When We Were Black Belts
I decided to write my autobiography and place it at the end of the family history for anyone who might be interested. The first chapter tells several different stories all at the same time, which can get a little confusing. By the end of the chapter it should all makes sense.
16 chapters, about 98 pages, finished March 25, 2008
When We Were Black Belts
James E Tracy
In the summer of 1957, three brothers walked into Ed Parker’s Kenpo-Karate School in Pasadena, California and paid $60 each for the three-month beginner’s course.
In less than ten years two of these brothers would begin building a chain of 150 karate schools throughout America and Canada. It was the largest chain of karate schools in America. It was the largest chain of karate schools in the world.
This is the story of how these two brothers, Al and Jim Tracy, challenged the way the martial arts had been taught throughout Asia for thousands of years. It is ironic that two young Caucasian Americans would take their first karate lesson in Pasadena. This was far from the ancient homelands of the martial arts. Yet, we would change history.
The three of us were born in the small Northern California town of Red Bluff: Al in 1936, Will in 1937, and myself, Jim, in 1940. We descended from an old California pioneer family, which was the first to settle the region in 1844.
Today, Red Bluff is a small city of 13,000. When we were born it was less than 4,000.
Our mother and father lived in Hunter just west of Red Bluff. So remote that even today one can only get to the place by gravel road. So obscure is Hunter that many in the county have never heard of the place. Our father ran cattle and a gypo lumber outfit. (A gypo outfit is a small independent timber cutter.)
Our father was thirty-five when he married our seventeen year old mother. (Mom always married much older men.) Dad was erratic and unstable. He would get up from the table and walk out the door and not return for one or two months. When he returned he would walk through the door and sit down at the table never saying where he had been or what he had done. No one, including our mother, ever asked. His hair was always cut the same as when he left and he always wore the same clothes on return. Walking back through the door, he always looked exactly the same as when he walked out the door weeks before.
Mother said he was “odd.”
Our father may have been “odd,” but he was no fool. In just one year during the depression he made $99,000, and even paid $5,000 for a single hunting dog. In today’s money he would have earned over one million dollars and the dog would cost $60,000. And that was just one year! This was at a time when taxes were almost non-existent, and a family could live on sixty dollars a month.
If dad declared less than $100,000 then he would have to pay taxes at a very low rate. Anything over $100,000 would be taxed very high. No one knows what he truly earned, but it must have been staggering for the times.
Our father always knew he was mentally ill. He thought he could cure himself by diet. It did not work. As a teenager he spent a year in the Adventist Psychiatric Hospital at Loma Linda in Southern California. Mom said, “I don’t know what it cost Granddad Tracy!”
Our father ended it all by committing suicide in 1966 at the age of sixty-six.
Our mother was erratic and unstable at the time she married. She would continue that way until her death. Amazingly, this strange marriage lasted five years before ending in divorce. Our father then turned his back on his family. He went into the Sierra Nevada mountains where he continued his gypo work.
We were so young at Hunter that none of us even remember our father. Al has no recollection of the man. When Will was a teenager he visited our father for a few days in the mountains, never to see him again. Dad left Hunter before I was even born. Basically, he was a father who never existed in our lives.
We kids never enjoyed Hunter that much. The place was so small that there was nothing to do. There were no other kids to play with. All we had were the dogs!
Dad’s best dog was “Trailer.” One time Will followed a bull snake into the woods and got lost. Dad, and everyone else at Hunter, took their tracking dogs and tried to find him. Dad let Trailer go by himself. It took Trailer three days to find Will. The small child held onto Trailer’s collar and was brought back home the three miles to safety. Strangely, Will gained weight during his sojourn and was in good health. To this day Will is afraid of snakes. (I must confess I have a snake phobia, too.)
What we kids remember most about Hunter was always being hungry. To put it truthfully, ours was a neglectful mother. One time she did not feed us for a week. Our grandparents owned a summer cabin at Saddle Camp, which was twenty miles west of Red Bluff. Granddad Tracy was a forest ranger and manned the fire lookout station on a mountain close to the cabin. Granddad and Grandma Tracy went looking for us, and saved us.
Aunt Florence, mother’s sister, tried to get custody of us. Uncle Harry and Aunt Beulah, Dad’s sister, tried to get custody of us. Granddad and Grandma Tracy had a big lawsuit trying to get custody of us. All failed. So much for parental rights!
Will and Al both have astigmatism, which they believe was caused by malnutrition. Will told me that malnutrition as a baby is what caused me to be sickly all my life.
My mother recently passed away in relatively good health at the age of eighty-six. About a year before her death she was reaching up in the cupboard to get a spice container, laughed and said, ”He wanted to marry me.”
It seemed that Ed Schilling, of the Schilling Spices fortune, took his inheritance, and with his brother went into the cattle business in Texas. Ed Schilling went through a bitter divorce and the brother died. Mother emphasized that the brother’s death had a strong effect on Ed Schilling.
Ed Schilling wanted to get away from it all. He wanted to get out of Texas. Really, he wanted to get out of the world. So he did the next best thing. He moved to Hunter. The place was so small that everyone knew one another.
At Hunter, like our father, he ran cattle. There he lived a primitive life style like everyone else: no running water, or indoor plumbing, no electricity.
The only luxury he allowed himself was the biggest car money could buy. Ed Schilling wanted to marry mother. He kept asking and she kept saying “no.” As was her pattern with men he was old enough to be her father. Mom said he even had a son her age. He took mom and her girl friend on a two-week vacation to Oregon. Mom said it was the fanciest car she ever drove.
She still said “no.”
She should have thought of her poor destitute children!
As far back as the frontier days, Tehama County has a history of the rich and famous moving in. They are always treated the same as anyone else. The exalted get no respect. Recently I told Aunt Arla, mother’s brother’s wife, the story of mother and Ed Schilling.
“Was he the one who lived west of Red Bluff?” She asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“He had a crush on me. I wouldn’t date him.”
“Was he from the Schilling spice family?”
That is how it is in Tehama County. It is not like Beverly Hills.
The wealth of our father would bypass the three Tracy brothers as did the vast Schilling fortune. We would be around wealth all of our lives, but we never had great wealth. We would have to be satisfied with our fifteen minutes of fame.
Mother divorced while still pregnant with me. After awhile moved in with Granddad and Grandma Tracy in their house at Red Bluff. Granddad had retired, sold Saddle Camp, and bought a modest home in Red Bluff. By having Mom move in with them it would guarantee that we kids would be taken care of.
Then mother connived with grandma’s sister, Aunt Hattie, to sneak us all out in the middle of the night and move us into our own house downtown.
The house we lived in was next door to our Chinese doctor and his family. The Chinese had been in Northern California since the Gold Rush. At one time, Red Bluff had a good size Chinese community. There was more than one Chinese doctor in town. They were all herbalists.
Doctor Yuen was a “number one” Chinese doctor. The government even gave him a grant to do herbal research. The government was especially interested in his cancer research. This was before the days of modern medicine. When your family doctor gave you a prescription you took it to your local pharmacy. The pharmacist made the prescription from scratch. Most of the medicines were made in the shop from herbal compounds. Although, these were western herbs and not Chinese. Chinese herbs are different. Chinese medicine is different.
Mother came from a long line of herbalists. Her grandfather was a famed herbalist in Glasgow, Scotland, in the later part of the 1800s. He was known for “The Laying On of Hands.” She did not know exactly what this meant, but it was not a religious thing. People came from great distances to be treated by her grandfather.
This knowledge passed down through the family and mother was knowledgeable about all herbs, although, she did not know Chinese herbs.
Al was born with a colon problem usually fatal. The Chinese doctor cured him. Will was born with a gland problem in the throat usually fatal. The Chinese doctor cured him. I was born very premature. I should not have lived. The Chinese doctor cured me. This drove our already unstable mother to be even more insane.
Mother could not stop bleeding during one of her periods. Pale and weak, Aunt Hattie took Mom to another Chinese doctor in town. When they walked in the door the doctor said, “No! No! You die! You die!” Aunt Hattie grabbed the Chinese doctor and shook him vigorously screaming, “You SOB. You fix!” The doctor gave mother an herbal brew, which saved her life.
Mother was a waitress for most of her life. She always made good money. One of mother’s jobs, the best she ever had, was at Richardsons Springs Resort in Chico. It was a world famous resort… with nothing to offer its guests. The rich, more than famous, would vacation here. They had a large clientele of European Jews who were very rich. This was one of the few resorts that did not discriminate against the Jews.
The Jews would take 3-4 rooms for themselves and another 4-5 rooms just for their luggage. When the Second World War started it cut off the Jews from Europe. Then the wealthy Jews from the East Coast came by train in their private rail cars. It was not just the Jews but also wealthy American families. Mother was the waitress for the Rockefellers.
The tips were fabulous!
Mother, to her dying day, never could understand why these rich, and sometimes famous people from around the world, would come to Chico, to this resort. There was nothing there. There was nothing to do. The only movie theater, or other social activities, were in town. The guests never went into town. They just sat around doing nothing, coming to dinner in baggy clothes and slippers.
What I could not explain to mother is that their great wealth had bought them every activity, material goods and comforts of the world. For a few days, this is the world that they wanted to get away from.
Although Chico was only forty miles from Red Bluff, the staff was required to live on the premises. This was especially true for mother for she managed the crew of waitresses.
For a few years, while still small children, we moved in with the Chinese family. It was a large family with eight or ten children. One of the girls was my age and we became very close. Al and Will attended parochial school as did our Chinese brothers and sisters. Although, we were not Catholic. It was a good school, not expensive and mother was making good money. Although we were Caucasian we were raised Chinese. Al, and Will, still remember taking their rice balls to school every day.
