Eulogy: Charles Nelson

by Tank Todd

Charles Nelson monument.

Charles Nelson’s monument. Photo courtesy of his daughter Carol Randall.

Mrs Nelson Carol, Brian and family members and friends of Charlie, I opened my email on Friday here in New Zealand to the saddest news, something I never planned would happen not to my hero and mentor.

In 1979 the late Harry Baldock my unarmed combat instructor in New Zealand told me of the Worlds greatest self defence instructor Charles Nelson and how if I wanted to be the best I could be I needed to learn from him.

From that day on I set about learning everything I could about this expert Charles Nelson and began to correspond with him.

I told him I was saving to visit and train from him and he unselfishly sent me video’s articles and information on skills and an invitation to train.

1984 I made my first of many annual trips to train from Charlie and this continued until the closing of his New York School.

My life changed after that first visit, I found what I was looking for and where I wanted to be, working with Charlie.

The knowledge wisdom and history he passed on to me so freely made me feel honored and humble at the same time.

I would spend three to four weeks at a time everyday all day with Charlie and he was a father figure in my life and more than that he was the greatest teacher willing to pass on his tremendous knowledge.

I made some great friends at Charlie’s most of which were his most loyal assistants and later certified life members who all shared one thing in common – that being their love of Charlie and training with him.

Paul Gerasimczyk and Herb Kantrowitz made me welcome in their homes and Paul assisted me with in my travels and training exploits.

I could talk to Charlie about anything, as he was a most worldly and understanding gentleman of such wisdom, knowledge and experience.

I found so much pride in introducing Charlie to the many exponents that accompanied me to New York and to my Military Instructor friends.

My final visit with Charlie in Arkansas was very memorable and my close friends and fellow military CQB instructors Lawrence Jordan and Ron Evans who had waited many years to meet the man I had drilled them in every detail about were very honored to finally meet the self defence legend Charles Nelson in person and Charlie man was in his element once again.He had us with knife and gun in hand practising testament to the expert never giving up on his God given talents and life times work.

Oh Charlie how do I begin to thank you for the success you brought me with my career and all the doors you opened and the qualifications that I attribute to your lessons and advice.

Down under in New Zealand you are a legend and my facility is graced with the many treasures you gave me, your photo’s hang proudly and the thousands of pages of notes and material from you I treasure.

For the past twenty years I have committed myself full time to continuing with your work and there is not a day that has gone by that you have not been in my thoughts and words.

I know you will be at home in the heavenly resting place for Great Soldiers where you belong.

You never wavered from your work and you were truly as named by your loyal life members – The Last True American Master of Self Defense but more than that you were the worlds best of the best.

Mrs Nelson you spent your entire life as the ever supportive wife of a man committed to teaching so many others and in the many quiet times Charlie and I shared talking of combat and life and family,Charlie would repeat how he Loved you more and more as the years passed,that you were always a pleasing sight to his eyes.

After my first visit to New York Charlie would not take any payment for lessons from me no matter how hard I insisted on paying him, he would simply say No, testament to his kindness and generosity and as he said when presenting me with my last qualification in Arkansas you don’t buy or pay for something so important, you must earn it over many years the long and hard way.

Charlie was a man of honor and would rather close the door on fame and fortune if it meant doing anything but what was right and the best.

I have always been and will always be like all Charles Nelson School of Self Defense life members fiercely loyal and no one ever disrespected Charlie when I was present, I remember doing some character adjustment on a disrespectful visitor to Charlie’s studio and how with a proud smile on face he rewrote the whole encounter pointing out the technical errors I had committed,and he was right.

I have so many memories and such fond stories that will always remind me of the greatest influence of my self defence working life – the one and only legendary Charles Nelson.

Charlie you asked for nothing and gave so much, you have done more than most could ever dream of for filling, now is the time for the legend to rest and rest assured your work is safe and will be continued by your chosen loyal life members.

