We tend to forget it, but war is the granddaddy of all martial arts. Most of the stuff we see in Kung-Fu movies is directly spun off real-life military combat.

Rick Davis, owner and Hanshi of the TNT Self Defense School in Stephenville, is someone who’s been intimately involved in martial arts at all levels, including the life-and-death kind called war.

So what does Hanshi mean? It’s a Japanese term and it essentially means Grand Master. It’s only awarded to holders of the 8th Dan and above.

In this case, Davis is an 8th Dan in Bushido Jujitsu, which is a progressive form of Jujitsu. He also happens to be helicopter pilot and a retired Air Force colonel, who has 31 years of experience in special operations and combat rescue. In that career run, he did multiple tours where people shoot at you - two tours in Viet Nam and one in Iraq.

Asked if he gained his martial arts expertise while serving in the military he replies, “No, my training in martial arts in the military was relatively minimal, and my only other experience in martial arts was in boxing in high school. Martial arts were something I pursued on my own later, but I started out as a student like everybody else.”

Whatever a person’s reasons for undertaking a course in martial arts, the key words ultimately boil down to self defense. Who doesn’t want the feeling that they’re better trained than an assailant, and that they have a pretty good shot at protecting themselves or others - particularly loved ones - if the situation requires it?

As with any physical training or sport, there are different reasons to go in martial arts depending upon your goals. Some people want to participate in competitions and experience the thrill of taking on an opponent in front of others with a championship at stake.

Others are not in it for that at all. For them, the point is to truly master something and develop an inner knowing of one’s self that’s there to draw upon if needed.

Davis emphasizes that the NT Self-Defense School is not the fighting-in-competitions kind. Yes, students pass through various stages of achievement and testing and - as in other martial arts schools - are awarded colored belts symbolic of their level of mastery.

But he points out that at his school, that’s a natural result of sticking with the thing until a particular level is achieved, then going to work on the next one. It’s not about bouts won or trophies.

“Our style of Jujitsu is not geared toward competition; it’s combative. We don’t go to tournaments. Nothing wrong with tournaments, but it’s not what we do.”

His view is that students are ultimately there to acquire important life skills. “This experience is designed to teach self-discipline and respect for other people, including those who are above or below you in skill levels in the school. That includes juniors and adults of both genders.”

Davis says that TNT’s method is a belted system with two written curricula, and students must pass every test on their level before moving forward. He emphasizes that their system is not for everyone.

“What we teach here is serious; it’s just too hard if you’re not dedicated. I would rather be more selective up front when someone new comes in. That’s good for everybody. This is not easy; it’s very involved. Take downs, chokes, sweeps, finishes, grappling on the ground, defense against knife attack. That’s just a part of it – there’s a lot to master. It’s not just about kicks.”

That’s why TNT offers a few introductory, no-cost lessons, so people can sample what they’re stepping into, without a huge commitment up front. It allows the instructors to take a look at prospective students and vice versa.

As for his instructors, Davis is proud that they’re fully-integrated members of the community who do other things than teach and practice martial arts.

“Karen Clark is in private psychotherapy practice,” Davis explains. “Peter Bell is a professor of chemistry, Able Martinez is a research associate at TIAER, and Billy Gray is a professor of engineering, all of them at Tarleton State University. We have really outstanding, well-rounded people who genuinely respect our students.”

“We’re a tight-knit community; you suffer together because as you go through this frustration, pain and injuries are just a part of it. I wear a knee brace, for example, and there’s always some kind of physical or emotional challenge to deal with. It just comes with the turf.”

“But we help each other through all of that and students teach other students, too. One of my favorite students is an eight-year old girl who has her own cattle business. I know how crazy that sounds, but it’s true. And she’s always willing to help new students, no matter what their age might be. She’s amazing.

“That’s how it works here. That’s what those life skills we were talking about earlier look like in practice. If you have self-discipline and respect for other people at the center of who you are, that means you help each other automatically.”