Grappling, punching, kicking, throwing; Master Sgt. Francisco J. Noda has done it all since he was a child and doesn’t plan to stop any time soon.
Noda, Korean theatre of operations chief for U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific’s communication branch and a black-belt instructor for the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, has dedicated the majority of his life not just to being an excellent Marine, but to being the best martial artist.
The Puerto Rico native began his love for martial arts at the age of 5 when he began studying Judo, a martial art composed of throwing techniques and some grappling.
For the next 12 years, Noda continued to study, compete and place in several tournaments. After years of perfecting his skills, he earned a brown belt, one level below black for Judo. He still wears it today.
“My dad wanted me to learn martial arts for the discipline and to defend myself,” Noda said. “After several years of doing it, it just became a part of my life that I really enjoyed.”
But his love for martial arts took a detour at the start of the Gulf War.
“I was attending Catholic University in Puerto Rico (where he studied engineering) when the tension started” Noda said. “I always had respect for the military, so I thought it would be a good idea to serve. Personally, I felt I had an obligation.”
On Jan. 3, 1991, Noda attended basic training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., but missed his opportunity to fight in the war.
“By the time I graduated boot camp, the war was over,” he said with disappointment. “I joined for a reason that wasn’t there anymore.”
After arriving at his first duty station on Okinawa, Japan, Noda resumed his studies at off-base dojos. But, his responsibilities as a Marine led him to walking away from the martial arts he loved.
Though deployments stopped him from continuing his studies, they led him to a new passion – the Marine Corps.
“The experience of those first four years as a Marine really left an impression,” said the father of three. “The bonds we make and getting to do things that a young man doesn’t normally do, like traveling to the Philippines and Thailand. It really made me want a career in the Marine Corps.”
Years past for Noda without training, until the Marine Corps gave him the opportunity to return to what he loved.
In the summer of 2001, during his tour at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., Noda’s superior asked him to be part of the Marine Corps’ newest project – MCMAP.
“The Marine Corps wanted everyone to be at least a tan belt and with my martial arts background they figured I’d want to do it, so I accepted,” he said with a smirk.
Though Noda appears to always be professional and humble when talking about his experiences, his wife said it was one of the most exciting times of his life.
“He was so excited when they asked him to be an instructor,” said Kimberly Noda, his wife of 12 years. “He was smiling, talking fast and just loved the idea of being challenged and getting back in martial arts.”
Noda spent the next several weeks attending the most difficult martial-arts program he had ever experienced, he said. He endured full days of intense physical training, which included sparing, grappling and conditioning until every inch of his body ached. When he was done, he became one of the Corps’ first-generation, MCMAP instructors and had rekindled his love of martial arts.
“It motivated me,” Noda said, with a certain confidence. “It brought back some old memories of all the hard work and sweat I went through (when I studied Judo.) It challenged me and got me back in the game.”
After his certification, he began training more than 900 Marines with Marine Wing Support Squadron 373, Marine Aircraft Group 37, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, MACAS Miramar. During the following six months, he incorporated MCMAP into every unit physical training session.
After transferring to MARFORPAC, Noda’s biggest challenge was finding others to teach and train with outside of traditional MCMAP courses. But, his love for martial arts drove him to become a founding member of Camp Smith’s “Fight Club.”
“When I first got to MARFORPAC, I asked what kind of training they do around here for MCMAP and I didn’t find much,” he said. “So I found some other people that were interested and we started training during lunch.”
At the “Club,” Noda, other MCMAP instructors and martial artists share their styles and expertise with each other. They train aspiring martial artists of all levels.
“He’s a really good teacher, mentor and very patient when teaching people,” said Sgt. Andrew L. Grumbein, a black-belt MCMAP instructor and Noda’s grappling partner. “He gets very personal about teaching and makes it easy to understand. If you don’t, he explains it to you in a way that you can. All his students respond very well to him.”
Today, Noda studies Jujutsu, a grappling martial art, and Mu Thai, a standing, mixed-martial art, in addition to Judo and MCMAP. Noda said he doesn’t plan to stop any time soon.
“He just enjoys it so much,” Kimberly said. “Guys keep joking with him and tell him that he’s getting too old for it, but it just makes him want to train more. I don’t think he ever wants to stop.”