Grand Master Dave McNeill
In May of 2006, the Mississippi Academy of Arms hosted two workshops with Grand Master Dave McNeill, the current Soke (Head) of Goju-Shorei Systems. The first workshop was for students of Goju-Shorei Weapons and the second was for anyone interested in practical self-defense. If I were to write everything we learned or experienced during these two workshops I’d have to write several long books. So while I may mention a few of the many very practical things we learned, I first want to mention The Man!
The first thing you should know, and already do know if you know him, is that Master McNeill is NOT your typical big ego martial arts instructor. If you have been in martial arts for very long you know the type I mean, because they are so common these days. They strut around with an attitude carefully designed to create fear and awe in their students. They demand respect without earning it. They insist that their techniques are the only way, without allowing any serious questioning, much less giving any realistically verifiable demonstrations.
Master McNeill is the exact opposite and I think that is what attracts people to him the most. He is an unassuming man who is not driven by a big ego, but instead by a gentle and humble spirit and a great love for his fellow man. His easy going demeanor instantly puts everyone in the workshops at ease. One of the first things you become aware of when you meet Master McNeill is his overwhelming desire to help others. That is his motivation, his mantra, his calling.
Whether its teaching them how to defend themselves, healing them through therapeutic pressure point massage, teaching them how to heal others, giving advice on running a dojo, or organizing and motivating people for benevolent causes, Master McNeill is all about giving and serving. More than approachable, he truly considers every student to be a part of his family. And he proves it by showing sincere interest and concern for each individual Goju-Shorei student, much like a father or grandfather does.
Mere words can not begin to describe the enormous wealth of information and techniques we learned from Master McNeill during these two workshops. He is a veritable walking encyclopedia on the subjects of martial arts, self-defense, weapons, training methods,, health and fitness, and the use of pressure points for both therapeutic massage and self-defense.
His technical ability is nothing short of amazing. And in teaching techniques to others he is quick to point out the underlying, but fundamental, details, which are the all-important building blocks that make each technique work. Yet he also freely acknowledges that there are different arts and ways to do things and that the goal when it comes to self-defense is to use what works. True to this, his instructors are given the freedom to use what works and make modifications because he says it is not just “his art” but “our art!”
His innovative teaching methodology took us outside-of-the-box to increase our understanding of how the techniques we learn one way in class can be used in a myriad of different situations. One example for instance: at one point during the Goju-Shorei Weapons workshop we were given chairs and instructed to repeat the Yellow Rank’s block set seated. That’s was something none of us had ever thought of before because the block set is always done standing up in class. It really drove home the fact that the techniques we learn in Goju-Shorei are not static drills, but rather live actions which apply over a wide variety of self-defense situations. The katas we learn are not trance-like dances, but lessons in movement from one situation to another.
In the interest of sincerity about the effectiveness of his martial art, Master McNeill has an interesting workshop policy: All questions and doubts may be freely expressed by any participant at any time during the workshop. If you doubt the usefulness of any technique he is more than happy to prove its effectiveness to you. No, he doesn't beat you up, even though he could. But he does show you in a way you will never forget, just how effective they all are, and no one leaves a doubter. One case in point had to do with the use of pressure points in self-defense situations. I was extremely skeptical not only about the vulnerability of such points on the body but also the ability to effectively strike or manipulate them in self-defense situations. However, Master McNeill was kind enough to thoroughly demonstrate, on both me and each of my students, exactly how effective these techniques are. He also took the time to explain the anatomy and physics behind why they work. Everyone left convinced of the viability of pressure points in self-defense and anxious to learn more by perusing the resources he recommended.
After the last workshop ended Master McNeill applied the principles of pressure points for a different purpose. He went around the room giving healing massage to everyone who needed it. I myself was the recipient of this. During the workshops I was not able to participate very much due to an extremely painful and unhealed rotator cuff injury which I incurred a month earlier. Master McNeill performed acupressure on a spot on my shoulder blade and within one minute the pain which I had had for four weeks was completely gone. And I know it wasn’t the placebo effect of wishful thinking because I was extremely skeptical of such “hocus pocus” and was actually thinking in my mind while he was doing it that it wasn’t going to help. I was completely blown away when within sixty seconds of acupressure the pain was completely gone. My Physical Therapist wife, who had not been able to heal it, was equally amazed that the pain had left instantly and even more amazed that it never came back. Now that’s real healing!
We learned many things during those two days, about self-defense with weapons as well as empty hands. We learned concepts as well as techniques. We learned that how we train is how we will react when we suddenly find ourselves in a self-defense situation. We learned about awareness and avoidance and about how our hands can be used to kill or heal and that the latter is far, far more noble than the former. Drawing upon over four decades of training Master McNeill imparted a small drop of his wisdom to those of us who were blessed to attend these two workshops. Everyone came away with useful new tools in their tool bag of understanding, tools which they will have forever to protect and improve their lives.
Not only through technical mastery and skills as an instructor, but also through kindness and love, sincerity and truth, Master McNeill, earned our respect and admiration, as he appears to do everywhere he goes. The entire workshop experience was simply amazing. I truly believe that Master McNeill is one of the best kept secrets in martial arts today. He is one of the Great Ones that no serious martial artist should miss training with.