|CHRISTOPHER N. GEARY
||PROFILE OF A MARTIAL ARTS MASTER
In 2002-2003, I continued to explore the history and lineage of kempo/kenpo karate in the United States. I believe my research had begun around 1996 when I was re-reading some of my old newsletters from Nick Cerio’s International Martial Arts Association (NCIMAA). I became interested in an article written by a martial artist named Bruce Corrigan in Tennessee. In his article Corrigan said that Nick Cerio had received his first-degree black belt in the art of kenpo from a man named George Pesare, but Nick Cerio never really knew his proper kenpo lineage until years later. As it turned out, Pesare’s kenpo instructor was Sijo Victor “Sonny” Gascon, who began teaching in 1957/58 and became the founder of Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu (Hawaiian Kempo/Kenpo). Corrigan had been promoted by Gascon, and he was proud of the fact that Gascon had also promoted a man who had been one of Cerio’s teachers.
After reading the article, I contacted Bruce Corrigan to get some information about Sonny Gascon’s organization. Corrigan told me (incorrectly) that the Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu Black Belt Society (KGS BBS) was no longer doing promotions, and I believed him. Years later in 2002-2003, I again wanted to get more information about my kempo lineage. Although Hanshi Angel had been working with me for a couple of years and had promoted me on my abilities in the martial arts and in my system, I wanted to have my technique reviewed and, ideally, to be promoted by Gascon’s organization. I felt it would be a great honor to also be promoted by a man like Gascon, who had been the instructor for one of Nick Cerio's teachers, Pesare. I decided to contact Sonny Gascon directly.
Born in Hawaii into a family of Filipino ancestry, Sonny Gascon had begun his martial arts career by taking up the study of Judo at age 12. Gascon continued his martial arts training while serving in the U.S. Air Force in the early 1950s. He opened his first school in Burbank, California, in 1958. Many people have credited him with having brought the art of Shaolin Ch'uan Fa from Hawaii to the mainland United States. In the course of a martial arts career that spans more than half a century, he received training from martial arts greats such as Adriano Emperado, John Leoning (who played Master Tei in Kung Fu: The Movie), and David Nuuhiwa, 12th Dan. He was nominated to the Masters Hall of Fame in 2000.
After I joined the Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu Black Belt Society, I was told that Gascon would only promote people in person and I would either have to go see Gascon in Hawaii or bring him to Omaha. I wanted Gascon to review and critique my technique, and I was looking forward to learning from him. One of the things Gascon told me was that Shaolin Kempo is not attributed to specific individuals because the techniques were developed and refined over hundreds of years. Although I have never trained with the monks at the Shaolin Temple in China, I use the term “Shaolin” in the name of my system to show respect for the historic birthplace of kempo/kenpo karate.
I decided to bring Sonny Gascon and Michael Rash (his second in command) to Omaha. They had asked for my current rank certificate and wanted to see my technique on video before coming to Omaha. I sent them my current rank certificate (which at that time was a sixth-degree black belt that had been awarded to me by Hanshi Lou Angel) and a video with some of my techniques on it. Gascon reviewed the video and approved it, saying everything looked fine. I remember calling Sonny Gascon in Hawaii before he and Michael Rash came out to Omaha, and he suggested that we also set up a seminar while they were in town. I agreed because I thought it would be a great opportunity for my students not only to witness my promotion from Sonny Gascon but also to learn from a man who had been an important part of the martial arts lineage for me and many others in the art of kempo/kenpo throughout the United States.
In the spring of 2004, Sijo Gascon and Professor Rash came out to Omaha for my promotion ceremony. Shihan Steiner and I met Sonny Gascon, Michael Rash, and Brad Namahoe (a seventh-degree black belt and member/student of the KGS BBS) at the airport in Omaha in the afternoon of March 12, 2004. Later that day they visited my schools in town. We also visited Field Club Elementary school where I first began to teach and 30th and Harney where my first school was located. We took some great pictures. Then Steiner took us out to eat at a restaurant called Spaghetti Works in the historic Old Market. (The Old Market is a section of downtown Omaha that was formerly a produce market and is full of landmark buildings that have been converted to shops, galleries, and restaurants.) I put the three of them up in a very nice hotel near the Old Market.
The promotion and seminar took place at my school (the Corporate Headquarters at 180th and Pacific) on Saturday, March 13. My promotion to Rokudan (sixth-degree black belt) in the art of Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu took about ten minutes. The promotion began with three claps that I did simultaneously with Sonny Gascon. Sonny Gascon, Michael Rash, and Brad Namahoe took turns breathing knowledge into my new belt that I was about to receive, and then they passed it along, starting with the person of lowest rank and ending with the person of highest rank: Brad Namahoe (seventh-degree) passed it to Michael Rash (ninth-degree), who then gave it to Sonny Gascon (tenth-degree). Gascon tied the belt around my waist, asked me to stand, and we bowed. Then I drank from a teacup that he had brought to give to me for my promotion ceremony. We concluded the ceremony by repeating the three claps. Then Gascon had Rash read my certificate to everyone (click here to view video).
Then it was time for the seminar. We took a few minutes to get things organized, and then Sonny Gascon came out and talked to my students. He explained that he wasn’t teaching anymore, and then he turned the class over to Michael Rash. Rash started the seminar by running everyone through warm-up drills (basic strikes, etc.). Gascon stepped out on the floor and asked everyone to move to one side of the training area, and Gascon asked Steiner to go out into the middle of the training space and to show him my system’s Pinan One (a form/kata against imaginary attackers to work on balance and coordination). Then Gascon asked Rash to do their first form, and by the way he was executing the movements, you could definitely tell that the system was from the Kajukenbo line (another form of Hawaiian kempo). When Rash was done, he went back over to stand by Gascon. Then Gascon asked Steiner to go out and do Pinan Two. Next, Michael Rash began teaching and demonstrating what he described as an original form called “The Monkey Dance.” Rash taught the first part of the seminar and Namahoe taught the last part, which lasted about an hour. Gascon observed the teaching but did not participate.
Seven months after their visit, they presented me with a teaching certificate, telling me that it was not awarded very often. This certificate allowed me to teach the art of Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu. I also became the first instructor to receive this prestigious teaching certificate in the state of Nebraska and in the entire Midwestern United States since Gascon had begun teaching almost five decades previously. These certificates had been issued only to black belt instructors and individuals to whom Sijo Gascon had issued rank. The KGS BBS also recognized and addressed me with the title of Sigung, which is the Chinese (Cantonese) version of the Japanese title Shihan (Master, Teacher of Teachers). The title Sigung refers to anyone who heads a Chinese martial arts system and or a head instructor who holds a master’s rank of sixth- or seventh-degree black belt.
In January of 2005, the KGS BBS nominated me to receive the “Martial Arts School of the Year” award for 2004, which would be presented to me by the Hawaii Martial Arts International Society. The awards ceremony was scheduled for July 2005 in Hawaii. My trip to Hawaii is described in the next chapter.
Working with the KGS BBS was a great learning experience for me, and I am glad to have had the opportunity to work with them. In the years to come, I will continue to dedicate my time and my training to devising new techniques and achieving maximum results by developing my natural abilities so that I can pass on this knowledge to my students.