The family only spoke Chinese at home. Al and Will lived in a Chinese world at home and the America world at school. They both understood Chinese well but did not speak it as fluently. I was too young to go to school and had almost no contact with the world outside of our Chinese family. Thus, I understood English and spoke English but I chose to only speak Chinese.
It was a typical Chinese family with friends and relatives constantly coming and going. The other Chinese accepted us three Caucasian kids without question. As Al explained, “The Chinese were always taking in orphan children.”
We didn’t see mother much when we were living with the Chinese family. Usually she would visit us once a month. Being raised in a different culture would cause mother-son bonding problems. When mother would visit she would say something to me in English and I would reply in Chinese. This drove mother crazy! One time a girlfriend was visiting with mother and I was talking Chinese. The friend asked mother “Is he retarded?”
When my brothers and I talked to one another we spoke in Chinese.
The Chinese in California saw the Second World War coming and bought farms. (“Acquired” farms, would be the proper word, as the Chinese were not allowed to own land in California until the1950s.) The Chinese are survivors and knew there was going to be rationing. On their small farms they raised the necessary livestock and produce to get through the war comfortably. Being Chinese, on temporary loan from our mother, we ate well during the war. Al remembers the children ate separately from the adults, and the food was excellent!
The Chinese doctors imported enough herbs from China to get them through the war.
In reminiscing, Al recently said that it would have been better for us if we had been raised by Grandma and Granddad Tracy. To which Will replied that it would have been better if we had been raised by the Chinese family.
Mom left Richardson Springs and took a job working for the railroad just outside of Red Bluff. The town of Gerber was a layover for the train crews. There was only one phone in town and it was mother’s job to take the phone messages to the individual crewmembers and give them their next assignment.
It was at Gerber shortly before the Second World War ended that she met a train worker who would become her second husband, Howard Mulholland. (Everyone called him Howard, although, his real name was Andrew Mulholland.)
They knew one another for a just a few weeks before getting married. Then mother told our new stepfather, ” I have something to tell you. I have three kids.”
Howard replied, ” I have something to tell you. I have three kids.”
Mother kept the house next to the Chinese family and we all moved in together. Because mother worked we continued be raised by the Chinese family.
Howard had a technical problem, a big technical problem. The Second World War was still going strong and Howard was eligible for the drafted. So Howard talked to his ex-wife and moved his three kids in with us. With six kids as dependents Howard was safe from the draft.
When the war ended Howard’s children returned to live with their mother. Then Howard got a job offer in Seattle and we moved up to Seattle. Mother jumped at the chance to get far away from the relatives who were always criticizing her motherhood.
We left our Chinese family and Chinese world in which we had been raised. Eventually, my brothers and I forgot how to speak Chinese. I started speaking English. Will still remembers my first English words, “California Piggy.”
We soon settled on a small fifteen-acre farm on the outskirts of Seattle called Woodinville. None of our neighbors could support their families on their farms. They had to hold down other jobs. Today, Woodinville is an upscale suburb of Seattle.
Our stepfather went from job to job, none of which made us rich.
Will developed an allergic reaction to cow’s milk, so Howard bought a small herd of goats to provide the families’ milk. We lived on biscuits and goats milk with Al usually feeding us.
However, goats browse and that is seasonal. Out of season Howard had to buy feed for the goats, which he could not afford. So the goats starved to death until some caring soul bought the whole starving herd. With the loss of the goats went half our rations. All I remember about Seattle was being cold and hungry.
I just hated Seattle. It was always cold, foggy, constantly raining.
We did get out of there for a short while. Mother made arraignments for us to spend the summer in Red Bluff with her brother, Gordon, and his wife Arla. We three kids got on the bus in Seattle and went back to Red Bluff.
Uncle Gordon and Aunt Arla lived on a small farm outside Red Bluff called Dairyville. Al always called it “the ranch.” They had two younger children, Dee and Nick. I loved that dry desert hot summer in Red Bluff. It was never cold and when you got hungry you got food.
A couple of years ago I revisited the ranch. Uncle Gordon died at a young age, which left Aunt Arla with enough life insurance money to tear down the old house and build a new one. Then she sold the house, which was resold a few years later to Arla’s dear friend, Audrey, and her husband, Marion.
I spent two hours visiting Audrey and Marion. Upon leaving I told Audrey that my summer there as a child was the happiest time of my life. Audrey replied that other people had told her the same thing.
We would escape the summers of Seattle by visiting relatives in Northern California. We moved around a lot in and around Seattle. Eventually, we moved into a combined house in back with a real estate office up front. It seemed that Mom and Howard had decided to go into the real estate business.
For a change our family prospered. Howard and mom were finally making money. Then Howard could not take the pressure of living with our insane mother anymore. Instead of getting a divorce he drowned himself in alcohol for a period that lasted three years and mother matched him drink for drink.
In addition to her newfound world of alcohol, mother took it upon herself to diagnosis her body as having multiple sclerosis. She could not get a doctor to agree because they all said her problem was mental. So she put herself into a wheelchair for one year.
Al established some stability in his life by staying in the same grammar and high school during the Seattle years. Whenever we moved he would simply hitch hike to the same school at Bothell. Will and I moved from school to school.
Al was into public speaking in High School and even won the Washington State Debate Championship. With the title went a four year full scholarship to Washington State University. Not wanting to go to an agriculture school he joined the Air Force.
His official job was fighter aircraft radar technician. In the Air Force he worked on diagnosing the problems with the radar of the F-89 and F-102 Fighters. These radars were as complex as working on hundreds of television sets at the same time.
He also moonlighted as bartender at the Officer’s Club. One of the officers was a psychiatrist; also an alcoholic. He helped the psychiatrist with his drinking problem and in return the psychiatrist gave Al nearly a year of psychoanalysis for free. This is a time when psychoanalysis was the fad, very popular and very expensive. Al learned the techniques of diagnosing the complexities of the human mind.
Al became a good friend with the base commander. (Al served in an Air Force Fighter wing stationed at the Portland International Airport in Oregon. The civilian airport was the home for the commercial airlines as well as the US Air Force fighter interceptors and the Air National Guard.)
The base commander never paid for his drinks, courtesy of Al. This friendship paid big dividends as Al was promoted to Staff Sergeant in the unheard of time of only one year. The base commander let Al go to any school of his choice. In his four years in the Air Force, Al would spend two-years in technical schools.
When Will turned seventeen he wisely quit high school and joined the army. He entered boot camp being five feet six inches tall and weighing ninety-eight pounds. He finished boot camp at five foot nine and weighing one hundred and forty two pounds, all muscle. Making up for sixteen years of frailty he goes Air Borne.
I am now alone with two alcoholic parents and without the help of my two older brothers.
Then Howard and mother separate. Howard moves to Pasadena, California. Mother soon reconciles and we move to Pasadena to join him. On leave from the army, Will talks with Aunt Florence and Uncle Kay and they agree to let me live with them and finish out my last three years of high school in Red Bluff.
Will got me away from our crazy mother for my high school years. Howard finally had enough sense to divorce our mother. Once divorced Howard never took another drink.
It is then that Will located our birth father in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, in Quincy, and spent a few days with him. He would never see our father again.
I was now back in my hometown of Red Bluff. I was living with a pretty normal family and their two children, Millie, who was one year older and David who was three years younger.
In school I was terrible in the sciences: math, chemistry, anything that required a technical mind. In English class I learned about grammar, nouns , pronouns, adjectives and such. I would sit in these classes and not understand a word they were saying. I wondered why I was even there. I got good grades in English class because I read one book a day and turned in a book report on each one. The instructor, Mr. Scantlebury, had me read all of the works of Shakespeare, and today I remember not one word!
I did excel in the arts: public speaking, radio announcing and drama. I was “big man on campus,” directing and acting in the school plays. I would win public speaking contests. Unlike Al, all I got were trophies minus any college scholarships.
One semester I was carrying a pretty heavy schedule of classes. I decided to take a class that was easy, sort of balance things out. Journalism looked like an easy class. So, I signed up. The instructor started off by telling the class that if they thought journalism was going to be easy. then drop the class immediately. She emphasized strongly that it was going to be the toughest class we had ever taken. She then went into great detail explaining why it was such a tough class. When the class ended, I went up to the teacher and thanked her for being so honest. Then I explained that I was looking for an easy class to balance out my tough schedule. Upon her advice, I was going to drop the journalism class.
I do not know why but I allowed her to talk me into staying in the class. It was the toughest class I ever had. Because I could not understand the technical aspects of English writing I kept things simple. I used short simple sentences with little words. By using short sentences I did not have to use punctuations, which I didn’t understand. I used little words and a big dictionary. I didn’t know what grammar was. I would write a sentence and if it seemed right I would keep it. If it did not seem right then I would change the sentence. What saved me is that I had two weeks to write each newspaper article. The class was so tough that at the end of the semester I made a vow that I would never be a writer.
Despite my problems I wrote pretty good articles for the high school newspaper.
Will made arraignments for me to spend the summer working for my father. I took the bus up to Quincy and asked around for Austin Tracy. I was told to go to the local bar. I found him, the only customer in the bar, sitting at the bar staring into space. In his hand was a glass of hard liquor and it was one o’clock in the afternoon. I figured right then that this guy had a lot of problems.
I was around my father very little that summer. He lived in town and I lived on the timber cutting site in a camper. What little contact I had with him quickly gave me the impression that he was an unstable alcoholic.
Mother said he never drank until after the marriage ended. That would be beyond the age of forty. Like many who turn to drugs and alcohol he was self medicating. He was born a generation too soon. If he had been born later, in the world of modern medicine, he could have been diagnosed and treated with psychiatric medication. His timing in life was off.
When I left Quincy at the end of the summer I did so without any pay. Dad did give me a car. I would never see my father again. I could have asked him for financial support to finish high school. However, I never figured he owed me anything. None of us ever figured anyone owed us anything. We were used to working for what we got.
