HARLEM – On West 125th Street a veteran mans his post in U.S. Army jungle fatigues. His boots are polished and the green beret signifying his days as part of the Special Forces sits snugly upon his freshly shaven head. However, this man isn’t guarding government property or on a special mission; he hasn’t been required to wear the uniform since serving in the Vietnam War. He stands there to educate and guide anyone who seeks his help. This is Marvin Gatling also known as Prof. Marvin Gatling, Sensei Marvin Gatling, and the Grand Master, depending on whom you ask.
Everyday, if his obligations allow, Gatling, who is 70 years old, stands in front of an office supply store surrounded by street vendors. Gatling is constantly shaking hands and taking part in small talk. He knows just about everyone in Harlem; he has lived here since he was born.
At the age of eight, Gatling prayed for a miracle from God to save him and his brother from the dangerous streets of Harlem, which were at the time and still are, plagued by economic turmoil and violence. Gatling says that miracle came in the form of inspiration deepening his understanding of his existence through the strengthening of his body and mind.
Gatling says, “You have to go to hell and back, then you’re a survivor, it’s about recognition of weakness as a strength, a weak man cannot recognize that he lacks a certain strength.”
When Gatling was a child a Korean War veteran took Gatling under his wing and introduced him to martial arts. 62 years later Gatling is a 10th degree black belt in Kumite, a form of Karate and master of 8 other forms of martial arts.
Gatling is also a talented photographer, historian of Harlem, and a mentor besides being a martial arts trainer for man in his Harlem neighborhood.
“This is the truth, I’ll speak with anyone, break them down, with respect. I mean I want people to see the strength in themselves,” said Gatling.
Runako Gamba, a Harlem businessman and also a martial arts master, said, “In 1991, I met Prof Gatling at 132 on 125th, he changed my life forever, his training made me humble. I didn’t want to be diesel anymore to kill someone, I knew whatever I was doing, it (training) enhanced everything I had, it was a spiritual connection, and I went straight into humility.”
Gatling continues to guide people, seeing through the lens of wisdom that he envisions for his neighborhood. During this interview a gentleman passed by saying, “Peace, Prof. Gatling.” Gatling responded, “War for now until peace is given.”
He says, “My philosophy and training is not for Mickey Mouse <expletives>; this is for capital E – L – I – T – E – S.”
In Harlem, the Mecca for Blacks in America, the names of Black leaders who embodied knowledge of self and community adorn the streets, and struggle is an image that continues to be played out. Gatling said, “I didn’t let the man break me, I found my strength.”