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Walter Okarah Dan Bon 31147

This entry is part of 8 in the series Moo Duk Kwan Memorials
Walter Okahara

Walter Okahara

Black-Ribbon3The World Moo Duk Kwan® Proudly Remembers…

 Master Walter Okarah, Dan Bon 31137

A Moo Duk Kwan First

by Phillip Bartolacci, SBN, Former TAC Chairman (2007)

(Reprinted from The Connection, newsletter of the Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan Federation®, Winter 2007)

It has been said, the greatest teacher is experience, and once again that has been proven to be true.

On Friday 08 September 2006, I had a tremendous opportunity to join Kwan Jang Nim Hwang, Arthur Pryor, Sa Bom Nim and William Johns, Sa Bom Nim on a special visit to see Mr. Walter  Okarah, one of the Moo Duk Kwan’s  most exemplary practitioners,  when Kwan Jang Nim flew in  to Region 4 and personally  presented him with his Sa  Dan certification and a new  Ko Dan Ja belt.

Many members may  not know Mr. Okahara as his  ability to travel during his Soo  Bahk Do career was  extremely limited; however,  his spirit and energy knew no  boundaries.  Mr. Okahara was of Japanese descent, born in Hawaii. He served our country proudly as  a US Marine, and spent time in Korea during the Korean war. He  loved this country and he loved the Moo Duk Kwan.

He began his journey to Ko Dan Ja at the age of 53, in 1986.  Despite many debilitating health issues, most of which would keep a  normal person house-bound, he trained several times a week,  beginning his lessons with William Johns, Sa Bom, in Homestead,  FL. After hurricane Andrew devastation, he continued training with  Chuck Miley, Sa Bom. There were few students and even fewer  prospects for new students. However, as is his character, he  remained loyal to Johns, Sa Bom by saying, “I owe it to my Sa Bom  Nim to keep the Moo Duk Kwan alive in Homestead.”  Even after the Homestead  studio closed he continued his  training under David Tenedorio,  Sa Bom, in Cutler Ridge, FL.  He remained active in that  dojang until just recently, when  it became nearly impossible for  him to attend the studio.

Kwan  Jang Nim observed that the  existence of the Federation  made it possible for this loyal  and dedicated practitioner to  continue his Moo Duk Kwan  training even as the studios  where he trained changed.

When serving as Regional  Examiner for Region 4, and  now as the Chairman of the  TAC, I've had the honor of  reading many essays written by  candidates for Dan Classings  and all that I have ever read  from the Homestead or Cutler Ridge studios gave significant  recognition and credit to Mr. Okahara for his contributions and  support of the candidates in preparation for their Shim Sa. The  accolades for Walter Okahara just flowed. He was that kind of  person… Mu Sang in his presence, Yu Sang in his impact.

He touched many lives in Region 4 and not just physically, but  spiritually.

I recall his E Dan Shim Sa. In spite of crippling arthritis,  he insisted on attempting the required twin foot jumping kick for  Kyok Pa. Regardless of his physical limitations, he was not going to  settle for demonstrating anything less than his best effort. His effort  was legendary and he did successfully complete an alternate break.

Two years ago, at a Region 4 Shim Sa, many regional seniors  gathered in the lobby, discussing the weekend’s events when Mr.  Okahara spotted us. Hardly able to walk, he came to us, and  ceremoniously and humbly bowed to each of us in rank order. I was  embarrassed. It should have been us going to him and initiating the  bow, even though he was our Junior in rank. I regret that day more  than most in my life.

