This is the first belt I ever earned in Martial Arts training. It’s an orange belt from Tang Soo Do a Korean Martial Art similar to Japanese Karate. It was given to me and signed by Master Fred Kenyon, back in 1985.
On the other end he wrote something in Korean the meaning of which is Tang Soo.
Master Fred Kenyon was the first martial arts instructor I ever had. I started with him when I was 8 years old, which would have been about a year before I earned this belt. My cousin and I took private lessons from him twice a week for close to a year before we started training in group classes.
During our private lessons we spent a lot of time working on the fundamental kicks. I can specifically remember having to drill the spinning heal kick over and over again. When I thought I had done enough, he told me to do more. And more. And repeat. Each time he was trying to teach me how to properly engage my hip and generate power not just kicking for show as you commonly see in traditional martial arts of today. I feel fortunate to have learned good fundamentals, and I know I’m a better practitioner today because of the fundamentals I built all those years ago.
If I failed to listen, was lazy, or didn’t put forth a full effort we would do knuckle push-ups. I can remember many students being sent outside in front of the studio to do knuckle push-ups on the hard concrete. We all heard stories. It was rumored that Fred would make his students do push-ups until their knuckles bled. Although I never witnessed such an incident the very idea kept us focused and in line.
Below is a picture of Fred Kenyon on your left holding his belt. In the center is the one and only Chuck Norris, whom Fred was peers with at the time. Norris began his martial arts in Tang Soo Do and was very successful in tournament matches before he became a movie star. On the right is Andy Ah Po another very accomplished martial artist with extraordinary talents and abilities.
Fred Kenyon was the real deal – A pioneer in both surfing and martial arts. He has been recognized as one of the “plank boys” the original group of locals to first surf in San Diego. Named after their surfboards literally made of solid wood planks before the days of fiberglass. In 1946 Fred constructed the first Windansea Surf Shack with Woody Ekstrom and Don Okey. Although reconstructed many times throughout the years the Windansea Surf Shack (pictured below) still stands today on Windansea Beach. It was designated as an historical landmark by the City of San Diego in 1998 and has become an icon in the world of surfing. In fact Fred Kenyon’s first martial arts studio was a surf shop on one side and a martial arts school on the other.
Master Fred Kenyon came from a generation where martial arts instruction was difficult to come by. The invention of the strip mall martial arts school hadn’t begun yet. One had to really search in order to learn. To help further promote martial arts training in the United States Fred Kenyon was one of the original charter members of the U.S. Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan Federation. The first Tang Soo Do organization to be established in the United States.
Even when I started training martial arts in the 1980s there were only a few schools around far different from today’s landscape where you find a Mc Dojo on just about every block and the ability to train so conveniently is taken for granite.
Having been around martial arts so many years I’ve noticed a huge difference with the old timers, the practitioners that really had to go out of their way and sacrifice to learn. I’ve seen this not just in traditional Martial Arts but all across the entire landscape of Martial Arts in general. The real character of the older generations is quickly being lost with the many modern conveniences we now have at our disposal.
Fred Kenyon gave me the book Tang Soo Tao The Living Buddha in Martial Virtue, by Robert Caputo. Published in 1981 and long out of print, this book features a beautiful picture of Master Fred Kenyon executing a Flying Side Kick in his younger years. He signed it for me and unfortunately I have long ago misplaced it an have not seen it in many many years. Perhaps one day I’ll track down a copy to put in my library once again. Pictured Below is a promotion certificate from 1987 signed by both Fred Kenyon and his son Damon.
The last time I remember talking to Master Fred Kenyon he was sitting on the side of the mat watching me train in a class ran by one of his instructors. He called me over after class and complemented my technique. He always made me feel special about myself and my Martial Arts ability. He told me he wanted to do a private lesson with me. We set it up for a couple of days later. He was unable to teach it but his son, (another martial artist of amazing ability Damon Kenyon), who had already taken over all primary responsibility of the school and my training, gave the private lesson instead. I know Fred wanted to do that private from how he talked to me a few days before. After that he wasn’t around the school much.
I still remember the day, I was about 12 years old, I showed up for my regular group class and the school was closed. The next day I would learn that it was because Fred Kenyon had passed. I felt very sad about the loss. As young as I was I still remember and could tell several stories about my time training with him.
Since the 1980s when I initially began to learn Martial Arts to now there has never been a time in my life when I haven’t been actively training in a Martial Art. Today, I’m still training martial arts and coach out of my own private studio. Since the time I was given my first belt in 1985 I have reached the level of 3rd Degree Black Belt in Tang Soo Do, Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Assistant Coach with Billy Robinson and Scientific Wrestling for Catch as Catch Can, I am an Advanced Trainer in the Crazy Monkey Defense Program and have become a Licensed Acupuncturist in the State of California with a Master’s Degree in Traditional Oriental Medicine. Although I have ventured far outside of where I began in Tang Soo Do I will always remember my roots. Today I have met, and continue to meet, and train with many amazing people along the way and look forward to those whom I’ll meet and train with in the future…