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By: Zoran Sevic

The Phone Rings

I'm sitting at home with my wife. We are talking about going out to a movie, as we don't get much of a chance to do things like that because of our schedule. The phone rings and I could see by the caller ID that it's Tom Saviano. I answer the phone, "Hello Mr. Sav, what's up?" Tom Saviano, in a serious voice, says, "You better sit down." I get that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I say, "Okay sir". In a monotone voice, Tom Saviano says, "John McSweeney had died today of a massive heart attack". From there I don't remember much. I spoke to Mr. Saviano, then my wife. I left the house to see Mr. Sav at his school. I saw people I hadn't seen in a long time at the school. We reminisced, and had a small wake as John McSweeney would have liked. We celebrated his life, and the richness it brought to our own.


Around midnight, I had to write a quick article to get the news out to the Kenpo community on the Internet. It was then that I had tears in my eyes, as I saw and heard Master John McSweeney in my mind. The shock was over, I could now mourn.


John McSweeney was a man of high character, higher education, an internationally known martial artist, a weapons expert, a veteran of three branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, and a loving husband. I've been asked to tell you about this great man, an honor and a daunting task. I will try to do it justice.



John McSweeney was born on October 19, 1927, into a comfortable, middle-class home in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. His father was an attorney, his mother a schoolteacher. Their interests in art, music, literature, and world affairs came through in their three sons, of which John McSweeney was the oldest. He was polite, obedient boy, who excelled academically. Since he was a late bloomer, he acquired an interest in Army calisthenics after an Army sergeant visited his high school and tested the students' physical condition. He did poorly, which spurred him to do something about it. John McSweeney was quoted saying, "I was weak and had been proved so. Now I was determined to become strong." Some months later, the sergeant returned to the school to perform the same test. John tested in the top 10% of his school. Around this time, he also took up his first fighting art, boxing..


In May 1945, one week after high school graduation, the United States Navy called John to active duty. Besides his training schedule during boot camp, he did quite a bit of boxing as well as his strengthening exercises on his own. After boot camp, he was assigned to gunnery school. He became an expert at tracer firing with a 20mm cannon. Instead of using the gun's sights, he followed the tracer flow and hit the targets consistently. This is where his interest in firearms and point shooting, which he became one of the top authorities later in life, stemmed from. After gunnery school, he was assigned to the U.S.S. Taconic.


After his honorable discharge in August of 1946, he began his studies at St. John's University in Brooklyn. Besides his academic duties, he was on the cross-country and track teams, continued his physical conditioning and boxing. One adventure he had during his college years was in the summer of 1947. He spent some time prospecting, with his cousin, for gold in Northern Manitoba, Canada. John McSweeney went to the Museum of Natural History as well as the Explorers Club in Manhattan to gain first hand knowledge on the area. John always preferred to be prepared and always researched a subject extensively, before formulating an opinion. His adventure included living of the land, beautiful scenery, and of coarse gold prospecting. He never made a big strike, but had the opportunity to meet interesting people like trappers, miners, prospector, and Indians.


In 1950, after he earned a B.A. at St. Johns, he joined the Air Force Officer Candidate School. He was first stationed in Guam, Mariana Islands, as a Shore Patrol Watch Officer, a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force. He commanded a mixed service force of Army and Marine M.P.'s, Navy S.P.'s, and Air Force A.P.'s. Later he was transferred to Tachikawa A.F.B. near Tokyo, Japan. He was assigned to the Security Courier Service. It was here that he had his first introduction to an eastern martial art. He enrolled himself in the Kodokan, world headquarters for Judo at the time. He was one of the first few westerners to study there. He was also stationed in Korea, and later South Carolina. In September of 1953, he was honorably discharged with the rank of 1st Lieutenant.


In 1955, John worked as a Border Patrol Officer at the Texas Border near El Paso for a short period of time. Shortly thereafter he moved to New York. It was there that he worked in the mortgage banking field and joined the New York National Guard as a 1st Lieutenant. From the National Guard he went to the Active Army Reserve and was promoted to Captain. In 1957, he moved to Los Angeles as a sales representative for Scovill Manufacturing Co. He continued his training in Judo, Jujitsu, and firearms point shooting.


