Martial Arts Icon, Papa San

Wayne Ford 3For nearly half a century, Wayne Ford, affectionately known as Papa San, has been an icon in the New Jersey martial arts community. The United Methodist Communities at Covenant Place resident, renowned in and around Plainfield, remains a karate teacher, trusted mentor and a loyal friend to legions of adoring students, parents and contemporaries.

Wayne’s first martial experiences were as a young boxer on the 4th Street YMCA Boxing Team in Plainfield. In 1958, after a four-year stint in the U.S. Navy, Wayne returned to the United States and began consistent martial arts study. His career started early in 1959 at the New York City dojo of the late Min Pai, a noted Korean Martial Arts Master Instructor.

Yun Moo Kwan, one of the earlier martial arts systems developed in Korea contrasts greatly with the sport version known today as Taekwondo. This was a blood and guts karate school that practiced a tough system—like Min Pai, a man of outstanding reputation both as a teacher and martial artist.

Wayne trained there for about five years, rose to the top gun in that dojo and became the favorite sparring partner of his teacher. He remembers Min Pai striking him during a sparring session. “Min didn’t even move,” Wayne recalled. “However, after we got finished, he took me over in a corner and said, “You spar good. You just don’t hit hard enough!”
In 1964 Wayne opened his own school in Plainfield on Depot Park. Papa San reflects, “I can never forget Kenny Reid, Roger Hamilton, Mike Gilliam, Myke Washington, Mike Burrowes, and Jose Araya. They all started there with me and today, are masters in their own right. They give me much credit as their surrogate dad. My greatest reward is that they are still with me.”

After many years of teaching and success as an instructor, Wayne met James Fain, a Black Belt Hall of Fame (International Association of Martial Arts) inductee and Grand Master in the American Goshi Shun Style. Through this association, Papa San began training in Aiki-Jujitsu, a tough, demanding introspective form of Japanese jujitsu. Building upon his skills in Korean martial arts, he perfected his karate and excelled in Aiki-Jujitsu.

Papa San recalled, “When my formal training started with Fain, I was still a truck driver. Coincidentally, one of my deliveries was near his school in Newark. Fain was training with the Great Grand Master Dwight Wilson and he invited me to train for an introduction. The movement was so efficient with an entrancing focus and spirit. I enjoyed the conditioning and drills and knew this signaled something special in my martial arts training. I began again as a novice and that humility, has proven to be the best decision I ever made, for my martial arts and for my life.”

He began to study the true essence of efficient, martial movement and explore a new evolved level of meditation and mental discipline. Following his first training session, Wayne started taking private lessons every Saturday, in addition to teaching at his own school, Tora Dojo.

Ultimately, he formed a partnership with Grand Master Fain and Fain’s most celebrated protégé, Grand Master Alan Simms, a member of the International and World Black Belt Halls of Fame. Papa San was selected for promotion to 7th degree black belt by the late, great Shihan Isaac Henry, Sr. of Beikoku Karate-Do Goyukai Dojo of Long Branch, New Jersey.

Today, Papa San is an 8th degree black belt in both karate and Aiki-Jujitsu and a recognized Grand Master and a member of the Black Belt Hall of Fame. Scores of talented black belts under his instruction, and his status as Jujitsu Master in Residence for a number of martial arts schools in Central Jersey continue to enrich his life.

At United Methodist Communities, we cherish the stories and experiences of our assisted living residents and associates alike. These caring and compassionate individuals contribute to the tight knit fabric of our communities. To find out more about assisted living at United Methodist Communities visit us at