Shihan | Manuel Rabago

Manuel Rabago Sensei

Before speaking of Manuel Sensei, and believing with all my heart, it is important for all kohei studying the martial ways to know the history and lineage of their discipline.

Equally important is the awesome and virtuous responsibility of each senpai [せんぱい], and each sensei to pass along the collective knowledge and wisdom to each generation that follows.  It is with great honor and respect that I offer the following information on my sensei—mi padre, y professor, y amigo— Manuel Rabago, de Guanajato Mexico.


The Beginning |

I first met Manuel and his beautiful wife Yolanda at the age of fourteen.  George and Henry Hoffmeister — friends of both the Rabagos’, and the Wussow family — had asked me to tend bar at a party for their friends.  Manuel and Yolanda introduced themselves while I mixed their drinks, and a deep spiritual connection was instantly formed.  Life provided no hints at that time that reality was about to change into such a new direction.

My birth parents had begun to make plans for my fifteenth birthday, which was just a few weeks past the day of the Hoffmeister’s party.  I invited Manuel and Yolanda to attend, and they agreed.  This was such a tremendous gift of honor, as they were no longer neighbors, and had to drive a great distance from their new home in Kearney, MO to attend.

Manuel asked to see my bedroom once my birthday activities were through.  He noticed that I had a pair of nunchaku hanging on the bedroom wall, and asked if I knew how to use them.  I told him of the few times that I tried, which resulted in welts and knots on my head with each attempt.  He grinned and laughed, and asked me to take them down.  I did so, and then handed them to his outstretched hand.  He, in-turn handed me his hearing aide…  and then my jaw dropped.

There was not a great deal of open space in the bedroom, however Manuel spun the nunchaku so quickly and precisely that he needed very little room on either side of his husky petite frame.  I shook my head in disbelief, and then humbly, but excitedly begged him to teach me.  He nodded, and winked, and said he would see what he could do about that.

Fourteen years of age was the Kansas requirement for a learner’s driver permit, and I received mine at that time.  I was allowed to drive to school and work.  Manuel and my parents worked out the details, and eventually I was allowed to drive to Manuel’s home in Kearney; my new ryu.  Manuel and Yolanda kept me for the weekends, and I drove back to Leawood Sunday evenings, but not until I finished enjoying one of Yolanda’s wonderful meals.

This form of training was tough, and to be sure; it toughened my mind and body.  Manuel had retired as Sensei, and no longer had tumbling mats.   Manuel taught ukeme on the banks of his land, which provided rich and abundant prairie grass.  His meticulous training and the prairie grass were the buffers to my physical harm from nage waza.  However, the first class did not begin with ukeme.  It began with the first spiritual lesson of the I-Ching.


Manuel Rabago, de Guanajuato Mexico |

He was born in the small town of Guanajato, Mexico. He lived with his family who were struggling poultry farmers. Manuel is short in stature, as those who know him will attest. As a child, while walking to school each day with his best friend, he was often attacked by boys throwing rocks, and those who also stole his lunch money.

He was born deaf in his left ear, and was hard of hearing in his right.  His deafness, small stature, and lack of self-defense knowledge caused him great grief. When approaching his father with the challenges of the bullies, he was told to find a solution on his own, and not to bring his father problems.

Manuel’s solution presented itself one day when he noticed a book on Judo and Ju Jitsu instruction at a local book store.  Manuel and his friend — also named Manuel — saved their pesos and eventually bought the book.

Manuel Rabago Sensei | Black Belt Certificate 1967

Manuel Rabago Sensei | Black Belt Certificate 1967

They practiced each technique from the book’s illustrations—one at a time—cover-to-cover, until they became proficient with each one. They decided to train in secret, so the aggressive boys would not know what they were up to.  Eventually the day came when they courageously decided to use their new skills against the boys that harassed them.

As would be expected of Manuel, both he and his friend Manuel were very successful in thwarting off the attack. In fact, Manuel said [grinning] they never tried to bother them again.

Manuel further added that he and his friend eventually bought a second book on self-defense and learned all it had to offer. Eventually Manuel came to the united states and was tested for his dan (black-belt) rating(s). He achieved his Black Belt ranking from the American Judo and Ju Jitsu Federation in 1967.

Yolanda Rabago Brown-Belt Certificate

Yolanda Rabago | Brown-Belt Certificate

His wife Yolanda (Yogi) also achieved her brown-belt in Judo.

Given enough drive and determination, Manuel and his best friend demonstrated that we, as humans, can do anything we set our minds to. I have heard many people say, and I have read many Internet posts stating that it is impossible for a person to learn self-defense from a book. And while I would agree that a dojo (school) may be the nominal place for most to learn, Manuel proved that effective learning from a book is not impossible.

Link to Manuel’s Manuscript:  Synthesis of the Planet Earth – Manuel Rabago

—Troy M. Wussow-Rabago | 04/30/2004

If you have experiences of Manuel and wish to share them, please send an email to