I am often asked, “How did you get started in martial arts?”
It was 1972. Bruce Lee’s early Hong Kong movies were showing up on tv in the states. “Enter the Dragon” would be released in 1973. “Kung Fu” was the hit tv show. “Billy Jack,” a horrible movie with a wonderful sentiment and karate undertones, had been in the theaters. Americans were just starting to get a handle on this thing called Karate and Kung Fu.
Judo and Karate had been known for some time of course. But for some reason Judo seemed to be more in the American psyche. We saw things like James Bond practicing Judo and then knocking out villains with a chop (“Goldfinger”). But Judo doesn’t really chop and Karate doesn’t really throw.
I had tried Judo a few years earlier. It was a small school filled with large, grown men. Being a rather small kid, it did not fit with me very well at the time.
While Karate had been around for centuries it was starting to become popular in the U.S. and I was becoming aware of it myself.
One of the guys in my clique, Brewster, the ladies man as I have described him in other posts, was studying Karate. I expressed some interest so he invited me to tag along one Sunday. The instructor, Sensei James Logue, had been in the army and had just come back to the states after being stationed for several years in Okinawa. There he had trained under Taika Seiyu Oyata, and was the highest ranked Caucasian in Sensei Oyata’s style.
We trained in a guy’s backyard. There was no organization per se. It was all very old school. Sensei Logue did not even charge us. He did reserve the right to teach only who he wanted to teach. He looked me over for the six hours we worked that first Sunday and then told me I was “allowed” to come back. I was honored.
I trained under Sensei Logue for several years. He moved to another city where he set up a school. I trained there for a while eventually earning a brown belt in that style. But life became life. College, marriage, things like that, so I stopped training with him. But I did not give up my private practicing.
After some of that life stuff I ended up with a wonderful young child. At age nine he was in a little altercation at school. Nothing serious, the kind of thing that happens to every kid at some point. His mom, my first ex, decided he should take karate or something. She called around looking for a place that taught the stuff that Bruce Lee did.
Those types of schools are not all that common. There was only one in the area and the owner explained that he did not teach kids. My ex pestered the owner and finally, unknowingly, asked the right question. “Well if you won’t teach him, what can he study that will get him ready to learn Bruce Lee’s art?” That went right to the core of the owner and he relented. “Bring him in and we’ll see what we can do.”
The ex and I had been divorced for almost eight years at the time, the divorce having been finalized shortly after my child’s first birthday. One of the agreements of the divorce was that I would visit with my child every single day. I would go over to my ex’s house every evening and spend several hours with him. We would do homework or play games or watch tv together.
The martial art classes were offered in the early evening. That was my time with him so I figured, fine, I’ll take him. Having some experience of my own but in a completely different style, I would sit and watch him. I would move and squirm wanting to help as my child worked with the instructor. Eventually the instructor suggested that I work with my child. Since they didn’t teach children anyway, it would balance out the classes allowing the instructor to watch the class while providing someone for my child to work with.
Because of my prior experience, I took to the new art very quickly. It wasn’t long before I was not only helping out my child but helping out other students as well. In a few years I was teaching, not as a job but as a hobby.
The instructor and his wife had long dreamed that they would someday do nothing but teach. The instructor owned a couple of muffler shops in the area. He and his wife worked them by day and taught and trained at night. They were saving and planning for the day they would open a real, official school. Tragically, the wife was killed in a motorcycle accident. The instructor was hit hard by this and I could tell he was about to pack it all up. He felt he couldn’t do it all anymore.
I pulled him aside and said, “You are a good teacher. You cannot give up. You shouldn’t. Be a black belt. Don’t quit.” He persevered.
Several years passed. My child had become a teenager and life became life. Other things took his interest. But I continued to train, working my training and teaching schedule around my visiting schedule. One evening the instructor came to me and said, “I got a strange call today. Some guy called and offered to buy my muffler shops. He offered a good price too. I didn’t know what to do.”
I looked him square in the eye and said, “You f’ing idiot! Isn’t that what you have always dreamed about? Call him back tomorrow and take the offer.” He did and within a year he was laying plans to build a five-thousand square-foot martial arts facility. Eventually I was offered a paying job teaching and the rest is, as they say, history.
It all started with that first day with visions of David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine, and Billy Jack, and Bruce Lee in my head and I was given the honor to come back.