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Art of flexibility, the key to resilience

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Spencer Tobler
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs

Jujutsu is a Japanese system of unarmed combat and physical training that emphasizes the art of flexibility, empowering users to take advantage of any obstacles that come their way.   

Before he knew it, Dave Wilson, Heiwashinkai Jujutsu president, began his resilient journey to mastering the art of flexibility after a nearly fatal motorcycle accident.

Wilson joined the Air Force in 1987 and was stationed at Keesler as a computer systems programmer. He was part of what is now the 81st Training Support Squadron.

“Our mission was to develop and maintain the training software for the various classes on base,” said Wilson. “I worked primarily in quality assurance, essentially breaking the software, so the actual users wouldn’t.”

Wilson said being active duty was an experience he won’t forget, as it gave him a sense of purpose and commitment. He enjoyed riding his motorcycle every day and spending time with friends. 

Unfortunately, he was active duty for only four years before disaster struck during a local Mardi Gras celebration in 1992.

“We got released early for Fat Tuesday so we could go home and watch the parades,” said Wilson. “I was riding on my motorcycle in the right hand lane on Highway 90 towards Ocean Springs. An SUV was riding next to me in the center lane. The SUV ended up making an abrupt right turn out of the center lane and I ended up colliding with him going about 60 miles per hour.” 

The crash would hinder Wilson’s physical abilities for the foreseeable future. 

The entire left side of my body was crushed between my bike and the car,” said Wilson. “They couldn’t get me to the hospital right away because of the parades going on. It was six hours before paramedics were able to get to me, I was conscious the whole time.”

A broken leg, arm and hand had Wilson in the intensive care unit for two weeks and bedridden for another two months. After many surgeries and months of physical therapy, Wilson was medically discharged from the Air Force. 

“At that point I was so loosely associated with the Air Force I wanted to get out,” said Wilson. “I was in a bad place mentally and physically.”

This life altering setback would not stop Wilson from finding purpose.

“My disabilities were the least of my concern,” said Wilson. “Life just happened to hand me a broken body, I made it work with what I had.”

Many years after his accident, Wilson decided to attempt jujutsu after seeing his wife take a self-defense class. 

“My instructor did an excellent job of adapting the techniques so I could do them, even with my broken body,” said Wilson. “I was hooked after starting the class and I just never looked back.” 

Even though he was physically limited, Wilson practiced jujutsu for 13 years before eventually becoming an instructor. 

“Teaching inevitably became my focus,” said Wilson. “There was only so much I could do because of my limitations, but I studied all of the details and intricacies of all the techniques taught in jujutsu so I could one day become an effective teacher.”   

Now, Wilson is the president and head instructor of Heiwashinkai Jujutsu, a non-profit jujutsu class that primarily teaches disabled veterans, law enforcement, and people with special needs. 

“After many years of studying jujutsu and seeing how it improved me, I decided to carry on the legacy of teaching,” said Wilson. “My students today have developed a passion for the art of jujutsu, I’ve seen them all improve and grow and I’ve ultimately seen how it makes them feel better about themselves.” 

As a medically retired veteran, Wilson is happy to serve in a different capacity and hopes more people will try jujutsu.

“Jujutsu has taught me to relax,” said Wilson. “My accident could have been far worse, but I lucked out. I have a family, dojo, students and friends who care about me.”