YOZA DAKE AIR STATION, Okinawa Japan – Army Spc. Jeffrey Shepard became the first U.S. service member to achieve a Japanese combatives level one certification on Sept. 20th at Yoza Dake Air Station. The level one certification is the highest level that can be attained by an individual within the Japanese Air Self Defense Force. Shepard is assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1-1 ADA at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa. He spent two weeks beginning from Sept. 9th through the 20th training with JASDF partners. According to Shepard, the JASDF group he trained with will compete to defend their crown as the best combatives unit in JASDF later on at Iouma City, Saitama, near Tokyo, Japan.
Japanese competitors invited Shepard to compete for their highest certification level after they observed his actions in becoming the first American to earn the level two certification. The instructor, or sensei, Kaname Kenichiro-san noted that Shepard had proven himself worthy of the challenge for the highest JASDF certification, stating, “Shepard came to us before, and he was the best.”
Training was “tough and disciplined,” said Shepard. “If I made the smallest mistake, the instructor would make me repeat the process. It had to be perfect.”
According to Shepard, the daily routine, which lasted for two weeks, involved American football style callisthenic drills, movement practice, and actual combatives sparring. He noted that the movement aspect is the component that most demands perfection. “Much of the movements are about appearance; it’s an art form.” Though his achievement in Japanese combatives is historic, participation in martial arts is not new to Shepard.
Shepard competed at various levels of mastery in Judo, Karate, as well as American military combatives. His expertise in combatives is such that he taught three JASDF members U.S. Army level one combatives. In fact, one of his students was Nakato Toyota-san, an individual JASDF combatives champion as well as a former captain of the JASDF three-time team champions. According to Shepard it’s great to can know both American and Japanese martial arts styles. Some of the greatest lessons from his experience have come from experiences off the mats.
“My take away from this experience is a better understanding of the Japanese culture. It is cultural immersion, inserting oneself into the Japanese way of life. The overall takeaway is the friendships I have made.” Japanese team captain Koike Toshiaki-san hopes that the combatives partnership will endure after Shepard departs for a new duty station in October. “We would like to have additional U.S. participants and expand this unique partnership.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Mike Maynard, 1-1 ADA was present to observe Shepard receive his black belt, emblematic of his extraordinary achievement. Maynard described the final day of competition and certification. “Shepard and his JASDF "Buddy" went through approximately 30 minutes of grueling drills demonstrating their knowledge and the technical aspects of the prescribed moves. In addition, each individual had to make specific moves with motivation and controlled physical skill. After this, Shepard and his partner spent about another 30 minutes demonstrating their knowledge and preciseness in executing contacts and take-downs.”
After being scored on each of the individuals moves, Shepard was notified that he had completed each move to the exacting standard required and had achieved his black belt in JASDF combatives.
At the graduation ceremony, Shepard was awarded a certificate, a monogrammed black belt with the dojo motto inscribed on it and a Japanese flag with inscriptions of words of encouragement from the sensei and assistant instructors. Maynard commented, "I was extremely proud of Shepard and his accomplishment. This was physically demanding and not something that he had to do. As a newly promotable Specialist, he wanted to demonstrate excellence and serve as an example of what a Noncommissioned Officer is." Maynard continued to point out, the significance of the accomplishment was not limited to just one dedicated individual. "He does not know how far he has advanced the relationship between our units and how far it carries over into integrated air and missile defense between our two countries."
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