Way back in 1975, I received my black belt from a great karate master – Sensei Fred Corritone, who was a very, very well known Sensei, or karate teacher, at that time instructing many students in Brooklyn, New York. Sensei Corritone ran very hard classes- it was somewhat akin to being at a military boot camp. I, and my fellow karateka- or students, were usually worked out to the max- doing hundreds of pushups, situps, kata (formal karate exercises) and also kumite- or sparring. I was, in fact, the first person whom Sensei Corritone ever promoted to the rank of black belt- and I was very proud of that achievement. It was- and still is- the greatest thing that I have ever accomplished- even better than passing the New York Bar exam. Karate is, was, and will always be, the most important part of my life. so, I did feel pretty well versed in the arts back then, and for fairly good reason, I guess.
But then, I started attending a college- a University, out on Long Island- the State University at Stonybrook. There, I met many different types of people- it was and is a large University, with people – students and teachers- from all over the world. And, there were many people from the Orient- China in particular. I encountered some of these Asian people in my many philosophy classes- and also, when I worked out at the campus gym. I was exposed to several different forms of tai chi, and other Asian arts that also included many different forms of Kung-fu- such as praying mantis, and also more “exotic” styles- such as “white eyebrow”. I did take notice of the great differences between those systems and my own background which was Shotokan- a Japanese karate style. But, I really was taken to a whole new level(s) when I met someone who was truly amazing.
His first name was Kelvin- an Afro-American gentleman, approximately 24 years of age- a philosophy student. He had a physique that was “ripped” beyond belief- with muscles that were super hard- not overly large at all- but ones that were much like those of Bruce Lee- very very tight, hard, and controllable. Kelvin was incredibly fast and flexible- for a man who was six feet tall and about 215 pounds. At the time- back in 1975-1977, I was teaching a karate class, weekly, at Stonybrook, and I was also very well in touch with some other karate instructors at the campus- some of whom were really good instructors- of Japanese karate. I often sparred with many different karate students- of any rank- from green to black belts- some as high as fourth degree. All were good- to great- but none were anywhere near at the level of Kelvin. Let me tell you what he was like.
We would work out in the woods- Kelvin and I. Surrounding the campus were- and are- a nice heavily wooded area, where I would often practice karate- in isolation. It was nice, and it was great to be outdoors- rather than in an in-door dojo (karate school). I had become friendly with Kelvin, and one day he trained with me a bit- in the woods. Kelvin was himself, a student of perhaps the greatest tai chi master of our times- the late Cheng Man Ching. At the time, back in ’75’, I was totally unaware of Master Ching’s status- and what it might have meant to be a senior student of his- as was Kelvin. Kelvin showed me that everything that I had learned- good as it- and I- was, really paled in comparison to what he- Kelvin- could do. He could control his movements- his body- at such a high level, that I literally could not hit him. He could move out of the way, he could control my body and its energy in such a way that made my actions almost irrelevant. He could re-direct my punches and kicks- not just block them. He showed me what true EFFORTLESSNESS was. It was, it seemed, the antithesis of everything that I had learned- or at least what I had embodied. I was from the “hard school”- bone crunching, old-style karate. Board breaking, hard blocking, karate. And that was- and is- good. It can even take you to a fairly high level. But, what I discovered- way back then- in 1975-77, was that there were levels- worlds- beyond what I had ever known. There were people- students of the martial arts, who were at much higher levels- where body control, freedom of movement, energy harnessing, and super great technique, all combined to allow these great masters to reach truly superlevels of art. I discovered that there were “soft-art” masters- those who practiced tai chi in particular- and, I was terribly fortunate to have made the acquaintance of a man who was the highest, or best, example of those soft arts- Kelvin.
Don’t get me wrong- by saying “soft”, I don’t in any way mean to convey anything other than a different dimension of being. Kelvin was super-chiseled, and could easily do 150 pushups, or run 10 miles. His abdominal muscles were unbelievably defined- he could actually catch- and keep- a person’s fist there- by ultra contracting his ab muscles around that fist. Punching him in the stomach was to no avail- it was like hitting a concrete wall. His super adeptness at another form of kung-fu, that of praying mantis, turned his arms into massive weapons. He showed me the “machine-gun” attack- whereby he used his massive forearms to attack my arms- by multistriking his arms against mine- at a super high speed (after bridging the gap bet wen us by sliding in towards me- in a very, very smooth manner).
I could go on for many thousands of words describing the many great techniques that I learned from Master Kelvin. But, the greatest aspect of it all was that I saw that I was indeed, at a very low rung or level when it came to the arts. Yes, I had fought in many karate tournaments and I had done pretty well- at fighting and kata. I had often gone around to many dojos in New York, and I had met many great teachers- and I had sparred with them and their students. But, from Master Kelvin, I had seen, first hand, a level of the arts that was truly mind-blowing. A man who actually studied how best to run- at what exact angle to hold his body, so that running was easier. A man who could literally jump over you- when you were sparring with him- and he could be behind you, before you knew what was happening. A man who was almost impossible to hit- and even if you did hit him, the strike would simply bounce off- to no affect. But, what was MOST amazing- what was THE BEST aspect of all of this- was that Master Kelvin exhibited all of the hallmarks of a great master.
He was incredibly mellow- and modest. The only way that you would know he was different- was that he LOOKED so amazingly different. His physique was just so great- so incredibly powerful, his gait so smooth- that even a layman could instantly see it. AS a matter of fact, one day I was walking with an old friend through the campus, and I saw Kelvin, who was approaching. When we passed him, my friend- a total non karate person, actually turned to me and said, “that must be Kelvin”. I had told my friend about him- but my friend had never seen him. The energy that poured out of Kelvin- his aura- had been so apparent, that my friend was instantly caused to know that it was Kelvin who was passing by. That is the type of impact that Kelvin could have on a person- including myself. It was, in effect, Master Kelvin’s total being- his spirituality and modesty, all of which sprang from his super-level of art/skill, and of course, he was very bright- all of this- and the great things that he had absorbed from his own teachers- Master Ching and more- that made him the greatest Master whom I have ever known. I was very privileged to have known him- and it caused my own level of art to go way up. I learned possibly the greatest thing of all- that I did not know everything- that I was really only moderately good at what I was doing- that there was a whole set of levels above me, and that being modest, and seeking new ways of doing the arts- keeping an open mind- these were the hallmarks of a master. I am very grateful to have had this experience- meeting a truly great master- having worked out with him and getting to really know such a person. It’s something that one never forgets.
I do write about issues such as those discussed herein, at our worldwide karate and health club, and that is karobix.com. In addition, I did write a book entitled, “Grandmaster” which is a novel concerning the life and times of the person that I described in this article. Although “Grandmaster” is a novel, still, it contains many true and accurate aspects of the Master- Kelvin, and his/our life and times at Stonybrook- and beyond.