Southern School of Martial Arts 28th Anniversary

28 Year Dojo History and history in pictures, 1996 to 2024

This is the story of how the Dojo started, and the history of how it progressed through the years. Please scroll down below the article for a history in photographs, oldest to newest.

I want to thank all students over the last 28 years for supporting the dojo. I’m thankful to both former and our present students for training at our dojo and the success of the Southern School of Martial Arts. Here is an article on how the school started and how it progressed through the years.

The Southern School of Martial Arts began as a thought in 1994. I had just moved to North Carolina and tried to find a place to continue my training in martial arts. I arrived in North Carolina as a Sandan 3rd degree black belt in Manabi-Masho Ju-Jitsu. I tried to find a place to train when I arrived, but never could find anything close to what I had learned in the past 12 years.

I tried a class at a traditional Aikido dojo in downtown Raleigh to find it was a very different from the changed short circle Aikido I learned in Ohio, besides the Ju-Jitsu I learned. I also tried a couple of classes at Karate International in Raleigh, but it was just Karate and Judo being taught there. I wanted to continue in Ju-Jitsu so that wasn’t an option. Most of all the schools in the area were Tae Kwon Do and Karate schools. Nothing like what I had learned.

In the Summer of 1994, my neighbor became interested in training after he discovered I was a Ju-Jitsu Instructor. He then became a private student and trained on and off for about a year. I still traveled back to Ohio several times a year to train with Professor John Casarez at the Tri-City School of Martial Arts. In 1995, my private student stopped training and about a month later, one paramedic I worked with showed interest in training. He began training in the Fall of 1995 at his apartment complex in Cary, NC. Later that fall, another paramedic trained.

We trained in a little apartment complex gym. In the winter of 1996, we had one of the apartment tenets that trained and then later in the winter of 1996 we had a friend of the tenet that started training. This was my fourth student. I continually taught these four students through the spring of 1996. In May 1996, we began training in my first student’s home garage and then progressed to my backyard at my home in Willow Spring, NC. I then enrolled another paramedic in late May 1996, my 5th student.

On May 16, 1996, I officially founded Southern School of Martial Arts. I came up with the name using “Southern” South version and “School of Martial Arts” from Try-City School of Martial Arts. So technically, this was the southern version of Try-City School of Martial Arts. I was the first to teach Manabi-Masho Ju-Jitsu outside the state of Ohio. I brought Manabi-Masho Ju-Jitsu to North Carolina. I also started the first Manabi-Masho Ju-Jitsu division outside of the hombu (home) dojo in Ohio. This is how Southern School of Martial Arts started.

I’ve had the Dojo in many locations over the last 25 years. In 1997, we had classes in several locations. In 1997, we had our classes in many places. At my home in Willow Spring, the Fuquay-Varina, NC. Community Center, Beyond Fitness in Fuquay-Varina, and at one of my student’s home in Wendell, NC. In 1998, I moved the dojo to the Smithfield, NC area off Hwy 210. We finally had our own structure to train in. It was a 16×20 barn that we used as a dojo. In late 1999, we moved the Dojo to a commercial location at 335 E. Market Street in Smithfield, NC. we had classes there through early 2003. In early 2003, because of a downturn in business, we closed the building and had classes at my residence in Smithfield. We had classes in a large room in my house for about 6 months.

In February 2004, I bought a new house in the McGee’s Crossroads, NC. area just off Hwy 210. It had a very large garage, and we moved the Dojo there and began having classes. In 2005, I started a separate class at the Langley’s Gym in Angier besides my garage in McGee’s Crossroads. We had that location through 2006. We continued in the garage through late 2009. In late 2009, we were outgrowing the garage, and I searched for a bigger location. In December 2009, we moved the Dojo to the Food Lion Shopping Center at McGee’s Crossroads Hwy210/I-40. We remained there through December 2012. In January 2013, we moved to our now current location at 27 Annette Drive. In the Summer of 2015, we opened a second location of the Dojo in downtown Smithfield. Ironically, in the same building we were in 2000. It became available for rent and I tried a second location there. It was unfortunate that business was not good there. We only had a few students. After continuously losing money and having a low amount of students, we closed that location and focus on our main location at McGees’s Crossroads. I do plan to open a second and third location in the future.

