“You learn through both winning and losing,” says 70-year-old Marshall Coffman, who leads a double life.
As the Reverend Dr. Coffman, he is associate pastor of the Christian Fellowship of Calvert County in Owings. As Sensei Coffman, he is head instructor of Budokan Judo Club at Northeast Community Center. Combining roles, he leads the Judo for Jesus ministry.
This summer, Sensei Coffman earned the lofty rank of fifth-degree black belt.
Gaining a first-degree black belt is a high honor coveted by many but achieved by only the most devoted. Rising to the fifth degree — a labor of 23-plus years for Coffman — demands not only technical ability but also sacrifice and devotion. Fewer than seven percent of Judo practitioners wear the red-and-black belt unique to this rank.
As a 21-year-old U.S. Air Force communications technician, Coffman took advantage of his posting 30 miles from Tokyo to study judo with the renowned fifth-degree black belt Takehide Matsunaga. He learned while studying the ancient arts to teach others.
From Japan to the Philippines to Colorado Springs to Andrews Airbase, he gained skill as he taught.
In the Phillipines, he met his wife, Teresita Abellana Gadiana. They have two children, Felipe and Annette. The whole family has studied judo.
By the time Coffman reached the Washington metropolitan area, he was a respected martial arts teacher.
At 35, Coffman “felt the call” of a second, more demanding vocation: he devoted 12 years of night school to studying for the ministry. Studying while working at AT&T left no spare time.
“Judo, I believed, was behind me,” he says. “God will sometimes ask you to give up something.”
Coffman’s health also seemed lost. He suffered a heart attack, the crippling effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam, cancer and triple bypass surgery.
As he recovered, he realized that poor physical health can damage a person’s spiritual health. In February 2004, he launched the Judo for Jesus Ministry at the Baptist Convention of Maryland and Delaware.
That summer, the Judo for Jesus Ministry Team traveled nearly 3,000 miles, making gospel presentations in 21 churches with 375 new students professing their faith. The Judo for Jesus Ministry has since seen over 1,000 professions in faith.
“Sometimes,” Coffman says, God gives what you gave back to you to use for His glory.”