Often times, the people who make the backbone of a community strong go without the recognition they deserve. Nelson Hulce has been strengthening the core of Dayton, both figuratively and literally, for most of his life.
Born at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Dayton in 1951, Hulce came of age during times of civil unrest and local tensions while in high school. In his own words, Dayton has remained his home ever since because he had a heart for seeing the city heal and grow.
Hulce worked as a Respiratory Therapist in Dayton for 40 years. Perhaps what he is most known for, however, is his contribution to the Dayton martial arts community. Because of his passion and dedication to the art, as well as his personality that exudes acceptance, Hulce has introduced countless people to the healing benefits of practicing the various styles— especially those who might’ve otherwise been too intimidated to know where to begin.
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A student of the martial arts since 1966, Hulce specialized in the art of Aikido, a modern Japanese martial art, for 34 years. He then founded and was sensei of the Dayton Aikido Club from 1989-1998. Although in recent years, his focus has been on the practice of Tai Chi — often referred to as “moving meditation.”
Today, Hulce is retired and living in Belmont with his wife, Shelly. Every Thursday at Yellow Cab Tavern, Hulce leads a one-hour practice of Tai Chi for anyone wanting to learn. He is also our Daytonian of the Week:
What got you started with martial arts and why were you drawn to the practice so much?
“As a teen in the ‘60s and ‘70s, martial arts was showing up a lot in movies like Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris, TV shows like “Kung Fu,” books and magazines. With the large interest developing in the Western world, a lot of local groups and dojos were opening, making study more accessible. There were also a wide variety of the arts to choose from. I was drawn to martial arts because of the discipline and efficient movements. As a male teen with a lot of energy and problems at home, it gave me a positive outlet and a much needed sense of security. Discovering Eastern philosophies through martial arts also put me on a peaceful, spiritual path that were helpful.”
What does it mean to be a Sensei and what was the best part about being the Sensai of the Dayton Aikido Club?
“Sensei means "teacher." In the context of martial arts, including that of Aikido, a point is reached in training when it is necessary to teach in order to advance your understanding of your art. Being a sensei furthers this process. To teach is to give and to see from the point of view of the student so that you can better explain the art. The sensei and the teacher help move one another forward.”
How can practicing any form of martial arts improve your life?
“There are many health benefits to be found in any art that moves the body and the mind. Like performing music or dancing with another person, the benefits include harmony, growth in character, communication, trust and bonding. In my years of studying and teaching, I have worked with a very diverse population from police officers to professional dancers and office workers, to recovering addicts to people with physical disabilities. I have seen many people over the years learn patience, improve their mobility and balance, gain discipline, control anger and find a peaceful, spirit filled path. Like with any art, you get back what you put in to it.”
In your opinion, what makes Dayton different from other cities?
“Any time I travel, I am always happy to be back home in Dayton. Seeing other places makes me appreciate the unique and wonderful things we have to offer; great arts programs, fantastic local music, a rich history, beautiful destination places in town and closeby, seasons that are celebrated outdoors in our beautiful parks, streams, rivers and reserves. And Dayton is home to the most kind and generous people in the world.”
Why are you proud to be a Daytonian?
“I believe people look at Daytonians not only as inventors and innovators but also a very resilient and talented culture. Every hit we have taken in our history, from the flood on up to the loss of our major manufacturers, we survive and thrive. That takes a strong, intelligent and committed community. I am also proud to be a Daytonion as we have played a large part in the history of world peace.”
What is the martial arts community like in Dayton? Is it close knit? Are there lots of ways to get involved?
“There are a lot of great martial arts groups and schools in Dayton; something for everyone. My path has been with the art of Aikido. I prefer cooperative learning rather than sports oriented arts.”
When you're not practicing, what do you enjoy doing in your free time in Dayton?
My free time is spent gardening and enjoying local parks, fins and reserves, watching local bands perform, going to local arts establishments and productions, playing music with friends — violin, guitar, harmonica —and volunteering as a reader for the blind at the Radio Reading Service through Goodwill Easter Seals Miami Valley. My favorite places to go are the downtown library, Christopher’s Restaurant, Yellow Cab Tavern, Victoria and Schuster performing arts centers, Dayton Art Institute and The Neon!
Of all the arts you've practiced, what is your favorite and why?
“My life has been mostly devoted to the art of Aikido. The founder, Morihei Ueshiba, built the art on respect for all, even an attacker. His philosophy lead him to change "lethal" Aikijujutsu techniques to "control" situations with movements, based on redirecting energy and the art of evasion.”