My Martial History
It feels like I have been training in martial arts my whole life. I am happy my mom had the foresight to snap a couple of pictures of my earliest training where I was obviously showing off what would become Combat Kenpo.
My first official karate lesson happened when I was 12 years old. My sister took me to the East West Karate School and paid for me to go through the 5 lesson intro program. On the window of the school they advertised “Judo and Karate,” so I asked to learn judo. The owner, Bill Kelly, said they only taught karate not judo. (I thought it was a rip off to advertise something you don’t teach – my first lesson in business.) I practiced and committed to memory everything they taught me in those 5 lessons – good thing because that was all the money we had and I could not continue with the training.
During my junior high school years (1970-1972), I was the 112 pound wrestling champ. I went undefeated for three years. But baseball was my first love, and I played 8 years from the Minor League through Babe Ruth. In 1974 I was awarded the Babe Ruth “Athlete of the Year” award. But, even baseball was no match for the allure of karate.
In January of 1974 I started at Close’s Kenpo Karate with John Sutherland as my private instructor. I was a sophomore in high school and one of my oldest friends, Bill Chiaravalle, started classes with me. Between the group, sparring, and private lessons we were attending about 7 classes a week. A couple of years later, when we were blue belts Bill decided to quit. The school owner, Terry Neill, allowed me to teach one of the beginning adult classes to cover the increase in my dues (Bill and I were on the buddy program). A short time after that, I started teaching the sparring class.
During my senior year in high school, I participated in “Fight Night,” becoming San Rafael High School’s Heavyweight Champion. My opponent was 50 pounds heavier at 230 lbs; however, as Combat Kenpo teaches “It Is Always Our Advantage.“
I have had four private instructors in Kenpo in the last 44 years. Each of them are the best martial artists, and teachers, I know, and each has contributed greatly to my growth as a martial artist.
My first instructor was John Sutherland. I trained with John from 1974 through 1976 (White to Green Belt), until he went on a extended European vacation. John did return to the school and was there for at least 25 more years. John was a strong fighter and had excellent technique and kata. These first two years of training really developed my mind set of “basics are the foundation of the system,” and the karate school is like your second family. Close’s Kenpo Karate had so many strong brown and black belt instructors that it was hard not to come away with a strong foundation in basics.
My second instructor was Terry Neill. After John Sutherland left for Europe, I started training with Sifu Neill (1976-1978, 3rd and 2nd Brown). Terry Neill is one of the most low key, introspective, consistent, and dangerous Kenpo practitioners that I know. Sifu Neill taught the sparring class for many years, and he was instrumental in my development as a fighter. Sifu Neill still teaches a in Prineville Oregon, and I workout with him whenever I can.
Sifu Terry Neill (far left) and Sifu John Sutherland (far Right) in a seminar with Grand Master Ed Parker in late 70s early 80s at our Kenpo School.
My third instructor was Sigung Stephen LaBounty. Mr LaBounty was the highest ranking American Kenpo Black Belt in the San Francisco Bay Area, and founded the National Chinese Kenpo Karate Association (NCKKA) with the blessings of his instructor, Grandmaster Ed Parker. In the early days Mr LaBounty did not teach in the school, but the school was affiliated with the NCKKA, and Mr LaBounty would conduct all the Brown and Black Belt testing (He was also Sifu Neill’s instructor). I trained with Mr LaBounty from 1978 to 1991 (1st Brown to 2nd Degree Black Belt).
My current instructor is Senior Grandmaster Richard Alemany. I have been training with Grandmaster Alemany since 1991 (3rd to 8th Degree Black Belt). Experience and talent aside, the thing I admire the most about Grandmaster Alemany as a martial artist, person, and friend, is that he treats everyone with equal respect and friendship regardless of their rank or position in life. Of all the lessons I have learned from Grandmaster Alemany I believe this one is the most important and the one I strive to emulate the most!