IN MEMORIAM SHIHAN ERIC MERRILL, 1959-2019
Soke of Otaki Han Taihojutsu
Hailing from South Pasadena, California, Eric Merrill began his martial career as a youth in 1966 when he joined a Kodokan judo dojo in San Marino. While practicing judo with a friend in a park later that year he noticed an old Japanese man sit down on a bench and begin watching them. This man would later introduce himself as Myoshi Otaki, a retired WWII Japanese military policeman. As a result of this meeting, Eric and Otaki Shihan developed a relationship over time and eventually Otaki Shihan agreed (somewhat reluctantly) to teach the young gaijin his family’s taihojutsu system.
For the next decade Eric went to Otaki Shihan’s home daily to train (both before and after school) where Otaki Shihan would push the living-room furniture aside, throw down tatami mats, and teach. Early on Otaki Shihan made it clear to Eric that he expected a strong commitment from his young student, requiring that he show up daily to train. If not, then the teaching would end. He was also a strict traditionalist, telling Eric that questioning would not be tolerated; either Eric did as Otaki Shihan instructed or the teaching would end. Eric accepted these conditions and committed himself to learning.
The training was severe to say the least (Otaki Shihan was an unpleasant, brutal man), but Eric persevered through the pain and injuries and the language barrier that existed until eventually even Otaki Shihan came to grudgingly respect his young pupil’s tenacity. Eric was Otaki Shihan’s only constant student during these years of training. Others would come for brief periods of time, but none stayed except Eric. Even Otaki Shihan’s own adult son had shown little interest over the years in his family’s hereditary taihojutsu system. Perhaps because of this Otaki Shihan recognized in Eric someone to whom he might pass on his family’s martial legacy, lest it die. Regardless, with no other serious or long-term students, Eric became the sole recipient of Otaki Shihan’s comprehensive teaching.
During this time Eric continued his judo training as well, eventually achieving the rank of Nidan. Also, during the latter years of high school, he studied Kyokushinkai Karate, achieving the rank of Shodan. But it was Otaki Han Taihojutsu at which Eric truly excelled.
However, during the mid-1970s Eric’s parents divorced and he found himself forced to leave Otaki Shihan and his instruction to move to Colorado. This effectively ended his training, but before Eric left, Otaki Shihan issued him a Menkyo Kaiden (Everything Passed On License), saying in essence that he had taught Eric everything he had to teach him and that he had given Eric all the tools to put the pieces together and figure out the rest for himself.
Eric’s tenure in Colorado was short-lived and within a few months he moved again, this time to Arizona where he finished high school and then immediately joined the Marine Corps in 1976. He served in 4th Battalion Recon, was qualified in HALO, became a Special Forces combat diver, and graduated from Reconnaissance School. He served from 1976 to 1983.
In 1977 Shihan Merrill decided to begin teaching Otaki Han Taihojutsu. At the time the system’s technical curriculum was largely unstructured, so he began the painstaking task of organizing and structuring it for instruction to Westerners. He began teaching publicly shortly thereafter.
In 1979 he became a certified paramedic and firefighter and upon completion of his military career started his career in firefighting. He served his community for decades thereafter in various firefighting and paramedic roles. During these years he continued to teach Otaki Han publicly until 2005 when he retired from active, public teaching (turning that responsibility over to his senior students). Despite this, he did continue to instruct the Otaki Han Yudansha Kai in private quarterly classes and teach publicly once a year at the annual Otaki Han Tai Kai seminar.
In his professional life, Shihan Merrill rose to the position of Deputy Fire Chief of the Rio Verde, Arizona Fire Department, a position he held for many years before eventually retiring in the Spring of 2019. He looked forward to the freedom of retirement and having more time to dedicate to his family and to Otaki Han. Tragically, however, Shihan Merrill was killed in an automobile accident on May 25th, 2019 just weeks after his retirement.
Shihan Merrill left a legacy of great martial teachings and, perhaps more importantly, of loyalty and fraternity. The “clan” (as he liked to call it) of Otaki Han, which he fostered, has produced a group of close-knit practitioners over the years who have become true friends, and who have come to consider themselves more akin to brothers. This clan is dedicated to continuing his teachings and to passing Otaki Han Taihojutsu, and its foundations of loyalty, honor, and tradition, onto the next generation.
Martial Arts Training Background
Otaki Han Taihojutsu
Instructor: Myoshi Otaki Shihan
Rank Achieved: Menkyo Kaiden
Instructors: Sensei Terry Kozell, Rokudan; Junhyo Hyung Sensei, Sandan; Hiro Kasaku Sensei, Nidan
Rank Achieved: Nidan
Instructors: Sensei John Walsh, Sandan; Sensei Norbert Rozanski, Shodan
Rank Achieved: Shodan