Saturday, February 18, 2006


I've often mentioned my study of karate in this blog, and have referred to my first karate teacher with fondness and admiration.
Here is The Man.
He's Gerald Evans, but everyone calls him "Ski." Call him "sensei," even in the dojo, and he'll firmly but gently remind you that "the name's Ski."
He lives in Philadelphia, and I make occasional trips there to visit him and the city I called home for nearly a decade.
But mostly I go there to visit Ski, who remains my mentor and dear friend despite the passage of 11 years since I last trained in his dojo.
He's 67 but moves with the litheness and power of a far, far younger man. For those who keep track of such things, he's a yondan -- or fourth-degree black belt -- though he gave up testing for rank a couple of decades ago as a mostly political exercise in ego massage. Were he to test today, he would likely be a rokudan, or sixth-degree black belt. Possibly seventh degree. "So what? Who cares?" he would say.

Ski was a prize student of Teruyuki Okazaki, who was a student of Master Gichin Funakoshi, founder of the Shotokan style of karate. Ski also earned the respect of Masatoshi Nakayama-sensei, another of Master Funakoshi's pupils.
Okazaki-sensei went on to found the International Shotokan Karate Federation, headquartered in Philadelphia. Ski eventually started his own dojo -- but not before competing internationally and compiling a very successful record as a tournament fighter in world championships, including in Japan, where he battled the legendary Masahiko Tanaka, world champion in sparring at the time, and nearly defeated him.
I have some of these matches on DVD.
They are Zen in motion, nothing more, nothing less.
Ski vs. Masahiko Tanaka, U.S. Bicentennial matches, Philadelphia 1976

OK, this is starting to sound like a speech at a testimonial dinner.
The essence is that Ski was instrumental in opening my eyes to life and to human nature, and offered me a glimpse into who I am. Karate was only the vehicle through which these lessons were imparted. He could've been my tiddly-winks teacher and I would've learned just as much. He was the finger pointing at the moon.
He also got me interested in Japan, where I lived for three years through his encouragement.

I haven't lived in Philadelphia since 1995 and I study a different style of karate now and have come to be very fond of my current instructor, a most impressive and respected practitioner in his own right.
But insofar as we have "parents" in the martial arts who shape us and teach us to walk, so to speak, Ski is my father.

My visit yesterday began with hat-shopping with Ski in South Philly. This was for Ski, but I wound up buying one, too. Here's Ski in his old-school "applejack," me in my old-school "stingy brim." I'm not much of a hat person, but this one cried out to be bought.
Then, it was off to a culinary mecca on Ninth Street in South Philly called Geno's Steaks. Vegetarians, my apologies for these photos. And you might not want to read the next few sentences.
If you've never had a cheesesteak (and if you're not a vegetarian), you don't know what you're missing.
Pictured here is a "Whiz without": A 10-inch piece of heaven consisting of sliced steak slathered in Cheez Whiz, served piping hot on a fresh roll from the nearby Italian Market. The "without" refers to sliced onions.
I could go up to the order window and say "Hello, I would like a plain cheesesteak with melted Cheez Whiz, and hold the onions, please," but with a line of hungry customers that sometimes stretches for blocks, economy of words is key. My preference can be stated in two simple, beautiful words: Whiz without.
Use other vocabulary and you'll be laughed at mercilessly by any native Philadelphian within earshot. Take too long to make up your mind and you may be pushed out of the way.

Many other places around the world offer cheesesteaks, and may even have the audacity to call them Philadelphia cheesesteaks. But if you're not eating one from Geno's, or from main rival Pat's diagonally across the street, then you're ingesting an impostor.
Just as you must go to the Louvre in Paris to behold the "Mona Lisa," so you must journey to South Philly to munch that masterpiece in meat, the cheesesteak.

After gorging myself at Geno's -- Ski doesn't touch the stuff -- I sat in on his Friday evening karate class. As always, I picked up some pointers I can use in my training in Goju-style karate. I don't participate in Ski's classes. I believe in the Japanese proverb, "The hunter who hunts two rabbits goes hungry." I just watch, but I still pick up a lot of wisdom that transcends styles.

These visits to Philadelphia every few months are always a homecoming for me.


Oxeye said...

very nice hat michael.. i would like a whiz with onion but without the steak. any chance they could do grilled tofu? :)

Michael said...

Ha, Oxexe! I don't think they've heard of tofu in South Philly, though I could be wrong.

Also, my apologies to all for the several updates to this post. I added a photo and also corrected some stylistic things that were bugging me, as well as some punctuation that was improved upon. I like my entries to be just so -- which can be a pain in the butt for people who don't feel like slogging through constant updates. :)

MikeDoe said...

I think you were very fortunate. Good teachers of that calibre are rare.

He sounds like one of those rare teachers who teach Zen without teaching, it is just merged in with their art and who they are so naturally it is taught.

I wonder if that is a better aproach for learning Zen, by doing instead of studying ideas such as duality, subject-object perception and all sors of things.

LBseahag said...

what an awesome post...people are so fortunate to have you in their lives...
he looks a lot like morgan freeman!

mmm...that cheesesteak looks delish!!!

