On August 6, 2009 the Martial Arts world lost a living legend, Grandmaster George Edward Anderson. His unexpected and untimely death has left a hole in the heart of thousands of Martial Arts students, instructors and masters.
Hanshi Anderson was one of the most respected and influential figures in modern martial arts. His leadership skills and foresight helped bring both Karate and Jujitsu into the Olympic family and set a path for the future of martial arts both as a sport and as a way to better enhance a person’s life. He served in many different position of authority is several martial arts organizations and systems and held high dan ranks in many martial arts to numerous to mention here. If you simply look him up on the internet, you will be astounded at his accomplishments.
Just to mention a few of his ranks, Hanshi Anderson held a 10th Dan in Karate, 10th Dan in Tae Kwon Do and in June 2009 he was awarded his 10th Dan in Jujitsu. He was by far the highest ranking and most senior Martial Artist in the United States and most possibly the world. All of us in the Olympic Karate movement owe so much to Hanshi Anderson. We wouldn’t be where we are today without his leadership. Just to name a few karate leaders today that he trained, developed and set the path for are: Julius Thiry, Joe Mirza, William Millerson, Antonio Espinos, Tommy Morris, John DiPasquale, Patrick Hickey, and, of course, myself, Roger Jarrett.
He was our mentor and our menace, our great advocate and our greatest critic, the pain in our side and the man beside us when we were in pain, our great leader, but quite often in recent years, a follower that pushed us constantly forward sometimes with a foot in our rump. To me personally, he was not only one of my greatest teachers, but a dear friend that I could confide in and seek council from whenever I needed his brilliant advice.
As I said, to find all of Mr. Anderson’s titles, positions and history simply look him up on the web. Here, I just want to tell you some of my experiences with him.
If you had a discussion with George Anderson, he could leave you lost in a tangle of words, wisdom and intellectual head games. He was a genius, eccentric in many ways, but quite simplistic in others. He would amaze you, confound you, maybe make you angry, but always leave you scratching your head about his insights, stories, questions and challenges.
And challenge you he would, sometimes for the fun of the discussion, but quite often just to see if you were up to the challenge. He would make you angry, confuse your thinking, but most importantly, inspire your desire to learn and discover potential. He would argue the opposite side of my point almost every time, and then applaud me for the power of my convictions.
I have traveled the world with George Anderson and had many interesting times with him, but some of my best were simple and funny.
We used to hold almost all of the USA Team Training at a camp in West Virginia called Cedar Lakes. At one camp in the early 80’s Hanshi Anderson and I were up in front of the athletes demonstrating reverse punches with control to each other’s face. As we threw the punches back and forth, he began to talk to the athletes about focus and control. My punch would come to a hair from his face, but his punches, with his huge knuckles, would plant firmly on my lip or nose each time. Someone took a picture while his fist hit my face and it ended up in Black Belt magazine. My first time in Black Belt magazine and it was with Hanshi Anderson’s fist in my face! My students still laugh when they see that picture.
It was common for Hanshi to come into our referee training and demonstrate technique or bunkai. Many referees avoided being his uke (receiving partner) for theses demos because he could sometimes be brutal. On one occasion, he picked me as his victim. As I attacked, he trapped my arm and began a fast takedown. In my full suit and tie I performed a huge breakfall sailing into the air and solidly hitting the floor. I think it even caught him by surprise as he looked down at me in shock to see if I was all right. I winked at him to let him know I was fine and he stood pumped out his chest and explained, “And that’s how it’s done.” Unfortunately, the performance made me uke for him all too often.
One time he walked into the National Karate Championships wearing that light blue blazer he loved so well and a pair of khaki pants. My dear mother, who liked to travel with our team, noticed he wasn’t wearing the proper attire like the other officials were wearing, dark blue blazer and gray pants. She began to chastise him for his improper attire at which point he explained that he was the president and could wear what he wanted. She pointed out that was even more reason to dress appropriately. He smiled and bowed to her words with respect. After that, I was “uke” from him even more often!
