Saturday, December 18, 2010

Book Review: The Complete Guide to American Karate & Tae Kwon Do, by Keith D. Yates

This book can enrich the training experience of beginning and intermediate students. In class you will acquire martial skills, but unless you spend hours with your instructor outside of class, you will miss learning the background of the martial arts that this book will give you.

I have known the author for years, and so I recognize his unusual ability to write in a conversational tone, complete with his sense of humor. As you read his book, you will feel as if he were with you sharing stories of the martial arts and giving you pointers that will help you progress in your training.

The book opens with a foreword by Jhoon Rhee, who is often called the father of Tae Kwon Do in America, and a second foreword by Chuck Norris. They write about lessons in living that they have acquired from the martial arts.

The section on martial arts history does not read like a dry school textbook. Keith Yates brings history to life, because he knows many of the men he writes about—Jhoon Rhee and Chuck Norris, for instance—and because he started training in the 1960s and has been active in the martial arts ever since.

You will enjoy the many photos in the book. These include photos of Bruce Lee; rare tournament photos of Skipper Mullins, Chuck Norris, Mike Stone, Pat Burleson, Joe Lewis, Bill Wallace, and Keith Yates; and how-to photos from the author’s classes. Many of the historic photos are from the author’s private collection.

The book even includes basic training patterns (forms, or katas) with enough photos for you to actually learn the forms: the Korean Chon-ji, Tan-Gun, Toe-San; the Japanese Heian 1, Tekki 1; and six one-step sparring drills. Learn the basic moves from the book, and then have your instructor refine your moves in class.

Mr. Yates lists crime-prevention pointers, discusses the legal aspect of self-defense, and includes a few self-defense techniques, such as a pose that makes you appear to be harmless yet places your hands in a striking position; and breaking out of front and rear choke holds and a wrist grab.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

How to Handle the Schoolyard Bully

I walked through the school hallway amidst hurrying students. When I felt someone behind me yank away the books under my arm, I whirled around.

"Pick them up!" I said red‑faced to the lanky teen‑ager standing before me. A group had gathered around us, my books and papers spilled across the floor.

"Make me, #@$%&!" the boy answered. The toughest guy in our junior high school, he was tall and wiry, with black hair and taunting eyes. He stood squarely in front of me, his arms at his sides like a gun slinger ready to draw. I silently picked up my books and went to my next class, disappointing the group waiting to see how this new, tall kid could fight.

14 years old, I had just moved from North Africa to Dallas. I had been feeling out of place in my new school when the bully challenged me. This was one of many such incidents that year. Almost weekly, bullies goaded me to fight or tried to yank my books away in the school hallways. They were like wolves attacking their prey‑‑an awkward kid who felt alienated.

My parents taught me to fight only in self‑defense, so I never took up their challenges. They continued harassing me until we transferred to high school the next year. Then they forgot about bullying, having entered a school with bigger, tougher kids.

Just how should a teen‑ager handle a bully? I avoided bullies in the 9th grade, so they continually harassed me. They interpreted my avoidance as weakness. Yet does confronting the bully mean fighting him? I recently asked noted karate expert Allen Steen. He was national karate champion in 1966 after defeating, among others, Chuck Norris. This was during a rough‑and‑tumble era in American karate when competitors were often knocked out.

You'd think someone as tough as Steen would tell teen‑agers to fight back. But Steen told me, "There is no honor in fighting for fighting's sake if you can out‑think a trouble‑maker. I have no fear of being struck‑‑I've been struck too many thousands of times. I generally am very calm when I see trouble boiling up. Then I immediately start looking for ways to defuse the situation. It's only good self‑protection not to have to defend yourself."

In this article, I will explain how to confront the bully without violence. There is a way.

"Being close to an enemy is far better than shutting him out," explained Steen, "where his misconceptions can foster more anger. Rather than shut the enemy out and polarize the situation even further, keep him close to you. You will know more about what he wants, and you will know how to handle it. If he tries to hurt you, at least you will know where he's coming from. When you know why something is happening, you can deal with it.

"I think Cuba is a good example," Steen continued. "Batista refused to even speak to Castro, and now we know that if Batista had said, `Fidel, come on over. I want you to be Minister of Interior,' that communism never would have taken over Cuba. But Batista wouldn't recognize Castro and shut him out, and that drove Castro further to the left. He became even more of a revolutionary, and said, `Well, if you won't share power, we are going to take it away.' If you know who your enemies are and you can stay close to them, you can figure out a way to coexist rather than assume a highly polarized relationship."

Steen gave another example. "Let's say you're a karate tournament competitor, and there are three or four guys who you consider your biggest competition. The best way to find out how to beat them is not to threaten them from a distance and say, `Boy, when I see you in that tournament I'm going to stomp you!' The best way is to be their friend. Then you learn more about their techniques, their weaknesses, strengths."

There are ways to apply Steen's strategy to a bully. This is what I would tell your teen‑ager: There is a lesson to learn from the bully. If you avoid this lesson, you will face it again later. The lesson is that living fully means facing fears, not running from them. Stop seeing the bully as an enemy. Instead consider him a means to learn to face fear. Then he will begin to lose his power over you.

If you show the bully fear, he will keep on bullying. He feeds on fear. You grant him power by fearing him. Your fear enlarges him in your mind out of all proportion to reality. In their imaginations, most people look at burglars and muggers not as the ordinary humans they are but as all‑powerful. This is why people freeze up when attacked.

Avoid fighting the bully. You play his game when you fight him. This is what he wants. If you beat him or make him back down in front of others, you will have made a bitter enemy. Life is so much simpler without needless enemies.

Avoid fighting, even if you could win, but at the same time be firm. Stand up for yourself. If you shrink back and appear weak, the bully will taunt you to no end. Never give in to the bully's demands, such as the proverbial kid who steals lunch money from smaller kids. One demand only leads to another. Giving in teaches you to be a victim, and that role could follow you for years.

If you are afraid of the bully, stop avoiding him. Instead of walking away from him when you see him down the hallway at school, walk toward him. You need not do this belligerently. Be friendly. Moving toward him will dissipate your fear, and then he will lose interest in harassing you. Sit near him in the school cafeteria. Go up and make conversation with him.

When you see the bully, say hello and wave. Instead of averting your gaze from him, look at him. When you see the bully walking with friends, walk near them. This will startle them, because they will have expected you to shy away.

Between the victim and bully, there is always a barrier‑‑the same barrier that separates people of different races or countries or political parties. Dissolve that barrier by becoming familiar with the bully. Come to understand that he is only human. He is not powerful at all. You will understand this when you stop avoiding him.

Another way to break down the barrier between victim and bully is to find something about the bully that you like. There is good in everyone. Do not be nice to the bully, however, only because you fear him. Be genuinely friendly. Otherwise being nice is only another way to show fear, and he will sense the fear.

If he is the toughest kid in school and higher in the "pecking order" than you, ignore the "pecking order" and accept the bully as your equal. The bully will begin to reciprocate. Catch him alone and talk to him. Barriers will drop. He needs to show off in front of others. When he has no audience, he will lose the need to control you. When you are alone with him, you will find that he is a different person. He will no longer have anything to prove. When you accept the bully as a human being, you strip away his macho facade. Every tyrant has a human side hidden beneath the macho exterior. The facade is a protective shell. The bully feels that without that facade, people would see him as he really is and find him unacceptable.

Learning a martial art such as judo, karate or taekwondo is another way to become fearless of bullies. Know how to fight to avoid fighting. Martial arts training will help you become inwardly strong. Then bullies will stop bothering you. Through martial arts, you will learn to disarm a bully by being relaxed and friendly toward him. To be genuinely friendly, one must be fearless. This is a natural outcome of martial arts training.

Some people pounce upon the kids they perceive to be the weakest members of the group to rise in status themselves. They turn those kids into the class clown or wimp. If you get picked on, the kids at school may have chosen you as a weakling of the group. Tolerate this, and you are accepting the role of victim. When we accept a role, we risk spending our entire lives in it. You are more than your position in the school "pecking order." You can be anyone you want to be. You can play any role you choose.

The bullies of the world can be the means to teaching us a valuable lesson. When we face them squarely, their power diminishes. They grow smaller. Then we learn that we become more powerful ourselves by facing our fears. Learn this lesson now from the bully, and it will stay with you the rest of your life.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Witnessing a Farewell

A few weeks ago I was in Pittsburgh on business. Before I returned to Dallas, I spent a wonderful Saturday and most of Sunday with my son, Patrick, and his wife, Leni.