Even though we moved a lot during the early stages of the Dojo, I still continued to teach the art and continued to run the business. You have to grow into a business. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of time, hard work, money and persistence.

In 2020, we had a crisis “Covid-19” The dojo closed from April through June and went to strictly online Zoom classes. In late June, we reopened for in-person classes again. This was the first time in the school’s history we completely stopped in-person classes. We continued the in-person classes using strict CDC guidelines, a mask requirement and social distancing. We never had a case of Covid-19 in the dojo. It was tough not to train with each other. However, I designed and made props to resemble punching hands and arms, artificial hands on sticks and many other props to use to keep social distancing.

2021 a new year and a new hope. Covid-19 vaccines have rolled out. I’m still using the CDC guidelines for safety. I am still using the props for training. I have taught a lot of striking and weapon techniques since the pandemic started and continue to do that. I awarded several students “Dojo Hero” and “Federation” awards for going above and beyond and staying with the dojo and continuing to train. These students were fundamental to keeping the dojo in business. It’s unfortunate that a lot of our neighboring Dojo’s lost their fight and had to close permanently. I am very fortunate and very thankful I could stay in business during this unprecedented time.

2022 through 2024: We continued to grow with more students and several new instructor level ones, two’s and three’s.

2024 has lots of exciting events coming.

More pictures throughout 28 years coming soon.

Thank you, Soke Murdock


Here are several photos during the 28 year history of our Dojo. These photos will be in order from the early days through today.

These photos from 1995 through 1997.

The first student of Southern School of Martial Arts

In the picture Mark Gottlieb, my 1st student.

This is the Garage we trained in just a few months after leaving the apartment complex "mini gym" in Cary, NC.

We trained in a little apartment complex gym. In the winter of 1996 we had one of the apartment tenets that began to train and then later in the winter of 1996 we had a friend of the tenet that started training. This was my forth student. I continually taught these four students through the spring of 1996. In May 1996 we began training in my first students home garage and then progressed to my backyard at my home in Willow Spring, NC. I then enrolled another paramedic in late May 1996, my 5th student. In the picture Mark, my 1st student and Ed, my 2nd student on the mat. Standing in the back is Jackie my 3rd student. These were Southern School of Martial Arts original 3 students.

These were our first students

In the picture, Jackie, Sean and Doug. Sean was my 5th student.

This was the training in my backyard in Willow Spring after we left the garage in Cary, NC.

We trained at the Fuquay-Varina Community Center during bad weather and trained outdoors at Sensei Murdock's house in good weather.

When the Fuquay-Varina Community Center was closed we started training at my second student's living room.

In the picture Ed on the mat and Doug standing in the corner.

This was taken at the Fuquay-Varina Community Center before they closed the building.

In the picture Jackie, my 3rd student and Doug my 4th student.

Southern School of Martial Art's first building. My first real indoor Dojo. These pictures are from 1998 through 1999.

This was a 16' x 20' barn. It was heated and had air conditioning.

Our first building.

We could fit about 6 to 8 students there.

These students were my first children students.

This was before Kobushi-Do.

We had several new students there.

Jackie and Ed and Doug trained here in the early 1998. They eventually stopped training due to work and family obligations.

Two of my students from early 1999.

Tom and Tina.

Pictures of Sensei Murdock

This was taken by the Smithfield Herald newspaper for an article they did on our Dojo.

These pictures are from 2000 through 2002

Our first commercial location

Once we outgrew the barn we decided to get a commercial location with more space. This was located at 335 E Market St. in Smithfield, NC.

Inside and outside pictures

The red mats are the same mats we use today.

This is looking from the front door

We even had a sound system and played music in the background during training.

Our first Kobushi-Do students

Kobushi-Do was created in 2001. This year is the 20th Anniversary of Kobushi-Do The green belt is Tyler he was our very first Kobushi-Do student.

Rachele working with a new student

Rachele was the second student of the new Kobushi-Do. The Kobushi-Do students wore white Gi's back then.

During the time in Smithfield I taught a lot of classes for different organizations

These were kids for the Skate Center

Sensei with the Skate Center kids

This was a very fun class to teach.

Jessie applying an armbar

Jessie was a very determined student. She became very skilled.

In the back of our building was a parking lot. We often had classes there for realistic real life training

Sensei Murdock

Err was one of my students that trained in the barn. He became a black belt and went on to 3rd degree.

