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Remembering the late Dai Shihan Joseph Holck, longtime Tucson martial-arts teacher

Several years ago, when I was interviewing local blues guitarist Mike "Johnny Guitar" Blommer for an article, he reminded me that we had a connection that extended back, many years earlier. Blommer said something like, "Remember when you used to teach me jujitsu?"

He and I both owe much to the late Joseph Holck, who introduced Tucson children and adults to the essence of martial arts over almost 50 years. Known to his students as Shihan (loosely translated as "professor"), Holck died on Nov. 6, a result of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 84.

In later years, Holck was called Dai Shihan, a more deeply polite honorific conferred on the highest black belts. He not only imparted the ancient ways of self-defense, physical fitness, self-esteem and confidence to his students; he and his family created connections within the Tucson community that have lasted for decades.

Holck's wife, Amy, and his four sons and daughter all attained advanced ranks in various martial-arts styles, and some of them still teach.

Today, son Vinson Holck leads the organization founded by his father, the Kodenkan Yudanshakai. "We are now teaching the grandchildren of some of my father's students," he says. "I am sure the total numbers in the thousands of students."

I was one of those students, and as a teenager and young adult, I served as Joseph Holck's teaching assistant at the eastside Ott YMCA, which was for many years the home base of the Kodenkan Yudanshakai. It was there that I first met Blommer, teaching him to roll and fall, and to execute basic hand techniques and throws.

Joseph Holck was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. His family's surname was Matsuno, but it was changed during World War II for obvious reasons. He served in the U.S. Army in France and Germany during WWII, and continued in the Army Reserve afterward. His military career lasted 26 years.

As a teenager, he studied boxing and was entranced by the martial arts, but most martial-arts schools at the time would only teach Japanese and Chinese students, and Holck was of mixed race—half-Japanese and half-Hawaiian. Finally, professor Henry Seishiro Okazaki accepted young Holck into his dojo, teaching the young man Danzan-ryu jujitsu.

"Professor Okazaki was one of the first martial-arts teachers anywhere to accept mixed-race or white students," Vinson Holck says. "It was a mission of his; he thought martial arts would catch on worldwide. But he kept it a secret at first and was not well thought-of in the Japanese community at the time."

Holck moved with his young family to Tucson in 1964 to take over the school started by his brother, Roy Holck, also a military officer being deployed to Vietnam. By 1967, he had founded the Kodenkan Yudanshakai, which now oversees dojos in Tucson, Sierra Vista, Phoenix and California, offering classes in various martial arts, as well as Kajukenbo and Matsuno-ryu jujitsu, both hybrid self-defense systems that he co-founded.

Three memorial events will be held this Sunday, Jan. 29, to honor the memory of Dai Shihan Joseph Holck. The public is welcome to attend them all, Vinson Holck says. At 9 a.m., there will be a black-belt promotion ceremony at the Kodenkan of Tucson, 250 N. Pantano Road. "Dai Shihan's remains will be present, and it will be the last black-belt ceremony that he will oversee," says Vinson Holck. At 11:30 a.m., a memorial at Bring's Broadway Chapel, 6910 E. Broadway Blvd., will recognize Holck's military service; black belts are asked to attend in formal martial-arts garb. At 2 p.m. is a reception at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 549, 8424 E. Old Spanish Trail. Many people will be sharing their memories of Dai Shihan this weekend. I remember him drinking beer with ice, and his love of macadamia nuts.

I also remember his studious pause, saying, "Wait a while," while he considered my execution of a technique. I will always remember the discipline he helped me discover in myself at a critical phase of my personal development, the patience with which he helped me learn to teach children, and the joy he exhibited on the mat. He showed me examples of the esoteric principles he learned from Professor Okazaki: the way of gentleness; the perfection of form; honor for parents; respect for tradition; and gratitude for the abundance and blessings of this life.

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