On Sunday afternoon I found myself at an airport gate sitting opposite a tall, lean soldier in “coffee-stain” camouflage and tan boots. On the floor next to him was his military backpack with its numerous webbed straps and pockets. He was sprawled comfortably in a chair surrounded by two younger brothers, his parents, uncle, and little niece. I presumed that the soldier was heading for the Middle East, because Dallas, our destination, is a military overseas embarkation point.

While reading a book, I couldn't help noticing the soldier teasing the little brother who sat next to him. I could tell that the boy, who was about 10 years old, was in awe of his soldier brother but tried not to show it.

As I got into line to board the plane, I saw the soldier give each little brother a long, rocking, very tight embrace. I realized that I wasn’t the only one who noticed the soldier when I saw the young woman in front of me wipe away her tears.

The line began moving toward the ticket agent. The boarding was routine except that there was no talking. The usual buzz of voices heard during boarding was absent, in an eerie way. There was just the sound of shuffling footsteps, the jostling of carry-on baggage, and the muffled crying of a mother saying farewell to a soldier son.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

To Our Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan

To our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan: I wish you the best and hope that you come home safely to your loved ones. Remember that people back home support you and think of you often. Thank you for your service and your daily sacrifice.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The Gil Hibben Story

This article appeared in Knives Illustrated.

Arnold Howard

Gil Hibben knives decorate the homes of movie stars and heads of state. His knives have appeared in Rambo III, Under Siege, Time Cop, and Star Trek Generations.

But some of his highest honors are far removed from Hollywood. They are the quiet, sometimes awkward exchanges between the knife maker and the knife owner. Such as the man who told Gil, after buying a Hibben knife, "I've wanted one of your knives since I was a boy." Or the veteran who presented his green beret from Vietnam to Gil in appreciation for a knife that helped get him back home.

Or another soldier who appeared at Gil's shop and said, "I thank God and you, in that order. If it hadn't been for your knife, I wouldn't be here."

"Knife making is a dream I've chased since I was a boy," says Gil, the oldest of 10 children. "I tell kids, be careful what you dream about, because that's what you're going to get."

He left the Navy in 1956, thought about becoming a dentist, and sold Jeeps before selling his first knife in 1957. His business took off in 1965 when a Guns & Ammo cover featured a Hibben knife.

Gil lives 20 miles outside Louisville, Kentucky on six acres. He works in a 30' x 60' steel barn he built himself, complete with a buffing room and grinding room.

His office feels like a knife maker's. Hanging on a wall is a black bear rug, a momento of a 1974 Alaska hunting trip. A stuffed wild turkey juts out of the wall above his desk.

Gil sings while making knives. (He has sung in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.) Opera music from the radio blends with the whine of grinding wheels. Referring to the Broadway show "Phantom of the Opera," Gil quips, "The Phantom and I have made many knives together."

Gil's hands move with the deftness of a master with 40 years' experience. In the shop, he's relaxed, sings, yet careful. A blade once spun off his grinder like a propeller and stabbed his thigh. The bloody tip protruded from the other side. Another time a knife he had thrown bounced off the target and stabbed him in the back. He treats blades with respect.

Gil uses 440C stainless steel. To his knowledge, he is the first knife maker to use this steel and the first to mirror polish it. In the sixties, 440C came in round, hex or square stock and had to be forged into bars for knives. "You have to be careful with forging," says Gil. "If it's not done correctly, you can cook out carbon or put stresses in it and end up with steel that's inferior to hot?rolled bars."

The shop is not the only place where Gil has learned about knives. Working as a hunting guide in Alaska for five years taught him how to design hunting knives.

Author of The Complete Gil Hibben Knife Throwing Guide, Gil began knife throwing after making his first bowie knife in 1957. He learned to make throwing knives by throwing them.

Gil's martial arts experience has helped him design fighting knives. He was awarded a 3rd degree black belt by the late Ed Parker, a world?famous instructor from Hawaii. His Kenpo knife dates back to 1968, when it was called the Ed Parker knife.

Gil's younger brother, Daryl, remembers Gil's karate training from the 60's. When Daryl was only 10, Gil would tell him, "Now hold still and I'll show you something." Daryl learned not to flinch when Gil's kicks and punches whipped in front of his face.

During the Vietnam War, soldiers treasured Gil Hibben knifes. In one Marine squad, the men took turns "walking point." When it was a man's turn to walk point, he was allowed to carry the only Hibben knife the squad owned.

The Vietnam stories attest to the reliability of Hibben knives. A recon soldier once chopped his way through the aluminum side of a downed helicopter with one.

Hibben knives have saved lives. An American soldier, just captured, held his arms up while a Viet Cong walked toward him with rifle pointed. When the enemy came within reach, the American yanked a Hibben push dagger from a sheath behind his neck and slashed the Vietcong across the forehead. He escaped. Another time he used the same dagger while fighting in a river.

A soldier in Vietnam won a Hibben knife in a poker game. A few minutes later, the knife, which hung on his leg, stopped a bullet. And somewhere in South America, Gil relates, either bandits or soldiers shot at a Hibben knife owner, who hid in tall grass. Later he escaped. When he removed his clothes, something fell out of his pants. At first he thought it was a coin. When he picked it up, he found a mashed bullet that had hit his knife and had lodged under the guard. If not for the knife, he figured, the bullet probably would have hit his spine and killed him.

One Hibben knife story is a mystery. In 1967, a burglar stole an ivory?handled Hibben knife from the home of Tom Siatos, former publisher of Guns and Ammo. It was a cherished knife with "Tom Siatos" inscribed on the blade. Tom had long forgotten the stolen knife when, four years later, a Marine lieutenant sent him a package from Vietnam. It contained the Hibben knife, complete with scabbard; an old, folding bolt?action Chinese rifle; and a Vietcong cone?style straw hat with red star on the front. The lieutenant's letter said the items were found on a dead Vietcong. He sent them to Tom because he recognized the name inscribed on the blade from Guns and Ammo magazine.

Tom reasons that either the burglar went to Vietnam or sold the knife to a soldier headed for Vietnam. That soldier was killed, and a Vietcong lifted the knife from his body.

Gil Hibben is so successful that legends are born of his knives. John Wayne and Steve McQueen owned several. How did Gil become so successful? He shares the answer with knifemakers or anyone who will listen. "Be true to yourself," Gil says. "Try to listen to your inner voice. It will lead to peace and happiness if you follow it. That's why I make knives. My inner voice has driven me to be a craftsman."

Gil's inner urging is what prods him to keep making knives, though he could retire off royalty payments of his licensed designs. "Why quit now when it's taken me this long to get up some ground speed?" he says.

Will the acclaim from the movie knives ever change Gil? He doesn't think so. "I'm having too much fun making knives to let it go to my head."

Chuck Norris' Eight Special Guests

I wrote this article for Black Belt magazine.

Arnold Howard

To the average viewer watching the “Legends” episode of Walker, Texas Ranger, the kickboxing champions are a subplot to the main Rangers-versus-killers story.

“Joe Lewis. Wasn’t he the boxer?”

“Don Wilson. I think he’s a kung fu actor.”

“Bill Wallace—who’s he?”

But to martial arts fans, the main story in the “Legends” episode is the gathering of two generations of kickboxing champions: Joe Lewis, Bill Wallace, Howard Jackson, and Don Wilson, from the early generation; and Olando Rivera, Jean-Claude Leuyer, Alex Gong, and Danny Steele of today’s generation.

For most of the champions, it was their first appearance at the Walker, Texas Ranger film studio. From the outside, the building in the industrial district of Farmers Branch, Texas looks like surrounding warehouses. The only sign outside, marked “CBS,” is as small as a for-sale real estate sign.

Inside the conventional looking building is a bustling world of make-believe far removed from the typical business setting. Past the front offices, behind soundproof double sets of doors and thick walls, sprawls the Walker studio. This is a familiar world to Walker fans. They would recognize the giant gold Ranger star painted on the glass office window as they walked down a hallway. They would remember the Ranger office where Walker and Trivette were almost killed by a time bomb. They would peer into the courtroom, where Walker, Alex and others stood before a robed judge while crew members remained motionless in the background, off-camera silence disturbed only by an occasional squeak of a cameraman’s tennis shoe.

