A Blending of Arts by W. T. Dufrane
Grand Master Roger Jones is the embodiment of the Samurai.
When I visited the tenth degree martial arts trainer at his Oriental-themed home in Fairview, North Carolina, Jones came outside to greet me. The first things I noticed were the man’s strong grip and keen stare, no doubt byproducts of sixty-three years in the sport. I soon learned Jones owned a passion for helping people, a testament to the 17,000-plus students he has guided throughout a fifty year professional career in Karakido, his very own martial arts formula for defense.
“Think of a figure eight,” said Jones, reclining back in a comfortable couch in a living room adorned with lovely art and personal tributes from his numerous friends around the world.
“Karakido is derived from three base words: Kara meaning open, Ki for inner power, and Do, the way of. Together, they all interconnect life’s energy rings to the path of inner power. In fact, the inner power of Ki has sometimes made an ordinary person stronger to the point of seemingly supernatural ability.”
Jones attended Western Carolina University, but confessed that if not for his father, a strict disciplinarian, academics might not have been in his future. His father, a valedictorian at the UNC Chapel Hill, believed people should live below their means, a judicious philosophy adopted after watching his parents lose everything in the Depression.
Jones said his father once told him, “I’m going to give you a roof over your head and feed you, but other than that you will be on your own. If you want a baseball glove or bike get off your behind and earn it.”
Using this principle, Roger flourished at WCU and upon graduation entered the Air Force. An exclusive art program recognized his skills at Randolph AFB headquarters in San Antonio, Texas. Not very long after that, Jones soon discovered that art became an “instant gratification,” a thread that would be deeply woven to this day. When I asked how he got into martial arts, Jones said he began at the age of six, but had to wait to make an official impact in the sport.
“It’s different now,” said Jones.
“Back then, non-Asians and females were frowned upon in martial arts and you had to reach sixteen years old even to be accepted.” Jones confessed that as a youngster, he was not a great athlete, but he was fast and could “take a licking, and keep on ticking,” going on to paint an image of a fast, skinny kid with a determined work ethic who became a National Kata Champion in 1969 at twenty-three years old.
Kata is the art of fighting imaginary opponents.
The discipline can be likened to combative floor exercises. Jones went on to state that Kata should be mandatory for every stunt person. “The fight scenes require flawless choreography and the actor must be able to repeat his moves for multiple takes.”
Jones actually starred in one action movie. Angel With a Kick also co-starred Cecil People, the first black martial arts instructor inducted into the Martial Arts Hall of Fame and one of Jones’s mentors. In addition, Jones, legendary boxer Joe Louis and Chuck Norris once held titles as the best in the world. Jones also told me it was Joe Louis and not Chuck Norris who had the inside track in movies.
“Joe Louis’s personality style clashed with Hollywood directors, so Norris was given a shot.” And the rest, as they say, is history. In fact, Jones credits Norris with the accelerated growth in martial arts, due to his colleague’s action movies and television shows. Jones recalled one time when he, Norris, and another well-known martial arts expert were sitting in a pub in Beverly Hills, California. Since he didn’t drink alcohol, Norris was sipping on his club soda, lamenting how he thought his friend was the luckiest man alive.
“Ok, I’ll bite,” said Jones.
“Roger, even though you’re as well respected in the martial arts circle as we are, at least you can leave your house and not have to worry about fans disrupting your life. I was in a restroom the other day at a urinal and this guy standing next to me turns and shouts, ‘OMG! You’re Chuck Norris’ — and then proceeds to urinate all over my leg.”
“I understood what he was saying,” said the aging martial arts expert during our interview. “And I also told Chuck I felt sorry he had to endure the gobs of money being thrown at him,” laughed Jones.
Jones has been teaching Karakido in Fairview since 1977. In fact, Jones proudly professes that he can date his ancestral roots to the very first settlers in Swannanoa around the late 1600′s. He loves Western North Carolina, a mecca for celebrities, among whom he humbly does not include himself.
I told Jones how I knew of Gladys Knight in Fairview and Steve Martin in Brevard, but he surprised me with other celebrities who have moved here to enjoy the serenity of the mountains.
“Charleston Heston was the first director of the Asheville Community Theatre,” said Jones. “Now it’s the Charleston Heston Asheville Community Theatre. There was also this one guy who worked for the Asheville paper, and got fired for doodling in the columns. His name was Walt Disney.”
“Leo Monahan is also a dear friend of mine.”
“Not many people,” said Jones, “know he was a part-time sheriff in California as well as a fantastic paper artist who not only taught paper sculpture to the Japanese, who invented origami, but color to the Disney artists. Leo also studied karate in California under the tutelage of the great Edmond Parker. Some of his classmates were Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, and Steven McQueen. Leo now lives in Weaverville and has a gallery in the Grovewood gallery. He’s taught some of my classes at my school and he’s 80 years old.”
Like his friend, Jones now spends more time with his other love.
“I’m pushing seventy and even though I can still spar and hold my own with the younger crowd,” confided Jones, “I find myself getting tired. In my brain, I’m twenty-nine, but my body says no — you’re not,” he laughed.
“I forget that until I have to move.”
As if to prove his point, Jones gingerly peeled himself up from his couch, arthritic fingers bent at odd angles from decades of his beloved craft, but he dared not show weakness. Jones explained that martial arts is one of those sports where even if you were 130 years old, your students would still say, “My martial arts teacher can whip your martial arts teacher.”
“You are held to a higher standard than other retired athletes.”
“So now I’m more into my painting.”
One of Jones’s favorite artists happens to reside right here in Fairview. “Bob Travers is an incredible artist,” states Jones, whose own proofs of propensity with brush and canvas were hung very modestly throughout the home, affording the more conspicuous viewing areas to a congress of talented colleagues and friends Jones has met throughout his very colorful career.
“I will look like a starving artist next to these people.”
Stunning, vibrant, exotic butterflies, and hummingbirds morphing up from rich, cerulean waters. Beautiful oils of the colorful koi fish he tends to in his ponds. Mystical bonsai trees, wildlife captures, beach scenes and a personal Christmas card series. I expressed amazement at his dramatic flair with colors, to which Jones coyly stated that once a very well-known local architect articulated the very same sentiment.
“I’m actually color blind,” he confided. “But each tube has the color right on it, so I muddle through.”
Jones’s partner, Debbie, a charming ex-Texan and a sixth degree black belt student herself, lends her artiste companion inspiration and according to Roger is very talented in her own right.
“Her voice is a combination of Barbara Streisand and Bette Midler.”
As I was getting ready to leave, Roger Jones graced me with a few of his labors of love, one being a fantastic postcard of a beach scene, but then to my delight, my newest friend regaled me with one more tale.
“One day,” said Jones, “We were returning from a function, driving along the parkway when Debbie all of sudden shouts ‘Stop! Right here.’”
“She made me pull over,” said Jones. It seemed Debbie had her favorite scenic overlook in mind and wanted her friend to paint the breathtaking vista for her. I followed Jones into his private artiste sanctuary where he revealed the result, a delightful capture of the Blue Ridge Mountains painted entirely from memory. As we shook hands for what I hoped would not be the final time, Jones, a humble man who not only holds world titles, but also dines with celebrities, said from his doorstep, “It was an honor to meet you.”
The world needs more starving artists like Roger Jones.
WT Dufrane is a local writer. His latest work of adventure fiction, SevenX, is scheduled to come out in early 2014.
An excerpt from the book can be found on his blog at jthardroc.wordpress.com.