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John Graden

John Graden

Executive Director

John Graden led the martial arts into the modern era by creating the first professional association, trade journal & instructors certification program.

One of my mentors, John Corcoran passed away on May 16, 2019. Seven days later, serial killer Bobby Joe Long was executed. 35 years ago, he killed at least 10 women in the Tampa Bay area during an eight-month span in 1984.

How are the two related? John Corcoran’s girlfriend was the first victim of Bobby Joe Long. It happened on May 13, 1984.

After working for virtually every martial arts magazine, John was living in Los Angeles in 1984, when he got a job offer as a writer for a new movie production company founded by his instructor, Glenn Premru.

A movie buff who never missed seeing a James Bond movie on opening day, John was excited about this opportunity. John and his girlfriend, Ngeun Thi Long, whom he called Lana, made the three-day drive to Tampa, Fl.

Unfortunately, the production company failed and the job vaporized.

John and Lana ended up living in a hotel in Tampa. John often told me what a great girl she was. He said, “Sometimes we’d have popcorn for dinner because that was all we could afford. She never complained. She would just say, “It’s okay baby. We’ll get through this.”

Lana got a job as a dancer in the Sly Fox Gentleman’s Club. However, when she quit the job, John hit the roof. He lost his temper to the point that she left the hotel to go for a walk.

Click image to see a one minute story on the murder of Lana Long.

When she didn’t return that night, John was concerned. The next day he called the police to file a missing person’s report. As if this was not enough stress, John’s car was stolen a few days after.

I first learned about all of this when Mike Anderson called to tell me he would like me to meet him, John, and Joe Lewis that night at Clancy’s, which was a popular Walt Bone pub before he died two years earlier. Joe was living in Mike’s big house on Madeira Beach and John was moving in as well.

I was excited to meet John. I am an avid reader and John Corcoran was the premier journalist in the martial arts world. I was amazed that the world I read about in the karate magazines was coming to me. Mike Anderson, founder of the PKA, Joe Lewis, a true legend, and now John Corcoran.

During dinner at Clancy’s, John told me that he had to be at the Tampa Police station the next day to file a report regarding his stolen car. I offered to drive him there and he gratefully accepted. 

When we arrived, we were told to go to the fifth floor. We stepped into the elevator with a big guy in a suit. This guy glared at John with psychic daggers piercing from his eyes. His disdain for John was so palatable that I mentioned it to John. He told me that the guy was the lead detective on the murder case of his girlfriend. The detective thought John was the number one suspect. Of course, John’s story was solid and he was not a suspect for long.

There were nine more killings before they arrested Bobby Joe Long leaving a cinema showing a Chuck Norris movie.

I made a number of similar trips to help John over the next few months. Because of the emotional level of this experience, John and I became really close fast. John called me his brother and, as a sign of gratitude, he said he would help me become the local martial arts celebrity, which he did. That was the first of many projects we collaborated on.

John was a producer on my USA Karate cable TV show.

He and I co-authored a book, The Ultimate Martial Arts Q n A Book.

He was the editor for my ACMA Instructor Certification Manual.

He was also the editor of my magazine, Martial Arts Professional (MAPro) for the first few years.

When kickboxing promotor, Howard Petschler purchased Fighter International magazine from Mike Anderson in 1987, he hired John to be the editor. John then recruited me to be an assistant editor and included me in many of the interior photos.

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I distinctly recall an editorial meeting with them where I pitched them on a revolutionary idea. “There is a computer called Macintosh. You can layout the entire magazine in the computer with this software called, Adobe Pagemaker.” They were blown away. Up until that transition, we had to lay the pages out on cardboard and paste them in order.  I learned a ton about the magazine business and really enjoyed working with John.

A few years later, I bought John his first computer, a Mac Powerbook 100.

John loved to share his knowledge and he gave to me in abundance.

After living in my Clearwater Beach condo and also with my brother Jim, John moved back to Los Angeles in about 2000, but his help for me only increased. A few times, I flew out to shoot magazine covers that he arranged.

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John Corcoran was helpful in getting me my first couple of cover stories.