Around the corner is the Walker training gym, scene of numerous karate matches from past episodes. The champions assembled there one by one on Tuesday, January 30, to film their first scenes for “Legends.”

The gym reminded Danny Steele of House of Champions, where he prepares for fights. In the center of the gym stood a raised boxing ring covered with red canvas. Training posters decorated the walls. Lockers formed a backdrop along one side of the room.

Only on close scrutiny were the visitors reminded that the Walker gym was a film studio. The light shining into the frosted windows came from floodlights mounted outside the room. Electrical cords snaked across the floor.

As the champions wandered into the gym, a buzzer sounded to signal that the cameras were rolling somewhere in the studio. The buzzer meant no talking allowed. According to the crewmembers, woe to anyone whose pager went off during shooting.

Soon after the champions began assembling in the gym, the crew wheeled in cameras and erected lights. The quiet gym awakened to a frenzy of activity. The crew moved with the efficiency of operating room surgeons.

For one of the first scenes, the four older champions lined up along the edge of the boxing ring outside the ropes. The four newer champions lined up on the opposite side. The old feeling of adrenalin pumping hard before a fight was replaced with the excitement of a being in a television studio.

The Early Champions

Joe Lewis, in his black sleeveless tee shirt and black gi pants, clutched the rope with boxing gloves. This was the first time since 1969 that he had worked with Chuck Norris on a film set, when they had assisted Bruce Lee in The Wrecking Crew.

Joe Lewis and Chuck Norris first met in 1965. A young Marine, Lewis found Chuck Norris’ karate ad in the Torrance, California yellow pages. Lewis had just returned to the States from Okinawa, and he was looking for sparring partners. Several schools had already turned him down, but Norris was friendly. “Sure, come on by,” Norris told him.

“Probably the biggest mistake I ever made was letting Joe Lewis work out with us,” Norris says with a smile. “When he first came, it wasn’t too difficult to score on him. But Joe is one of those fast learners. It was no time at all before he was very difficult to score on.

“As fate would have it,” Norris remembers, “about three months after Joe came to us, I had to fight him in New York City at the Tournament of Champions. We fought and we fought and we fought, and neither one of us could score on the other. The match went on and on, and finally they awarded me the decision.”

Sparked by magazine writers and students, a rivalry developed between Norris and Lewis. But there was never animosity between them. There was only the respect that warriors feel toward worthy opponents.

In 1996, 31 years after they first met, Norris surprised Lewis at a United Fighting Arts Federation banquet. Norris stood on stage awarding plaques to members of UFAF. Lewis, sitting at a table, was only half-listening. Almost dozing, Lewis perked up when he heard, “. . . and this next one is awarded to the best karate fighter. I ought to know--he beat me.”

Who could that be? I’m the only one in this room who ever beat him, Lewis thought.

“This one is for Joe Lewis.”

Lewis sat at his table, motionless. The audience clapped, but Lewis remained seated. Norris, holding the plaque, stood on stage waiting for Lewis to come forward. The applause continued, but Lewis remained at his table. Norris smiled at Lewis, then stepped off the stage and walked to Lewis’ table. Lewis stood, they embraced, and Norris handed him the plaque. “Chuck, you put me on the spot here.” It was difficult for Lewis to speak.

“What I said that day about Joe was the truth,” says Norris. “In my mind, Joe was the greatest fighter the tournament scene has ever had. And the greatest to this day, as far as I’m concerned.”

As the champions stood by the ropes, the crewmembers adjusted their cameras and took light readings. The champions joked with each other as they waited. Bill Wallace, bare-chested, muscular, and wearing black gi pants, stood next to Joe Lewis at the ropes. Wallace, a great fighter himself, had always admired Joe Lewis and Chuck Norris. He fought Lewis twice in point tournaments.

Though Wallace and Norris never faced each other in competition, they sparred once in Wallace’s Memphis, Tennessee karate school. It was in the early 70s when Norris was visiting. After Wallace had finished teaching a class and the students had all left, they were alone.

“I had a wonderful time. I learned a lot from him,” says Wallace.

“I wouldn’t call it sparring. I would call it a beating,” Norris remembers. “Bill worked me over pretty good.”

“Hell, if it was a beating, I got it,” says Wallace. “Chuck taught me some really good things, because he had a lot more experience than I had. I didn’t give him a beating at all. Matter of fact, he hit me a bunch of times.”

Bill Wallace played the villain in A Force of One, one of Norris’ early films. “That was an enjoyable film,” says Norris. “Bill did a great job. He helped make it the success that it was.

“We could never get a serious publicity shot together,” says Norris. “The only time we ever got any serious shots was when we were actually filming the fight stuff. But to try to get him to be serious in a regular photo session—forget it!” Norris laughs.

Next to Bill Wallace, adjusting his mouth piece, stood Don Wilson. His shiny black gi pants reflected the glare of the studio lights. Wilson, a veteran of the film world, looked comfortable in the Walker studio. After all, he had appeared in 25 films.

And it was Chuck Norris who nudged Wilson toward an acting career. One evening after a kickboxing match in Florida, Norris told Wilson, “You have what it takes to be a success in Hollywood.” Little did Norris know that he had changed the direction of a man’s career.

“Chuck Norris is an example we can all look up to,” says Wilson. “Money and fame have a corrupting influence on people, but if Chuck has changed over the years, it has only been for the better.

“When I hear that a comedian’s a jerk or that an actor has locked himself in his dressing room doing drugs, it doesn’t really affect me,” says Wilson. “But when I hear that a martial arts actor has been corrupted, I take it personally. That’s why I admire Chuck so much—he is a fine example of a great martial artist.”

The crew was ready to start filming. Howard Jackson and Danny Steele stepped under the ropes and into the ring from opposite sides as the lights on the cameras blinked. Howard Jackson, his bare upper body glistening in sweat, began the fight with hooking heel kicks that raked past Danny Steele’s head.

Howard Jackson was a Marine when he met Chuck Norris. Jackson had just moved to Oceanside, California from Detroit. He had trained in traditional tangsoodo.

“You look like you just got off the boat from Korea the way you’re throwing those kicks,” Chuck Norris told him at the tournament where they met. Norris had modified his style of tangsoodo to include hand techniques he learned from Tak Kubota and Fumio Demura. Jackson’s traditional tangsoodo looked almost foreign to him.

“At the time, Chuck Norris was a semi-retired world champion,” reminisces Jackson. “He had seven karate schools, and he was the name in karate. Yet he invited me, a stranger, to stay with him for the next weekend. He picked me up from the bus station and let me sleep in his house. He trusted me.

“That weekend,” Jackson continues, “he took me to the annual Tangsoodo Congress banquet. I was the only black there, but they didn’t make me feel like that. Everyone there treated me with respect. They were glad to have me.”

Within a year of training with Norris, Jackson was rated 7th in the nation in point fighting. After two years with Norris, Jackson made it to the Black Belt Magazine Hall of Fame.

By then Jackson was teaching for Norris at the last school left in the Norris system. The other schools had been sold to pay off debt in a business deal that had gone bad. “This is the last school I have,” Chuck Norris told Jackson. “I have to let you go, and I hate it.” After a pause, he said, “But you’ll work for me again.”

“Don’t worry, Mr. Norris, I’ll be fine,” Jackson said.

“But you’ll work for me again,” Norris said.

Today Howard Jackson is Norris’ executive assistant on Walker. “Chuck’s been a big inspiration in my life for 28 years,” Jackson says.

After Howard Jackson and Danny Steele sparred before the cameras, one of the crewmen said, “Howard, I didn’t know you could kick like that.” The crew had known Jackson for years but had never seen him perform his martial arts moves.

“There are a lot of things you don’t know about me,” Jackson said with a laugh.

The Current Champions

Danny Steele removed his gloves. He sat on the red canvas in the ring to rest a moment while the crew prepared for the next scene. Sweat trickled down his muscular, tattooed upper body.

Steele was thrilled to be with the great fighters he had read about while growing up. As a small child, Steele saw little of his divorced parents and lived with an aunt in Hawaii. It was martial arts action heroes, such as Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, and Bob Wall, who kept him company in his imagination. Steele watched Enter the Dragon in darkened theaters dozens of times, where his heroes chased away the loneliness.