Our father would fight mental illness all of his life, living erratically, although successfully. Finally, he would shoot himself at age sixty-five. We suspect that he had timberland in Canada and property in Mexico, and possibly other South American countries. We also believed he had mining interests wherever and various other investments and banking accounts. We never could locate the assets after his death. We didn’t even know where to look. So erratic was his mind that he did not know what or where his holdings were during his lifetime. These possible fortunes would go unclaimed.
At the same time I graduated from high school in 1957, Al got discharged from the Air Force and Will from the army. Will had just finished a tour of duty in Korea. We all three headed to Pasadena to live with our mother.
Our choice to live with our crazy mother was out of necessity. None of us had any money and we wanted to go on to college. California had a free two-year junior college system.
We had the following plans: We were going to go to Pasadena City College, then onto law school. We were going to study judo. We were going to learn hypnotism.
As for college, both Al and Will had the GI bill. In addition to government money we all expected to work part time to make it through school.
As for judo, we were not big people and wanted to learn judo chops and be able to throw bullies over our shoulders.
As for hypnotism; it was popular at the time.
Everyone in Red Bluff expected me to continue in the arts but I had to face reality. In high school I took two years of radio announcing and felt I could succeed as a professional radio announcer. But, it would be a long, slow grind with very little money.
The process began by going to radio announcing school in Portland, Oregon, for one year. Then you tried to get a job with a hick radio station in the middle of nowhere like Red Bluff. If you got a job, then you would send a tape recording of your work to a slightly larger station, and hopefully, work your way up the ladder. The pay was below living standards.
The idea of working in TV broadcasting was out of the question. You had to have the looks and I was a little, skinny, not-too-good looking kid. When I got my first drivers license at the age of sixteen I only weighed one hundred and eleven pounds.
Strangely, moving to Pasadena put me in perfect position to further a career in the arts. In Pasadena was the famous training ground for actors, The Pasadena Playhouse.
Again, realistically, being a little, skinny, not-too-good looking kid, I figured that I would never have a chance of making a living in the tough competitive world of Hollywood and the professional theater. When I left Red Bluff, I left any thoughts of making a career in the arts behind, and never looked back. I quickly forgot, consciously, everything I learned about the theater. Subconsciously, I retained a lot.
I would visit The Pasadena Playhouse to watch the plays, but never enrolled as a student.
Mother was working as a waitress at the Pasadena Athletic Club. She got me a job washing dishes and mopping floors at the club. Al got a full time job with an electronics firm heading a team designing the nation’s first air traffic control system for the New York City Airport.
Mom also got Al a second job at the athletic club tending bar part time. Will got a job as an instructor at a local health club. We all worked ourselves to death and started night school at college.
The staff at the health club told Will about an Hawaiian named Ed Parker, who had recently taught private self defense lessons at the club. It was an unheard of Oriental form of self-defense called “karate.” (The word then used was “Oriental” to be replaced by the word “Asian “ many years later.)
That is, it was unheard of by anyone in America. In 1957, when the American public thought of Oriental self-defense they automatically thought of judo.
Will was told that Ed Parker had gone on his own and opened a self-defense school here in Pasadena.
Will had just returned from Korea. He had been stationed in Korea for eighteen months serving in Army intelligence as a courier traveling between Korea and Japan. While in Japan he took a few judo lessons and in Korea he took some karate lessons from his houseboy. He was one of the few people in America at that time who had heard of the word “karate” and knew what it meant.
Will got the full details: the address of the school; the hours of operation; the cost of instruction, which was sixty dollars for the first three months beginners course, then fifteen dollars a month thereafter. You received two one-hour group classes per week.
We did not call and make an appointment, just walked into the school with sixty dollars each in our pockets. As the four of us sat in the office, three brothers and Ed Parker, none of us realized that we would be making history.
From that first meeting we developed a close bond with Ed Parker that would last until his death in 1990.
To understand how the Tracy brothers accomplished what we did in the world of karate it is necessary to know about Ed Parker, where he came from and what brought him to Pasadena.
He was born in Honolulu in 1931, one of the many poor cousins to the branch of the family that owned the famed Parker Ranch. Located on the island of Maui it is one of America’s largest beef cattle ranches.
Hawaii is not always picture-perfect as illustrated in the travel brochures. Some parts of the islands are just as the travel industry promotes so effectively to the world. Honolulu is a beautiful town, but it has its bad areas. Due to economics the family is forced to live in the roughest part of Honolulu. How tough an area did they live in? In Ed Parker’s own words, “Of my thirty-two friends, only me and two others did not go to reform school.”
Ed Parker’s father works for the reform school system. It is a chain gang during the day where the inmates work the plantation fields and stay in camp by night. The camp keeps them out of the neighborhood and family influences that usually created the juvenile delinquent in the first place.
The father is big enough and tough enough to crack heads together. This was before the days of Constitutional rights. The main goal was to instill enough discipline to get them into the military. This sounds funny today when the military has high standards, looking for high school graduates at the minimum, and shunning anyone with a criminal background. But in those days the military took the bottom of the barrel, and with discipline, training and good luck, turned many of them into respectable citizens.
These troubled kids could join the military and get three meals a day, a uniform, a monthly paycheck, training and a career in the military if they choose. Or, if the timing was right, the GI Bill, which afforded higher education.
Such is his integrity, so fair and respected is the father that when there is a riot some of the inmates would surround him with a wall of protection.
The “operative word” for Ed Parker is now “protection.” In order to stay alive in this land of paradise he starts to take karate lessons. At this time, Hawaii is a US Territory with a large Asian population. Martial arts instructors were easy to come by. He graduates from high school just in time to face the draft and be sent to fight in Korea. He avoids the draft by joining the Coast Guard. The family is able to pull the right strings to get him stationed in Honolulu.
Life now goes on as usual except he now has a uniform he wears eight hours a day, gets three meals a day and a pay check each month.
At the end of his four-year hitch in the Coast Guard he uses his GI Bill to attend college at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. While working on his degree in sociology he teaches a few students karate in a club he forms on campus. A friend who has a health club in Provo allows him to teach a few private students at the club.
Ed Parker graduates with his bachelors degree in sociology 1956 and receives a job offer from the probation department in Pasadena, California.
Ed Parker is now looking at a civil service career, which would provide him with a descent living, and obscurity, for the rest of his life. And that was perfectly all right with him.
However, there was one hitch with the job offer, which would one day propel Ed Parker to fame and power. Ed Parker was an impressively tough looking guy, in a handsome way. He stood a shade under six feet tall, weighed one hundred and eighty pounds, and was a self defense expert.
The probation department wanted him to work with the toughest, hardened adult criminals. Parker knew from his father’s years of working with juvenile delinquents in Hawaii that there was little chance of reforming the ways of a hardened adult criminal. If you were going to have any chance of changing a person with criminal behavior you had to get them in their youth. Parker insisted on working only with the youth offenders. The department insisted that he worked only with the adults. He works for the probation department for one month. Then, in his blunt way Ed Parker told them to shove it and walked out the door.
He walked out the door and decided to teach karate… in a world that had never heard the word, let alone had any idea what it was.
That one decision would change the way that the martial arts had been taught for thousands of years.
The owner of the health club that Ed Parker used to teach a few private lessons at in Provo also owned a health club in Pasadena. Ed Parker starts teaching private karate lessons to a few of the health club members. It does not work out. The bodybuilding customers complain that the karate instructor is taking up their space that they are paying for. Also, he can’t get enough business from the health club members.
Now Parker takes a giant step and borrows $300 from a friend, rents a commercial building on a good street, and opens up a full time commercial karate school.
In California, Ed Parker is still the Hawaiian. In the warm Southern California climate he lives as if still in Honolulu, wearing cotton pants, Hawaiian shirts, and thongs (Now called flip-flops.). This was just before the thong craze had hit Southern California. Not only was karate unknown in America, but thongs were also unknown.
Soon word spreads throughout the small martial arts community. “There is a real live karate man in town. He doesn’t even wear shoes!”
Ed Parker has a monopoly, being the only commercial karate school in a nation of 151,326,000 people; a state of 10,586,000 people; and a county of 1,970,408 people; and he barely makes it!
The Japanese had a toehold in America through a student at Cal-Tech (California Institute of Technology, also in Pasadena). The Japanese student had a small karate club on campus. Chuck Norris had not yet started his tour of duty in Korea. The Koreans, who would open a Tae Kwon Do school in every Middlesex, village and farm, had not yet set foot in America.
What saves Ed Parker is a new freeway that has been built…that makes Hollywood just a few minutes away.
As soon as he opens his school, Ed Parker becomes the darling of the film world. He would now spend the rest of his life associating with celebrities, the rich and powerful, the most famous people in the world. From this day to his death in 1990, one of the greatest status symbol in Hollywood, from the highest to the lowest, was to let it be known that Ed Parker was your friend.
To show you the prestige Ed Parker had in Hollywood: Ed Parker is on set with his movie mogul friend, Blake Edwards. Parker is intensely concentrating on how the scene is being set up. The time is well set in Ed’s mind as he recalls it is during the time when the whole world is watching the TV series Dallas and wondering, “Who shot J.R.?” This would make it March of 1980.
Out of the corner of his eye he sees Blake Edwards talking with someone. He doesn’t know who as his concentration is on the scene at hand. After a few minutes Blake Edwards comes over and says, “Ed. This man ask me to introduce him to you.”
Ed turns, smiles and says, “Of course.”
The man sticks out his hand and says, “Mr. Parker, my name is Larry Hagman, and I just want you to know that I have always wanted to meet you.”
What helps him make it? In addition to his regular students in the school itself, he also teaches the Hollywood stars, some in the school, and some in their Beverly Hills homes. These are private lessons at rates that the movie stars expect to pay.
Ed Parker would have a reputation of being an instructor to the stars. That he was. But he never had that many movie stars that he taught. He did not give eight hours of private lessons every day, five days a week.
