I grew up in the Detroit area in the late 50s and 60s. As most of you know, the karate craze began in the U.S. in the 60s. My sister and brother and I always had an interest in some of these "exotic" martial arts. In the mid-60s, my sister Annie and I (along with our cousin Sharon) began taking Judo lessons. It was a good 45 minute drive (one way) for my dad to take the 3 of us to this class every Saturday morning. We all enjoyed this class immensely, but total time in the car exceeded the time in class. My father never complained about the drive time, but it was both Annie's and my idea to look at this new karate club that had just opened up in downtown Royal Oak, just blocks away from our home. It wasn't long after that our judo session ended and the both of us started taking karate lessons at this club. It was 1967 and the club was Master Sang Kyu Shim's Detroit Tang Soo Do Association, which eventually became the United Tae Kwon Do Association.
It wasn't long before our younger brother Vince joined us in these classes. My first instructor was a gentleman by the name of Dale Drouillard. He was a 3rd Dan at the time and was the very first American to earn a Black Belt from the Moo Duk Kwan! I wasn't aware of his historical significance at the time, but certainly learned of it later. As a matter of fact, Master Drouillard is still active today. A couple of years after I began training, at age 16, I (along with my sister) was awarded my Black Belt. Shortly afterwards, I was given the responsibility of teaching the children's class after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. After teaching from 4-6 PM, I would take a dinner break for an hour and go back and train with the adult class from 7-9 PM. Those were the days of the "school of hard knocks"! There were no such thing as Saf-T-Kicks or Punches, shin guards, arm guards, head gear or chest protectors. Some guys wore cups and most guys and gals began to use mouth guards. Other than that, we pounded on each other's forearms and shins at every class. We didn't care, though, because we were all doing something we loved. There was just something captivating about this martial art. I continued teaching and training under the direction of Master Shim until 1974 when I moved to Kalamazoo to attend Western Michigan University (WMU).
Both Annie and I moved to Western and shortly thereafter, heard about a karate club that was active there. We visited Handball Court #9 at the Reid Field House one evening to check it out. We were presently surprised to see that the WMU Karate Club was a Tang Soo Do club. Even though most of our training was in Tae Kwon Do at the time, we did start out briefly in Tang Soo Do. We met Master Mike March, and the rest is history. We've been training together pretty much ever since. I lived in Florida for a short time and then spent 10 winter ski seasons in the Rockies of Colorado. I was never in as good a shape as when I was teaching skiing all day and training in karate at night in Colorado. However, I never lost touch with Master March during all those years, he (and MaryAnn) even came out to ski with me several times. Any time I was back in the Kalamazoo area, I would be training with Master March. I (and Annie) eventually received our 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Dan ranks from him. What an honor it has been to be associated with a man of his ability and integrity!
After Bruce Lee roared onto movie screens across the country, karate tournaments were the craze all through the 70s and into the 80s. The WMU Karate Club was well known, well respected and at times, feared, in the Mid-west tournament circuit. It is because of Master March's attention to detail, we had great technicians in our club that rank with the best fighters and forms competitors from any club, anywhere! Many times, I would hear sighs coming from the other competitors when we would come in to the competition areas; for they knew we would take home many (if not most) of the trophies that day. We had a reputation of being "head hunters," as our punching AND kicking combinations usually targeted the heads of our opponents with consistent accuracy and success in free fighting!
I recall when Rick Mirandette began training at our club after a friend bought him karate lessons at our club as a present. I remember a young kid by the name of Albert Doorlag when he started training with us. I remember the days when Bill Grother, Bob Coleman, Jon Pixler, Gene Stovall, Dwight Williamson, Robert "Buddha" Hinton, Gary Peshl, Jerome Bryant, Mark Crockett, Jose Posada, Tammy Wedeking, Dorothy, all trained together (and became friends together). I remember this unassuming looking farm boy by the name of Mark Hazard who lived up to his name and also became a life long friend! I remember many higher ranking members of other clubs coming to our club and getting their eyes opened when they experienced the caliber of skill and quality of training in our club. As a matter of fact, that still happens today. I've started teaching regularly again at the Great Lakes Athletic Club in the Clarkston, MI area where I live. Some of my students now are Black Belts from other clubs and they are training with me because they like what we do and what we stand for.
I continue to train and learn, as this process never stops. I am actively training with Master Mike March (8th Dan, pin #10,724), as well as Grand Master Chung Il Kim (10th Dan, pin #475), Grand Master Kang Uk Lee (10th Dan, pin #70) and Grand Master Dale Drouillard (10th Dan, pin #757). All four of these masters stand for the highest standards in mental, as well as physical performance. In addition, their loyalty to the traditions of the Moo Duk Kwan are without question; in that sense, we all see eye-to-eye! The quality of our training is second to none and our students, past and present, still say that we are amongst the best! That is a very gratifying thing to hear and it makes all the hard work worth it.