local recreation centre.  Unfortunately, the only facility available for this was its outdoor handball court.  The Nippon Budō Seishin-Kan registered in Colorado as Rocky Mountain Budōkai and Pellman garnered a small group of students who trained on Saturdays in the handball court, except on snow days.

Meanwhile, sales of Flashing Steel and the Panther videos were increasing, and attracting interest from around the world.  Since the two were already conduction all their interaction by telephone and letters, Shimabukuro Hanshi asked Pellman Shihan to establish the JKI's tsūshin kyōiku (correspondence instruction) programme from his base in Colorado.  The programme involved participants mailing VHS videos of themselves performing the major elements of the iaijutsu curriculum from Flashing Steel and the Panther videos, and Pellman providing written critiques and references to pertinent sections of the book or videos for correction and improvement.  In this way, students could gain tutelage and promotion up to the rank of yonkyū (4th kyū) through distance learning.  To attain sankyū (3rd kyū), they had to train and perform in person with either Shimabukuro Hanshi or Pellman Shihan.  After that, they could again train and be promoted through distance learning up to the rank of shodan-ho (provisional 1st dan).  For all other dan rankings, they had to continue supplementing their video training with regular in-person training and testing.  At the time, Pellman Shihan had no clue what his role in distance education would eventually become.

In June, 1996, Pellman's wife was offered the position of Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church, so the family returned to San Diego.  Later that same year, Pellman Shihan was promoted to sandan (3rd dan) in both iaijutsu and karate-dō.   In 1997, he obtained approval from the El Cajon Parks & Recreation Department to teach karate-dō at their facility.  He also negotiated contracts with a Jazzercise studio in El Cajon and a fitness centre in Spring Valley to teach karate-dō, Okinawa kobujutsu, iaijutsu, and jōjutsu in their facilities.

In 1998, Pellman was hired by Christian Heritage College (now San Diego Christian College) as an admissions counselor.  At their suggestion, he enrolled in the Master of Business Administration (MBA) programme at Webster University's Camp Pendleton campus to enhance his academic and business credentials and earned his MBA degree in July 2000.  He was immediately hired by Christian Heritage College (CHC) to teach quantitative methods in their undergraduate business programmes.  That same year, CHC's vice chairman of the board asked him to research the possibility of establishing an online education programme at the college to be managed by Pellman.  Pellman completed the study in September and it was presented to the board, along with an offer of an endowment to fully fund it until it was completely self-sustaining.  Nevertheless, the board rejected the proposal.  A week later, Pellman Shihan learned that Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU) was hiring online instructors, so he applied for a position teaching undergraduate business courses.

About a month later, he received a call inviting him to an interview.  After a full day interviewing with the faculty, administrators, and executives of  IWU, Pellman returned to San Diego.  Weeks passed without any word from IWU before he received a call from them.  It began with words that left him speechless:  "We are no longer considering you for an online teaching position with the university."  Before he could gather his thoughts to reply, he was told, "We think you would serve the university better by managing our online MBA programme for us.  And you could still do a little teaching on the side, if you wish."

It was a call that would launch Pellman Shihan into yet another phase of his journey.  To see where it led, please click here to view Page Three of his biography.

The Meaning of "Sei"

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Words have meaning, and  Japanese words often have particularly deep and complex nuances of meaning.  So the meaning of names can have great significance in classical Japanese martial arts.

The name Seishin-Kan was chosen carefully and deliberately for its highly nuanced meaning ... (more)

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