There is much to say about Gene Thorner. His life and accomplishments in the martial arts cannot be summed up in a few words; they are inadequate in capturing the loving husband, father, teacher, mentor, and friend he has been to so many.
Eugene “Gene” Francis Thorner came into this world kicking and screaming in Manila, Philippines on August 13, 1950. Little did his parents, Benjamin and Flora, realize that all that kicking and screaming would serve him well throughout his life.
He began his life long dedication to the martial arts at the young age of six in Okinawa. While judo was not his only love, it was his first and held a very special place in his heart. By the time he left Okinawa for the United States, at the age of 16, he had already earned his 1st degree black belts (Sho-Dan) in Shorin-Ryu Karate, Kobujutsu (weaponry), Judo, and Aikido. These skills would come in handy later in life with the birth of his son, Kaine, whom he trained to fight the girls off, and his two gorgeous daughters, Cherish and Shana, whose potential suitors were met at the front door with a katana in one hand and a smile on his face—or maybe it was a scowl.
In the U.S., Gene served two years in the Navy and continued to hone his already extensive skill set. He studied Kung Fu under Master Daniel Pai in the 70s and was known as Cow Po Pai, one of Master Pai’s original ten disciples. Later in life he also earned his 9th Dan (Ku-Dan) in Okinawan Karate from Master Glenn Premru.
Over the decades Gene continued to accumulate a vast array of knowledge, earning enough ranks to prove his status as a martial arts geek. More on his geekiness later. His other ranks are: 6th Dan Black Belt in Judo, 6th Duàn Instructor in Pai-Lum Kung-Fu, 6th Duàn Instructor in Southern Chinese Kempo, 4th Dan Black Belt in Okinawan Kobudo, 2nd Dan Black Belt in Goshin Jujutsu and 2nd Dan Black Belt in Aikido. So basically, you wouldn’t want to mess with him.
Gene was quite the showman. In the 80’s, he took his skills on the road with Master Pai and Master Ted Vollrath for the Master’s World of Karate & Kung-Fu World Tour. He was featured in two films. The documentary Let me Live in Your World with Master Ted Vollrath, and appeared again, opposite Master Vollrath in the motion picture Mr. No Legs (aka, Killers Die Hard ). No Oscars were earned, but all of his students thought it was really cool. Gene also authored and illustrated a book, The Basic Principles of Judo & Karate.
Master Thorner was the Grand Master of Gyaku-Nami-Do Karate, six-time W.Va. AAU Judo State Champion, Tri-state Judo Champion (Ohio, Pa and WV), a two-time National Judo Champion and was the Chairman of the Board for the Association of the Schools of the Martial Arts (ASMA). He also help grow the KICK/USA, an organization devoted to Youth in Martial Arts competition.
Now back to his geekiness. It didn’t just involve martial arts. Gene earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science from West Virginia University. He was the 2nd person in the state of Florida to purchase a TRS-Model 1 computer and even got written up in the newspaper. His pocket protector was probably being worn proudly during that interview.
Over the years he became a computer programming wizard. He owned his own software company, Usage Software and shared his programming expertise with some large organizations such as JP Morgan Chase, Stanley Black and Decker, and Origen Software for Business.
Gene enjoyed teaching not just martial arts, but computer programming as well and he taught these skills at Hillsborough Community College in Plant City, FL. His students hated him and complained about him because he was too hard. Little did they know he wasn’t any easier on his martial arts students. However, he knew what was needed to be great and that is what he wanted for his “kids” as that is what they were. They were more than students. They were and are family. He was a father and mentor to so many. He was also the life of many parties, full of love and laughter that brought so many together, and our love for him will live on.
Always wanting to learn more, Gene became heavily involved in The Lakeland Sail and Power Squadron. It is a national organization whose purpose is to promote boating education and safety. Through what he learned with the squadron, he became an advanced pilot. Over the years he held several executive positions: Administrative Officer, Webmaster, Executive Office and Commander of the LS&PS.
Gene has three wonderful children whom he loved. He was very proud of who they grew up to be, their skills and of their accomplishments. Theodore Kaine Thorner is the oldest, followed by daughters Cherish Thorner and Shana Sanders. He is also Grandad to five beautiful grandchildren: Breanna and Haley Sanders, Loralei, Olivia, and Conner Thorner. Then there is his ever-patient wife, Jan. Gene lit up when she walked in the room. And well he should—she put up with his quirks for years! Gene is also survived by his younger brother, Jack.
On August 3, 2019 he was united with his parents in death, Benjamin C. Thorner and Flora E. Thorner.
Family will receive friends 1:00pm - 2:00pm, Saturday, August 17, 2019, with service at 2:00pm at Highland Church of Christ, 5730 Lakeland Highlands Road, Lakeland, Florida 33813.
If desired donations may be made in Gene's memory to the Lakeland SPCA.
Online condolences may be left for the family at Lanier.care.