To add to his financial burdens, he had just gotten married and soon had a baby on the way. The couple lived modestly, in a humble apartment and with a car that ran. What he did make teaching private lessons to the stars keep his family alive and the school afloat.
When his money situation became desperate, Ed Parker resorted to a unique way of increasing his income. It was the custom in Hollywood, then and now, “Lets do lunch.” Ed did lunch a lot with the stars. He never paid. Because of their status, they always tipped big. No coins, always bills were left on the table. Parker made sure that he was always the last to leave… then he would reach back and steal the tip.
That is how the karate industry in America was originally funded.
The jobs that Will and I worked had flexible hours. We might work mornings, afternoons, or evenings. We decide to give Ed Parker the extra help he needed in running the school. Between the three of us and Ed Parker, we were usually able to keep the karate school open full time.
Being beginning students we did not have enough knowledge to teach karate lessons. However, we could organize. The karate business consisted mostly of evening classes. Beginners classes were at 7 PM, then the intermediate classes were at 8 PM. The advanced class was at 9 PM.
This required that Ed Parker be on the mats teaching during those hours. He was constantly being called off the mats to conduct the business of interviewing perspective new students, answering the phone, writing out receipts for lesson payments, etc.
We took over these jobs, which left Parker available to teach uninterrupted.
We also were able to cover the school on the days Ed Parker drove over to the Beverly Hills mansions to teach private lessons.
Ed Parker was not the first person to teach karate in America. He would be the first person to teach karate successfully in America. Karate is a Chinese thing, Kung Fu, which is part of the Chinese culture today, as it has been for thousands of years. Gold was discovered in California in 1848 and my people were among the very first miners being in California before the first gold strike. It took six months for the news of the gold discovery to reach the far corners of the world, and another six months for the emigrants to reach California.
20,000 Chinese would immigrate to Northern California in the first two-years alone. The second great Chinese immigration would come in the 1860s to build the Trans-Continental railroad.
The Chinese brought with them their ancient art of Kung Fu as well as their ancient healing art of herbal medicine.
However, the Chinese were a clan society. The Wong’s did not teach the Chan’s. The Chan’s did not teach the Lee’s, and so-on-and-so-forth. The Chinese did not teach the Koreans or the Japanese, or any other Asian people because they didn’t like one another very much.
In addition to the Wongs not teaching the Chans, the Wongs sometimes did not teach the Wongs, and etc… Within the “etc…” are the Caucasian Americans, which were not even Chinese, let alone one of their clan. When the Kung Fu instructors did teach their own clan, they usually did so in a negative fashion. The students had to first prove themselves worthy of being taught by the master. They would be taught just nothing, such as a stance. They would learn nothing more than this one thing for several months. Then, when they had perfected nothing, they would teach them another basic. This learning of nothing would go on for years. It was not unusual for a student to be taught material for years, only to be told by the instructor that it was no good and forget everything they had learned. The traditional system required ten years of patient obedience before the student started learning the true art. It then took several years before they became proficient in the correct material.
Any Kung Fu student who studied for just ten years did not know enough to defend themselves in a fight. A student had to study a minimum of fifteen years to develop any proficiency.
Al tells of talking to one Kung Fu master who had studied twenty years before he realized he was being taught wrong. Why? “He was a Wong and I am a Lee.” Another time Al walked into a Kung Fu school and watched a student doing a technique the wrong way. The Kung Fu master looked at Al, and just smiled.
There were exceptions to the rules. Not all Chinese are the same.
There was a time in China that the Kung Fu instructors were willing to teach the Americas legitimate Kung Fu and at a fast rate. The Chinese wanted the American money. They found out quickly that the American servicemen were not going to put up with any nonsense. Junk teaching meant the Americans were out the door! Beside, the Americans were only stationed in the Chinese ports for a few months tour of duty. They did not have ten years to waste learning nothing.
Robert Trias first studied under a Chinese instructor in 1942, while being stationed in the British Solomon Islands. Two-years later he studied again in Singapore. Other Americans studied in Hong Kong.
Even though there were karate men who had good knowledge and teaching ability, none of them could make a success in a business sense. They simply could not make a living teaching karate. It would still be several years in the future before the Tracy brothers would create a system where a karate instructor could make a good living teaching karate full time. The day was yet to come when one Kung Fu master would say in admiration, “You have to hand it to the Tracy brothers. They really made it work.”
Bob Trias opened a karate school in Phoenix, Arizona in 1946. This was ten years before Parker opened his school in Pasadena. However, Trias’ school never made any money, although a commercial school, it was never a commercial success. Trias was a Highway Patrol officer who made his living and pension working a government job. Although his school was open to the public, for the first few years most of his students were Arizona Highway Patrol officers and people he came into contact within his official position. Besides, Phoenix was in the middle of nowhere, right smack dab in the middle of a desert. If Trias had opened his school in Hollywood maybe his story would have been different.
In 1966, Trias called me and pleaded with me to send him a good salesman who could show him how to make money in the karate business. “For all of the years I have been in the karate business I have never been able to make any money.” This phone call came after Trias had been operating his school for twenty years!
In our second semester of college things began to change. Al quit his job at the electronics firm and we all started taking daytime classes at school. Our majors were business administration with minors in communication.
Pasadena City College was an outstanding college. Not a Harvard, but for a two-year college it was right at the top.
The following story will explain the difference between California’s two-year college system and that of the rest of the nation at this time in history. When I was in my late twenties I was on a train near Richmond, Virginia visiting the Civil War battlefields. In the same car was a very pretty eighteen-year-old blond girl. She said, “I am bored. Would you talk to me?” I sat down next to her and we talked.
As was the Southern tradition at the time, she had graduated from high school and was taking the train up the East Coast to visit the various junior colleges and pick the one to attend. I explained that in California the junior colleges were free. However, I knew that on the East Coast these same two-year colleges were very expensive. I told her that I had the impression from talking to her that her family could not afford the tuition to send her to an East Coast junior college.
She replied that it was true. Then explained, “My grandmother set up a trust fund so that all of the children could have a college education. My father is a poor farmer. My mother is a DuPont.”
At Pasadena we had some excellent college professors, with a few exceptions. (Everyone has had the experience with a high school and college teacher who should not be teaching.) Al took several classes in accounting from an outstanding teacher. He was taught how to analyze a business, how to diagnose financial statements to see what was obvious and to find what was not obvious. He had two-years of electronics training in the Air Force, which was highly complex math oriented. Al didn’t necessarily like math and its spin-offs, algebra, etc… but he had a complete understanding of the subject.
Al’s mind was trained to diagnose mathematical problems. This is the one thing that would make the Tracy organization different from the others in the industry. Al Tracy understood accounting.
I did not take accounting courses at Pasadena because math was always beyond my comprehension. It wasn’t until I took a bonehead math class in college that I even learned what an integer was (a whole number).
We took a lot of literature and creative writing classes. The instructors were a husband and wife team who knew their profession well. They were both published authors. She always encouraged me by writing across my papers, “You’re not a Hemingway yet.”
We got back into public speaking by joining the debate team.
So the reader can understand; In California they are called junior colleges, or community colleges, and as in this case, city college. They are all the same in that they are two-year colleges and teach pretty much the same courses.
At one time in American history there was a witch-hunt for communists. The purpose was to purge liberals, dubbed communists, from all positions of importance.
The witch hunters worked quietly in the background taking over the boards of many of what I will call prestigious four-year colleges.
In 1953, the infamous Senator McCarthy began his senate hearings with accusations of communists infiltrating all levels of government. This was the trigger for the witch hunters to start purging the four-year colleges of their liberal professors. Some were fired outright and others not being hired. There was nowhere for these professors to go in the America college system as they would not be accepted in the other schools.
There was only one place of refuge for them and that was to go into California’s liberal two-year junior college system. The nations’ purge of professors was Californian’s gain. The state’s junior college system picked up some top-notch professors, and Pasadena got its share.
The pay for the instructors Pasadena City College was excellent! Which brings us back to Ed Parker… Ed Parker opened his karate school because he was unsuccessful at teaching out of a health club. He taught out of the health club because he did not like the job with the probation department. He was still education oriented.
By teaching karate he hoped to make enough money to go back to school and get his masters degree. With a masters degree in hand he had a friend who could get him a teaching job at Pasadena City College. He believed that he could make a lot more money teaching at Pasadena City College than teaching karate. He would then be set for life.
Fate had another world in store for Ed Parker.
I started this chapter by telling you that it could get confusing as several different stories are being told at the same time. This is because the three Tracy brothers did other things during our four years in Pasadena besides studying and teaching karate. The stories have a tendency to jump around as I cover the Pasadena years. Which brings us to our glory days on the debate team.
There are three divisions in debate: high school, two-year junior colleges, and the four-year state, universities, and private colleges such as Harvard and Yale. As mentioned before, Al had won the Washington High School debate championship and turned down the full four-year college scholarship that went with the title, and joined the Air Force.
The three divisions never debated outside of their own division. That is except for Pasadena City College. So good was our debate coach, and such was the reputation of his debate teams, (mostly because of Al and myself), that Pasadena was the only junior college in the nation that was allowed to debate the four-year colleges. We were in both divisions.
There were thirty students in the communications class, called the forensic class. Debate was just one of the five areas of public speaking. It was the most prestigious. Oratory was the next most popular. When Al was in high school, one of the major Seattle newspapers had a state wide oratory contest. Al took second place. This time picking up a hundred-dollar bond, which was pretty good money for the time.
Of the thirty students in the forensic class, half were on the debate teams.
Such was the power of the forensic students that in our first year alone, the students in the Pasadena City College forensic class would win ninety awards in competition. And this was before the season was even over!