Michael said...

Hi JD,
I know I was extremely fortunate, especially because Ski's dojo was right around the corner from my house, enabling me one day to walk in just "by chance." (Hah!)
For the first several weeks that I knew him, Ski was just a karate instructor. And then I found out who he was and what he had done.
As for his teaching Zen, like I said, he could've been my tiddly-winks teacher. It wouldn't have made a difference. Karate was only the vehicle...

Thank you, LB! But it it I who am lucky to have people in my life.

Tamar said...

Hey! I love this post. Of course because of your descriptions of your mentor ... one or two mentors along my path have certainly saved my emotional life, so I can identify with this so much.

But, gee, I live in Philadelphia now for more than a year and I felt excited to read all the Philadelphia stuff you share here. I must be starting to feel at home. Hurrah!

anu said...

What a passionate, rich and fulfilling post Michael. It makes me come alive everytime i read.

Oh Michael, i will save enough money to travel to your country by the yearend and stay for a month just to learn from your sensei.

Do you think he will teach me?

Michael said...

Hi Tamar,

Thanks! I have great memories of Philadelphia, and some not-so-great ones, too. It was a formative decade that I spent there. Someday, I wouldn't mind returning.

Michael said...

Hi Anu,

I'm sure he would love to teach you. He loves to teach, period. And he has a way of explaining very difficult things so that they are easily understandable. I know this for a fact, because I was probably his slowest learner...

anu said...

:)alright, so now i can begin to 'ask' for the circumstances to be just right -- on the health and abundance aspects to make a bridge to lead me to my sensei.

And whom i will ask?

The Universe :)

Michael said...

Hi Anu,

And the Universe is you. :)

g said...

What a great post Michael. Thanks for the introduction to this man.

Is there any way we could see those DVD matches? Would you consider making copies?

And thanks for mentioning the quote: "The hunter who hunts two rabbits goes hungry."

That makes a lot of sense. I always wondered why people would be told it was not a good idea to study from two different masters at the same time.

Spinning Girl said...

Wow. Full-blown admiration.

Green said...

Someone mentioned that Ski looks like Morgan Freeman, I thought so, too.
The photo of you and Ski with a different hat is very Jazzy.
I've never been to Philadelphia but if I have an opportunity, I would like to try that steak!

Phats said...

Mmm I am sick and that cheesesteak sandwich looks scrumdittilyumptious!

I go back to a previous comment I made, so if I were walking down the street with that guy, karate kid, and said can you beat up him, and him, and him he would say yes to everyone I pointed too?

LBseahag said...

Phats, you crack me up...I am gonna beat you up first!!!! Hope Michael doesn't mind!

Michael said...

Hi Spinning Girl,
Yes, and it's all fully deserved.

Hi Greensleeves,
Thanks for your comments. I wouldn't say that it's worth it to make a special trip to Philly just for a cheesesteak, but I'm tempted to.

Hey Phats,
Hmmm, I'd rather save my energy for a vicious attack on a cheesesteak!

Hello LB,
He's all yours. ;) :))

Michael said...

Hello g,
Thank YOU. Ski made me copies of the DVDs in his collection, which I can't duplicate because I have a DVD player, but not a recorder.
But there's a hyperlink to the ISKF Web site in my post, and they sell videos of the matches.

Hi Spinning Girl,
Yes, and it's all fully deserved.

Hi Greensleeves,
Thanks for your comments. I wouldn't say that it's worth it to make a special trip to Philly just for a cheesesteak, but I'm tempted to.

Hey Phats,
Hmmm, I'd rather save my energy for a vicious attack on a cheesesteak!

Hello LB,
He's all yours. ;) :))

miki said...

Kakkoii hito desu ne!

Michael said...

Hi Miki-san,
Honto ni so desu. Comment arigatou!

Anonymous said...


I've been thinking about Gerald (ski) as some of the videos you talk about are posted on YouTube. I started traing with Gerald back in the 70's when he was still at the 45th street dojo. I trust he is OK? I haven't heard anything about him in years. Where is his dojo in Philly? Is he still in the Fairmont/Art museum section? Thanks, all the best

Also, sorry about the "Anonymous" label, Trying to register was taking me too long.

Michael said...


Ski was doing well when I spoke to him on the phone several weeks ago. I'm overdue for a trip to Philly to visit him.

He rents space in the basement of a school in Center City, where classes are taught, if memory serves, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The dojo on Fairmount Avene was sold years ago. I was living in Japan at the time and was sad to hear that news.

Anonymous said...

Hi, i trained at 45th st. in the 80`s as a child and have just got back into it after years, the dojo is still beautiful instruction is still 1st class but, the karateka are not the same as i remember. Maybe i was just an impressionable kid, but the lessons i learned were enough to make me want to return as an adult. Only the senior members talk about the tradition of the dojo and the zen aspect of karate. If i could spend a few hours or train with Mr. Evans. Do you have any contact info on any classes he offers? thank you very much.

Michael said...

Please contact me offline. Click on my profile, then click on the e-mail link. I'll pass on your contact information to Ski.