Prof. James Marcinkus - A Remembrance

Prof. James Marcinkus was a very influential and prolific teacher of Danzan-Ryu Jujutsu at his Penmar Jujitsu Kai dojo in Santa Monica, CA. He passed away on February 2, 2000.

The following are a series of memories of Jim Marcinkus written by those who knew him. If you would like to add to these, please send them via e-mail at

I knew Jim for 44 years. I started "learning" Ju Jitsu at the age of three by means of informal instruction.  Later, I joined the "Junior" Class under Bill Randle.  Sometime after, I dropped out.  When Jim opened Penmar Judo Kai, (later renamed Penmar Ju Jitsu Kai) I rejoined the class and worked through the ranks and became his assistant instructor until he retired from the mat in the early 1980's to concentrate on his law practice.  I followed him to the law practice to become his assistant until his death.

Through the years there are too many memories to recall.  Jim taught thousands of students.  The most important lesson Jim taught me was to never give up.  Not on yourself nor others. 

On one occasion, we had two undisciplined junior students who constantly disrupted the class.  Jim made the decision to kick them out of the class.  A first at Penmar.  He gave the two sisters a ride home to explain to their parents why he was taking the action.  When he arrived at their home, he found their mother passed out on the couch with a half empty bottle of Vodka beside her.  I think he ended up giving the kids a ride to and from the class until they eventually dropped out.

On behalf of the Marcinkus family, I wish to thank everyone for the outpouring of love. Jim was buried with his Black Belt. I will miss my brother.

Dave Marcinkus

I was sixteen when I saw the kids in white floppy outfits running out of the Penmar gym for a jog around the tennis courts. I thought I'd just quietly snoop around and check it out. Suddenly, out of the dimness of the gym, this guy strides right up to me, hand extended and says, "Hi, I'm Jim, can I help you?"

The words were friendly, but he placed himself squarely in my way; even backed me up a bit. Here I was just checking things out, next thing I knew, I was signing up. Aside from having a genius for teaching, Jim was also a salesman. In the early days of Penmar Jujitsu Kai, he regularly made the rounds of the local schools with flyers for the class. Every month somebody from the junior class had his name and picture in the local paper for some achievement or trophy.

Those of us who worked and sweated for the perfect throw certainly had found something personally motivating in Danzan Ryu itself, but it was Jim who kept us going. It was Jim who would call up if we missed class. Dues were $5 per month. If you couldn't pay, you came in early and put out the mats or swept up or helped some other way. NObody was turned away.

When I was a greenbelt, there was a kid from a poorer neighborhood of Venice who joined up. He was African-American, overweight and what we now call "developmentally disabled." No one in class would dare to call him "retard" because of Jim's example of including him in the same activities in class as any beginner. Teaching him was a challenge; while slow he was deliberate and, sure enough, he managed to attain a greenbelt himself. And he never missed a class. So, it wasn't all about winning contests. It was about making a difference. We helped change people--gave "klutzes" and "nerds"; kids who got picked on in school, something to feel good about. I know It changed my life.

I was Jim's 6th Blackbelt promotion in 1970. I left to join the Marine Corps two years later and sampled several other martial arts before slowly drifting back to Danzan Ryu in the 90's. By that time, Jim had already retired from teaching; we had our careers; I had a family (Jim was Best Man at my wedding in 1971; we celebrated 28 yrs together last September). I'm really not sure Jim appreciated how much he influenced me--having me study about the Samurai opened me up to Oriental philosophy and studies that led to cultural anthropology and psychology. Thanks to Jim I discovered I could teach. I still use the lessons I first learned on the mat. I wish I had taken the time to let Jim know. But it seemed he would always be around.

November 30, 1999, he was in a Gi, on the mat at Westside Y dojo. He looked great. It was only to take part in a promotion ceremony, but it looked like he could have just jumped right back into it. It is how I will always remember him.

Goodbye, Jim. Wish I had said, "Thank you." I waited too long.

Steve Singleton
Sandan; Jujitsu America

Jim Marcinkus--Jr. Green Belt Under Professor William G. Randall At The Santa Monica Ymca

I recall first seeing Jim as a jr. green belt on the mats of Santa Monica YMCA where he was under the instruction of Professor William G. Randall.  At this time I was, I think, seven years old--so 1963.

The Y program involved several aspects and Y members passed through the large cold gymnasium while marching between venues.  There I happened to notice the sessions and developed a passion to become a part of Kodenkan.

In those days it was a great privilege to be a jr. green belt because of the license it gave to attend the adult sessions that were held in the evenings from 7 to 9 P.M.  Jim was at this level.

It wasn't long after I had joined the class that Jim became a sr. green belt. This was a major achievement and gave him distinctive authority when he was on the mat of the junior classes that occupied Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (I think) afternoons.

After a couple of years, Jim was trainer, organizer, and manager of the Santa Monica YMCA Randori Team.  This was near the time of transition that occurred when Professor Randall went on sabbatical to the seminary in Texas. When Bill left, Jim was placed in charge of the entire Kodenkan at Santa Monica Y.