We tried to find a way for Mr. Okahara to attend a portion of  the Ko Dan Ja Shim Sa held in Mobile, January, 2006 and on behalf  of the Region 4 leadership, I initiated conversations with Kwan Jang  Nim about how we might do this. We talked, shared emails, and  carried frank conversations to new levels for me. Kwan Jang Nim  was rightfully concerned about protecting the integrity of the Ko  Dan Ja rank, but not just for those who earned it through the  renowned difficulty of the week, but for Mr. Okahara, if he was to  become a Ko Dan Ja. Kwan Jang Nim reminded me of the  responsibility of making decisions based on the ‘good for the Art;  good for the Practitioner’ model.  We did not reach a workable solution for the 2006 Ko Dan Ja,  but we learned much about the philosophy so important to our Kwan  Jang Nim and to the Founder.

In July 2006, Mr Okahara’s health turned worse, and once again  on behalf of the Regional leadership, I renewed discussions with  Kwan Jang Nim regarding a way to for Mr. Okahara to achieve his  Sa Dan rank. Again, Kwan Jang Nim gave us the opportunity to  grow by exploring how we might initiate such a unique action. He  spoke with me, Pryor, Sa Bom, the SAC and the entire TAC to  determine the best way to  recognize Mr. Okahara’s  achievements and contributions.

Mr. Okahara modeled our  Philosophy of Yong Gi in every  action. He was the epitome of  Discipline and Respect,  showing us how he valued that  at the Region 4 Shim Sa two  years ago. His Technique was  so much more than physical, it  was spiritual. He transcended  the body, and moved to the  mind. His body couldn’t work  like the rest of us, but he taught  us every day. We finally agreed  that his extraordinary lifelong  dedication to the education of  the membership and his  character and determination  warranted an immediate  personal visit by the Kwan Jang  Nim to his hospital room.

We met at the hospital that Friday with  Tenedorio, Sa Bom and Michael Ramirez, Sa Bom (both peers of  Mr. Okahara). We entered his room, dressed in Do Bok. Kwan Jang  Nim spoke of the legacy a man leaves behind. Mr. Okahara’s  family was there as well, and it was a moment that deserves to be  recognized as truly human.

Kwan Jang Nim read Mr. Okahara’s Sa  Dan certificate, presented it to him along with a Ko Dan Ja belt and  in that moment Walter Okahara became the Moo Duk Kwan’s most  honored Sa Dan Master to date.

It was our Art’s highest moment of  honoring our past and recognizing the contributions of such a  dedicated member practitioner.

Then William Johns, Sa Bom, Mr.  Okahara’s first instructor, wrapped his Ko Dan Ja belt around  Master Okahara and asked him to carry it with him to his next home.

Some smiled, some cried and all were deeply moved in this moment  of our Five Moo Do Values converging in this room.

Master  Okahara was surrounded by his Kwan Jang Nim, his first instructor,  his Seniors in the Region and his peers… this is our art’s History. He  was so honored that although he had proudly served in the US  Marine Corps, he asked to be buried in his Moo Duk Kwan dobok,  and requested that Federation members attending his funeral wear  their dobok as well. This is how special the Moo Duk Kwan was to  him, and how special he was to the Moo Duk Kwan.

Sadly, he  passed away Monday, 11 September, surrounded by his family and  close friends and although that was the last time we saw him, Master  Walter Okahara lives on in the many hearts he touched and in the  Moo Duk Kwan’s unique history as his exemplary energy shaped it.

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Roberto Bonefont

Roberto Bonefont

Began training in 1967 at the age of 16, as a member of the Brooklyn Highland Park Y.M.C.A., under the guidance and training of Mr. Mike Masley, Jr., Dan Bon 10180, and tested for Cho Dan on June 18, 1969.  Now a certified 4th Dan Ko Dan Ja, and was issued his original testing date Dan Bon 13927 by Kwan Jang Nim H.C. Hwang based on his petition to honor that date and evidence showing Mr. Mike Masley and his instructors,  Mr. Robert Sohn, Dan Bon 6037 and Mr. Vincent Nunno, Dan Bon 7291, were legitimate representatives of the Founder, and Kwan Jang Nim Hwang Kee and the Korean Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan Association in 1969.
Roberto Bonefont

Soo Bahk Do Institute