Can you tell us about your background and possibly any early influences that may have prompted you to study the Martial Arts, which is basically an Asian art?
I was born in Detroit. My family was a very religious, deep Southern family. My grandmother, who raised me, was the granddaughter of Alabama slaves. She bought a hand laundry from a Asian gentleman, Charlie. He stayed on, and when I was very little, maybe 2 or 3 years old, I used to eat rice with him in the back. I think that there was something about him that always fascinated me. He wore the typical “coolie” garb and the little silk hat. I don’t remember when he left, but he was there for a very long time. He was a very gentle person. That was my first contact with the East. I don’t remember how I communicated with him, but I remember eating with him, even though I was so young. That was my first influence.
Then, there was an advertisement that appeared on the back of comic books: “Become a Karate master in 90 days”. A karate expert was pictured with his face covered. That really fascinated me. That was the next contact I had. Anybody that has ever read a comic book from my era must remember this fellow’s ad on the back. I remember sending off for his book. It wasn’t that great, but he got a dollar or whatever I sent. From that point on, I wanted to learn the secrets that man had.
Did you have a reason to learn to fight?
I was an abused person when I was younger and I always wanted to learn how to protect myself. That was a quest for me. That is the honest-to-God truth.
Did you learn any of the Martial Arts in elementary or secondary school?
No. From the time I was with Charlie when I was three years old until the time I started taking Karate in Air Force, that was 18 years until I stepped into the Martial Arts arena.
How did your training in the air force come about?
I met a fellow medic and he showed me his black belt and his Judo Gi, or uniform, and a gold dragon ring that he brought back from Japan. The medic, Tommy Williams, introduced me to a sergeant, an air policeman, who taught karate on the base. I was hooked. It hooked me worse than any crack cocaine could hit me.
Why was that?
Because I had finally stepped to the base of The Mountain–the rugged art itself. That is where my trip started. Within those eighteen years, I had family abuse problems. That was the reason I lived with my grandmother. Now, this man, this sergeant, began to take me on The Journey to climb The Martial Arts Mountain.
Why was this so important to you?
I could learn the art. I could learn how to protect myself. I was like any other man. I never had any knock down, drag out fights. I was athletic. I could box, but I still needed that feeling of self security. When I met Sgt. Cadigan, he was the first one that took me to that space. He asked me, “Do you box?” I said I was Joe Louis and back. Then, this brother started throwing kicks around my head. He was throwing these kicks and punches–so smooth, man, I ceased what I was doing and began to learn what he had. I guess you could say it was a spiritual experience.
You said that what Sgt Cadigan did was “beautiful”?
Smooth and sharp…you see a kick coming at your head. He was throwing punches, but he was stopping short and wasn’t hitting me. It was beautiful. Anytime you see someone do what they do best, who has been trained in something–running, walking, dancing and they have mastered their art– it’s so smooth. I saw where I was “trying” and he was “doing“. It was smooth. Have you ever seen a race horse run? Have you ever seen a colt run? A colt just runs and plays. A race horse strides. Its the beauty of the someone that has obtained the level of smoothness; that has mastered their art. That is amazing. That is beautiful. I knew this was where I needed to be.