In the fall of 1999, a few months after receiving my black belt in Tang Too Do, my instructor, Master Diane P. Jones, was gracious enough to allow me to ask Mr. Welch if he would teach me weapons, particularly the eku (which resembles a boat oar). She was an accomplished martial artist in her own right, but did not offer a weapons program. Master Jones believed weapons study would encourage me to grow in the martial arts and enhance my understanding.
Mr. Welch agreed to teach his weapons program to me but we had to start with the bo, the long stick originally used to herd animals and to help climbing rugged terrain. It turned out we would not use the eku for almost a dozen years!
For several months I practiced Shorinkan weapons with Mr. Welch and Tang Too Do with Master Jones. One night I noticed his young students doing kata and realized that the kata were very similar to what I learned in Tang Too Do. I spoke to him about taking his full class. He would not allow me to join unless Ms. Jones gave her approval. They had great mutual respect, and would not allow a student to change without the other’s blessing. She agreed.
Mr. Welch sat me down in his office. He looked at me and said…
“never quit, don’t lie, and don’t steal!”
At first I thought that his request was rather odd. As I came realize, integrity was very important to him and he set the bar very high.
I enjoyed training with Shihan (everybody called him Shihan, a term of respect for his high rank, but it became a term of affection for many of us). He was tough. Considering that I was already a black belt, and that I received it from someone whom he respected, he told me that I had 18 months to learn the entire Shorinkan karatedo system. He allowed me to wear a plain black belt during that time. Most everyone has seen the embroidery of Japanese characters on black belts. But because I had not earned one in his dojo, mine had to be plain. He would playfully tease me that I “had no character” but at the end of the 18 months I would be given a belt worthy of what I had learned. Many sensei require that all new students, no matter their previous rank, start at white belt. But Shihan was showing respect to new experienced students by having them wear plain black belts. It also meant that their appreciation for doing that would make them motivated to work harder than others. It did.
I ate, slept, and worked Shorinkan karatedo. My coworkers believed I was crazy. After all, I was in my 40s and none of them were doing such things. Eighteen months is not a long time and time certainly does fly! Not only did Shihan set the bar high, he ensured that I had all the help that I needed. Many a night it was just me and him in the dojo. Sometimes, I can still hear him yelling at me. It took a while to understand that if he was not “on your case” he really did not care about you. If you were diligent and dedicated, he knew he could trust you with more difficult lessons. Because he cared, he demanded more. There was a lot of stern direction and pushing students to success, often to levels they would not otherwise achieve.
My shodan test under Shihan was the hardest single event I have ever done. I won’t go into details, but if you tested under him you know what I mean. I have heard that he has taught over 5,000 students and only about 70 made it to black belt. Only about half of those were with him after earning their first yellow belts.
After about five years or so I decided to focus all of my martial arts attention on Shorin-Ryu as we practice in the Shorinkan. I love Tang Too Do but Shorin-Ryu seems to fit my mind and body better. I trained under Kyoshi Welch for almost 20 years. During that time I tested four additional times, and I traveled to several seminars and camps in North Carolina, California, Indiana, Washington, D.C. and Okinawa, Japan. With his blessing, I opened my own dojo in Raleigh, NC ten years ago. Shihan always supported me. He visited us several times, led test boards on more than one occasion, and brought busloads of students to support my tournaments. The first three students in my dojo to test for black belt did so at Shihan’s dojo under his direction. They know how challenging his tests are.
Years later, I finally learned the eku! It took me long enough!
I failed to mention that Shihan himself had no weapons rank, and bragged about it! Don’t let that fool you. He knew every weapons kata extremely well and could do them all. He just never sought rank. He would sometimes explain that it was not your rank or whom you knew. It is what you know that counts.
I agree with what he said, but in my case it is because of who I know that I know what I know. I could write volumes about Eberhard Greene Welch, Sr., but I know he would tell me to shut up and move on. I will do just that.
I can say with pride that I never quit, I never lied, and I never stole. I showed him the personal integrity that he so richly deserves.
Until we meet again… REI!