John also cast me in two films he was involved in. The first was with my brother Jim in the Don Wilson movie Black Belt and the second was Sworn to Justice. There was nothing cooler for me, at the time, that when the person next to me on a flight asked, "What takes you to L.A.?" Me, "Oh, I'm shooting a magazine cover." or, "Oh, I'm going to be in a movie."

I was in L.A. so much that John suggested I buy an apartment that he could live in so I would always have a place to stay. While I considered that, I never did. John ended up in an apartment building where Don Wilson also lived.

I love the creative process and Hollywood is the epicenter of creating wealth from creativity.

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My death scene in Sworn to Justice. That's John Corcoran behind me.

It was in the Hamburger Hamlet on Sepulveda Blvd that I mapped out this idea to John that I had for a professional association dedicated to helping school owners run their schools. He thought it was brilliant. The following year, I launched Martial Arts Professional magazine and hired John to be the editor.

NAPMA grew to over 2,000 schools and an annual convention until Century sued us into bankruptcy in 2003.

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This is the first NAPMA ad in 1994.

Much of this would have never happened had John stayed in Tampa after the murder of Lana. I'm sure Joe Lewis or Mike Anderson would have introduced us, but I'm also quite sure that many of the projects I've described would not have happened had we not been thrust into a surreal set of circumstances. There may have been no NAPMA, MATA, Martial Arts Professional magazine or USA Karate TV show. There certainly would not have been a MAIA, MASuccess, or MA Supershow since Century testified they were forced to create them to provide another voice than mine.

I find it amazing how my timeline would be different if it was not for the lessons my mentor John Corcoran taught me and the chain of events that were set into motion after a tragic loss of life.

Thank you, John, and may you rest in peace.


One the set of my first USA Karate TV show.
Click to see John's segment on the state of the martial arts film industry.

Notice Tyson’s hand is by his face, not his hip.

His chin is down instead of up.

His shoulder is up instead of pulled back.

His body is sideways to his opponent instead of squared off.

His legs are under his body not spread apart like he was riding a horse.

With this kind of form, he would fail his orange belt exam in most schools. 

How does that make any sense?

Sensei Tyson?

If Mike Tyson or a world champion kickboxer came to your school to teach your black belts. What do you think he would work on? Double punches, square blocks, and keeping your chin up?

I’m pretty sure he would emphasize head movement, how to snap your punches and a defense that does NOT include pulling your punch back to your hip.

I’m sure the students would learn advanced applications to adjust for different fighters. Notice I said advanced applications, not advanced strikes.

When you focus on application, you can apply that to almost any technique.

For instance, if the drill is about how to fight a taller fighter, the answer is more about footwork to stay on the outside until you can secure quick access. My brothers are 6′ 3″ and 6′ 4″ so I know something about fighting a taller opponent.

Drills that teach that application do not require complexity. They require simplicity.

The more complex a skill becomes, the less chance it can be used. Have you ever seen a double punch? Only in kata and here:

If you eliminated all kata and traditional skills, you could devote that time to drills and conditioning that would give your students a true advantage in sparring or self-defense.

Imagine teaching fewer skills that are easy to teach and learn than traditional skills and kata.

You could spend more time on the application of those skills rather than stepping up and down the classroom and holding blocks and punches out in the air, which leaves you wide open for a counterattack.

Rather than spending student’s time with the complexity and frustration of spending years perfecting the bad habits of pulling their hand back to their hip, keeping their chin up, aiming and holding a punch in the air, and blocking with power while stepping forward, your retention will improve. Your student quality will improve. Your curriculum consistency will improve.

This is the core of our white to black belt curriculum Empower Kickboxing.

It’s an old saying, but true. “Less is best.”

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1 Comment

  1. Rich Brugger

    I had no idea John had passed! What a tremendous loss to our industry. I had interacted with him several times over the years as I had written some articles for a well-known trade publication that he edited. The thing that struck me about John was from the first time I pitched an article and he called me to tell me it had been green-lighted he always spoke to me like we were old friends. And after that he would always call me, “Pal” when he called or e-mailed. Despite his stature in the industry he always struck me as quite humble and he always seemed to have a funny anecdote or story to share. I am sorry I never had the opportunity to meet him in person. May he rest in peace.