Ron Mann: Mastering Destiny and Fighting For His Brothers
Ron Mann is a Veteran, Martial Arts Master and Case Manager at Veterans First—Friendship Place’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program, funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Blog Post by Jean Michel Giraud, Friendship Place President & CEO
Ron Mann was raised in a family whose military service tradition dates back to the Civil War. His relatives fought in World Wars I and II, as well as the Korean and Vietnam wars, among others. When he finished high school, signing up for the army was the thing to do. Ron was proud to follow in the footsteps of his family members.
Ron chose to be trained as an Army medic. In his early twenties, he served overseas in Korea, near the Demilitarized Zone. He started learning jiu-jitsu while there. At first, his tour in South Korea seemed just like another overseas assignment, but a skirmish in the border area would prove otherwise and would change everything. At 22, Ron was collecting and bagging his friends’ remains, strenuously matching body parts along the way.
Ron was trained to remain calm during battles—and he did so while rescuing his injured comrades in the field—but the aftermath of the event was a lot to process. It remained a footprint on his mind…too real to ignore, too deep to erase.
Ron was later stationed in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Things were better for a while, but tragically, and as fate would have it, there was a plane crash and the young medic found himself faced with marred bodies once again.
After his tour of duty, Ron decided to get away. He went home to the Midwest. One day, as he was riding his motorcycle with a friend, there was an accident and he lost the lower half of his left leg.
Ron flat-lined twice—his heart stopped beating. While conscious, he remembers telling the doctor not to bring him back if he had to take his leg, but the doctor did. Still a young man, he had to face the rest of his life as an amputee. This would lead him through some dark days, and then even darker days. The loss was more than he could fathom, and several times, he considered doing something about it.
Eventually, drawing from his upbringing and spirituality, Ron resumed training as a kick boxer. He gradually made his way to the big leagues, competing and winning against fully able-bodied fighters in different parts of the country.
It was not easy at first. Ron had to pry open the first gym doors and convince the owners that he could do just as well as anybody else, but he was up to the task. In fact, the challenge fueled him. Ron became successful and moved across the country following opportunities. Eventually, he became a state champion in Michigan.
Fame and success were a lot to handle. Ron started to drink to manage, but the drinking got out of control and impacted his training. Soon, he could not keep up physically and the whole thing collapsed seemingly as quickly as it had sprung up. The result, he found himself living on the streets of the Tenderloin, in San Francisco.
“I was a ‘banger.’ I took care of a territory for some dealers, making sure other people did not take it over.”
Ron was stabbed during a fight and nearly died in the hospital. When none of his friends from the street went to see him, he realized that he had to get his life together.
He met his first AA sponsor on the street, “this guy who had a big smile that you could not get away from.”
It was rough at first, but Ron managed to rekindle his relationship with family and moved back to the Midwest.
There, he got a job helping veterans and went back to his martial arts training.
Ron’s belief in Buddhist principles and his jiu-jitsu training have given new meaning to his life. He has found the strength to rebuild and grow. Ron is now a Jiu-Jitsu Master, teaching martial arts to young people.
Recently, Ron won a gold medal at the World Para Jiu-Jitsu Festival in Abu Dhabi. Today, he is the World Jiu-Jitsu Champion. Through will and courage, he has defied the stigma attached to physical handicap by competing and winning in his sport.
This year, Ron became a case manager at Friendship Place’s Veterans First, a homeless prevention and rapid rehousing program for veterans and their families. He now serves by housing his “brothers.”
Many a Friday by 4 o’clock, Ron visits the administrative office at Friendship Place to pick up last-minute checks: first month’s rent and security deposits that allow veterans to move from the street or shelter into new apartments. He is making sure his “brothers and sisters” move in that night. He won’t leave them behind.