After a short break, it was time for Bill Wallace and Alex Gong to dance before the cameras. Gong weaved out of the way of a Wallace head kick and tried to counter with a roundhouse kick to the body, which Wallace blocked.

Alex Gong spent several years growing up in a Tibetan boarding school in India. His father, a follower of the Dalai Lama, wanted him to learn the Tibetan culture. From time to time, Gong sneaked out of the school and watched kung fu videos for two rupees a session in a nearby Indian village. “Even then I was hooked on martial arts,” Gong remembers.

When he moved back to New Hampshire, 12-year-old Gong covered his bedroom walls with martial arts action figures. “Chuck Norris doesn’t know how many kung fu heroes he fought on my bedroom walls,” says Gong with a chuckle.

One afternoon in 1989, Gong’s action hero, Chuck Norris, stepped into Gong’s life, as if materializing off the bedroom wall into real life. Gong, a young adult, was working for American Airlines at the ticket counter of the Fresno Airport. “Chuck Norris just got off the plane!” exclaimed a coworker. “Look, I have his autograph.”

“Where is he?”

“He just went outside.”

Gong, with heart pounding, emerged onto the street in front of the American terminal. There, among travelers struggling with suitcases and idling taxis with motors running, stood Norris. He looked so unobtrusive, in his casual jeans and jacket, that no one noticed him except Gong.

For the next twenty minutes Gong plied Norris with training questions. Norris patiently answered. When his ride came, he disappeared just as suddenly as he had materialized, as if he had never been there at all.

After the Walker crew had filmed the eight champions in their matches, they shot the fighters individually. With light shining into the ring from the corners, a cameraman used a hand-held, super-16mm camera to film each man. Olando Rivera stepped into the ring. As Rivera bobbed, weaved, and punched, the cameraman followed him across the red canvas, weaving with him and capturing the action from a sparring partner’s vantage point. An assistant holding a cord followed the cameraman, moving together as if they were dance partners.

Olando Rivera began training in Brooklyn, New York at age nine. Over the 25 years since then, the highlight of Rivera’s career has been this trip to Walker, Texas Ranger with the other champions. It was even better than defeating the Chinese kickboxing champion in Beijing, China three years ago. “I’ve never been paid very well to fight,” Rivera says, “but coming here is payment over and above any fight I’ve ever had. I would do this at any given moment, even if I had to fly half way around the world to be with these legends.”

“Chuck Norris is real,” continues Rivera. “Coming here and being with him has made me feel that much better about choosing him as a mentor years ago. He’s real, he’s a gentleman, and that’s what I think karate and kickboxing brings out in most martial artists.”

When a crew member shouted “Cut!” Rivera’s punches and kicks slowed, then stopped. His chest rose up and down from exertion. A petite woman rushed to the cameraman and handed him a fresh film cartridge. While he loaded his camera, another woman sprayed water onto Jean-Claude Leuyer, who stepped into the ring. His powerful frame dripped from the cool mist.

Leuyer sprang into action on command. He fired kick after kick toward the camera. Again, the cameraman and assistant danced in unison across the canvas.

Jean-Claude Leuyer began Shotokan karate at age five in Phoenix, Arizona in 1974. he first met Chuck Norris at an amateur kickboxing match in 1989, 15 years later. Leuyer had lost his match and was sitting in a dressing room at the Hollywood Paladium. As he removed his wraps, he mentally relived the mistakes he had made moments ago in the fight.

There was a light rap on the door. In walked Chuck Norris. Through the haze of defeat, Leuyer thought he was seeing things. Chuck Norris? Coming to see an unknown like me?

Leuyer remembers Norris telling him, in a gentle voice, “You were fighting great, but things happen.”

As Leuyer listened, his disappointment faded.

“The important thing to remember is that you’re alright,” Norris said. “Live to fight another day. Fight this guy again another time.” Norris may have been remembering his loss to Louis Delgado. Six months later Norris went back to New York to beat Delgado before retiring.

Norris left as suddenly as he had appeared, leaving Leuyer to ponder. “A lot of people, when they become famous, forget where they came from. He didn’t.”

Parting Thoughts
It was nightfall that Tuesday at the Walker studio when the champions left for their hotel. It had been a long day, and one they would remember. “This is something I will never forget,” says Danny Steele. “Ever. And I can tell my son about this when he gets older.”

“Chuck Norris is real,” says Olando Rivero. “He’s never let stardom go to his head.”

“The respect and camaraderie we feel for each other,” Howard Jackson says, thinking about his friends the champions, “will never die. There’s no ego there. We’re a family.”

When the young champions left Dallas for their respective homes, they carried with them the assurance that their childhood action heroes were real. In an entertainment world of cardboard make-believe heroes, past the Hollywood glitter and fame, there were still heroes that even champions could look up to.

An Afternoon with Ohshima Sensei

Arnold Howard

It was 1:30 a.m. when I finished sorting interview questions. I slept for two hours, then drove to Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport to catch a plane. Though having slept little, I was wide-awake when I landed in Los Angeles that morning. I had come to interview Tsutomu Ohshima for a book I am writing.

As I lugged my bags out of the terminal to the street, I spotted godans Ken Osborne and Don DePree. They heaved my bags into the back of Ken's Ford Escort wagon. Then they insisted that I sit in the front passenger's seat while Ken drove. Don sat in back, leaning forward to hear the conversation.

As we drove off, I noticed the close bond between Don and Ken. They joked about getting older and losing their memories. I had seen their youthful photos in the 30th Anniversary Shotokan book. Though older, they looked just as fit.

Ken's mannerisms reminded me of Dustin Hoffman. I hardly noticed the passing scenery as he talked. Don, sitting in the back, was so unassuming, almost shy, that one could forget he was still a formidable fighter. Ken considers Don one of the most dangerous fighters he's ever met. Don had once beaten the legendary Louis Delgado. Yet he didn't boast about it when I brought it up. Ken had to prod him to talk about the match.

I had heard that the world of traditional karate was closed to outside stylists. Yet Don and Ken welcomed me into that world. I found myself feeling their excitement as they shared stories. Their eyes sparkled as they relived memories of Ohshima Sensei.

I had first read of Ohshima Sensei years earlier in The Secret of Inner Strength, by Chuck Norris. Just before my trip, Texas karate pioneer Pat Burleson told me, "Ohshima is one of the premier Shotokanists of this century. I trained in Japan, so I respect that art tremendously." I was curious about Mr. Ohshima. Would he fit the stereotype of a strict, formal Japanese sensei? From the photos of a youthful Ohshima, I remembered his serious, penetrating eyes.

After almost two hours, we drove up a small mountain on a winding road, then came in view of Mr. Ohshima's Oriental?style house. Near the top of the mountain, the house overlooks the coastal highway near Santa Barbara. We stretched from our long drive. As we walked to the porch, Mr. Ohshima's two pit bulls barked from behind a wire fence.

The door opened. Mr. Ohshima, dressed casually in blue, welcomed us with a smile. I had figured he would be serious, formal. Instead, he was like a jovial father.

Ken, Don and I sat on couches in the living room while Mr. Ohshima disappeared into the kitchen to fix lunch. As we waited, I noticed the view from the floor?to?ceiling windows. The sky was pristine, away from the Los Angeles haze. The green hills descended in the distance, giving the feeling that we were high up, above the noise of the fast?paced 90's. Even the occasional barking of pit bulls outside didn't disturb the serenity.

About twenty minutes later, we went into the kitchen for the lunch Mr. Ohshima had prepared. Ken and Don protested that the tuna sandwiches piled on their plates were too much. Mr. Ohshima joked that he was fattening them so he could beat them in kumite. He had prepared a four course vegetarian lunch for me.

As we ate, I had the impression that Mr. Ohshima was a man of intuition. He confirmed that impression by telling us about the time one of his pit bulls was missing. Mr. Ohshima quieted his thoughts, and sensed which direction to search for his dog. He walked in that direction, and found the dog in the bottom of a deep pit.

Then he talked about another dog he had owned years earlier. When Mr. Ohshima was leaving on a trip, the dog whined. Mr. Ohshima sensed that the dog would be dead when he returned from the trip, and that the dog was trying to tell him goodbye. The dog seemed sad. Mr. Ohshima looked intently at the dog and said, "You're 13 years old. That's longer than most dogs live. We've had a good life together. Now face death bravely. Do not be sad." The dog died while he was away.