Sensei Murdock and students.

These pictures are from 2003 through early 2004

In 2003 the economy tanked and so did our student roster. We had to close the Smithfield location and go private for a while

We trained here in the backyard at my Smithfield residence.

We trained in the living room during bad weather

In the picture is Err and Clayton, my two black belts. We trained there for about 5 months. This was right before moving the dojo to McGee's Crossroads, NC.

These pictures are from 2004 through late 2009

These are pictures from the McGee's Crossroads location.

Our first Dojo in McGee's Crossroads, NC.

I bought this house for it's large garage. We had enough room for about 12 students.

Two of our first new students at the Garage dojo

Our first Ninjutsu class as Rivers Edge Bujinkan Dojo.

Melissa and Jon.

This picture taken during a Professor Casarez's Seminar at the Dojo

Student's Clayton, Melissa, Lee and Jon.

Err and Shanon

During an adult class.

Professor Casarez Seminar at the Dojo

Soke Casarez and the participants of the seminar.

The Adult class

My Black belts at the time

Melissa, Black Belt Candidate, Clayton, 2nd Degree Black Belt, Sensei Murdock, Err, 2nd Degree Black Belt and Wayne 2nd Degree Black Belt.

Langley Gymnastic Center, Angier, NC.

During the time at the garage we added as second Dojo inside the Langley's Gymnastics Center. I opened a small dojo in the spare room they had available.

This was our other Dojo at Langley's Gymnastic Center

This was a Kobushi-Do class.

Sensei Murdock

Sensei demonstrating a technique.

This was our Kobushi-Do class at Langley's

We had a couple others that didn't make the picture. We were at Langley's for about a year. They eventually need the room back and we then went solely back to the garage.

This was from the garage Dojo

Jon and Kira

Our Kobushi-Do class at the time.

Our First Kobushi-Do Black Belt

Kira Brothers

Our Second Black Belt in Kobushi-Do

Elyse O'Dell

Sensei Murdock

Sensei Murdock demonstrating a flat foot jump over a stick.

Professor John Casarez

This was another group picture after a Seminar taught by the founder of the system.

Professor Casarez demonstrating a technique.

In the picture Justin Bullock with Professor Casarez.

Our Kobushi-Do class 2009

This was the last class for Kobushi-Do in the garage. This was taken just a week before we moved the Dojo to the McGee's Crossroads Food Lion Shopping Center.

These are photos from 2010 through late 2012 when we were located at the Food Lion Shopping Center.

The Food Lion Shopping Center Dojo Location

In 2010 we moved the Dojo back to a commercial location. We've been commercial ever since.

Our new McGee's Crossroads commercial location.

After out growing the garage we decided to go commercial again and signed several more students at the new dojo.

This was the inside of the Dojo

Sensei Murdock

The first year at the new location.

We had a huge increase in students in the first year. We had several new Kobushi-Do students.

The first year at the new location.

We had several new adult students as well as the new Kobushi-Do students

This was a teen class.

I did a special teen class for a short while before we added that to the adult class.

Billy and Justin

Billy and Justin became good friends. Justin had to leave toe Dojo because his wife took a job in Columbus, Ohio. I miss having him in the dojo.

Our newest Black Belt, Nathan Lindsay

Nathan started in the Kobushi-Do class like many other adult students. I had several Kobushi-Do students that earned black belt and above.

Sensei Murdock, Kaitlyn Luke, Jake Flynn and Gabe Penada.

Kaitlyn, Jake, Michelle, Jennifer, Sabastian were several of our Kobushi-Do students that made it to black belt or above in the adult system.

Jackson Currin and Sensei Murdock

Jackson eventually went to the adult class and earned a black belt in the adult system.

Justin, Sensei and Wayne

Justen and Wayne earned higher Dan levels.

These pictures are from 2013 to 2015

This is when I moved the Dojo to a new and bigger location at 27 Annette Dr. on the other side of the interstate.

Our current Location of the Dojo

This is our third commercial location. We moved to this location because it was a bigger building and the lease was a little cheaper.

Our Dojo for the side.

Inside the dojo

the belt rank racks and the weapons racks.

Our early 2013 Kobushi-Do class

We added several new students after moving to the bigger location.

Kaitlyn helping out with the class

Kaitlyn started out at the garage as a Kobushi-Do student and progressed to an adult black belt. She was training to be an instructor.