Al and I usually debated as a team, but not always. Sometimes Al worked with another partner. It was with another partner that Al would enter a weekend tournament against all four-year colleges. Pasadena City College was the only two-year college invited to debate in this all four-year college tournament. The first day Al and his partner won four straight debates and they were the talk of the tournament. It was unheard of for a two-year college to wipe out four upper colleges in a row. The next day he lost three straight. There was no way that a two-year college could beat UCLA, USC and Stanford. For the two-year students debate was a hobby. Remember, Al was working his way through college. In addition he was helping run the karate school.
Debate requires that you do a lot of research yourself, which is very time consuming. The prestigious colleges had students from rich families. They did not have outside jobs. They debated, leaving the research to other students who specialized in research. Then the research students would just hand the debaters the information. The debaters from the prestigious schools were not playing. They were serious! There was no way that a two-year college debate team could beat a four-year prestigious college team.
Except. The easiest team we ever beat was Cal-Tech (California Institute of Technology). We destroyed them. Engineering geniuses don’t necessarily make good debaters.
The big prizes were the Nationals. For the four-year colleges the Nationals were held at schools like West Point and Harvard. The two-year college nationals were held in unheard of places like Hutchinson, Kansas. That goes to show you the difference in status between the two divisions.
When working together, Al and I always followed the same pattern. Al would be the first speaker and establish the case. I would be the second speaker and follow Al’s lead, backing him up on all points…until that one debate.
When Al started his speech I could tell that he was making a big mistake. He had it all wrong on every point. He sat down as we listened to the opponent’s turn to speak. I wrote notes to Al telling him he was heading in the wrong direction and to follow my arguments. Al wrote notes back telling me to follow his lead. When it came my turn to speak I ignored Al’s lead and went on my own separate and opposite direction. I sat down, and the notes went back and forth more furious. The debate was a disaster. We both went in opposite directions never backing each other up.
After the debate Al and I started screaming at each other to the point that we were about to come to blows! At that moment our debate coach came over and told us that he had just finished talking to the judge who had judged our last round. The judge said that he had just gotten back from judging the final championship round at the four-year nationals at West Point and he considered the two of us as good as the national champions.
This is the way that we spent our four-years in Pasadena: working whatever jobs we could get for low pay because jobs were hard to come by; taking college classes, running Ed Parker’s karate school and traveling the state and nation attending debate tournaments.
After a few months of karate lessons we started teaching the beginning classes. This promotion to karate instructor was done in the time-honored way. One evening the beginners were on the mat waiting for Ed Parker to start teaching. But Parker was busy doing something else. Seeing that the class would never get started, I walked out on the mat and started teaching the class. I was now the schools beginners’ class instructor, by default.
I have told you how the Chinese masters had taught Kung Fu for thousands of years. However, Ed Parker had come up through the Hawaiian method of teaching the martial arts. (The term “martial arts” was not used in the beginning years.) No one in Hawaii taught full time. This was more of a hobby, teaching here and there, out of the YMCA, Boys Club, Recreational Halls, in the parks, churches. The fee was $2 to $5 a month, which was not a bad sum of money for the time, and for someone teaching part time. If you were poor there was no charge. All of the instructors in Hawaii had regular jobs outside of the martial arts to support themselves.
Although this Hawaiian system of teaching produced many good karate students we soon realized that Ed Parker had no organized system of teaching. A new student was signed up and told when to attend class. The new student would go out on the mat with the full class and try to figure out what to do. We instituted the policy of taking each new student to the patio behind the school and giving them a one-hour private lesson on the basics to prepare them for the class.
Ed Parker taught the Hawaiian version Of Kenpo-Karate, which is the deadliest form, but also, the most complex. The instructor would go out on the mat and then decide what he was going to teach as the class was going on. It wasn’t unusual for the instructor to ask the students what they wanted to learn that day.
We decided to break down the karate movements: kicks, punches, etc… according to their degree of difficulty and started teaching the least difficult in the beginners class.
In the beginning Parker was around a lot running the school with the Tracy brothers taking over when he was gone. I scheduled my college classes for the morning usually getting out of school no later than one in the afternoon. I worked this schedule because I had food allergies. Whenever I ate I would get drowsy afterwards and could not concentrate.
I would not eat breakfast so my mind was clear for school, then after my last class I would walk the two blocks over to the karate school where I would run the school and eat a sack lunch and do my homework.
A typical day would go like this: Parker would open the school at ten. I would take over at noon or one. Parker would then drive over to Joan Collins’ house to teach Warren Beatty. From there he would go over to Natalie Wood’s house and teach Robert Wagner. Then he would make it back in time to teach the evening classes.
In addition, the Hollywood crowd would come to the school for private lessons. Because there were so few daytime classes, Parker usually had no problem working these in around his group-teaching schedule and his Hollywood trips. It was only the Hollywood elite that took private lessons, not the man off the street.
In order to get more desperately needed students, Ed Parker resorted to public karate demonstrations. For this he needed a demonstration team. These were his hand-picked best students. The Tracy brothers were on the demonstration team.
During our earliest years with Ed Parker there was published a best selling book, “The Ugly American.” It is about the improper behavior of American diplomats in Asia. It was a good book. The movie rights are sold and it would star Marlon Brando.
One of Parker’s first students and Hollywood friends was Joe Hyams. Joe was one of Hollywood’s top writers. Being at the very top of the Hollywood scale, Joe would open many doors for Ed Parker.
The producers of the movie wanted to have an Oriental choreographed fight scene. Joe Hyams sets up a karate demonstration for Marlon Brando and his crew. (I think it was Joe. There were so many people that I forget who did what.) This is all new to Hollywood and Marlon Brando. Like the rest of American they had never heard of karate, never seen a demonstration.
I was on the team for the Marlon Brando demonstration. It was outside on a large concrete patio. Wrestling mats had been provided for the demonstration. Brando walked on the scene like a mother duck with her gaggle of ducklings, suited Hollywood executives, following behind. On their faces was the look of adoration of the most famous movie star in the world.
He appeared to me to be a young, good looking, virile man about twenty-eight years old. (Recent research shows that he had to be at least thirty-five.) He was dressed casually, in clothes that looked tailor made, and on him looked good. In fact, he looked just like Marlon Brando. The star and a few others sat down with the rest of the studio executives standing.
I must have looked out of place on the demonstration team because I was a little skinny kid among a bunch of athletic looking young men.
There were two reasons why Ed Parker wanted me on the demonstration teams. We had a sixth sense for what each other was going to do. Second, I could take a judo fall. Parker taught judo falls in a limited way because karate does not use falling. Only the advanced students were taught how to take a judo fall. However, the training was not very extensive. I took falling more seriously and practiced a lot on my own. I was no where near as good at taking a fall as even a beginning judo student. But, for karate I was pretty good, and more importantly, I was available.
Because I cold take a fall, Parker could throw me all over the place and pound me to pieces. I could take a real beating. On one demonstration technique for Brando, Parker literally half-threw me and pounded me into the mat. The only problem is that he misjudged and threw me halfway off the mat onto the concrete patio. I looked down and had to make a split second decision. If I tried to break the fall with my arm, slapping the concrete, (standard procedure) then the right side of my body would be paralyzed for twenty minutes. If I didn’t break the fall I would have cracked ribs, which would cause intense pain for months to come. I broke the fall, then faked it before the distinguished audience making them think everything was normal, and the little skinny skid was really macho.
Looking bewildered, Brando asked me, “Do you have some kind of protection?” my answer was “No.” Protective gear was still years in the future. Your bodies had to take the punishment.
I don’t think they ever incorporated a karate scene in the movie. At least Parker never got the job to choreograph a fight for the movie. Good book. Not a very good movie, anyway. But, what did Parker care. When he worked fight scenes he got paid scale no matter if the movie was successful or bombed.
Years later Al would be at a Hollywood party. Brando was there. All night long Brando just sat before the wood fireplace staring at the burning logs.
Another time Parker’s friends set him up with a demonstration in the courtyard of an elite hotel in Beverly Hills. There were about twenty-five people in attendance. Again, the purpose was to get more students. I did not go because it was a Saturday and I had to run the school.
During the demonstration a young man came crawling over the fence. “Hi” he said. “I am Elvis Presley.” He explained that he was staying at the hotel, heard that a karate demonstration was going on and rushed down to see it. At that first strange introduction, Al described Elvis as being humble and polite, which was typical of his Southern upbringing.
There were very few people in the karate world in America at this time. Elvis was one of the few who was in at the beginning. He started studying with an instructor when he was in the army in Germany. He would have several instructors, all very good, with Ed Parker becoming the most famous.
Elvis and Ed Parker would become very close friends. Whenever Elvis was going on tour and had a premonition that there would be problems he would call Parker and ask him to come as his bodyguard. Parker always replied, “I will come, but not as your bodyguard. I will come as your friend.”
Elvis paid Ed Parker well, which added once more to his list of income generated outside of the school.
Years later when Parker was prospering he got into tax problems and owed the IRS $80,000. Parker could not pay and it would have ruined him financially. Elvis wrote out the check to the IRS.
Al and Elvis were friends. They would talk at karate tournaments. Al was at Graceland twice staying for several days each time. Al said that Parker took him along to show Elvis his friends. By this time the Tracy brothers were the dominant force in American karate.
At the time of the Graceland visits Elvis had deteriorated to the point that he could not carry on a logical conversation. Elvis told Al, “Al, sex doesn’t do it any more. Fame and fortune doesn’t do it any more. What does it is food!” With that, he took half a cube of butter, slapped it onto a piece of white bread and gulped it down.
Al said that he was a simple, big farm boy who was surrounded by people who fed his ego. Elvis’ karate moves were good. He moved like Ed Parker. Elvis was a legitimate black belt but not of the highest caliber. When Al traded moves with Elvis he always made sure that he didn’t look better than Elvis. It was not a good idea for ‘The King” to “lose face.”
