President’s Corner: ABA Evolution and the Bando Community

Through the many organizations I’ve belonged to, one lesson I’ve learned is that the heart of an organization is in the people who are committed to its mission. With the right intentions, the structure of an organization doesn’t impede people doing from what they know needs to be done. At the same time, I’ve also learned that organizations that do not adjust their structure in response to change can make things harder for people to connect and to do what’s important. The environment is never static, and organizations must evolve to survive.

Many of you have heard that there has been talk of organization change, or even dissolution, for the ABA. For those of you who may not have time to read this entire message, I’d like to make sure you are aware that Dr. Gyi does not want to see the Bando community disbanded or the knowledge that has been shared lost. He does want, however, for us to have a viable structure that reflects the current environment and which encourages our senior leadership to be responsible for growing, sharing, and evolving Hanthawaddy Bando. The fellowship that has grown among our Bando community does not depend on any single organizational structure, and everyone I know wants to honor Dr. Gyi’s legacy by continuing to embody what he’s taught and to pass on the knowledge that he’s shared to the next generation.


“Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present
are certain to miss the future” 
– John F. Kennedy

Within the American Bando Association, I, and many others, are recognizing that we are at a point where it’s important to revisit our mission and organizational structure:

  • The ABA was founded as a veterans memorial martial arts organization, and specifically has the mission to honor those who served in military roles in the China-Burma-India (CBI) theatre of World War II. Now, there are very few Veterans who are still alive that were part of the CBI theatre, and with membership dwindling, most, if not all, of the groups commemorating this special group of Veterans have been laid down.
  • Dr. Gyi has also laid out a vision for a “New Chapter” of ABA, recognizing the leadership and on-going contributions of people who exemplify individual Bando skills and continued personal growth while also continuing to actively train and promote students. Those people are: Chet Buffington, Kenny Corl, Michael Decker, Karl Duff, Jerry George, Dave Keeney, Gary Layton, Mary Mester, Rick Suskind, and Duvon Winborne. As our Bando community reluctantly begins to consider how we will operate when Dr. Gyi is no longer actively teaching, we will need to rely on a new model that builds on the diversity of skills and knowledge that exists within the Bando community.

There have been several ideas considered related to ABA’s future, although none have resulted in any official decisions:

  • Earlier this Fall, Dr. Gyi had sent to ABA 9th level Grand Masters a note declaring his intention to dissolve the ABA, and to encourage leadership to establish their own organizations to match their interest areas.
  • At the last ABA event, we held a “campfire” meeting to elicit feedback from the Bando community on their thoughts regarding the ABA future. It was clear that those present highly valued the role of ABA in connecting the Bando community and making opportunities for training together.
  • And more recently, Dr. Gyi has expressed the opinion that ABA could be renamed as the National Bando Association of America (NBAA). This name honors the organization that his father set up, and retiring the name “ABA” (but not dissolving the organization) reflects that the current mission of honoring CBI veterans is complete. (Rights to the ABA name and logo would still reside with this organization in that case.)

No change to ABA’s structure, mission, or name can be implemented arbitrarily. Our ABA by-laws define the steps needed for change, including the need to include members in any decision that considers dissolution of the organization. There are also legal considerations that have to be understood and complied with to make sure that we implement changes with open eyes. And because we are a Bando community, we also don’t intend to implement change without fully seeking input from you, our Membership. Right now, we don’t have enough facts on the table to let you know what the implications are for alternative paths that ABA may take. I can commit to you, though, that we will share this information as we find out.

When I speak to our ABA senior leadership, nearly everyone has expressed their desire to honor Dr. Gyi’s wishes in recognition of the essential role he has had in establishing ABA and in sharing his knowledge with so many. I have also sent a letter to the ABA Board of Directors recommending 1, that ABA should not be dissolved and 2, that we formally evaluate options and understand the implications of evolving the ABA into the NBAA. These recommendations will be addressed in the January ABA Board meeting.

There are a lot of questions that need answering, and for many of you, you may want to share your thoughts and to explore how you feel about changes to the ABA. Feel free to share your thoughts with friends, but I ask you to be careful to acknowledge that there are still unknowns about the future. ABA will be actively seeking out your input as well, as we have information to help clarify what different paths mean. If you are attending Dr. Gyi’s seminar on the Healing Arts in Virginia, ABA will be hosting a membership meeting on March 3rd at the Best Western Fairfax (4-6pm) to give you a chance to share your thoughts and concerns. We’ll also be reaching out via email and other means as we explore what different paths may mean. You are also welcome to reach out to the members of our ABA Board of Directors with your thoughts and questions. Our current Board members are: Dave Decker, Michael Decker, Jerry George, Steve Jaszek, Eugene Johnson, Dave Keeney, John Kelley, Anthony Milburn, and Mark Semingson.

Changing ABA’s structure (or name) does not mean that we lose the knowledge of any aspects of Bando, including the more hard styles. All aspects of Bando will continue to be cherished and honored. Those who want to preserving free-fighting, naban, or any other aspect of Bando that is taught are encouraged to teach and to host related events. The organization can facilitate knowledge sharing, but it’s the active involvement of each of you that is needed to grow and to share our collective skills.