Fallen Fighter; Tribute to Frank Mafnas

Posted by: John W. Zimmer
Under: karate
19 Jan 2010


It is with a heavy heart that I write this post about my long time friend, fellow fighter, and Kenpo Master, Frank Mafnas, who died last Tuesday. Frank lived most recently in Kansas City, MO. Here is Franks obituary.


Frank and I met in the mid-70’s at Tracy’s Karate School in San Diego. I believe Frank started at the Lemon Grove Tracy’s School. We were both blue or green belts at the time and I remember lots of tough fighters of the time used to spar after the Tuesday night group classes. Frank was a hard worker and willing to put in lots of extra work into sparring. I for one appreciated the sparring partner while we were honing our craft.


You see we were trying to play with the big boys on Thursday nights as well as get ready for Southern California tournaments. Frank had a great sense of humor and kept all of use motivated as well as keeping it real. You see Frank excelled at tournaments because he fought with all comers and really enjoyed the challenge of fighting the heavy weights like Lap Napoleon, Terry Crook, and John West. Here is an early picture of Frank apparently at a Joe Lewis seminar.

Todd McElhinney, Irving Hoffman, Joe Lewis, Dick Willett, Dave Hays, Frank Mafnas

Todd McElhinney, Irving Hoffman, Joe Lewis, Dick Willett, Dave Hays, Frank Mafnas


Now truth be told, Frank did as much running as I did against the heavy weights but he learned how to score points and get the heck out of the way. In the late 70’s, early 80’s I believe – Frank Mafnas for a time was the 3rd rated light-weight black-belt fighter in the Southern California region.


There was a high degree of camaraderie with Dick Willett’s black belts and on many occasions I found myself fighting along side Frank. I trusted Frank as I did my right hand. One one such occasion at the sports arena, some promoters thought it would be cute to have body builders, boxers and karate in the same event.


In between boxing rounds the promoters introduced the current  full-contact welterweight champion of the world, Alvin Prouder. Soon Alvin was fighting boxers that were disrespecting him in the ring and the arena erupted into fighting! Frank, Dick Willett, Terry Crook and I (as well as a bunch of other black belts) came to our brother’s assistance and ended up fighting a mass of bikers.




If you have ever seen those old Roman fighting scenes – this seemed to be like that minus most of the weapons. Frank and I rescued each other at different times, from pickles and after about five minutes the bikers started retreating fast.


Frank Mafnas was a Yodan (4th degree) Black Belt in Dick Willett’s American Kenpo Karate. A true master of our system. Frank has attended many functions including the first Gathering of Eagles in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2001 in this picture.

Left Back: Charlie, Rey Leal, Dave Hays, Al Tracy, Dick Willett, Robert “Foots” Sumler

Left Front: Calvin, Todd McElhinney, Frank Mafnas, Mike Roberts

Frank had many instructors that helped guide his path. Early on in Lemon Grove I believe it was Leonard Broach who ran that school. Later on Larry McCraw and Dick Willett taught Frank at the San Diego school. Frank’s main fighting coach and fellow fighter he (Frank) affectionately called “Dad,” was Terry Crook. I understand Frank was married to Terry’s sister for a time.

One fond memory I have of Frank was his family gatherings. I attended at least one. His ethnicity was Guamanian and boy let me tell you – you never went away from one of Frank’s family gatherings hungry! I was surprised because the family could pull out a ping-pong table out and it would be filled with food!

I do not know much of Frank’s family life but I understand he is survived by two daughters and a fiancee as well as other family. It pains me to consider this but 50 years old is too damn early to die. Frank’s family suffered a huge loss here and it would have been really nice for Frank to watch his daughters grow into middle age with their families. Here is a picture of Frank in a group photo.

This photo was borrowed from Rey Leal’s website here (I will past his caption).