Other YMCA programs also borrowed Jim because of his leadership skills.

The Amazing Front Fall

For randori, our dojo would contest other YMCAs and some private schools--sometimes traveling to the contest sites in a large, red stake bed truck (weighing three or four tons).

This was a manual transmission that provided plenty of excitement for the occupants of the cargo platform on their way to a contest.

On one occasion, Jim was in his usual leadership role standing in the back of the truck while the judoka were organizing in the area of the Santa Monica Y front entrance.  Facing toward the back of the truck, on the rear edge of the bed, he was casting somewhat impatient glances at the general distraction of boarding judoka (I'm not clear on this.  It may have been a non-Kodenkan event, maybe a field trip; but Dave Marcinkus should remember exactly).  We always had to pay special attention to departure times—since the freeways of Southern California were not yet reality.

The drivers employed by the Y were not really very experienced in handling the larger vehicles, and clutches were often strangely worn.  I believe recall that Mike, or his brother Dave Chubb was driving.

There was a clutch mishap--I think starting while the truck was in gear--and when the truck lurched, Jim was caught by surprise. According to Newton's Laws, he flew dramatically into the air and was conducted by gravity to the asphalt street five or so feet below.  It was quite a drop.

People in sight of the accident were aghast.  The sound of Jim's initial contact with the ground was awe-inspiring. He picked himself up almost immediately.

Later, when surrounded by shocked and excited observers of the impact, I heard Jim extol the superior benefits of the jujitsu style front fall, which he had instinctively used to subdue the force of his striking the street surface.  He was grinning, chuckling, and I think really quite embarrassed that he had been such a focus of concern and attention.  Certain aspects of his front fall form were apparently not satisfactory in his view.  I believe he said something like “ . . . yes, but I forgot to kiai."  And he was virtually unhurt.

The Jr. Green Belt

Jim supported and encouraged many kids at the Y.  He was very important to all of us that were under his leadership.   All the programs that Jim supported and lead had notable success and a distinctive pride of membership.  I hope this pride shows in my written expression.

Jim was responsible for changes in the Kodenkan ranking system that improved attendance and allowed the older youths to be occasional participants in the evening's senior sessions.  One was the change of jr. green belt to the purple belt.  The original jr. greens were something like Christmas ribbons--I liked them okay, but some of the students did not feel quite authentic; they were replaced by the normal, adult sized purple belts. This change, along with Jim's public relations skill, was accompanied by an increase in class attendance at the Y.

I recall once seeing a notebook he kept that had complete illustrations of the belts and ranking system, his proposals, as well as other notes on techniques.   Everything was well organized and clearly documented—a definite image of that notecard sized 'judo notebook' is very clear.

Jim emphasized the literary aspect often, and tried, I think, to establish an image comprehensive of intellectual, as well as physical specialization. He also encouraged community involvement and responsibility—my interpersonal skills are largely a development of telephone and public speaking experience gained under Jim at Penmar Judo Kai.

Dodge Coronet

The pinnacle of achievement and acceptance was traveling to contests, or home from class in Jim's white 2-door Dodge Coronet.  To be part of the ride was exceptional.  There are many memories of the long ride around after Penmar Judo Kai sessions to drop off the Belzers at Point Dume, and then other students who depended on the gracious Jim to get them home.

I don't know how many pairs of shocks he went through on that Coronet.

Thanks for listening,

Geoffrey Kyron

My brother Mike Belzer and I started taking 'judo lessons' under 17 year old Jim Marcinkus. Mike was nine years old and I was eleven years old. I was ready to give up because the falls gave me headaches, then Jim gave me me "pink belt". I was hooked.

Jim never failed to motivate and encourage ALL his students. Mike and I advanced through the ranks..competing in local tournaments, gaining exposure to both sport judo and jujitsu. Eventually we five families and moms carpooling thirty miles from Malibu to Santa Monica twice a week for lessons.

As we grew, we invaded the adult classes as 'purple belts' and Jim gave us the experience of teaching adults. Jim allowed me the opportunity to take over instruction for a summer of the Penmar Judo Kai junior classes. We had 100 kids on the mat, when Jim returned he was proud and pleased the program had flourished.

My judo accomplishments helped motivate me in all areas off the mat. Jim embodied "The Esoteric Principles" and was a sensei, coach, older brother and mentor. Although Jim maintained a VERY busy sole practitioner law practice, I would visit him about once a year. He always took time to close the door and visit. Deep down I knew he was very proud one of his kids turned out 'OK' in life.

Its not amazing that at Jim's funeral, many individuals that I had not seen for thirty years appeared. We were all teens together, influenced so much by Jim Marcinkus. It was a special opportunity to grow up with Jim. As Bill Randle said during his remarks at Jim's funeral Mass "Certain events stand out in peoples lives. Jim Marcinkus was just that, AN EVENT."

We will miss you, Jim - sensei and friend.

