Remembering Mel

“Remembering Mel”

            Even though he trained with me longer than anyone else ever had, I would never introduce Mel as my student. I respected him as an elder and a mentor. Whether he was firing a high powered hand gun, playing classical guitar, or cutting with a samurai sword he embraced the essentials. Mel was proud of military traditions and would occasionally speak of the “O” course (obstacle training) in the Marine Corp Boot Camp. He enjoyed practicing the Japanese sword katas of the Toyama Ryu, a set of forms from the bayonet school at Camp Zama, Japan. He exercised a quiet assertion in all matters, and when problems sometimes became tough, Mel Benson would find solutions and “soldier on”. More than just a dealer in rare coins, he was a devout, seasoned collector of Asian artifacts and had an extensive background in rare oriental antiques.

Mel Benson was the patriarch of our Tozai Sword Club, housed in the Empire State Dojo for over 30 years. He took on the task of teaching and helping the new students in this archaic, lethal art steeped in mythology and tradition. He made 3rd Dan in Iaido, one of the first to attain this level. Mel selflessly gave his time and knowledge to all the students that he helped, during his 70 years. Sensei Mel taught the basics with understanding and patience. Aside from doing Iai-do, he and I also practiced empty hand forms such as Karate, Wing Chun, Wu Tai Chi, and Hsing Yi which was developed by a Chinese general for the purpose of making his troops better soldiers. He spent countless days in the hospital during his last two years. When others had given up and accepted their demise, Mel stood strong practicing Chi Kung in his room with a quiet determination. He soldiered on in a valiant effort to overcome his adversary, meeting it head on, day after day.

Due to the nature of his business he had to carry a permit for a .45 automatic pistol. I remember him taking off the holstered weapon before we’d practice Wu Tai Chi…a perfect balance of war and peace.

Someday in the future we’ll catch up to our point man, until then we’ll be training hard and remembering Mel.

–Art McConnell



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