As a kid growing up in Pittsburgh I tended to avoid competitive sports in favor of watching TV shows. When I first saw the Green Hornet series in the Fall of 1966, Bruce Lee as Kato captured my imagination immediately with his mastery of martial arts. The next day I talked about learning karate at school where I had just started the 7th grade. My friend Arnold told me he was going to a new judo class on Saturday at our local Jewish Y. It was a course for $10 for 10 weeks so I asked my dad if I could also go and he agreed.
That Saturday Arnold and I took the bus to the Y and when we arrived I learned we had missed the first lesson a week ago. The sessions were held in the mezzanine which overlooked the gymnasium. As the kids gathered around waiting for things to start there were a couple boys in their white judo uniforms with orange belts. A few I recognized from school. Suddenly someone yelled there's Mr. Kim! I recall vividly staring down at the basketball court below and seeing a rather tall Asian man calmly yet deliberately walking towards the entry stairway up to we were.
When Kyu Ha Kim arrived at the doorway he was so tall he had to lean down to not hit his head in order to enter the room. I'll never forget that first impression as he softly and warmly greeted the kids. We lined up around the vinyl large blue mat and there was an older dingy canvas mat next to it too for any overflow. We commenced to bow in do a brief warm-up and began to learn how to fall. Later in the class as the advance kids started to arrive for the next session I watched Mr. Kim dispatch some of the higher ranking adults who were there to help with ease using precision acrobatic throws.
Kyu Ha Kim at the Pittsburgh Jewish Y in 1966
I dreamed of a day I could carry myself with the confidence and poise of Mr. Kim. While English was difficult for him, I could always understand what he meant and liked the way he related to me as if I wasn't just a youngster. He asked me about getting a judogi and told me they were $15.00. I told him I was afraid to ask my dad to buy me one having recently taking guitar lessons and quitting after a few sessions.
My dad had bought me a cheapie guitar and took it back for a better model. This was after I badgered him with the help of my mom along with my older brother.
My friend with 'my guitar' who's dad bought it from my dad.
Mr. Kim after our third class asked for my dad's phone number and after speaking with him agreed to buy back the judogi if I quit. To this day Mr. Kim still tells people that the reason I had to stay in judo was so he wouldn't have to give my dad a refund!
But today I want to focus on how it was really Bruce Lee that inspired me to learn martial arts. Back then I remember seeing him in Black Belt on a panel with the late Hal Sharp who wrote the judo book Mr. Kim was selling. I still can't believe that Sharp Sensei became one of my closest friends and mentors as well as Judo Gene LeBell who was a guest star in the Green Hornet TV series with Bruce.
Oren Janiv in his essay on Why Judo is Different From Other Sports mentioned how Bruce Lee believed martial arts means honestly expressing yourself, He believed judo enables one to express themselves extend their techniques to their own unique style and/or creativity.
Gary Goltz over the years.
The Atlantic article on What It Means To Be Bruce Lee focuses on Bruce Lee's curiosity and quest for learning. These values are inherit in judo as Jigoro Kano was an educator and incorporated the quest for learning into judo.
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