On August 23, 2010, the martial arts world lost an icon – Master Francisco Conde, who suffered a long-term illness that took his life at age 78. Few martial arts Masters become legends, and even fewer are humble enough to step away from their legacy to turn the spotlight onto others. Master Francisco Conde was a rarity in today’s world of ego driven “look at me” mentalities.
Conde wanted no recognition. He cared more about the young generation of martial artists and through his integrity and honor he avoided the media explaining that they should focus on the young new-comers and not him. Honesty and humility glowed throughout Conde’s soul and those who knew him respected him.
Conde was an Army veteran who served four tours in the Korean War and two tours in Vietnam. He was a military man through and through beginning his service in 1949. After being discharged for one year, he re-enlisted since he preferred the military lifestyle. Throughout his travels, both in and out of the military, Conde studied an array of different martial arts including Judo, Kajukenbo, Isshinryu, Kyokushinkai, and Moo Duk Kwan to name a few.
Although born in the Philippines in 1931, his travels as a young boy took him to Japan for a brief time, and then in 1948 he moved to the United States just before entering the military. He trained in every country he stayed at (Philippines, Japan, Okinawa, Korea, and U.S.) under highly respected instructors such as Adriano Emperado, Ed Parker, Taek Moon Koo, and others.
In 1963 Conde founded the Oriental Defensive Arts Association (ODAA). He was an innovator and believed that much could be done to develop the martial arts to work better for current times. He was constantly refining techniques that he felt were outdated, much like American Kenpo founder and friend Ed Parker.
Conde was a successful tournament director on the East Coast for several years, and because of his strong reputation, there were always numerous attendees. Aside from his tournament successes, he also developed martial arts equipment. He designed the chonchaku, which was a modern day nunchaku made from polypropylene.
Conde’s teaching abilities were superb. His students gleamed with passion every time he taught. Chinese Karate Federation President, Sean P. Kelley, knows this first hand as Conde was his first instructor and the man who groomed him as a young boy teaching him how to handle bullies who were picking on his friends. According to Kelley, Conde made him a fighter through intense training. “He could bring the best out of anyone,” Kelley explained.
Kelley went from white belt through 3rd degree black belt under Conde, was a member of Conde’s fight team and also helped teach at Conde’s school. Many memories are cherished by Kelley including being introduced to Ed Parker through Conde—a moment that impacted Kelley’s martial arts journey for the rest of his life.
Conde’s daughter Renee explained that one of the greatest things that she had ever witnessed was watching her father teach. “He had a magical ability to adapt the teaching process to any and every individual he came in contact with, from the overly hyper seven year old to the middle aged woman who put on a gi for the first time,” she explained.
“When watching my father teach, there was always a perfect moment in which the student had a revelation, an understanding of how to make his body move in a particular way and the purpose of that movement. You could see the student’s eyes light up, and, as he finally executed the move correctly, a new passion for the martial arts was born. If you looked hard enough at my dad, you could see a small smile on his face too.”
Francisco Conde will always be a martial arts pioneer who will be honored by those who he taught, served with, and came in contact with. His legacy is now etched into the hearts of many martial artists who can share the stories of a true American hero.