A lifelong Second Ward resident and community volunteer was recently promoted to the highest status of karate master.
Robert Harris, president of the Southeast Civic Association, and two fellow grandmasters were promoted Aug 15 to Nim status of karate grandmasters in Atlanta. The national and two-time world full-contact karate champion began practicing karate 53 years ago, and has known his fellow Nims, Walter Fagan and Charles Emery, for over 45 years.
“Nim is a title that was given to us that means ‘honorable sir,’ and is the giver of all rank,” Emery said. “In martial arts, there are 10 degrees, and in order to gain a 10th degree, someone higher than you has to give that to you.”
Harris said he first became interested in karate after he was beat up after school growing up, and was subsequently beaten by his father for allowing himself to be bullied.
“I got tired of getting two whoopings,” he said. He used to sneak into the Booker T. Washington Community Center and watch the karate classes at age 10 or 11, and after chasing him off a few times, the instructor finally allowed him to join. He has been teaching karate since 1969, including over 35 years of teaching at the Hamilton YMCA and at his studio on South Second Street, and advocates for the martial arts’ physical, mental, and spiritual benefits.
“The physical part, taking care of yourself, stretching, all that will give you a longer life, are incredibly important,” he said.
In 1973, Harris, Fagan, and Emery founded the National Black Belt Karate Association in Cincinnati with six other area grandmasters, with six founders still living and continuing to practice.
“To have five classmates who each have over 50 years of martial arts (training) is unprecedented anywhere else,” Harris said. Fagan and Emery continue to practice with Harris at his studio every Wednesday.
Fagan, who began to learn martial arts in 1967 as the only American in a class in Frankfort, Germany, said that it was striking to look back at how long the three of them had been practicing together.
“We’ve been in one another’s company more than half our lives,” he said. “We’ve been there for one another through good times and bad.”
The three Nims are preparing to teach four four-hour seminars to be held beginning September 13, with each seminar to focus on an aspect of karate geared toward specific individuals.
“One will be self-defense for males, one for females, one for kids, because they all have different components,” Harris said.
Harris said above all, training in the martial arts has pushed him to turn every negative into a positive, a life lesson he pushes upon his students.
But key to achieving a higher rank in the martial arts, and something that has been instilled in each of them for the past 50-plus years, is developing respect for everyone, the Nims all agree.
“You think that there’s going to be an attitude there…it’s about respect, and that’s what we want to leave with all of our students,” Fagan said.
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