INTERVIEW WITH KAJUKENBO SENIOR GRAND MASTER TONY LASIT
AXUM: When did you start your martial arts training?
LASIT: I started in 1943 by studying Judo. I enlisted in the U.S. Army in December 1944 and served in the European Theatre of Operations. I returned to Hawaii in 1948 and resumed my martial arts training.
AXUM: Who were your instructors?
LASIT: My instructors were Rubber Man Hiqami and Kainon Kudo, who at the time were professional wrestlers. They had a dojo and taught Judo in Hawaii during 1943-1944.
AXUM: What was your early training like in Hawaii?
LASIT: During the war years of 1944-1945, martial law had been declared in Hawaii. They would allow Judo, but they wouldn't allow any other martial arts. Whenever we wanted to practice Karate, we would have to practice in secret. We would find out the location to train at by word of mouth.
AXUM: What is your personal training like now that you are 79 years old?
LASIT: I am not training like I used to train in the past, but I do keep myself in good shape for my age.
AXUM: Did you ever compete in tournaments?
LASIT: Yes, I competed in a couple of tournaments, especially when I was in my 20's, 30's, and early 40's.
AXUM: How do you feel about weapons training?
LASIT: When I was in the military, I trained with firearms. In the martial arts, I trained with the nunchucks, etc.
AXUM: Do you feel students should train with weapons?
LASIT: Yes, it is a form of technique. The movements are similar and can be used without weapons. The weapon is just an added part of the body. It can help with coordination.
AXUM; How important do you think Kata training is?
LASIT: Kata is the essence of Karate because you practice all of your moves through kata. You are judged as a student by how you perform. Your exercises become your kata, and your offenses and defenses become your kata. Kata is very important.
AXUM: Do you recommend students study other styles?
LASIT: If they can absorb it, definitely. You do not have to earn a black belt, but whatever you can absorb is to your advantage.
AXUM: Would you like to see martial arts taught in the schools?
LASIT: If it could be taught properly. Many people don't know anything about Karate except what they see in the movies, which is a lot of violence. Karate offers more than self-defense. It offers discipline and positive self-esteem, which can help students.
AXUM: Please describe the ideal relationship between student and instructor?
LASIT: Respect is very important. I used to always ask my students if they had any previous martial arts training. The teacher should do his best to teach his students and the student should do his best to learn from the teacher.
AXUM: Can you tell me a little about how you ended up being stationed in Ubon Thailand.
LASIT: That was the Vietnam War. I was stationed in Austin, Texas and the unit I was with was activated. There were 3 groups, two tactical air commands [fighter aircraft groups], and heavy air bombardment, which I was with. That was the B-52's, and they asked us if we wanted to volunteer to go to Thailand to set up in advance for the Vietnam war. I volunteered, as many others did. I arrived in the early part of 1968. I ended up doing a tour of duty in Vietnam. You were assigned different duties. I was an air gunner on bombers and gun ships during the war, but when I returned to the United States, I couldnít do that obviously. I was a preflight, in-flight, and post-flight aircraft controller. I would make sure the plane was ready to fly.
AXUM: How did you meet Mr. Precha Mahachanavong?
LASIT: When I first got to Thailand, we were building bunkers with camouflage mesh to park our aircrafts. The U.S was hiring a lot of Asian and European companies to build these. They also hired a bunch of civilians to fill various positions. Precha worked on the base and because of his English was used as a translator. He approached me one day and asked me if I knew of the Korean instructor who was teaching TaeKwonDo off the military base. I told him I knew of him. Precha said that the Korean instructor said I was a good black belt instructor and he [Precha] wanted to learn from me. I told him that I didn't really have the time, but Precha was always bugging me about it. I told him that we were training on concrete, and he told me he didn't care. So, he started training with us. After sometime, he found a place in the town for us to train at. That later became his dojo. He placed a sign on the wall with two dragons and it said, "MAHACHANAVITNAYA." He said he wanted to create an organization.
AXUM: Can you describe how Mr. Precha was as a student of yours?
LASIT: He was determined to learn [Kenpo]. He, like many of the Thai people, were very loyal.
AXUM: How many students did you teach in Ubon?
LASIT: I donít really know. There were so many that would come and go. There were a lot of G.Iís. [military persons].
AXUM: Is there a particular message you want to share with LOTUS students or martial arts students in general?
LASIT: Over the past 50 years or better, I have been very surprised and happy that Precha [founder of Lotus Self-Defense] has obtained his goal. I wish all the LOTUS members under Precha would all come together and form one heck of an organization. That is the only way for you to exist. I know some of the guys who belong to LOTUS, like my conversations with you, you are very easy going. Make yourself heard. You guys are doing good. You have to get together and set something up. You need to stick together to keep LOTUS alive.
www.lotusmartialarts.com thanks Mr. Lasit for his time.