The story reminded me of my late mother, who believed that death, merely a transition from one world to another, is nothing to fear. When I mentioned this, Mr. Ohshima told us about his mother's death. She knew when she was going to die, and when the time came, she, too, was fearless. We talked about the samurai, who cultivated the awareness that they could die at any moment. That awareness helped them to live each day to the fullest, without worry.

After lunch we returned to the living room. Mr. Ohshima sat in an upholstered chair, silhouetted by the sky from the large windows. Ken and Don, though both approaching sixty, seemed like schoolboys. They sat quietly on a couch opposite me, listening intently for over two hours during the interview.

As I said earlier, I had been under the impression that traditional Japanese karateka did not welcome outsiders. Mr. Ohshima, however, said, "Master Funakoshi never called our group by a particular name and segregated it from others. I wanted to keep that spirit, so anyone interested in karate could join our group and practice with us." This is why Mr. Ohshima's first group in America was called the Friendship Karate Club.

He said that for many years, he had hated martial arts practice. As a child, he would throw up outside a window from exhaustion. But he stayed with it, because "I needed really hard training to face myself every day. I wanted to be a genuine human being." I wasn't sure what he meant by "genuine human being."

I thought of the intense special training Mr. Ohshima is noted for when I asked, "When you stood in kibadachi (horse stance) for extended periods, how did you occupy your mind?"

"I didn't want to show ugliness to others," he said. "I didn't want to be the first one to pass out." We laughed.

Mr. Ohshima said we gain strength if we accept life's difficulties as a form of special training. He mentioned seven years of hardship he had endured from 1963 to 1970. "Accept the worst situations in life courageously, with a smile," he added.

I mentioned Admiral William Lawrence, whom I had interviewed several years ago. Admiral Lawrence had been tortured and nearly starved in a Hanoi prison during the Vietnam War. When released after seven years of captivity, the Admiral had gained inner strength. Instead of destroying him, hardship had strengthened him.

Mr. Ohshima commented, "Great people always improve while in jail." I thought of Mahatma Gandhi and Anwar Sadat.

We talked about money. Allen Steen, a pioneer of Texas karate, favors commercializing karate. He told me that the traditional karateka argue against commercializing, so I asked Mr. Ohshima what he thought.

He remained silent for a moment. Then he said, "I'm not against it." He explained that if he drives to a restaurant, he benefits from the commercialism of a car and the restaurant. And if the martial arts had not been commercialized, it would never have become so popular.

He added, however, that anyone who taught serious, hard training would never make much money. "I'm a poor guy," he said. "But there is no connection between money and happiness. In this society, a millionaire is considered successful, happy. Someone who does not have money is considered unhappy, unsuccessful. So I tell young people we cannot judge the value of a human by how much he has."

We talked about Mr. Funakoshi. I asked about the legend of Mr. Funakoshi standing in the kibadachi on the roof of his hut during windstorms. Mr. Ohshima confirmed that Mr. Funakoshi had, indeed, told the story.

"I really loved and respected him, because he always told us that our job was to go past him, higher. He said, 'Don't hesitate to correct my mistakes.' He never said, 'I am a master. I can do everything.'"

Mr. Ohshima said that one time Mr. Funakoshi, when he was over eighty years old, said, "I think I understand this now," performing a simple knife?hand block. He didn't mind anyone knowing that he had gained an insight into a simple beginner's move.

"He didn't care if other people recognized his greatness," Mr. Ohshima said. "He never knew he was famous. That's what I consider a genuine human being." I began to understand what he meant by "genuine human being."

Mr. Funakoshi taught non?violence. In following this precept, Mr. Ohshima has talked his way out of a number of fights. Just recently, he had been accosted by criminals. They left him alone after he said, "You are about to make a big mistake."

Ken added, "Mr. Ohshima has been noted over the years for his intense stare, and I'm sure he can use that in situations where he has a problem." Mr. Ohshima laughed.

When I mentioned Bruce Lee, Mr. Ohshima said he and Bruce Lee had been friends. It was only after Bruce Lee's death, when Mr. Ohshima watched some of his movies, that he found out Bruce Lee had made Japanese karateka look foolish. Mr. Ohshima found that humorous.

The hours seemed like moments when I came to the end of my questions. The three close friends made small talk for a few minutes. Then we left a smiling Mr. Ohshima, pit bulls barking as we drove away. All the way back to Los Angeles, Ken, at the wheel of his Taurus wagon, told stories. The traffic sounds died away as Don and I listened.

It was dark when Don and Ken let me off at Los Angeles International Airport. In the midst of cars roaring by and people with suitcases waiting for taxis, I felt alone with my thoughts. For the first time that day, fatigue was catching up with me.

I thought about Mr. Osborne, Mr. DePree and Mr. Ohshima. Their decades of martial arts training had made them gentle, yet inwardly strong. As I faced the crowds, I resolved to become more that way myself.

Among Champions at Walker, Texas Ranger

Martial Arts Professional magazine ran this story by Joe Lewis.

By Joe Lewis

For a brief period in the mid 1960s, Chuck Norris and I trained together as sparring partners. Later, we competed against each other in tournaments. Recently, after nearly 36 years since we first met, we acted together in an episode on his hit show Walker, Texas Ranger.

In the “Legends” segment, kickboxing champions Howard Jackson, Bill Wallace, Don Wilson, and I play our selves. We spar against four of the current generation kickboxing champions: Orlando Rivera, Jean-Claude Leuyer, Alex Gong, and Danny Steele. I believe this is the first time in history this many legitimate kickboxing champions has ever appeared in either the same television episode or feature film.

To be invited onto Chuck’s show would be a dream come true for any martial artist, and it was for me. We flew to Dallas, Texas first class. Chuck put us up in a five-star hotel. Most of the champions were paid more to do that show than they had ever been paid in any of their professional fights.

As we wandered onto the Walker set on January 30, the first day of shooting, I thought about the first time I met Chuck. I had just returned to America from Okinawa in late 1965. I was still in the Marine Corps. I spent almost two months in Los Angeles on leave looking for the best martial arts schools. I attempted to set up sparring sessions with Mike Stone, who had just retired and was the biggest name in karate competition at that time. When that didn’t work out, I visited the Nishiyama school to spar with Frank Smith, their best fighter. Mr. Nishiyama said I would have to train at his school for six months before I could spar with Frank Smith.

Chuck Norris was then an up-and-coming tournament star. When I heard about him, I phoned his school, and he welcomed me to come work out with him. The first time I met him, I respected him. His workouts were more intense than any one else’s that I had seen in Los Angeles. They reminded me of the hard training on Okinawa. Chuck hit hard and fast. When he threw a kick, he threw it like he meant it.

Chuck, who earned a tang soo do black belt in Korea, had also trained there in judo. If you got too close to him, he could throw you. That was unusual for a Korean stylist. He was the first top fighter, in my opinion, who balanced exceptional punching and kicking skills. I don’t remember anyone else from the early 60s who had Chuck’s balanced skills, conditioning, and tenacious will to train hard.

In those days I never told Chuck what I thought of him. That’s because the highest compliment I ever gave another martial artist was to ask him to be my sparring partner. And that’s the compliment I gave Chuck. We weren’t sparring partners for long, though, because we began competing against each other in tournaments. Martial arts magazines also pitted us against each other as good guy versus bad. They publicized Chuck Norris as the good guy in the white gi and me, Joe Lewis, the bad guy in the black kendo gi. My students didn’t like him, and his students didn’t like me. The publicized rivalry was another reason we stopped training together.

That first day on the Walker set, we watched the crew shoot other segments of the episode. I stood outside the courtroom set while Chuck played his role as Walker, and I remembered an incident where I gained insight into his character. It was 1975, several years after our last competition match. We worked out together at one of his schools on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. Over lunch afterward, Chuck told me he had gotten involved in a bad business deal and was heavily in debt. But rather than declare bankruptcy, he was teaching eight to nine classes a day to save his name. He said he was dead tired every night when he went to bed. That day at lunch, I realized that Chuck was a man of integrity.

We kick boxers spent two days together on the Walker set. For me, it was fun being back on a film set working. I remember the first time I had appeared in a film. It was in 1969, when Bruce Lee hired several martial artists, including Chuck and me, to do a scene in the Dean Martin film The Wrecking Crew. Although some of Chuck’s directors, such as Ted Post from his film Good Guys Wear Black, were friends with my acting coaches, and I had done scenes in films with some of Chuck’s producers, such as Frank Capra, Jr., I just never believed the opportunity for Chuck and me to work together would ever present itself again.