We would become very close friends with a man who would one day become the most famous actor in the world. He wasn’t extraordinarily handsome like Warren Beatty or Robert Wagner. He really couldn’t even act that well. We didn’t even meet him in Hollywood. We met him in San Francisco. He was a young Chinese kid. He was a Kung Fu man. He was one of us.
But, we have not moved to San Francisco yet. We are still in Pasadena.
For me the most interesting demonstration was another arraigned by Joe Hyams. Joe had just divorced and married Elke Sommer, who was the reining sex queen of the time. Joe and Ed Parker wanted to know if karate could be worked into American western movies. There was no one better to ask then the most famous western movie star of the time, Gary Cooper.
Joe arraigned for a karate demonstration at Gary Cooper’s house. We drove up in Parker’s big station wagon. “Coop” was in the carport polishing his Bentley. Parker gets out of the station wagon, walks over to the movie star, explains who we are and why we were there. Cooper looked surprised. I am not sure he knew we were coming. Cooper goes scurrying off to tell his maid and butler to prepare lunch for us after the demonstration.
What surprised me is the modest home in which he lived. It was a one-story ranch style house with only three or four bedrooms. The rooms, including the living and dining area, were large but not gigantic. He had a large back yard with a swimming pool of average size.
We put on the demonstration and afterwards “Coop” and I talked for a few minutes. As usual, Gary Cooper had never heard of karate. He showed me a tree that he had replaced a week earlier. It seems that a windstorm had come roaring through Beverly Hills and had uprooted the tree. It was a small tree, two inches in diameter and five feet tall. The nursery charged him $500 to replace it. A tree is a tree! It wasn’t worth more than five bucks.
Gary Cooper seemed reserved. I considered it to be a culture difference. He was upper class. I was working class and he wished to maintain a social distance. I saw his daughter being interviewed on TV a few years ago. She said her father was an extremely shy man. That could have been it. Or, it could have been the fact that he knew at the time that he had terminal cancer.
It was a warm afternoon so after the demonstration Gary Cooper offered to let us take showers in the bath off his main bedroom. When it came my turn to shower I went into the bedroom and noticed the queen size bed and on the bedstead was an Oscar. I went over to look and it said “High Noon.”
The shower had three showerheads: one in front; one in back; and one coming at you from the side. Interesting!
After showering we all sat down for lunch. It was a long table with the karate team sitting on one side, the wife and daughter sitting opposite. (Women born to the very upper class do not sit. They pose.) I recall that neither woman was tall.
Gary Cooper sat at the head of the table.
I sat directly across from the daughter, Maria. She was an attractive blond college student two-years older than me, (seven pounds overweight).
To her left was her mother. She was a brunet with the smoothest most pure face I have ever seen. Her face seemed to be of Oriental purity. Over the years I thought she must have had the world’s best face-lift, or the world’s best facial. I think it was a facial. I have never been able to get her face out of my mind. Nearly fifty years later I can still see her haunting beauty.
The two women never engaged us in conversation. Maria never asked me about my college or engaged in casual talk. Again, it could have been a culture divide. Again, it could have been that the two women had no idea who we were or why we were there, as they did not watch the demonstration.
The two women were most gracious providers, constantly asking the butler and maid to bring on more food. The food was fabulous, the best I ever looked at and almost ate. I was thoroughly intimidated at the lunch, a duck out of water. I was comfortable during the demonstration because I was in my element. But here at the dining table I reverted back to being the little, skinny, not too good looking kid. And I was sitting at the table with the world’s most famous western actor and his East Coast socialite wife in their Beverly Hills Mansion. In front of me lay a dozen plates with fifteen pieces of silverware lined up on each side of the dozen plates.
I didn’t know what to do or where to start… and I was starving! Not wanting to appear the fool, I faked it, just eating a little bit of the food and left the lunch starving to death.
Parker was intimidated by no one and ate like he was at a Hawaiian luau.
Telling this story to women, I am always told how easy it is to eat in a formal setting. All I have to remember is that if I am in the Northern Hemisphere I start with the further silverware to my right. If it is the Southern Hemisphere I start on the left.
I then use the first piece to eat the head lettuce, third piece from the right if it is romaine lettuce. For the cucumber slice you hold the second from left in the right hand and fifth from the right in the left hand to counter-balance the weight. I am told that the simplest rule to follow is to start with the outer silverware and work in until you use the last piece of silverware. If there is any food left over you grab your neighbor’s fork.
I have come to the conclusion that social dining is a woman’s thing.
A few minutes into lunch something very strange happens, something you only see in the movies. Gary Cooper is at the head of the table with the maid and butler standing at attention at the far opposite end of the room. Coop then takes his table knife and tapes the rim of his coffee cup. “Ring. Ring.” “James,” says Gary Cooper. (The butler’s name really was James. I remember because it is my name.)
The sugar bowl is only six inches away from the coffee cup! James walks all the way across the room behind us, stands next to Coop and says, “One lump, or two?”
The butler takes thongs and puts one sugar cube and then another into his coffee cup.
“Will there be anything else, Sir?”
“That will be all James.”
James then crossed back and took up his stationary position next to the maid.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! Maybe I was hallucinating because of hypoglycemic shock due to starvation.
After lunch we all sat in the living room and listened to Joe Hymns and Gary Cooper talk. It was an interesting conversation.
Gary Cooper’s advice was that he could see no way that karate, or karate fight scenes could be incorporated into an American western movie. He would not live to see his prediction proven wrong. Gary Cooper died a year later.
Mother knew well the story of my afternoon at Gary Cooper’s house. Strangely, it was only a year before her death that she told me that she knew Gary Cooper quite well. She managed the Blue Ribbon café in Red Bluff. It seems that Red Bluff would produce two US Senators. One of them owned two restaurants on Main Street in Red Bluff. One was the Blue Ribbon.
Gary Cooper owned property in Oregon. I assume it was a ranch. He would drive up to visit quite often. Highway 99 was the only way of getting there. Highway 99 went right through Red Bluff, down Main Street. Because the Blue Ribbon was owned by a US Senator, the rich and famous would always eat there on their travels.
Gary Cooper, never alone, but always with friends who were also movie stars, would drive into town around 8:30 to 9:00 o’clock at night, always dead tired and starving. This is the days before your twenty-four-hour Denny’s. In these days restaurant cooks always went home at eight o’clock.
Mother would cook dinner for them and chat. She said that Gary Cooper liked talking to her about nothing. He liked getting away from the Hollywood crowd.
“Did they tip big?”
“No. They didn’t have too. They were normal people.”
When telling this story to people about my lunch at Gary Cooper’s house I always get the same response that it must have been a thrill to meet the great man. I reply, honestly, that I didn’t really care if I met Gary Cooper or not. His best friend was supposed to be there for the demonstration and lunch. His best friend didn’t show up. I did want to meet his best friend. His best friend was Ernest Hemingway.
As time went on the three Tracy brothers’ financial situation was becoming desperate. Jobs were hard to get and the pay was poor. We took whatever jobs we could get. Will lost his job at the health spa when it went out of business. He then went through several different jobs during the Pasadena years. Our stepfather, now divorced, got him a job at the garden nursery where he worked. There was a post office job and selling life insurance for awhile. He would drive down to Los Angeles and spend all night at the backbreaking work of loading trucks. Al still tended bar.
I continued washing dishes and took what side jobs I could get, which included selling Fuller brushes door to door. I worked for JC Penny as a clerk for awhile.
Al had purchased a new Volkswagen Beetle paying cash just before moving to Pasadena. We sold the beetle to live off the cash and bought a 1951 Chevy.
The three of us were still running the karate school, at pay, which Ed Parker could afford, which was absolutely nothing. Parker kept increasing his social position but not his financial position very much.
I came up with an idea that would cost Ed Parker nothing and at the same time provide me with a few dollars steady income from the school. Occasionally, I would have inquirers from parents wanting lessons for their children. In an industry today where the enrollment is ninety-percent children, it is hard to believe that in those days children were rarely taught.
It was Ed Parker’s policy not to teach any one below the age of fourteen. They simply did not have the physical and athletic ability to keep up with the adults. If you enrolled the eight or ten-year-olds then they could not be put in with the adult class. They would get run over. What few children you could enroll would not be enough to create a separate children’s class. Ed Parker simply ignored this market and never enrolled children.
Women were never taught. They never inquired about lessons. It is not that the karate instructors in America were against teaching small children or women. It is just that there was no market.
I made this offer to Ed Parker: let me teach the children and let me have all the money. Parker was agreeable. The children were all mine. Parker never knew their names or how many I taught or what I was charging. It was like having a school within a school.
I never had very many students, usually between six and ten kids. Although we did not realize it at the time, the Tracy brothers were beginning to create what would become the karate industry in America.
Later, when we opened our first karate school in San Francisco we learned that to make a school successful you would have to have between 60 and 80 group paying students. Less than 60 students for any period of time and the instructor would have to go out of business or take a daytime job and run the school evenings only.
It was kind of funny. We were right on the edge financially, yet we were surrounded by the wealthy. One of our students was Larry, an eighteen-year-old USC freshman. His family lived in a Beverly Hills mansion with a twenty-six-car garage. We never double dated or went over to his house for dinner, but we were friends.
I told Larry that the previous week I had lunch at Gary Cooper’s house and that Gary Cooper owned eleven acres of barren Beverly Hills land right next to his property.
“My dad sold 200 acres of Beverly Hills land two weeks ago,” Larry said.
One of Ed Parker’s private students was a popular actor, MacDonald Carey. He was best known for his role as Dr. Tom Horton on the soap opera “Days of Our Lives.”
“Mac” came in every morning at ten a.m. for a private lesson, five days a week. What that one actor paid for private lessons was equal to thirty regular group class students. And Parker only had 40 to 50 group students.
