by wjw on June 20, 2014

10487178_10204384526481958_6849546666692723705_nLee Sprague, who was my Kenpo teacher for eight years in the Nineties, died yesterday of a massive heart attack.  He was 53.  I’ve just come from his memorial at a local karate school.

Lee A.W. Sprague— who rejoiced in the acronym L.A.W.S., plus of course his nickname “Lethal”— stepped into a school that could fairly be described as “troubled,” and transformed it through his dynamism, personality, dedication, and energy.  In fact he so blazed with energy that I figured he’d burn out in two to three years, but in fact he lasted a lot longer, long enough to make a permanent impression on the person I was in the act of becoming.

Who was, among other things, a black belt.  Mr Sprague saw me through my 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th degree tests, and by the end I had absorbed enough of his approach and tactical intelligence to have thoroughly integrated them into my own personal style.

I was pushing forty, and I don’t think Mr Sprague had ever had a student over the age of 25.  It was a mutual learning experience.  I was wary, having been burned by the revolving door of instructors at that particular school, but within a few weeks Mr Sprague had figured out how to talk to me, and more importantly how to teach me.  He realized that I’d learned all the stuff I needed to be a black belt, but that I didn’t know how to put it together.

Dude had to teach me how to walk.  Because I walked like, I dunno, some guy.  I didn’t walk through through space in a balanced, purposeful, tactical way, like an actual martial artist.  And once I learned to walk, I learned to inhabit other stances and make them work for me.

And while very intelligent, sometimes he was very direct.  “Just grab him by the face,” he told me, “and then move him where he needs to go.”  He had us practice grabbing each other’s faces, because grabbing faces isn’t normally the sort of thing nice people do and it takes getting used to.

So that’s a lesson that stayed with me.  When I’m facing some kind of situation that’s giving me trouble, I do my best to grab it by the face and move it where it needs to go.

10385374_10204247408768422_7231802890679610_nHere’s a bunch of us at the memorial.  Some of my teachers, some of my contemporaries, some of my students, some folks I never quite got to know.

Some of these people I haven’t seen in years.  We really shouldn’t wait till someone dies to see one another.

And could my friends please stop dying?  Because I’ve been writing way too many of these.


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