Leo D. Wilson, Grandmaster, Soke Dai, Kancho, Shihan, Sensei
Founder of Midori Yama Judokai and Midori Yama Budokai
Although known as a NASA engineer and technician, Wilson Shihan was best known to those in Midori Yama Budokai as a martial artist without peer.
He began his martial arts career in Louisville, KY, with Master Fan Gin Han. He had to travel (hitchhike) fifty miles each way, three times a week. The cost was an astounding fifty cents a class. If he were late, he could not work out, but only sit and watch. Many years later, Mr. Wilson found that Master Han taught aiki jujutsu, which was simply referred to as jujutsu. Master Han never mentioned belts, ranks or anything of a similar nature; he simply trained his students by “working the circle.” After some time studying with Han, Mr. Wilson noticed a separate class that he began to study and practice on his own. When Master Han discovered Mr. Wilson’s “stolen moves,” he began teaching Mr. Wilson Eagle Claw Kung Fu. There was no charge for these lessons. Lessons ended abruptly when Mr. Wilson was drafted into the military. While in the Navy, Mr. Wilson worked out with wrestlers in Ohio and taught a self-defense class. At Camp Wallace, TX, Mr. Wilson met Lt. Cmdr. Emilio “Mel” Bruno. Bruno Sensei taught Mr. Wilson judo, at which the young Wilson excelled. So much so he became all Navy Judo Champion. For the first time, Mr. Wilson learned of ranks and the different styles of combat. Even in later years, Mr. Wilson believed, “jujitsu is everything and everything is jujitsu.
After discharge from the Navy, Wilson Sensei began teaching jujutsu and karate from his home in Huntsville, AL. The dojo was a converted garage attached to his home on Green Mountain. The area was expanded twice, becoming 42’ by 36’. His school was originally referred to as SOMA (School of Martial Arts). An aikido school rented space at the dojo. Col. Tom Bearden, Sensei, taught the classes. Soon, senior judoka were training with Wilson Sensei. In the early 1970’s, Midori Yama Judokai was formed. Later, in 1974, Midori Yama Judokai became Midori Yama Budokai to encompass the many different martial arts being taught at Wilson Sensei’s dojo. Wilson Sensei traced his training in jujutsu and karate to the following styles: Kung Fu Long Fist, Eagle Claw Kung Fu, Chin Na, Pa Kua, Daito Ryu (aiki jujutsu) and Cheena Aida Jujutsu.
Wilson Shihan received his Godan (5th degree black belt) for judo in 1980. In 1981, Wilson Shihan established Shinko Kaiten Aikido (now referred to as Midori Yama Budokai Aikido), having sponsored Yoseikan Aikido for the previous five years. Also, in 1981, Wilson Shihan met with seven other jujutsu schools under the auspices of AAU. At this meeting, the ranks and experience were acknowledged by all schools, forming an alliance of the top jujutsu schools in America. Wilson Shihan received a 7th dan black belt in Tae Kwon Do in 1993 and a 7th dan black belt in Hapkido in 1995. Shortly before his untimely passing, Wilson Kancho was promoted to 9th degree black belt in Yudo, one of three (at that time) non-Koreans to achieve that rank. In 1988, Wilson Shihan, a 10th degree black belt by this time, was awarded the prestigious Bud Estes Memorial Pioneer Jujitsu Award for 48 years of service to the martial arts in America. Part of this service was the founding of Midori Yama Budokai, “an organization of individuals, but all one family – by choice. We honor and respect our diversity.”