Monday, July 31, 2006
Visiting an Old Sensei
My research lead me to Kankakee, IL again this past weekend, I went to talk to my old sensei, or rather the closest I ever had to a real sensei, Gregory Jaco. I had been looking up Jaco on Google and had found nothing. I had last seen him in a friend's office in the late 1980s.
My 15 year old son, Djibril and my friend Caroll came along for the ride. Djibril was most anxious to come because Jaco's son Wasalu, is the rising hip hop star Lupe Fiasco. Lupe rates a Wikipedia listing I was surprised to see. I did not know Jaco was a "prolific African Drummer" as cited in Lupe's wiki article. I guess Djibril thought Wasalu might be stopping by for dinner at his dad's or something. Nope, did not happen.
I first met Jaco in the winter of 1968. I met him thtough two high school friends I used to workout with, Clarence and Marshall Jordan. We were all Explorer Scouts together. I was based in Maywood and they were in the Chicago Housing projects. Jaco was part of a Karate Class held in the Robert Taylor Homes. It was run by an ex-Marine. after some diagreements with the CHA about the principles he was teaching the children, mostly dignity, intelligence and RESISTANCE, he was asked to leave.
Jaco was the biggest baddest person I knew back then. I had never seen him fight, I had seen him teach. When a big fight did come, people would look at him and walk away to hit someone else, usually Robert Tobias, 5'6 and about 150 lbs of Black Dragon Society training, big mistake.
Jaco continued his martial arts training under men who had been clandestinely taught by Mas Tamura at the Jiu Jitsu Institute in Chicago. The JJI, one of the first dojos in Chicago opened in 1938. He ran it for about 40 years. Black people were not openly taught back in the 1930s-1950s. But Mas Tamura had a few black students who got lessons by acting as cleaning staff. He would teach them after hours. Their presence as cleaning staff was "normal" to the openingly prejudiced attitudes of some of his white clients.
Some of these men were a core of individuals who taught classes in recreation centers and YMCAs in the black community. Mas Tamura was the Judo instructor of Russel Brown, one of John Keehan's first students. Tamura was obviously a smart cookie and was willing to break the Jim Crow rules of American apartheid in the 1950s.
I met Jaco when he and a few of his students (he started teaching as a brown belt) had run out to Maywood, IL when I was in high school at Proviso East High School. It was about 21 miles in the dead of winter. I was impressed, was not gonna do it, but I was impressed. One of those students who particpated in this hard core activity was Robert Tobias. Robert's movement s were always cobra-like, bery different from the karate I had been learning. Turned out that Robert was part of Count Dante's Black Dragon Fighting Society classes. I was alwasy fond of Robert. He was the first person I ever saw do the Dance of Death. I did not realize at that time Dante was John Keehan.
Jaco mastered a lot of weapons. He is a classic hoplologist in a lay sense of the word. He is not a scholar but a prolific practitioner of the field. Sir Richard Burton and Don Draeger would certainly agree with me on that. Hoplology, "...encompasses the segment of human culture concerned with weapons, armor, combative accouterments and fighting systems, in regard to their technical characteristics and the ways in which they interact with the economic, political, social and religious institutions of human societies."
Jaco always sought to use martial arts as a way for people to overcome their circumstances. Many fell along the way, he has said. Many fell to the dark side, some moved on and thrived. He has always been concerned about community, and children. He is also obsinate and stubborn, he bears grudges, he expects of the world what he expects of himself. Not always a good idea in my experience. He is a single father right now raising two beautiful young girls, 7 and 9 years old. They are bright, a great help to him in his fragile state of health and he is training them in martial arts and have competed recently at a tournment in Wisconsin.
Jaco was a master at the art of the demonstration, a master of breaking. Even I stood up against the wall while he threw shuriken around the outline of my body back in the day. There was way less of me to hit back then.
Jaco told me something in the video interview he never told me before. He had interviewed to become a student of Count Dante. He said he never net Count Dante, but that he met "his legend." In a darkened room with incense burning and a shadowy figure silouetted against a dimly lit background. There were some jive ass "Master Po" kind of theatrics going on back then from what I remember and I don't think Dante would be above such activity.
Jaco spoke highly of Dante in the interview. He also told me the tragedy of Robert Tobias, a doubler life sentence in prison. I never knew he was a member of the Black P-Stone Nation. He was an uneducated genius, full of potential that was squandered because he fell prey to the dark side. I found him online in a quck search of the prison system. Robert had been involved with another legendary Southside martial artist I only rember as Earl. Earl was notorius for his underworld connections and was caught in and accused of making the hit on big time drug dealer/pimp/gangster Flukey Stokes. Flukey was the father of Willie The Wimp, a Chicago gangster immortalized in the Stevie Ray Vaughn song, on that album Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble ("Willie the Wimp in his cadillac coffin...").
Dante was accused of teaching gangbangers, and other unsavory types. I am looking into that further. I have not seen Robert in a while, maybe I will go pay a visit to him to talk about Dante.
Jaco has been ill of late, a father of 9 children he is a single father to two girls, 7 and 9 years old and they are his last students. They have been competing already.