We kick boxers were impressed with all of Chuck’s people-- his limousine drivers, wardrobe people, script supervisors, directors, and stunt people. They treated us with courtesy and friendship, and they were genuine. There was none of the Hollywood ego I had seen in California.

Each of us received a complete script. We studied it and memorized our lines. After lunch the first day, Chuck’s fight choreographer took us to the set where we fought our matches. It was a boxing gym with a ring in the center and lockers along one wall. They asked us each to choreograph three five-to-six point fighting combinations with our partners. I was teamed up with 6’-4”, 230 pound heavyweight kickboxing champion Jean-Claude Leuyer.
I liked the way our sparring sequences were shot. We squared off against each other, and when the director, Chuck’s son Mike Norris, called “Action!” we simulated light sparring. Then the fight choreographer would say, “One,” and we would go through our first sequence of combinations. When he called “two” and “three,” we would go through those routines. So, it looked on set as if we were really sparring. As each pair of fighters took turns sparring, the remaining six stood on the apron of the ring outside the ropes, cheering our fellow fighters. We were the four early kick boxing champions against the current ones in a show-down sparring session.

In a film studio, one’s favorite memories are often the humorous ones. For instance, during filming of The Wrecking Crew, I had to throw a spinning hooking heel kick over Dean Martin’s head. I had to make sure I didn’t hit him, because he was insured for a lot of money. The first time I threw the kick at Dean, he ducked. My kick whipped over his head, accompanied by a loud tearing sound. In front of the entire crew, my pants split all down the crotch. The crew laughed. The director fumed when I had to go to the wardrobe trailer, take my pants off and wait for them to stitch them up. It held up the shoot. At the time it was embarrassing, but now it’s funny.

One of the humorous moments on the Walker set was a prank that the crew played on me. The cameramen took turns shooting each of us shadow fighting, as if we were up against a real opponent. They would use these sequences for tight shots and inter-cuts.

I was the last one to do my sequence. The other fighters had shot somewhere between 20 - 30 seconds of shadow fighting each. When it was my turn, I told the cameraman to get ready because I was quick and he might not be able to keep up with me. On hearing that, the cameraman and Mike decided to pull one over on me. Mike told Bill Wallace, Don Wilson, and Howard Jackson to keep cheering me on and to make sure that they didn’t stop until the sequence was over, because they were going to pull my leg.

When I began my shadow fighting, I was cocky. I pretended that I had knocked my opponent down, and I told him to get up. I moved side to side. I punched, kicked, bobbed, and weaved. I started to get tired, but Mike, the director, yelled at me to keep moving. He told the cameraman, “All right, now, move over there! Now move back over here!” I went on and on and on, and I knew my sequence was getting close to two or three minutes.

By then I was out of gas. I could hardly breathe. I thought, “Hah, ain’t no way in hell I’m going to stop in front of all these former champions, Chuck Norris and his son and the crew!” At that point, I heard laughter. Then I stopped. I laughed with them, but inside I was dead. The next day, I told Mike, “I got to shake your hand. You got me good yesterday, man. Very few people ever get me.”

I remember another humorous moment from the second day. The four legends, the cast, and Chuck were sitting ringside, having just watched the current champions defend their titles against the four current kick boxers. Some of the champions had never worked with dialogue before. It was funny to see a kick boxer, who is fearless in the ring, turn white and stammer when the camera comes in on a tight shot and the director yells, “Action!” As I sat there watching, I laughed to myself. I looked at Chuck, who seemed to be thinking, “My God! These guys can throw these four, five, and six point kicking combinations, but they can’t string four words together!”

The shoot was over all too quickly, and it was time to fly back to our respective homes. After Chuck and I shook hands and said goodbye, I thought again about our early times together. The first time I walked into his school, I could tell he wasn’t fake. There was no arrogance about him. He had no need to impress me with his rank or title or who he could beat or how fast he was or how hard he could kick. He did his talking in the ring, and no one can ever take that away from him.

Chuck’s personality has not changed since he became a movie star. He’s still the same Chuck from his fighting days. In a world of inflated ranks and titles, it is fitting that one of the few who deserves the honors does not need them.

Around April 2001, the studio will film the final episode of Walker, Texas Ranger. Although CBS has canceled the show, our television screens will be graced with reruns for years to come. I was happy to have played a brief part in one of the final episodes and happy that, between Chuck Norris and me, the respect will remain mutual and the friendship everlasting.


Blake Foster, Blue Power Ranger

I wrote this article for www.worldblackbelt.com, a website founded by Bob Wall.

Arnold Howard

Among Blake Foster’s collection of movie memorabilia is the blue Power Rangers costume he wore in “Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie.” It is carefully framed and preserved. As one views the costume, the “Go Go Power Rangers!” theme song filters through the mind.

The costume represents a boy living his dream. Years before Blake wore the real Power Ranger costume, he donned the toy store versions. Each Halloween, he was a different Power Ranger, leaping through the air imitating his action heroes.

Blake became the blue Power Ranger at age 11 ½ when director Shuky Levi chose him to star in “Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie.”
“The first time he saw Jason Frank, Blake’s eyes popped out of his head,” reminisces Blake’s mother, Pat.

“When I used to watch the Power Rangers, I always wondered how they did the special effects with the monsters,” says Blake. “When I got to work on camera, I was surprised when I found out that the monsters were really just small toys.” Blake remained the blue ranger for two ½ years through 52 TV Power Ranger episodes.

Living his dream as a real Power Ranger, with a real costume, real helmet, and real morpher, came with a price, Blake discovered. At school, some of the boys were jealous of his stardom. They called him “Spandex Boy” and yelled “Shift into turbo, you blue Power Ranger fag!” By the age of 14, Blake left one school because of his fights with bullies.

At a Las Vegas karate tournament, while competitors lined up, a bigger kid told him, “So you’re the blue Power Ranger.” Blake nodded. The kid said with a sneer, “I’m gonna make you eat the mat!” and spat upon Blake. Later, the two faced each other in competition. The bigger kid charged in. Blake dropped him with a sidekick. The belligerent was in tears at the end of the match. Blake felt bad that he had hurt the boy but was glad he had won.

Though no one knew it at the time, Blake began training for his Power Rangers role at age 4 ½, when he took up karate. He comes from a martial arts family. His parents, John and Pat, are both black belts. His sister Callie is a yellow belt.

At age five, Blake entered his first karate tournament. By age 14, he had collected 134 sparring trophies. “I attribute Blake’s success in acting to the martial arts,” says his mother. “It gave him the confidence to audition in front of people. He’s been testing for belts since he was five. By testing, you learn to deal with the fear.”

“Blake is the most disciplined actor I have ever worked with,” says Dale Bradley, director of the new movie “Kids’ World.” Perhaps Blake learned his work ethic through karate. His karate teacher, Tom Bloom, emphasizes old-school discipline. If instructor Bloom sees a student scratching his nose while at attention, the whole class does push-ups.

Blake passed his black belt test at age 13 under Tom Bloom. It was a grueling nine-hour, two-day test that included a five-mile run. The first time he took the test, Blake failed. He was so disappointed that he cried when he and his family went home. But he grew from the experience. He took the test again five months later and passed.

Tom Bloom is Blake’s role model and hero. “I’ve looked up to him all these years,” says Blake.

“Master Bloom is a good role model. He never speaks ill of anyone,” says Blake’s mother. Giving Tom a mother’s highest compliment, she adds, “I want my son to grow up to be like him.”

Blake’s karate teacher and parents have worked hard to teach him the higher ideals of the martial arts. They taught him to fight only as a last resort; to show respect; and to be a giver, not a taker. Consequently, Blake is co-chair in the Children’s Dance Outreach. He speaks for DARE and Kids with a Cause. And he helped found National Safe Kids Campaign. When he was a Power Ranger, he performed a rap song to audiences: “To be a Power Ranger is not an easy task. You must work hard and stay in class. Say no to drugs and yes to school, and you can grow up to be a Ranger too.”

