May 23, 2024

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The Man In Red by KJN Ronald W. Stone

The Man In Red by KJN Ronald W. Stone
As I mentioned in a previous article, during the first semester of college at the University of Illinois I had taken a self defense class that taught me one very important thing: a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. I had learned just enough to make me cocky and overconfident. Sadly, three months was not enough to keep me from getting massacred if I ever tried to apply what little I learned when faced with real combat. The way I figured it I now had two options. I could run, hide, or pray whenever the need arose, or I could continue studying the martial arts and hope that one day I would learn enough to really be proficient in self defense.


At this point I should mention that I had always been a big fan of the original Star Trek series and loved the scenes where Captain Kirk practiced his martial art. The producers of that television show, to make things look futuristic, dressed William Shatner in a bright red judo uniform whenever he worked out. I was very impressed by this because the only martial arts uniforms, I had ever seen were solid white. When college let out and my one semester self-defense class ended, I promptly bought some red dye and washed my gi in it. It looked terrific, just like Captain Kirk’s.


Unlike today’s society, in the early 1970’s there was a very limited number of martial arts schools offering classes, especially in my area. Since I had enjoyed most learning the part of self defense that involved tossing around bigger opponents it seemed only natural that during my vacation break from college, I would seek out a judo school.


My home phone book listed a school in the Northern suburbs of Chicago that taught both Judo and Korean Karate (known today as Taekwondo).


When the owner, a Korean named Mr. Suk, answered the phone I tried to explain that I was interested in learning self defense fighting skills. Once I mentioned how much I enjoyed hip and shoulder throws he promptly insisted I study judo with him. (I didn’t even get a chance to inquire about his Tae Kwon do classes.) Given what little I knew of the arts at the time and what I had read of the philosophy of Jigaro Kano that seemed fine with me.


Over the phone Mr. Suk explained his class schedule and fees which were very reasonable and said that he had uniforms for sale if needed. I helpfully mentioned that I already owned one but indicated that it was red. “Would that be a problem?” I asked. “No that is fine,” he replied. “Come to class tomorrow at 7.” he added. To this day I assume he must have thought I was referring to a red patch, insignia, or something similar.


(Colored uniforms may not seem so strange now that they are used in Olympic events, but in 1970 they were practically unheard of.)


The next day I showed up at the dojang with my duffle bag and introduced myself. I was directed into Mr. Suk’s office and promptly signed up for class. I was then directed to the locker room where I would change and was told to then wait out on the mat until Master Suk came out of his office.
I was alone in the locker room, so I proceeded to change.


When I finally emerged and apprehensively walked on to the mat I was faced with ten or so black belts and a dozen or more students of various lower ranks, all of whom immediately snapped to attention. They all stood staring at me in stunned amazement. Obviously, they had never seen anyone dressed in an entirely bright red judo uniform. (I should remind those of other arts that the highest rank in judo is the red belt.)


Apparently, the black belts were too stunned at my appearance to notice my white belt, and upon seeing red had immediately assumed that they were dealing with a grand master or perhaps a Soke head of style.


“Where would you like me to stand?” I inquired meekly.
I was directed to the front of the black belt line where one by one they all bowed again to me as did the lower belts.


“What a polite and respectful school this is,” I thought as I proceeded to the head of the class.
Mr. Suk eventually emerged from his class head down in thought and walked on the mat. When he finally lifted his head, he too froze in his tracks and stared at me.
“That’s red!” he exclaimed.


“Yes sir,” I replied, somewhat intimidated. “I tried to explain that on the phone sir.”
“What is he doing there in line?” Master Suk next inquired, indicating the position of honor in front of the black belts.


Embarrassed the black belts all proceeded to shrug.
Mater Suk grabbed my belt and wiggled it at them. “White belt! Can’t you see?” If I remember correctly, he then made them do push ups as a punishment for stupidity.


The look I next got from the line of black belts wasn’t a pretty sight. Over the next two hours (classes were longer in those days) each and every one of them took turns throwing me around like a practice dummy.
When we finally came to attention to bow out (I was now correctly positioned at the far end of the white belts),


Master Suk took a moment and approached the end of the line. After staring at me for what seemed to be an eternity he said simply “DYE IT BACK!” I immediately purchased a brand new gi. (Although if I remember correctly I kept the red one as a robe for a while before finally disposing of it.)
Eventually I survived and endured thanks to my new all white gi. When school resumed, I joined the University of Illinois judo team and stuck with it for years. To this day however I still harbor a disdain for non traditional uniforms and overly pretentious school patches.


I studied with Master Tae Jin Suk in Chicago for a couple of years but eventually I left for Veterinary College and lost track of him. He was always an impressive instructor and I remember him fondly for his strict professionalism and for the quality of his instruction. I wish that I had a way to let Mr. Suk personally know that the lowly student who showed up at his dojang in a bright red gi and went home all red from bruises and embarrassment. His inspiration kept me in the martial arts to this day.


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