A lifetime martial artist, Soke Thomas Gettling began training in 1964 under Sensei Robert Saunders, a formidable Judoka and Vietnam War veteran. Although Tom was a child at that time, Sensei Saunders did not believe there was much difference between old and young or male and female on the floor. For this reason, Soke believes that acting as an uke who was never given any quarter shaped the kind of martial artist he became.
Soke Gettling came up in what many think of as the Golden Age of martial arts in the 1970’s, and he was able to study under and train with many great teachers, such as Jason Lau, Teddy Wilson and Thomas Agero. This was made possible by Sydney Filson, with whom Thomas Gettling studied extensively in the early years. Sensei Filson used him in her book, How to Protect Yourself and Survive. With so many diverse influences, Thomas Gettling became eclectic in both his training and in his thinking of what an ideal martial artist should be. Soke Gettling became involved in the tournament circuit and won hundreds of tournaments on the east coast, including the Empire State Games, the Northeast Championship, the Yin Yee Cup, the Somerville Karate Championships, and the Turtull Gold Cup. A triple threat in fighting, weapons and forms, he was selected to fight against the Budweiser National Team,
the John Davis All Stars, and the John Paul Mitchell Team. His tournament success brought him to the attention of Soke Adolfo Ennever and O’sensei Ronald Duncan, who recruited him to join the American Federation of Martial Arts. This organization encouraged eclectic training, and included systems and styles as diverse as Kung Fu, Jujitsu, Kempo, Tae Kwon Do and Ninjitsu. Instructors shared their arts every weekend for hours, and Thomas Gettling was again a student of such masters as Jujitsu instructors James Gordon, Joe Miller and Harris Warren, karate instructors Vicente Cruz and Adolfo Ennever and the father or American Ninjitsu Ronald Duncan. He quickly rose through the ranks and received national recognition in Soldier of Fortune magazine with O’sensei Duncan and Karate Illustrated, which stated that Gettling, after defeating Toyataro Miyazaki, had the ability to make the nunchakus fly. Soke Tom has always been grateful to all of his teachers and mentors, and honors them by never forgetting where he came from and the seeds these masters have planted in his life. Closing in th on his 40 year as a teacher, Soke Gettling has taught martial arts around the world. Beginning his career at the Bridgehampton Child Care Center, he was hired to teach underprivileged children; but true to those who gave to him so freely, he wound up spending his paychecks on uniforms for the children, and paying their entrance fees to competitions. His students were notorious in the tri-state area as a rough and tumble throwback school whose focus was on kumite—not just winning, but letting you know you had been in a fight! This led to Soke Gettling opening three more schools and teaching seminars at other dojos and martial organizations, and the military. Soke subsidized his teaching income by acting as a bodyguard to such celebrities as Madonna, James Brown, Tina Turner, The Sunshine Band, and the soccer star Pele when he was security chief at the legendary club Bay Street. All of these experiences shaped him as a martial artist and teacher. As a body guard and former police officer, he whittled away