Though Blake’s most famous role is the blue Power Ranger, he has also acted in a long string of movies and TV shows. He stars in “Kids’ World,” his newest movie, to be released in October. It is the story of kids who wish away all parents. In the end, they realize that they need their parents’ orderly world. A kids’ world of pure fun, it turns out, is not what kids would imagine.

In one “Kids’ World” scene, Blake rides a bicycle with an army tank lumbering after him. The scene calls for Blake to fall down and let the tank drive over him. In his dressing room, he told his mother, “I’m not lying down for that tank!” The director agreed to have the tank roll over the stuntman instead.
In another scene, a bully chases Blake, who rides his bicycle down a pier. The brakes fail, and he plunges into the cold Pacific. Though Blake wore two wet suits under two extra sets of clothes, the water felt freezing. “You’d better get Blake out or I’m jumping in and ruining the scene!’” Blake’s mother said just as crewmen pulled Blake from the water.

Blake is a regular teenager. His life consists of more than just acting and karate. He and his family love animals. They have two white German Shepherds named Sheba and Big Boy; an English bull dog named Mac; a white parakeet is named Elvis; and a horse is named Lad.

Besides karate, Blake enjoys basketball, football, skiing, bike riding, horseback riding, and skateboarding. He somehow finds time for his Sony Play Station. His favorite TV show is “The Simpsons.” His favorite martial artist, besides his parents and karate teacher, is Jackie Chan. His favorite martial arts movies? “Without hesitation, all of Jackie Chan’s.”

Blake has worked with great actors over the years. He respects them and learns from them. But his true mentor is Tom Bloom, his karate teacher. Blake wants to make acting his lifetime career. But just as important, he wants to follow Tom’s example, living karate as a way of life and teaching it to others.

Cung Le, Instructor of the Year

I wrote this article for www.worldblackbelt.com, a site founded by Bob Wall.

Arnold Howard
Kick boxing champion Cung Le inherited his will to win from his mother, Anne Le. Her iron will made her run through gunfire to immigrate to America.

One night in April, 1975, three days before the communists over-ran Saigon, Anne received permission to board an aircraft to America. She waited ten hours for permission, and the suspense left her drained. But getting to the aircraft was worse. Clutching two-year-old Cung, she ran 900 yards through the darkness to the waiting craft. Rifles in the distance sounded like firecrackers. How close were the gunmen? Anne couldn’t tell, but she could see their muzzles flashing. As she ran that humid, windy night, it seemed that all rifles pointed at her and little Cung. Bullets whined.

After they arrived in America, times were difficult. When diminutive, skinny Cung was picked on by bullies and called “Gook” or “Nip” in elementary school, it helped to remember that the real ordeal was past. He had gone through gunfire with his mother. By comparison, schoolyard bullies were nothing.

As the years passed, Cung grew from a skinny kid to a sleek athlete. In San Jose High Academy, he was an All-American wrestler. He continued wrestling through college. At age 19 he began taking lessons in taekwondo and Vietnamese kung fu at the Hung Vuong School.

Over the years the skinny kid who was once beaten up by bullies won three bronze medals at the Wushu World Championship tournaments (Baltimore, Maryland 1995; Rome, Italy 1997; and Hong Kong 1999). He was the team captain in both Rome and Hong Kong. His titles:

1999 China vs. United States Light Heavyweight Sanshou Champion
1999 ISKA Light Heavyweight Champion
1998 ISKA Light Cruiserweight Champion
1998 USA Draka Champion
1998 Team USA Shidokan Champion
Cung Le’s record is 36-2, with 26 knockouts.

In January 2001, Black Belt magazine called Cung Le “San Shou Kung Fu’s Top Fighter.” In their June, 2000 issue, Martial Arts Illustrated called him one of the best fighters of all time.

As any champion will attest, the price of success in the martial arts is hard work. Jivoni Jordan, Cung Le’s personal trainer of three years, intensifies the training six weeks before a fight. “My training sessions are harder than a lot of my matches,” says Cung Le. “But there are matches where both fighters have a strong desire to win, and it becomes all-out war. In those matches, the mind takes the body to another level.” After a long pause, Le adds, “I’ve had a few of those. It’s good to know that your training comes close to that level of intensity and pain.”

Does he dread the intense workouts? “Always. The workouts I dread the most are those that I begin when I’m still sore from my previous workout. But my body adapts to the intensity. Taking my body to the extreme helps me to know myself better.”

“If I lose, I know the way I train, I went out there and gave it my best,” says Le. “If I lose, it’ll just push me a notch higher in training. It is not embarrassing to lose a match if you represent yourself well. Then if you lose, you lose like a champion. If you win, you win like a champion. Being a complete person includes always carrying the attitude of a champion.”
Cung Le’s toughest fight was against Arne Soldwedel at the 1998 World Karate Association shidokan tournament. Soldwedel was Le’s third opponent of the day. After slipping a punch, he knocked out Soldwedel with an overhand right to the chin.

Le’s second most difficult match was against the Mongolian King of China. The match was held in Hawaii. “My desire to win was so powerful that I defeated him in the third round. I used every technique I had.”

Le’s favorite techniques are the scissors kick (one leg behind the opponent, the other in front, for a take-down), spinning back kick, side kick, double leg combination kicks, and leg catches (catching the kick and sweeping out the supporting leg). Being a taekwondo black belt, Le is drawn to kicks. “Taekwondo has awesome kicks, though there are a lot of missing elements in taekwondo,” says Le. “But I don’t compare the arts, because they come from the same roots. I just take the best from each art.”

Although Le devotes himself to kickboxing, it is not everything to him. “My mother taught me that family comes first,” he says. “It is engraved on my heart. Part of being a complete person, to me, means that family comes first.” His proudest moment was standing in the delivery room when his son was born. He remembers the hush that fell over the room at that moment eight months ago. Having a son changed his life forever. “I never had a father who was there for me, so I want to be there for him.” (Cung Le’s parents divorced; his father lives in Vietnam.) Le looks forward to running the hills with his son, and holding the striking pad for him.

As one of the leading kick-boxers of today, Le respects the martial artists of the past. “I look up to them. I would never consider myself better. I’m thankful for what they have done for the martial arts. We should all be thankful to Bruce Lee, who brought martial arts into the main stream.” Le’s favorite martial arts movie of all time is “Enter the Dragon,” and his favorite scene from the movie is the fight between Bruce Lee and Bob Wall.
Chuck Norris is another of Le’s favorite early fighters. In January, 2001, Le was part of the “Legends” episode of “Walker, Texas Ranger.” One evening after shooting, Norris invited a large group out to dinner. Le sat across from Norris two chairs down at a long table. As people talked and ate, Le noticed Norris quietly close his eyes for a few seconds. He looked as if he were oblivious of the bustling crowd, the waiters rushing past, and the clinking of silverware and glasses. Then he opened his eyes. Only after he was sure that everyone had been served did he begin eating.

This is one of Le’s favorite memories of Chuck Norris. “Chuck’s presence is very powerful,” says Le. “I feel such good energy from him. His spirit shines.”

Martial artists such as Chuck Norris inspire Le to strive to be a complete
person. Le hopes that one day he will inspire others as the martial arts legends have inspired him.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Out Of Nowhere Came Joe Lewis

By Arnold Howard

On a warm May night in Washington, D.C., a young Marine named Joe Lewis walked up three flights of stairs to Jhoon Rhee's taekwondo school. It was the night before Jhoon Rhee's 1966 U. S. National Championships tournament.

Registration started at 8 p.m., but Lewis came early. The Marines had taught him punctuality. He found himself alone in the school, except for Jhoon Rhee and an assistant working in the office. Lewis stood awkwardly, holding his gi bag. He had returned from Okinawa and had never been to an American karate tournament. He didn't know what to expect.

An assistant greeted the boyish, muscular Marine and asked why he had come. "I heard there's a tournament," Lewis replied. He had found a tournament flyer.

Jhoon Rhee looked up from his desk. "Are you a black belt?" Rhee asked. He had noticed Lewis' gi bag and the enlarged two fore?knuckles of each hand.

"Yes."

"Are you competing?"

Lewis had come to buy a ticket to watch the tournament, not to compete in it. His Okinawan style, shorinryu, discouraged tournament competition.

Lewis paused. "You mean am I going to enter the tournament?" he asked.

Rhee nodded.

"No, I hadn't even thought about it," Lewis answered.

"You should enter," Rhee said, handing Lewis an application. "Go ahead," Rhee urged. Lewis took the paper, stared at it a minute, and began filling it out.