Tribute to a Soldier

Charles Nelson plaque

Charles Nelson’s Marine Corps plaque. Photo courtesy of his daughter Carol Randall.

We remember before you O Lord,
and entrust to your keeping those who in time of war have served in defence of justice and of freedom
They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength
they shall walk and not faint
they shall grow,not old as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them,
Nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them
we will remember them
We now leave our brother in service in God’s merciful care
and commend those who mourn to his compassion.

The Charles Nelson System post New York

Charlie was pleased I was continuing with his work and I was honored when I was certified along with the fellow life members listed below by Charlie as one of the group of those he considered his most skilled and loyal I was once again so honored.

Some of these life members below had spent their entire adult life training with and assisting Charlie and I felt privileged to be included along with them as a fellow life member.

Charlie knew I was the only life member who taught self defence and close combat as a full time profession and that my facility had a long history.He knew I would treasure the teachings and actively and aggressively continue to work in the field he loved so much.

Life Members List of the Charles Nelson School of Self-Defense:

  • Paul Gerasimczyk
  • Herb Kantrowitz
  • John McWilliams
  • Bodden Sween
  • Barry Leventhal
  • Allen Tino
  • Mike Scotland
  • Phil Ellis
  • Marti Erdhiem
  • Geoff Todd
  • Bob Berger

My focus in the last years of training from Charlie centred considerably on the hand to hand combat skills he learnt from his Marine Corps Instructors.

I showed him the skills I had been taught from my military close combat instructors and he showed me his military methods.

Charlie was a military close combat man to the bone and frowned about dangerous traditional self defence practises. I wanted to ensure his military skills were not lost so I spent every opportunity possible to learn and record from his vast knowledge.

To see Charlie smile and comment I haven’t seen that skill since my Marine Corps days and observe him deep in thought as to the combat effectiveness of hand to hand skills was a special time.

My final visit with Charlie in Arkansas was very memorable for many reasons.

My close friends and fellow close combat instructors Ron Evans and Larry Jordan accompanied me and met the man I had told them so much about for so long.

We were taken to the local police station and introduced to the officers there as Charlie’s visiting military instructor friends and I was presented with my final hand to hand combat instructors certificate twelve years after being presented with my first self defence instructors certificate that was serial number one like most of Charlie’s certificates.

He didn’t bother too much with the importance of paper certificates and would only usually pass them out on request.

They would come from pre signed certificates lying around the school usually with the serial number one or two on them.

But this one was different and special not just the hand to hand combat instructor status on paper but more the quiet serious time spent together in serious conversation.

The day was taken up with Charlie showing Ron and Larry and Larry’s wife Zelda self defence skills and after having dinner Charlie and I stayed up until the early hours discussing the past and the future.

Talking to Larry and Ron afterwards I said I felt that this was not only special but final and this was the last time I personally saw Charlie again.It was unknown to me near the end of an era and change of the guard.

I will not go into detail publicly about what we discussed other than it was at this time Charlie suggested I trade under my own name as he had,hence the initial establishment of the Todd Group.

I kept in contact with Charlie by phone and mail after this visit and with his daughter Carol when he was eventually to sick to communicate.

I have continued with our work and some years before he passed away had written several manuals and produced a DVD series that include both Nelson Applegate and Todd systems.

He was so proud to receive copies of the manuals and video’s and said they were very good,quite an accolade to come from Charlie the best of the best.

I wrote articles about Charlie and a technique series that run in every issue of my fight times magazine for many months and he loved getting his copy hot off the press.

The new skills I had developed he said were just like his and that was very good and pleased him.

I published a feature on Charlie’s life that will be republished in the next issue of fight times on line February 1st 2005. I would like to thank Charlie’s daughter Carol for all her on going assistance and for the pictures of Charlie’s final resting place and head stone.

Anyone interested in the Nelson and Todd Systems can contact me personally at or find more information from my master web site

Related Links: