G.M. Ja'mes Bethel

Grandmaster Ja mes Bethel
12/22/1941 - 3/13/2009

Grandmaster Ja'mes R. Bethel  of the ORDER OF COMBAT-USA, INCORPORATED, a.k.a. American Order of Combat.   Grandmaster Bethel a Martial Arts Teacher and Spiritual Advisor to Sensei Robert H. Dickerson and the Universal Pasha Karate School since the 1980's.  He also shared his knowledge of world cultures and African Drums to our Universal African Dance and Drum Ensemble.   We enjoyed being in his home of so many historical  Martial Arts weapons, Cultural Drums and so much more.   Grandmaster Bethel and his wife Wilma's home was a true museum of knowledge.

GrandMaster Bethel Obituary



     Reverend Grandmaster Ja-Mes R. Bethel was born in Philadelphia, December 22, 1941.

     He was an active child, learning Boxing and Judo from his father and the neighborhood WWII veterans.  These interests were to last his entire life.

    Unusual as it would seem for a street kid, he was an avid reader, and studied biology, plants and animals with great interest.  Philadelphia, of course, has one of the most interesting zoological collections in the world.  Ja-Mes became a collector of unusual plants and small animals.

     Ja-Mes entered the US Army in 1960, and qualified for the Combat Engineers and the Rangers.  During his career, he attended the famous US Army "Ambush Academy", Long Range Recon, and Sniper Schools. 

     He was sent overseas to Germany. The unique European countries became familiar to him, and his new wife, Wilma Fauk.  They experienced the opportunity to travel on the highways throughout Europe, and took full advantage of his several postings in Hawaii, Japan, Korea, Germany, and around the U.S.A.  While in Germany, Grandmaster Bethel ran one of his most well known classes. Robert Fazio, one of Grandmaster Bethel's students at the time, and an American soldier, became German State Black Belt Champion.

     In Vietnam, during extended duty, he was assigned to the Combat Engineers, and alternatively to some LURPS excursions.  He is listed as having 42 kills during his tours, and was awarded Three Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star. 

     His last wounding became more serious, when the wounds were contaminated with Dioxin, from Agent Orange; he had difficulty healing due to deterioration of the joints and muscles.  At one point, after a grenade explosion, he was triaged out for dead, and then found to be hanging on.  He was transferred to trauma care, and then ultimately discharged for medical reasons, completely disabled, and bed ridden.

His Karate knowledge and innate determination caused him to rebel against the limitations of his illness, and he began doing Karate breathing and tension hand techniques. After months of effort, he was able to lift himself from the bed, and then, after strengthening from leg tension and dynamic tension techniques, he was finally able to begin walking again.

     With the help of heavy braces and arm crutches, he was eventually able to work on formal exercises, katas, and hyungs.  He used them for rehabilitation, and, like his weapon collection, he started collecting every variation of a form, and then branched through the different systems. He was famous for knowing over one hundred different forms from the various arts. 

     While braced up, he competed as a Senior Black Belt, and was renowned for consistently taking Grand Champion.  Most onlookers had no idea he was nearly unable to walk.  His joint problems forced him to learn how to accelerate his movements, but instead of a locking snap at the end of a movement, he would stop the technique without the ending shock, and instantly be in the next movement, with no pause.   Watching him perform a form with a strobe light was an amazing scene.

     In 1977, Master (then) Bethel introduced himself to Jeff Lewis, and together they formed the American Order of Combat-BuDoKwan.  This first American Combat Karate system was the beginning of the flowering of American derivations of the traditional Asian Arts. Coupled with U.S. Military combat techniques and U.S. military style discipline structure, BuDoKwan Black Belts brought a variety of knowledge that would never have gotten together under the dogmatic leaders of the older, foreign based, systems.

     Throughout the following years, Reverend Grandmaster Bethel, ordained in the Universal Life Church by Reverend Lewis, made his presence known throughout the East Coast, as a friendly, beneficial figure.  Many heads of the schools in Philadelphia, Camden, Trenton, and the tri-state area have sought his advice, particularly on matters of martial arts history, and advice on life and relationships.  He was experienced as a counselor. During his Army years, Bethel had served on rehabilitation teams for other veterans, and active duty soldiers, being familiar with life's problems.

     Reverend Bethel was an icon, standing for the American way. He inspired the young to serve their community, often lecturing in the area schools, where he promoted the idea of military service as a citizen's duty.His black, western hat was recognized all over Fort Dix, Maguire Air Force Base, and the Pemberton Area.  When he was shopping or taking care of business at the Base Exchange, Grandmaster Bethel enjoyed, and was enjoyed, by everyone he met.

     His work, prior to the Order, and through the Order of Combat, has contributed to the successful military careers of many Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen.  One of our members guarded President Clinton, as a Marine in Marine-1, another put out a fire aboard a nuclear sub, one of our current Master members checks the basic training of all the personnel in the US Army Reserve.  Our members guard prisons, enforce the law, fight fires, stand their duty, and take care of their responsibilities in part because of the influence of their training, which comes directly down through Grandmaster Bethel and Grandmaster Lewis, who worked together since 1977 to bring the Order to what it is today.

     His fellow martial artist and long time friend Grandmaster Jeff Lewis says of Grandmaster Bethel, "You have one person in a thousand that makes Black Belt, and stays to teach a little, you have maybe one in ten thousand that becomes a Master Instructor and life long learner, by that measure, Grandmaster Bethel was certainly one in a million!

     He studied martial arts, music, botany, psychology, and religion.  He was recognized by the World Karate Union Hall of Fame as Grandmaster and founder of BuDoKwan, a separate, American martial art.  He was recognized as a Pioneer and Legend in that particular Hall of Fame.  He worked with Master Robert Dickerson, of the Unity Community Center of Camden, NJ on youth projects and community enrichment. He was a member of the Chinese Martial Art Historical Society, and the curator of his own unique collection of African drums, shields, effigies, and exotic martial arts weapons from around the world. 

     Following a trip to Florida, to assist his mother, who was stricken with Alzheimer's, Grandmaster Bethel's hips were in such terrible shape he decided it was time to retire. Turning the Direction of the Order over to Grandmaster Lewis, he became Grandmaster Emeritus, but still enjoyed working with upcoming martial artists and Masters, and a select few young Black Belts who are just now entering the service.  He spent a lot of time in his garden and there he hosted his friends and students, pointing out the fascinating trained plants and exposing guests to the quiet beauty of nature.

     Reverend Grandmaster Jam-Es R. Bethel died the morning of 13 March, in Mount Holly, NJ, after a prolonged bout of breathing problems which developed into pneumonia primarily because of the Dioxin poisoning that reduced his ability to fight infection.  He actually succumbed to his wounds from the Vietnam War, long after the conflict has become a memory of a former life and time.

      He was an actual real life warrior who avidly pursued the soldiers' life, going far beyond the call of duty while in the Army, and even after sustaining wounds that were killing him, he endeavored to help others to learn and enjoy the martial arts. 

     He will be sorely missed  - WETSU!

    by Grandmaster Jeffrey Lewis

Grandmaster S.L. Martin and Grandmaster Jeffrey Lewis