Hanshi Anderson came to teach at my summer camp one year. We were enjoying a version of team teaching, and exploring the diverse techniques of many different styles of Karate. In the morning I had taught a version of the Okinawan kata Passai from Shorin Ji Ryu. I turned over the class to Hanshi Anderson and stepped out into the hall to talk to Bill Bly of American Sumarai Magazine. Suddenly one of my black belts raced out to get me explaining that Mr. Anderson had began teaching the Shotokan Bassai Dai and the Black Belt student, knowing the kata well, had realized that Hanshi had got turned around in the kata and was lost. No one in the seminar was brave enough to stop him and show him his errors. They expected me to throw myself on the grenade and save everyone. Now in all deference to Mr. Anderson, he was more interested in exploring the technical principles of the kata than worrying about the kata itself. But knowing I had to stop him, I raced into the room ready to die for the cause. As I came up toward him, I saw the confused look on many of my student’s faces as they practice this unusual version of Bassi Dai. Hanshi Anderson turned and came toward me and I could see on his face that he knew he had gone astray. Muttering some expletives under his breath, he said to me, “I really screwed this up”, well actually, he somewhat harsher language that I don’t think is appropriate here. Looking into that stern face but understanding his heart, I told him we could fix this. I simply got in front of the camp and as Hanshi Anderson gave commands for the kata, I led the students in the correct direction for Bassi Dai. He “saved face” and I did not die in an explosion. It was a great camp.
This past year I had the pleasure of taking a couple of road trips with Hanshi Anderson. On one trip, Hanshi along with Sheriff Larry Overholt, drove to my home in West Virginia to pick me up for a trip to North Carolina to visit our old friend Shihan Carl Wilcox. The purpose of the trip was to sure up a new program for training police officers in the state of North Carolina. As senior officials in the Police Self-Defense Institute (PSDI), we were all confident Shihan Wilcox’s program would prevail which, by the way, it did beating out the previously used Gracie Jujitsu System. As senior commander for the PSDI and founding member, Hanshi Anderson’s presence and support solidified the result.
But back to the trip itself, Hanshi Anderson likes to talk and have great discussions and debates as he drives. As a young man he was a champion violinist, so we also listened to CDs of concert violinists as he described their faults and how he could play the piece better. With all this happening, Hanshi tends to not pay much attention to the road. So as we swerved all over the highway, I tried to relax but realize this was going to be a long trip. As one driver passed us he blew his horn and gestured something with his hand. “What was his problem?” Mr. Anderson asked. “I don’t know.” I said, but I would really like to drive your beautiful BMW, I have never driven a car like this. Fortunately, he let me drive all the way home.
On another trip, I drove to Akron and picked up Mr. Anderson and we headed across Northern Ohio and Indiana in a terrible snowstorm to attend the Pan Am team trials in Chicago. Fortunately, it was my car and I drove all the way. We had great debates and discussions on everything from Karate politics to religion. Mr. Anderson was so well read he could mesmerize you with his knowledge, logic and often-controversial answers. In this private time we had together he even began to talk about his death and how he was preparing things for that eventuality. I was shocked by this and told him he would live to be over one hundred. I will always treasure this special trip and our close and deep friendship. In this time together he again inspired and challenged me for the future. I believe God was also preparing him.
I was very happy and proud that after I took over as president of the USA National Karate-Do Federation (USA-NKF), Mr. Anderson agreed to come and be a part of the National Governing Body (NGB) again as I tried to reunify Karate in America. I had an idea for a very Senior Technical Advisory Board that I wanted him to lead. He agreed and took on the task with vigor. The name he gave the new board was the “Senior Masters Caucus”, which soon included a Who’s Who of senior martial artists from around the United States. What Hanshi Anderson started with such passion, I will make sure continues as a part of his great legacy.
We, in the Martial Arts world owe so much to George Anderson. His legacy will live on and his challenges will continue to push us forward. We will miss you “Nosa”.