Steven R. Belzer

As always Jim is leading us.  He is walking the path that we all must follow one day.  Even though he has moved on we, in this life time, will miss him.

During the last few weeks I have had much time for reflection.  Good,sad, regretful and fulfilling memories. Upon this reflection I find myself looking into myself more and more.  As I look deeper I find Jim and his influence.  Without Jim I would not be the person that I am today.

The West Los Angeles Police Department Jeopardy Ji Jitsu programs, junior, senior classes and instructors send our love and appreciation to Bertha & Anthony Marcinkus. To David Marcinkus know that you are and always have been my brother. You are welcome in our dojo and in our lives.

Jim walks with us.  We will carry on with his teachings.

With a heavy heart,
Mark Cameron Wald

Jim Marcinkusí death was a shock to me since he was only a couple of years older than I. I saw him at the last Westside Promotional (end of November). Life can be too short! 

I learned to be a teacher from him, which let to my future career. His organizational ability and his relaxed inspiring style always amazed me. I was envious and tried to copy parts of it. He affected forever a generation of young people and molded their futures while still a young man. He applied vast amounts of energy, time and effort to keep the Penmar experience going. He felt a duty to his community, to young people, and his own pride to do things to the best of his ability. Later I hear he applied the same standard of hard work to his Law practice. I saw how much commitment it took to run a successful school and did not try to open my own school. His effort was hard to match. I believe he affected us all in small and great ways by shaping our image of what things should be like or how we should commit. I hope we are able to continue some of his traditions and practices in our futures. We will miss this good American Teacher.

Lawrence Lee Boydston

My dad worked with Bob Belzer. In 1972, at Mr. Belzer's suggestion, dad took my brother Eric, my sister Amy, my best friend Gary Steinborn and me to a class at the Penmar Judo Kai. Gary and I were twelve and Amy was ten, so Jim put us in the junior class where we rolled, fell, yell, threw, slapped, pinned, choked--but mostly giggled and laughed-- our way up through the junior ranks. The pink, blue and purple belt memories shine for me.

Teenage fog dulled my appreciation of Penmar and Kodenkan and I drifted away. Several half-hearted attempts at a comeback did not take. I last spoke with Jim some time in the early 1980s. I moved to Portland in 1988, and scarcely thought about martial arts until last week, when I took my six year old son to his first karate class. Memories welled up, and I jumped on the computer to see what the internet had to say about Kodenkan. I discovered the danzanryu web page and to my horror learned that Jim had died and I hadn't known. There has been a pit in my stomach since.

I am not big on reminiscence, I don't attend reunions. But reading others' remembrances of Jim brought back to me his crooked smile (how my brother made fun of it!) and his ice-blue eyes, his filing cabinet with the Okazaki silhouette stuffed with lists of techniques, the way he would curl his toes under and jump up and down on his toe knuckles, his energetic stride, how he would cross his arms and survey the dojo, and his firm handshake. I remember: The expression on his face when, in a randori tournament, I was thrown by a lesser belt in a perfect tomoenage (sad, to let someone do that to you) and how he both humiliated and consoled me by describing the throw to the class, then complimented me for a perfect fall; nikki katsu up on the stage in front of a full house (sorry, Gary) and Jim's expression after that bizarre demonstration; black belts working out on the stage behind closed curtains; promotion ceremonies; those unbelievable SCJA banquets (remember the guy who came in the lemon yellow tux?); the games we played in the junior class; lining up for rolls and falls and duckwalks down the mat at the start of class.

I remember wonderful people! Glenn and Harold, both with hair down their backs, Adrian Reif and Paul, Corinne Cunningham and Ed Cook and Geoff Kyron, Paul Francis and his brother Matt, Craig Cole, Grace (Palazzo? something Italian), Mark Wald and his goofy, taped glasses. Jim and Jenny Webster. Pebbles and her brother. Sharkey. Jim Culp and his cousins Jeff and Joey. The Bennetts. The Dingmans.

I remember an overnight trip to Monterey. Jim offered to drive Gary and me in his Audi, but I opted to ride with Adrian and Paul instead. Imagine that. Just before he retired from regular teaching, Jim called my mom, told her of his plans, and said he would really like to see me get my black belt. He encouraged me to give it one more good try, but I didn't. Imagine that. Instead I attended kung fu classes at Stoner park, without Jim's blessing. Imagine that.

Ach. Silly, stupid boy.

I have a hole in my heart over these missed opportunities, slights that Jim, being Jim, forgave and forgot as soon as they occurred. But I  can't. I guess it is too late now to say thank you to this generous, remarkable, wholly decent man, but I will think it.

Before it's too late again, I want to say thank you to all the Penmar teachers and students. I did not appreciate it then, and you won't remember it now, but you shaped my youth. Before it's too late again, I especially want to thank Dave Marcinkus, Bob and Steve and Mike Belzer, and Gary Steinborn who is still my best friend and whom m I love, for sharing Penmar Judo Kai and Jim Marcinkus, our sensei.

Todd Zilbert
August 31, 2000

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