William "Woody" Best Jr.
POLIO: A decease that effects the growth of muscle tissue. In the very early 1950's, many children were given the new salt vaccine to prevent and help eliminate POLIO.
Sensei Best was one of those children, but unfortunately had already been exposed to the decease. Shortly after being vaccinated, he was diagnosed as having contracted POLIO. He had contracted POLIO in his stomach and back muscles and although it was caught in the early stages, he spent almost 5 months in the Brooks Army Medical Center, San Antonio TX. For an active 1st grader it was almost like a prison sentence.
After being released from the hospital, his only residual effect was that he had absolutely no control of a backward fall. If he lost his balance and fell backwards as kids often do, he would simply slam down to the ground. For a rough housing little kid, that was a bit of a problem.
Sensei Best's father was in the Air Force and a short time later he was transferred to Yakota Air Force Base, Japan. In Japan, one of the follow-up doctors was knowledgeable of the martial arts and suggested that Sensei Best be enrolled in a Judo class. He said that it would help with balance and teach him to control a fall without being hurt, as well as strengthen the back and stomach muscles. And so at the age of about 8 years old, Sensei Best began his studies in the martial arts.
Sensei Best began studying Judo at the Yakota Air Force Base Dojo. It was set up in an airplane hanger, and the Sensei was a Japanese Judoka hired by the Air Force to teach Air Force personnel and dependents. Sensei Best was tall for his age and was one of only a few kids in the class of mostly airmen. The classes were very "Japanese" and very formal. Sensei Best studied Judo there until his father was transferred back the U.S. in 1957 when he was about 12 years old. Sensei Best continued to study Judo at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas, where the classes were the same type of Air Force sponsored classes as were in Japan.
During his high school years, Sensei Best's father was again transferred; this time, to Charleston Air Force Base, S.C. Just outside one of the gates was a new Karate school which has just been opened by a young airman who had recently returned from a tour in Japan. There he studied Goju Ryu Karate in a Japanese Dojo, earning his black belt before returning to the U.S.
Again, the school was very formal, as the Sensei had been taught in Japan. Sensei Best studied there several nights a week, until the end of the summer of 1964; when he graduated from high school, earning his green belt before his father again was transferred.
Sensei Best went on active duty in the Navy after high school and his training ended for a few years. However, the practical end of his training was just beginning. After returning from Viet Nam, his ship was stationed in Newport, Rhode Island, where he worked part time in the bar and nightclub industry. He started in the not so glamorous rock and roll bars were many nights were "fight nights".
During that time, he was involved in, or broke up countless "bar fights". At the time he simply was enjoying each day of his youth, but now reflects back to that time, realizing the unique experience he had of being involved in actual "fighting" and "real contact" fights for about eight years. He was amazed at the realistic and practical efficiency of the martial arts; even at a green belt level; especially the blocking. Blocking all those punching attempts and wild swings became second nature, and always left him in close and in control.
In 1970, Sensei Best was out of the Navy, and attended Bryant College in Smithfield Rhode Island. At Bryant, he quickly met up with another student named Hawk Eye Kwan who was a brown belt in Uechi Ryu and they studied together during that first year.
By the second year, other students with different martial arts backgrounds and styles started to join them and they became a study group of about eight. Sensei Best submitted an application to the college for sponsorship, and they became the Bryant College Karate Club. Sensei Best wrote the charter and became the 1st President of the club.
As the club members worked out, other students started to take notice and became interested in joining the club and learning martial arts. Of the eight original members, none were black belts, so they branched out. Sensei Best negotiated with a local karate school in near by Smithfield RI, which was Sensei Bill Gregory's Kajukempo Institute of Karate School. Sensei Gregory provided Sensei Nick Ritota, one of his black belt instructors to teach at Bryant, which affiliated them with a commercial school, and the new students could be ranked by the black belt instructor.
The original club members were able to attend Gregory's "Instructor training night" and where trained in the Kempo style. During this same time frame they also studied Pai Lum White Dragon Kung Fu from Dr. Daniel K. Pai.
In 1974 Sensei Best graduated from college and shortly after began his law enforcement career as a Police Officer in Charleston County, S.C. His formal martial arts training again went into hibernation for a few years although the practical aspects did not as he worked his way putting hands on and making arrests through the Border Patrol and ending up in the U.S. Customs Service by late 1983.
He was a Vessel Commander, driving the Customs "go fast" interceptor vessels, later becoming a Special Agent working smuggling interdiction and narcotic investigations. He was assigned to a DEA task group for a few years, and was on the Special Response Team for 7 years. During that time Sensei Best was stationed in Charleston, West Palm Beach, Key West, Ft. Lauderdale and then to Key Largo, Fl., by 1993 where he met Sensei Bob O'Neil and came out of Karate hibernation.
Sensei O'Neil was teaching Shorin Ryu in Key Largo and Sensei Best became his student for 2 years earning his purple belt before being transferred to the Miami Customs office.
When Sensei Best arrived in Miami, he was introduced to Hanshi Manny Saavedra of the World Sansei Goju Ryu Organization, on the campus of the Florida International University. He immediately affiliated with the school and continued training. His Sensei and friend, Bob O'Neil also switched from Shorin Ryu to Goju Ryu and affiliated with World Sansei. Along the way Sensei Best reached brown belt levels and Shodan.
Sensei Best was then transferred to the U.S. Customs Service Academy at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Ga. as an Instructor. He was awarded the rank of Nidan (2nd Degree Black Belt) in Goju Ryu before leaving Miami in September 2000.
At the U.S. Customs Service Academy, one of the instructors was a 4th degree in Kenpo and had a school in the area. Aside from his regular Kenpo classes, he offered a defensive tactics course for U.S. Customs Service Special Agents while they were attending classes at the academy. Sensei Best became the Chief Instructor for that class of "Close Quarter Combat" and was also awarded the rank of Shodan in the Kajukembo style.
Over the last 4 years Sensei Best has trained U.S. Customs Service (now ICE under the recently created U.S. Department of Homeland Security) Special Agent Trainees in defensive tactics before they leave the academy and start their career.
During that time Hanshi Carlos Montalvo organized the Ronin Brotherhood. Sensei Best was quick to join the growing organization. He became one of the Ronin Police Defensive Tactics Instructors, and in July 2005 was awarded Sandan. He is also recently honored by Hanshi Montalvo by being asked to become a member of Hanshi Montalvos Advisory Counsel.