Parker wanted to buy a house. He borrowed the money for the down payment from a friend. He chooses a home in an upscale neighborhood only to be told, ‘We don’t want your kind living here!” Parker is Hawaiian. He looks Hawaiian. He grew up in a multi-racial land. This was the first time in his life that he ever experienced prejudice. He was devastated! He had to settle for buying a small home in an integrated neighborhood.
Over time he added on to the house by trading his students’ lessons for construction work: carpenters, electricians, etc… Through this arrangement he eventually had a very nice house.
The movie stars help Ed Parker in ways other than taking private lessons. They got him stunt work and work as extras, all at union scale. One time Parker came into the school in the afternoon and told me he had just taken a fall off a boat for a movie scene for $200. This is when minimum wage was a dollar an hour.
Another one of his friends had a really bad TV series. The actor had written into his contract that whenever there was a fight scene that Ed Parker had to be on set to direct it. One time the director told the actor to throw a punch. The actor sat down and refused to work until they called Parker at his school in Pasadena. Parker then drove over to the set in Hollywood.
“Throw the punch, “Parker said, and then turned around and left.
The largest single expense the average person will have in a lifetime is the purchase of a home. The second largest expense is the purchase of a new car. A home appreciates. A car depreciates and has to be replaced every few years.
One of Ed Parker’s friends is actor Nick Adams. Nick had been in many movies but was most famous for his “Rebel” TV series. This was a western at a time when western series dominated television. The plot was that of a Confederate soldier and his adventures after the Civil War.
The series would run for three years during the time we were in Pasadena. It was a very popular series and could have run much longer except for the typical infighting one sees so often in Hollywood between star and producers.
Money is no problem with Hollywood stars. Nick Adams gives Ed Parker a new white Cadillac. This would start a Hollywood tradition with a star giving Ed Parker a new white Cadillac, not on an annual basis, but when they felt like it, which was often enough. Elvis Presley gave the last white Cadillac to Ed Parker. It was a very big white Cadillac
Two-years later Nick Adams replaces the first white Cadillac with another white Cadillac.
Al said that the gift cars were usually used and not new. However, they were in near new condition. Besides, when some one gives you a white Cadillac how can you complain.
I am not telling of the Pasadena years in chronological order for nothing during those years happened in a well organized, chronological, order. Also, after nearly half a century the memories of the three Tracy brothers have faded a bit. So, there may be errors in exact times, years, happenings and events. But it all happened. Also, what happened in Pasadena was normal, every day living for us. Again, at the time, none of us realized that we were making history. We didn’t take notes.
With Ed Parker’s appearance of success at running a karate school, Bruce Tegner, over in Hollywood with his judo school, was beginning to think. Parker was a karate man. Tegner was a businessman. A visionary, he could see the potential of karate in America. He started teaching karate, with one slight problem. He knew judo and other Asian arts, but he did not know karate, because no one knew karate, that is except for Ed Parker, now his competitor. Bruce Tegner couldn’t very well come over to Pasadena and ask Parker to teach him karate so he could compete with him.
How did Tegner solve this problem? Simple. He faked it, simply made up karate moves and karate kicks. The Tracy brothers went over to Tegner’s school and watched him teaching a good size karate class. What did the instruction look like? It looked like he was making up karate moves and karate kicks. That is…for now.
Bruce Tegner was not stupid. In the beginning years, a few karate men would filter into the country. Mostly they were return servicemen, like Chuck Norris, who had studied during their tours of duty in Asia. Although, Chuck was now still in Korea.
In the first two or three years most of these return servicemen with their karate training were really bad. As time went on they were not so bad. Then they started getting good. Eventually, like Chuck Norris, they were darn good. The day would come when the return service men would come flooding back into America, and some would become legends in their own lifetime.
Bruce Tegner started hiring instructors as they returned to America. Maybe the quality wasn’t that good, but at least he was now teaching legitimate karate. He kept hiring and the quality kept getting better. The day would come when even Ed Parker would have to acknowledge that what Tegner was teaching was “decent.” Tegner kept hiring and his quality became better until the day came that the quality of Bruce Tegner himself, his instructors, and his students was very good.
Parker and Tegner had a mutual respect for one another. Parker even referred students to Tegner for judo lessons. Parker in the early years had a closely guarded secret, he also had his black belt in judo. Years later, when he was heavily promoting himself, he added his judo black belt to his resume for the whole world to see. With his judo training came the customary injuries. He had a bad back, which sometimes flared up and put him in intense pain. Again, he kept his back injury a secret.
Ed Parker first brought karate to America, physically. Bruce Tegner would bring karate to America in another way. Bruce Tegner’s contribution to promoting karate in America came not from his Hollywood school, or his movie fight scenes, nor his Beverly Hills students.
Bruce Tegner envisioned another market for karate, writing books.
For a new, aspiring, unknown writer, getting a book published is difficult, nearly impossible. Tegner brilliantly creates his own publishing company, lines up distribution and starts writing books on the martial arts, including karate, and his books sold well, all over the world!
Ed Parker’s major source of income continued to expand outside his school, which brings us back to Bruce Tegner. As I told you previously, Tegner saw what Ed Parker was doing in karate and decided to get into the karate business. Ed Parker now looks at what Tegner is doing writing a karate book and decides to get into the author business. Parker figured, rightly so, that if Tegner could be successful at writing a karate book, knowing nothing about karate, then he should be even more successful writing karate books, because he did know karate.
Getting a publisher for his first book was no problem as Parker had added a publisher to his ever-expanding list of friends.
Writing a book is very time consuming and cannot be done in an environment of distraction: i.e., a karate school.
Parker now spends time at his house writing his first book. He does not even step into the school for one, two, or sometimes even three months at a time. The Tracy brothers are running the school not only full time, but now completely. Of all of his friendships in Pasadena, the friendship with the Tracy brothers is his closest. He told us stories that only we know.
Closing the school every night at ten p.m., we then drove over to Ed Parker’s house and give him the money collected for the day. Parker doesn’t even come over to the school to pick up the day’s earnings.
I do not know what kind of money Ed Parker made off of his books, but the size of his first royalty check made him very happy.
Al recently made the comment that he had reviewed some of Tegner’s old books. “Very good.” By the time of his death, before the age of sixty, Bruce Tegner would write and market fifty books. Some would say that the real key to the success of his publishing empire was his wife.
Two men are now successful in the field of karate, and the rest of the nation still doesn’t know what karate is. And, the Tracy brothers are now in the karate business.
As the servicemen with karate training started returning to America, they saw Ed Parker’s success, which they all wanted to imitate. They saw Ed Parker’s nice school, with mats. They saw his new Cadillac, and many were welcome to visit his nice home. This was awe inspiring for most because they all came from humble backgrounds. (“Humble” is a karate word for poor.)
It was all an illusion. They did not realize that his success came not from his karate school but from his Hollywood friends: the private lessons for the stars, directing fight scenes, stunt and extra work, and now his royalties from writing books. There was always a very generous Elvis Presley lurking in the background.
It was a very insecure business that Ed Parker had created for the nation. In the early years there were few days of feast and many days of famine in the karate business.
Through the grapevine, the Chinese Kung Fu men in San Francisco also hear of Ed Parker and his success at running a karate school in Southern California.
Chinese Kung Fu students travel to Pasadena to meet Parker and watch him teach. They are impressed. They recognize that Parker is teaching Chinese Kung Fu, Hard Style, or fighting style.
This starts Parker on trips to San Francisco’s Chinatown to visit the Kung Fu instructors. (When I say Kung Fu instructors, I mean that they were all masters.) In San Francisco he meets Jimmy Wu, a very capable Tai Chi master.
An arraignment is made between Jimmy Wu and Ed Parker. Jimmy Wu moves to Pasadena and lives with Ed Parker and his family. Jimmy Wu then teaches the advanced class at Parker’s school. This makes Jimmy Wu the first Chinese Kung Fu master to teach a class of Caucasians in American history.
Ed Parker is not trying make history. Nor is he trying to advance the martial arts in America. Ed Parker confided in us that he had run out of material to teach his advanced students. By bringing Jimmy Wu to Pasadena he expanded his teaching material almost indefinitely. The last year we lived in Pasadena we studied under Jimmy Wu.
Jimmy Wu was different from almost any other Kung Fu instructor. The difference was to our benefit. Jimmy Wu now teaches the advanced class only. Beginning students are not taught because Kung Fu is too advanced. Even the intermediate students are not taught for the same reason.
Jimmy Wu teaches traditional Kung Fu to the first class of Caucasians in an American karate school. He is not teaching beginning students, but the best Parker ever produced. We did not have to put up with the traditional ten years of learning nothing. Three years studying under Parker put us all on the fast track. When Jimmy Wu took over the class, he was working with students who already had the equivalent of fifteen to twenty years of Kung Fu training.
Jimmy Wu has a lesson plan. You started learning the first time he stepped on to the mats. In addition, he would teach you anything you wanted to know outside the lesson plan.
Al took to Kung Fu like a duck to water. For me it was a nightmare. The stance and movements were foreign, pulling on different muscles than I had ever experienced before. The bow stance twisted my kidney muscles. After the first class I went into the bathroom and urinated deep red blood. The heavy blood flow in the urine would last for days then suddenly stopped. The doctors almost put me into the hospital.
Al was starting a new life with Kung Fu. I was facing death.
Parker would drop Jimmy Wu off at the school during the day. He would sit around and talk, drinking his tea, answering any of our questions. We would walk down the block to a small restaurant and have lunch together. We would go on the mats and ask him to teach us this, or that. He was always willing. Jimmy Wu held nothing back. He taught the formal advanced class, in an informal way, four nights a week: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings from nine o’clock till ten, sometimes ten thirty.
For a year we picked Jimmy Wu’s brain, and learned Kung Fu, day and night. I worked hard to become a Kenpo master. By the time we moved to San Francisco I had succeeded. I worked equally hard to become a Kung Fu master, and failed. It was just too complex for me.
