Tuesday, December 15, 2009

History in Harlem

In a junior high school gym in the Bronx last weekend, The Harlem Goju Association held its year-end promotions. Bigger than any they've had in recent years, 105 karateka fell in - at least 18 of whom were fourth-dan or higher. Grand Master Sam McGee - the head of the organization - said that all of the students in the first row had each been training with him for at least 30 years, evident by the white gis they wore to signify their rank.

There were no self-defense techniques, no tamishiwara, no sparring - just individual, group and demonstration kata. There were many highlights of the afternoon, but at one point, Master McGee called his youngest student out for kata. No more than four, she stood there in kioske and looked up at him, waiting for instruction on what to do next. Too humbling.

Being in that gym was like watching a "who's who" of USA Goju. In talking about how important the association has been to the community over the years - especially in providing free karate training to area families - Master Eddie Long spoke of a grand championship kumite match at the Manhattan Center in the 1970s where he was the center judge and Master McGee and Master Ernest Hyman were tied at the end of regulation. Master McGee blasted off the line to score the next "sudden death" point to win the match, but Master Hyman promptly ran off with the trophy! Classic stories like that remind you that although these great karateka have won championships upon championships and have taught more people than I can probably count, they are still mere mortals who put their pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us.

When the last certificate had been given out, Master McGee was in for a surprise of his own: after promoting the son of his late sensei, Major Leon Wallace, to 10th Dan, he was also elevated to the rank of 10th Dan. Never seen anyone get a red belt before, but seeing two folks tie on those belts in one day was pretty amazing.

Very happy I went and got a chance to witness history...


  1. Just thought you'd want to know, one video of the event did make it to youtube. Mr. McGee, performing (I think?) a version of Hakutsuru?


  2. Thanks for that, Naarda. Shame the quality isn't that great, although you can still get the sense of Master McGee's control...

    Seriously - I'm glad I was able to go!

  3. 105 people doing karate in one place - that must have been quite a specatcle! Not often we get to witness or be part of these things - glad you got the chance and enjoyed it.