The next day Joe Lewis, the unknown, began attracting attention after winning his first matches.

"Where did this guy come from?"

"Did you see that side kick?"

"His name is Lewis, you say?"

When he fought, he stood in a straddle stance, sideways to his opponent, lead fist held low with arm straight, and rear arm held chest high across his body. This was to become his trademark stance.

Joe Lewis made it all the way to the grand championship match that day. He had won every fight using the powerful side kick he had honed in the oppressive heat of Okinawa.

During his last match, Lewis' opponent came in with two round house kicks off the rear leg. Lewis stepped back. New to tournament fighting, he momentarily turned his head to see if he had stepped out of bounds. Just then he was kicked in the stomach, the only point scored against him in that tournament. But he went on to win the match for grand championship. He had trained in karate only 22 months but won both forms and fighting in the first American tournament he ever entered.

When spectators crowded around Lewis for autographs that night, he was stunned. Autographs? A Marine corporal, he was accustomed to being ordered around and cursed at by sergeants. Someone wanted his autograph? For the first time, the painfully shy Joe Lewis was pushed into the spotlight.

Joe Lewis went on to win more major American tournaments than any other competitor before or since. Among his accomplishments, he won Jhoon Rhee's Washington, D. C. U. S. Nationals four times, and the most prestigious tournament of all, Ed Parker's Long Beach Internationals, three times.

Joe Lewis became a legend through grueling work. He trained so hard that tournament fighting, by comparison, was a break for him.

After winning the Long Beach Internationals grand championship one year, Lewis went back to his apartment with several black belt friends.

As Lewis tied his running shoes, one of his friends asked, "Joe, where are you going? Let's go out and party."

"I'm going running," Lewis answered.

"Running. Are you crazy? It's almost midnight."

"Yeah, but I didn't get a work out today."

"What do you mean you didn't get a work out?" his friend asked incredulously. "You fought all day long. You won the whole tournament."

Lewis looked up and said, "You call that a work out?" He laughed as he rose to leave.

Bob Wall, Lewis' first black belt student and former karate school partner, remembers seeing Lewis throw away a second place trophy. Anything less than first place meant nothing to him.

In 1970, Lewis began boxing training with heavyweight boxing champion Joey Orbillo. Lewis defeated Greg Baines at the Long Beach Arena on January 17, 1970, becoming the first U. S. heavyweight kickboxing champion.

That same year, at the 1970 All?Star Team Championships in Long Beach, California, Joey Orbillo and Bruce Lee sat in the stands watching Lewis. He drew their attention, because they had both trained with him. "Bruce Lee said he thought Joe Lewis was the best non?contact fighter he had ever seen at that point," Orbillo remembers.

John Natividad, a Chuck Norris black belt, beat Lewis that night. "You know what's happening," Bruce Lee said thoughtfully to Orbillo.

"Yeah, I know what's happening," Orbillo said. "You can't do both full?contact and point fighting." Lewis, who had been training in full?contact, was holding back in point matches. Orbillo believes this is one reason Joe Lewis lost the 1972 Long Beach Internationals after winning three straight years. In the full?contact arena, however, Lewis beat 14 opponents during that same period. In 1974, he became the first world heavyweight kickboxing champion.

In spite of Joe Lewis' tournament wins, some of his critics believe he was over?rated as a karate fighter. To this, his long?time friend and competitor, Ed Daniel, says with wry humor, "He may have been over?rated, but the problem was no one could beat him."

After Joe Lewis retired from fighting, he turned to acting, starring in Jaguar Lives, Force Five, Death Cage, and Mr. X. In late 1997, he renewed his acting career, playing a police detective in The Cut Off.

In a scene from The Cut Off, Lewis, the detective, found his best friend dead in a pool of blood in a shower. Lewis, the tough detective, wept softly.

After the scene was finished, Art Camacho, the director, sat silently, still watching Lewis, still immersed in the real emotion of the scene. For a long moment, the bustle and noise that follow the shooting of a scene were strangely absent. No one moved. Then the crew slowly came to life and quietly resumed its work.

"Joe Lewis did an incredible job as an actor," says Art Camacho, who also directed Red Sun Rising and The Power Within. "He has a vulnerability that I don't think he was allowed to bring out in his earlier films.

"I think he's very under?rated as an actor. Joe Lewis is more of a character actor than anyone else I've worked with. I think he has a great future ahead of him."

Apart from fighting and acting, what kind of person is Joe Lewis?

Dr. Nathaniel Branden, a psychologist who wrote the recently published Six Pillars of Self?Esteem, studied karate privately with Lewis in 1969. After practicing karate for an hour, the two would discuss philosophy for several hours. Dr. Branden found Lewis' innocent, choir?boy appearance to be incongruous with his lethal karate ability. Branden also found, beneath Lewis' shy exterior, a man of intelligence and intuition. On several occasions Lewis surprised Branden by warning him that a seemingly good friend was not really as he appeared. Later events always proved the accuracy of Lewis' warnings.

Parade magazine editor Walter Anderson, Joe Lewis' Marine Corps buddy from Okinawa, says, "I have known champions all my life. I've been editor of Parade magazine 17 years. During that time I've known some of the world's most celebrated and noble people??people who have run nations, who have run corporations; great athletes, actors, writers, directors, Nobel Laureates. Of all these people, I've known no one more noble than my friend Joe Lewis. He is truly an honorable man. He is an authentic champion. And he always has been."

The Joe Lewis of today works at living an old maxim from the fight game: "You can conquer others by force, but you need strength to conquer yourself." In his tournament days, he was known for his temper. The Joe Lewis of today, wiser and more experienced, says, "He who angers you conquers you."

Joe Lewis, at 54 years young, considers his accomplishments as only a beginning. "I haven't even started," he says. He explains that one of his heroes, General George S. Patton of World War Two, won his greatest victories at the age of 57. Joe Lewis doesn't have time to look back. He looks forward.

But for those who watched Joe Lewis in the tournaments; for those who marveled at his piston?like side kick and reverse punch; for those who fought him and trained with him; he will always be Joe Lewis the karate legend.
____________
This article appeared in the August, 1998 issue of Black Belt magazine. Arnold Howard is a freelance writer in Mesquite, Texas and can be reached at arnoldhoward@yahoo.com.

An Ancient Lesson in Ceramics

Arnold Howard

Ceramics is one of the oldest arts. I learned how special it is when I was 12 years old living in Tripoli, Libya on the Mediterranean coast.

Once during our three-year stay in Tripoli, my family visited the ruins of Leptis Magna. This ancient Greek city lies on the Mediterranean coast in the Libyan desert. It was a quiet, sunny afternoon when we strolled through the streets of Leptis Magna. We stepped over the ruts that chariots had worn into the cobblestones. We walked past stone pillars, which had collapsed and were scattered across the sand. Statues of Greek athletes and statesmen, once covered with sand, stared vacantly at us with their hollow eyes, just as they had long ago.

From a hill, I looked past the great field of ruined, silent buildings, to the dark blue Mediterranean in the distance. We walked through the ruins and made our way to the beach.

Scattered on the sandy beach were half-inch square stone tiles and broken pieces of pottery. Bits of pottery jutted from the sand where the waves gently washed over them.

I recognized the stone tile squares from the beach near my house, about half a day's drive from Leptis Magna. I had collected a handful of the white tiles and black tiles that had washed up on the beach in the mornings. Here at Leptis Magna they were scattered about plentifully, a remnant of mosaic flooring from the Greek buildings.

Among the shards of cups and pots, I found a ceramic bowl about 3" in diameter and 2" high, made of reddish?brown clay. It was unglazed and, except for a few small chips on the rim and around the base, in perfect condition.

I picked it up. Impressed into the base was a human hand print. Inside the bowl were impressions of several finger prints. The fine lines showed clearly. That the delicate impression of a human hand remained after two thousand years astonished me. I visualized an ancient potter holding the bowl in his palm while the clay was still wet. Cupping the bowl in my hands brought history to life for me.

Over thirty years have passed since that visit to Leptis Magna. Thinking of it reminds me of how special, even magical, ceramics is. The heat of an ancient kiln had given that little bowl the strength to survive the centuries, buried in the desert. And centuries from now, ceramic pieces will be among the few relics of our civilization. Plastic, metal and wood will have disintegrated.