Kobushi-Do class obstacle course.

We set up several courses for game time.

Kaitlyn and Gabe

Adult class

Kobushi-Do students

Sensei Murdock

Kaitlyn and Michelle

This was before we put up the red curtains.

Conner and Greg

Our second location in Smithfield, NC.

This was our second location of Southern School of Martial Arts. Ironically it's the building we had in 2000. It was for rent again and I decided to rent and renovate it. I opened the second location in early 2014.

Inside the Smithfield location

This was the front of the building.

This was the day of our grand opening.

Several McGee's students trained at both locations.

I only had two students from that area training.

The front of the dojo.

Students training

I taught at McGee's Crossroads Dojo on a Tuesday and Thursday and at the Smithfield Dojo on Monday and Wednesdays.

A students birthday party.

This was one of the birthday parties we hosted.

The grand opening party.

We had snacks and drinks for the grand opening.

This was an Edged Weapons seminar I taught.

In the picture Sensei, Wayne Williams and my former student Err Bowen. Err decided to start training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

End of the seminar

We were in business in Smithfield for one year. We never really had enough "actual Smithfield Dojo students" to justify continuing the second location in Smithfield. I continually lost money there. I had to pay the rent from the McGee's Crossroads dojo's revenue. We only had 8 students at the most and some of those dropped. We had more students coming from McGee's to train than we had coming from the Smithfield area. Two other Tae Kwon Do schools opened there after we closed only to go out of business. Smithfield is not the same as it was in 2000.

These pictures are from 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021.

Our Kobushi-Do class late 2017

Our First Kid Ninja class

This was our first children's Bujinkan Ninjutsu class.

This is a class from Rivers Edge Bujinkan Dojo

Jeffrey and Jason

Jason Pajski

Jason is now a Nidan in the Bujinkan

Three of my Kobushi-Do students

William, Gabe and Troy.

Craig, Danny and Jake

Danny went on to earn his black belt. He was the oldest to ever earn a black belt in dojo history.

Michelle and Jake.

Jake was the youngest person to ever earn an adult 2nd degree black belt in the history of the dojo.

This was an adult class in 2017

Our adult class 2017

Our first Little Ninja Class

We started our Little Ninja class in the summer of 2017.

Our new Leadership, Black Belt Club and Instructor Program began.

In March of 2017 I designed three programs for advanced learning. The Leadership program was a step up from the regular program. The Black Belt Club was a step up from the Leadership program and the Instructor program is a step up from the Black Belt Club. There is also a Masters program and a Soke-Dai program that will be available which is a step up from the Instructor program.

The Kobushi-Do class late 2017

Sara Kuhaneck earned her black belt in late 2018.

Leadership class late 2018

Leadership class late 2018

Adult class late 2018

Adult class late 2018

Adult class 2019

Kobushi-Do class 2019

Adult class late 2019

Adult class early Fall 2019

Professor John Casarez seminar.

This was Soke Casarez's last seminar. He retired with over 70 years in martial arts. He taught this seminar shortly after he promoted me to 10th Dan.

Professor Casarez's seminar

Professor John H. Casarez

Founder of Manabi-Masho Ju-Jitsu

Professor Casarez with Kagan and Josh

Our Kobushi-Do class with Professor Casarez October 2019.

January 2020

Kobushi-Do class 2020

Francisco and Kagan

Leadership and above class July 2020.

In late March 2020 the Covid 19 pandemic hit. We were forced to close and teach online. We were closed April through late June 2020. This was the first time we stopped in-person learning in the history of the dojo.

Dojo and Federation Awards

These were awards I awarded for outstanding loyalty and respect contribution to the dojo. These awards went to the students who went above and beyond to help the dojo. They kept paying tuition and training online to keep the dojo in business. We also had several students that continued to pay their advanced training tuition to help the dojo. I'm thankful for these students.

Class late 2020

Class late 2020

Class late 2020

Class late 2020

Class January 2021

Still dealing with the pandemic in 2021. Vaccines are on there way and a hope for normal training is high.

Ben Welch, January 2021

Our first certified Assistant Instructor.

Weapons training.

KITT guarding the dojo.

For my Knight Rider fans.

William and Ruben training with a stick disarm in the Leadership class, late 2021