It was in 1959, that he found a new meaning to life. It was the year he met Edmund Parker. Edmund Parker was a martial arts pioneer and is considered by many to be the father of American Karate. He was another great man who is no longer with us. In 1962, John McSweeney received his Black Belt from Edmund Parker. That same year he left for Dublin, Ireland to pursue his Masters Degree from Trinity College. It was there that he opened the Karate School of Ireland. It was also the first commercial Karate school in Ireland. Following in his instructor's footsteps, he is also considered by many to be the father of Karate in Ireland. A short while after attaining his Masters Degree, he left Ireland for the states. He left behind 3 Black Belt students to continue what he started. Today, there are thousands of Kenpo Karate practitioners there.

John McSweeney moved to New York. He had a position with Phelps Dodge Cable Company as a product manager. While in New York, he also opened a Karate school. Due to his job, he was relocated to Indianapolis. He continued to train on his own and developed his skill in armed and unarmed self-defense. In 1969, he was relocated back to New York where he returned to teaching Kenpo Karate.


In 1971, John McSweeney took a position as Vice President Sales with Coleman Wire and Cable Company. He later was promoted to Vice President General Manager. One day he had a meeting with the three shift foremen and gave a speech on his philosophy of management. "I believe in management-by-consensus, something like the Japanese method. I make no major decisions on subjects, which require analysis-in-depth, unless every concerned party is consulted and allowed to express his opinion on the matter. In some cases this means that even a machine operators will be consulted". Not a popular western idea at the time, but an idea that raised productivity.


It was in 1979 that he opened a martial arts school in Elmhurst, Illinois. The school was called Self Defense Unlimited. He continued to teach there to the mid 90's before he semi-retired. At that time, he moved to Fort Meyers, Florida, with his wife Marianne. There he continued to train and learn about the martial arts. He also did seminars all over the country on self-defense and point shooting. He was also the author of several magazine articles and books.


John McSweeney lived a rich and very interesting life. He has done more and seen more than many of us ever hope to. His love was the Martial Arts and the people in it. He has touched many lives and made history. Many of us wouldn't be where we are without him. He was a true warrior.


Even more than his contribution to the martial arts, John McSweeney was an exceptional man. He was always a true gentleman. He was a man that always gave respect first and expected to receive it in return. He never looked down at anyone, no matter what his or her experience and rank was. He also never looked up to anyone, preferring to be eye to eye. He was comfortable being a teacher or a student, and continued to learn to the very end. If you had the great honor of John McSweeney calling you a friend, you came away feeling that it meant something. And, he was much more than my limited writing ability could ever express. God bless your soul!

Did you Hear

"Today I can say without reservation that without my exposure to John's teachings I would not have made it to the levels I have achieved today. I am proud to have Grandmaster John McSweeney as part of my heritage."

– Grandmaster Frank DeMaria


"People loved to listen to John because he was passionate - about the arts, self-protection, life and love. I enjoyed the time I spent with him."

– Lee Wedlake Jr.

8th Degree Black Belt

Ed Parker"s American Kenpo


"Kenpo has lost another pioneer........John McSweeney was one of the few who studied directly with Grandmaster Ed Parker at the original studio in Pasadena in the late 50's and early 60's."

– Grandmaster Al Tracy

Home coming

Edmund Parker turns and smiles as he says, "John, welcome home". John McSweeney smiles back and says, "It's really good to see you Ed. I've missed you". With a slightly perplexed look, Edmund Parker replies, "Why is that John, I never left you". John McSweeney stops and thinks for a moment. "You know Ed, your right", replies John McSweeney with a smile.


Those we have loved never leave us. Just listen to your heart and you will hear their voice.

Other Facts

Born: October 19, 1927 Bay Ridge, New York, USA

Deceased:February 26, 2002 Fort Meyers, Florida , USA

Martial Arts Training


Judo in Kodokan, Japan 1952

Kenpo Karate under Ed Parker, received black belt in 1962

Chinese Martial Arts - Various teachers and systems

Black belt list (partial list)

Ireland Black Belts

• Maurice Mahon

• Thomas Jordan

• James Rice

• John Conway


New York Black Belts

• Frank DeMaria

• John DePalo


Illinois Black Belts

• Tom Saviano

• Mike Vassolo

• Ray Korda

• Ron Hughes

• Chris Manglaris

• Steve Camp


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