Behind the Scenes at the Kang Duk Won
This post concerning Mas Oyama, Don Buck, and other early pioneers in American Karate, was actually written by Master Instructor BJ. I didn’t know some of this, and there is no way I can compete with the original words presented here. I suggest you do a little googling of the names involved to pad out what you’re about to read. It is well worth it. The original post appeared on KangDukWon.com.
The Story of the Kang Duk Won in America
Sifu Al, you probably know this already but when teenage Don Buck started training with Duke Moore in 1946 fresh out of the US Navy where Don was the US Navy Pacific Fleet 137lb Champion and also wrestled and studied Combat Judo & Defendu.
By the Mid-50s Don Buck was a Body Building champion and San Francisco Cop in addition to being a black belt in Moore’s Judo & JJ. Buck & Moore started studying Shorinji Ryu Karate with one of Duke’s teachers, Richard Kim. One of Kim’s Korean student’s came to the US to work as a Pro Wrestler. Of course I’m talking about Mas Oyama.
BTW, Mas Oyama’s Karate and Masahiko- Gracie JJ Defeater- Kimura Judo workout partners in the Early 1950’s were Tak Kubota and Taiji Kase! In fact the gnarled hand on one of Mas Oyama’s early books- ghost written by Don Draeger- was actually Kubota’s.
After WWII Kimura worked as a Pro Wrestler in Europe and N&S America. He hooked Mas Oyama up with some wrestling promoters here in the US and Mexico so Oyama could make some money.
Mas Oyama set his US base up in San Francisco where he could continue his training with his Sensei Richard Kim. While not wrestling Oyama lived with Kim’s JJ student Duke Moore and taught/worked out with Duke Moore and Don Buck everyday he was in San Francisco for 4-6 hour workouts.
After a little over a year Mas went back to Japan and promoted both Duke Moore and Don Buck to their Shodan ranks. Buck opened his own Dojo in 1957 where he only taught Kyokushin Karate making his Dojo the first Oyama Style Karate Dojo to open in the US. ***Please note that Bobby Lowe has the distinction of opening the first Kyokushin dojo OUTSIDE of Japan.***
When Don Buck opened his Dojo doors in 1957 one of his first students, and Black Belts, was one Robert Babich. A year of two later Richard Kim had a skinny Korean Black belt fresh off the boat from Korea show up at his San Francisco Dojo. As Kim was about to leave for Japan so he sent the young Korean to his student’s, Duke Moore, Budokan dojo where Moore promptly sent the Korean to Don Buck.
The young Korean didn’t speak much English but Don Buck told him to go change into his Dogi. When the Korean returned Buck noticed a patch with a fist on the Korean’s uniform. Don Buck asked what the patch said and young Korean replied something like, “Kang Duk Won Kwon Bup Kong Soo Do.”
After sparring and defeating Buck’s students he squared off with Buck himself. Buck knocked the Korean down a few times but the Korean kept getting up and he finally knocked the much bigger and stronger Buck across the dojo floor and down. Buck got back up smiling and told the Korean, “Your hired! What is your name?” The young Kang Duk Won fighter said, “Norman Rha” and bowed slightly to Buck!
Buck was opening a couple of new Dojo locations and he hired Rha (Rha Jong-nam) and assigned Robert Babich to assist Rha with running the new Dojo.
However, the soft whip-like Tong Bei style punching and much deeper Chaun Fa stances of Rha’s Kang Duk Won Kong Soo Do were so much different than Oyama’s power punching that sometime after Babich earned his Shodan from Don Buck it was decided that Babich should open just his own dojo with Rha so as not to create differences of style with the Kyokushin students. So they left Don Buck’s American Kyokushin Dojo’s to open their own KDW school.
As Rha was a poor Medical School student he and Babich shared an apartment with the agreement that Rha would teach Babich KDW in return for help learning English. It should be noted that anytime in the 60’s and early 70’s Babich promoted students to Black Belt the Tracy Brother’s would try to hire the new KDW black belts to run one of their Tracy Brother’s Chinese Kenpo Schools.
The Tracy’s only hired the BEST fighters, both as teachers and Association School Coaches (Joe Lewis & Al Dacascos for example), as school challenges were common and they didn’t want to loose their schools students, $$$, to another challenging school. Babich’s KDW academy in San Jose, CA had a reputation of turning out some of the toughest fighters on the West Coast.
It is interesting to note, at least for me, that Babich didn’t include Sanchin or Tensho in his Kwon Bop Karate that he taught in the 1970’s and 80’s until he closed down his San Jose Dojo. Why I don’t know???
Thanks, BJ, for this wonderful bit of writing.
The reason Bob didn’t include Sanchin and Tensho, in my opinion, is that there are two styles of Karate, one fixed and one fluid, or Shorin and Shorei. Bob was not a large man, he was thin and whiplike, and the heavier sanchin style stances didn’t suit him, perhaps even worked against the fluid motions he was developing through the Kang Duk Won.
If you want to find out what the truth behind the Kang Duk Won, check out the first Karate form and applications, and the bonus material on historical uses of Karate.
This has been a page about Don Buck, Mas Oyama, and the early beginnings of the Kang Duk Won Karate.
My name is Karen Conley-Greene . I have been studying Kang Duk Won sine 1985, My late husband Roger Greene was a student of Bob Babich in San Jose. I am so happy you are telling the history for the world to know. I have enjoyed your article!!