Kenpo 10th-degree black belt Professor Bob White began teaching in 1968 at the Ed Parker’s Kenpo Karate school in Garden Grove, California, before opening his own location in 1972. He won numerous 1970s state, national and international fighting championships. He also fought on the National All-Star Black Belt Team, which went undefeated in 1973 and 1974. During his more than half-a-century teaching, White has produced 225 black belt graduates and trained thousands of students.
Herb Borkland: Where did you grow up, and what did your dad do?
Bob White: Garden Grove, California. Dad was a carpenter.
HB: How did you first hear about martial arts?
BW: When I was 10, in the early sixties, comic books ran ads for a masked guy teaching the dim mak “death touch” [laughs]. I’ve always been athletic, and fighting was part of growing up, so it was something I was no stranger to.
I studied shotokan with a high school teacher. There were only two martial arts schools in Garden Grove then and, in 1966, I moved on to kenpo. I saw these guys fighting, moving around in a style that had more freedom. Spinning back kicks, spinning knuckle strikes and spinning elbow strikes sold me on the style’s athleticism and fluidity.
First tournament, I lost, then won my second. I liked winning a lot more. It made me work harder because I didn’t want to settle for mediocrity.
We did “10-20-30” classes. Ten minutes of warmups, 20 minutes of drills, and 30 minutes of self-defense. At our school, we sparred after class, although there were classes just for sparring. A lot of early-seventies tournament competitors trained with each other; you went to other guys’ schools. That really helped sharpen your skills.
My favorite fighter was John Natividad. Lot of respect for him. I fought him many times. At the ’72 California State Championships, I was successful that day. That’s the win I’m most proud of.
HB: Turning point?
BW: I grew up during the Vietnam War, when they drafted young men into the Army. I had a promising pro-baseball career going in 1967 but no draft deferment. So, I went to college for an automatic deferment and majored in baseball. Turned out, my lottery number was, like, 350; I’d get drafted after women and children [laughs]. By 1968, it became possible to be a full-time teacher because of the popularity of martial arts TV shows and movies. I knew my life would be some kind of athleticism, and it worked out the way it was supposed to.
HB: Your Amazon book, Life in Session: The Senior Master Bob White Story, is now available.
BW: My biggest battles were against alcoholism and, late in life, two of the deadliest forms of cancer. My religious faith made possible a full recovery from all three threats to my life.
BW: While I was recovering, I asked God for vehicles to be of service. Eighty-thousand dollars was raised around the world to help me, and now my wife Kathleen and I want to do the same for others. By the way, she is a former international champion with over a hundred sparring trophies. Currently, we hold fundraising projects for Royal Family Kids. These are a network of camps, clubs and mentoring for children in the foster system who have been subject to abuse.
There is definitely unity in community. By working together to do good things, we become stronger and get an opportunity to be of help.
Herb Borkland can be reached at [email protected]
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