Above are GrandMaster Dick Willett’s 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th generation Black Belts. I hope no one gets offended because I can’t remember everyone’s name. But here are a few names that I do remember in the picture above. Joyce Libert, Terry Crook, Kimko,Scott Richardson, John “Big T”, Turnage, Dave Hayes, Robert “Foots” Sumler, Dick Willett, Craig Swanson, Rey Leal, Cha Che Leal, Tony Crisotomo, Frank Mafnas, Doug Arcindino, Tidwale, Andy Selcer, “Breeze”, Patty Mcklintock, Fred Pablo, Orned “Chicken” Gabriel, Donna Malloy, Todd Mc Elhinney, John Tran, and one the first BlackBelts under Dick Willet bottom right, “Big Brother” Mike Roberts.

I saw Frank most recently at Dick Willett’s party following the Joe Lewis/Dean Lister seminar in 2008. As I live in San Diego and Frank (for some reason) lived in the mid-west, Kansas City, MO., he and I did not get together much anymore. Frank looked fit and trim from what I could tell and Dave Hays, who saw Frank over Christmas, said he still looked fit and trim.

Frank Mafnas received a couple of high honors in Kenpo Karate; he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Dick Willett. This award is given to those who’s acheivements in American Kenpo Karate helped distinguish himself and his style. Frank competed in tournaments, taught the next generation how to become great fighters as well as was a loyal  friend/fighter as I have ever met.

Frank Mafnas also achieved a high honor in the Tracy’s organization of being inducted into the Kenpo International Hall of Fame as a Sustaining Member in 2007. Here is a picture from that event.

top:Robert Sumler, Dick Willett, Bob White, Mike Roberts, Dave Hays, Rey Leal. Bottom: Todd Mcilhenny, Frank Mafnas

top:Robert Sumler, Dick Willett, Bob White, Mike Roberts, Dave Hays, Rey Leal. Bottom: Todd Mcilhenny, Frank Mafnas


Frank Mafnas was a 50 year-old-man who had achieved much in life but will be sorely missed. He was a friend, fighter, father, role model to those around him. When I heard someone died, I was shocked to hear it was Frank. To me he appeared to be the picture of health. He was still trim and seemed in as good shape as ever (I am working towards that but he seemingly never lost it).


I offer my sincere condolences to Frank Mafnas’s family and I hope that we all can learn from some of Frank’s sense of humor and his work ethic in the Martial Arts. I hope you have some idea of my perspective of Frank and why I believe the world has lost a truly great man in Frank Mafnas!

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8 Responses to “Fallen Fighter; Tribute to Frank Mafnas”

  1. MarksTraining.com Says:

    Sorry to hear about your loss. Always hard when someone from the martial arts world, who is in great shape passes.

  2. kimko Says:

    my AKK brother Frank I will miss you…you always made me laugh with your joking around…..damn brudda i miss you

  3. TheMartialArtsReporter Says:

    I am very sorry for your loss.
    Frank must have been a really great guy
    and he obviously gave this world a lot.
    He will definitely be missed.
    Frank Mafnas, R.I.P.
    .-= TheMartialArtsReporter´s last blog ..Judo: No Kicking And Punching, But It Can Still Hurt Like Hell! =-.

  4. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Thanks guys for your kind words. Yes Frank will be missed by all of his friends and family.

  5. Dan Says:

    Frank was one of my first instructor in mira mesa. He will truly be remembered.

  6. Sly Says:

    I never met Frank but his passing is so tragic. My heart goes out to all his family and his friends. What a wonderful tribute here.

    R.I.P. Frank.

  7. Austin Hanshew Says:

    I really appriciate this blog about by step Dad he was not only the father figure i never had but a friend and Care taker we were in the process of training myself and to have lost him i have lost my sparing partner and weights training partner i miss him to an unbeleivable extent and glad thati wasnt the only person in the world to have known him.

  8. Robert Johnson Says:

    Wow, sorry to hear about this. I was one of Frank’s students when he was teaching in Mira Mesa. He was a great teacher. I always enjoyed his sense of humor and his relaxed style.