By the time we moved to San Francisco, Al had become not only a Kenpo master, but also a Kung Fu master. He had acquired more knowledge of Kung Fu under Jimmy Wu then all of the advanced students put together.
The advanced classes were never that large; six students, ten at the most. Only the Tracy brothers were there four nights a week. By this time the advanced students, the instructors, did not come to the Kung Fu classes on a regular basis. They just showed up whenever they wanted.
Ed Parker was now living the good life. He didn’t come into the school much. He was never there when Jimmy Wu was teaching us late at night. Every night, after the Kung Fu class ended, the Tracy brothers, according to tradition, would take Jimmy Wu and the days receipts over to Ed Parker’s house.
Now a typical day at the beach with Ed Parker would go something like this. He walked over and chatted amiably with an older Italian couple. Then he came back and said, “Those are Mario Lanza’s parents.” Then he would go on raving how he liked going over to the house for her delicious Italian dinners.
Ed Parker had becoming a known entity.
What I have told you about Ed Parker and his Hollywood friends is just the tip of the iceberg. For every person of importance that Ed Parker taught, they in turn would introduce him to others of equal or greater importance. The daisy chain would go on and on. The people that Ed Parker knew and the influence he had was much greater than anyone ever realized.
If Ed Parker had received a job offer from the probation department in Chattanooga, he probably would have ended up running a part time karate school at night and working a civil service job during the day. There would have been no Tracy brothers. There would be no karate industry in America.
Al had a clever way of increasing his income. You graduate from a two-year junior college with sixty units. Al would graduate with one hundred and twenty units. Al had enough units for a bachelors degree.
He took year round classes, including summer school to keep his GI bill running. He did not take exceptionally heavy class loads. He just took nearly four-years of college at a two-year school.
Al and I continued winning more debates than we lost. It was at one of these tournaments that Al ran into an old acquaintance from his high school debate days in Washington State. He had been a debate coach at a prestigious four-year college. Al walked over and introduced himself and reminded him that they had known one another on the Washington State debate circuit.
Al asked the professor why he was now teaching in California. It is then that Al was told the story of the secret purges of the liberal professors, who then made their exodus into the California college system.
Halfway through our debate career the school hired an assistant debate coach. Having an assistant coach was standard procedure. The assistant had just graduated from college and this was his first teaching job.
Al was twenty-two-years of age when starting Pasadena City. This was considered quite old for a junior college student at the time when the junior colleges had mostly eighteen and nineteen year olds. Because Al and the assistant coach were the same age they spent a lot of time together and became friends.
In the middle of the season something unexpected happened. The head coach left. The standard procedure would be to fill his vacant position with another experienced head coach. Instead the school gave the job to the assistant coach. This was unheard of as an assistant debate coach was expected to remain in that position for several years before advancing to head coach.
Al and I should have won the Junior College Nationals, but due to bad judging we came in third. The judge knew nothing about debate and was so inept that halfway through the debate he threw up his hands and said, “I have made up my mind.” We had to explain to him that the debate was only half over. It was just like being halfway through a murder trial and having a juror throw up their hand and say, “I have made up my mind. There is no need to continue.”
Our companion team took second. Again, bad judging.
If justice had been done, this would have been a rare case in which two teams from the same college debated each other, and one of us, perhaps the Tracy brothers, would have taken the national championship.
There was one consolation. Because of the reputation of the Pasadena City College debate teams, and taking second and third in the nationals in the two-year college division, Pasadena was the only junior college in the nation to be invited to next years four-year college championship tournament at West Point.
Pasadena had to decline the invitation. All the championship debaters had graduated.
The young coach told Al that he did not know what to do with his life. His only goals were to one day be head debate coach and have a championship team. This, he thought, would take a lifetime to achieve. He had accomplished it all in two-years.
Shortly thereafter he was driving home late at night in his Volkswagen beetle, fell asleep at the wheel, ran off the road, hit a tree and was killed.
As the year of 1962 started to approach we began to wind things up in Pasadena. We were now looking for a four-year college where we could get our bachelors degree then on to law school.
As usual, we were going to have to work our way through school. We decided to open our own karate school to pay for our higher education. The question was, where? One of our students and good friend spoke to us about going to San Francisco. To him it was the best city in America.
We took his advice. San Francisco had a state college, a law school and a large enough population to support a karate school.
By this time Ed Parker had opened a second karate school near Beverly Hills. He had a grand opening that went on for several evenings. The three Tracy brothers were on the demonstration team. Parker pulled out all the stops having all of his celebrity friends putting in appearances. And his friends brought in their friends. Japan’s most famous actress was there. I don’t know her name. I don’t even think she spoke English.
The karate demonstration was filmed and placed in a feature movie. I think the title was “The Body and the Beautiful.” The movie featured different segments of physical activity. There was a section on Miss Universe. I think the karate sequence took up ten minutes of the film. When we left Pasadena for San Francisco we did so as movie stars!
I had to dodge the draft by going into the National Guard and do active duty for a few short months. Al and Will went into a holding pattern while I was in army training. Al worked for awhile as a State Workman’s Compensation Claims adjuster and Will had a job.
When I returned from army training (The National Guard was trained by the army.) we all traveled to San Francisco. As soon as we finished law school we would give up the karate business forever.
At least, that was our plan.
San Francisco was just like Seattle, only worse! It is cold, rainy, foggy…and windy. So miserable is the weather that before the gold rush even the Indians would not live there.
The longest lifetime we ever spent was the three years we lived in San Francisco. Yet, it was in San Francisco where we formed friendships with men who would one day become famous in America and others who would change the world.
There were four of us who went to San Francisco. We brought along one of our nineteen-year-old students named Steve Fox.
Al transferred his state job to San Francisco. He worked as a claims adjuster for a few months until the karate school started making money. Steve Fox took an office job and Will started working for Penny’s downtown.
A lot was going on at this time, so I do not remember if Al and I started college the fall semester or the following semester. Before starting San Francisco State College, Al and I took an off-campus class in business law.
We had money to establish ourselves in San Francisco, but not enough to open a karate school. Borrowing $300 from Uncle Harry and Aunt Beulah made up the shortfall. By this time Uncle Harry was the judge in Sparks, Nevada, which was then a small suburb of Reno.
We rented a building for the karate school on Ocean Avenue, which was just down the hill from San Francisco City College.
Ours was not the only karate school in town. There were two other part time schools run by Hawaiians. One was Ralph Castro who was a friend of Ed Parker. The two had gone through the Coast Guard boot camp together. These Hawaiians were good karate men.
There was another man who taught karate out of his drapery shop down town. His was a Japanese system.
I was the only one not working a full time day job as it was my job to run the karate school during the daytime.
After refusing to teach the whites for over one hundred years on American soil the Chinese were starting to change their policy. However, by the time we moved to San Francisco no more than a handful of whites were being taught legitimate Kung Fu in the Bay Area.
Will made contact with one of the white Kung Fu students in the Bay Area who gave him a list of the Chinatown Kung Fu schools. Will visited the schools. There were about five schools.
As I explained before, Ed Parker had made previous trips to San Francisco to visit the Kung Fu instructors. He usually took along some of his top students and, to boost his status, sometimes a movie star. However, the Tracy brothers did not go on these trips. Except for Jimmy Wu we did not know the Kung Fu instructors in San Francisco.
San Francisco Chinatown was more like China than America. Half of San Francisco’s Chinatown were illegals. (Today it is down to fifteen percent.) The government looked the other way when it came to the illegals in San Francisco’s Chinatown. The American government had a long-standing policy that as long as the Chinese left the whites alone then the whites would leave the Chinese alone.
The Kung Fu schools were always in basements off an alley. This is because in Chinese buildings the basement is the only room large enough for a Kung Fu class. Also, the basement has the cheapest rent.
After making initial contact with the Kung Fu schools, Will then took Al and myself to visit the schools. We came with credentials. We were Caucasians but disciples of Ed Parker and students of Jimmy Wu.
Among the Kung Fu masters was the head of the Chinese Mafia, who I will refer to as the Godfather. He was not on the same level as the all-powerful American Mafia kingpins. He controlled most of the gambling dens in Chinatown. (The Chinese are really into gambling.) However, he was not a rich man.
Somehow the Godfather got it into his head that Will was a bookkeeper. It seems that the Godfather was under investigation by the IRS and he needed a bookkeeper to prepare the required paperwork for the IRS. Will helped him with his government problem and convinced the IRS that the Kung Fu instructor was indeed running a Chinese benevolent society. It was a simple cash in, no cash out business.
The Godfather had a strict policy of not teaching whites. However, he did allow Will to come to the school whenever he wanted to do “bookwork,” while the students were working out.
We soon signed up a Chinese man as a student. He was forty years old and a respected civil servant. He said that the respectable members of Chinese society considered the Godfather to be “very bad man.”
Curiosity got the better of our Chinese student and he went to visit the Godfather. As soon as he walked in the door of the Mafia headquarters, (Kung Fu school), he said, “I am a student of the Tracy brothers and have come to pay my respect.” He did that so everyone would know he was not sent from Mainland China to assassinate him.
He was impressed with the Godfather; surprised to find him to be a little man in his eighties who was cultured and well read.
The Kung Fu schools did not use mats. In fact, most karate schools did not use mats.
What made Ed Parker’s schools different from most others was that he used mats. Almost everyone else used bare floors. The building we rented for our karate school had concrete floors. This makes it very difficult to take falls.
Parker used the traditional tatami mats, which come from Japan. These are made from woven, packed, rice straw about three feet by six feet and two and a half inches thick. They are covered with vinyl. The problem is that they are expensive. They are also very hard.
Parker had family in Japan who purchased the mats cheap and shipped them to California. Customs wanted to place a heavy duty on the mats, which Parker did not want to pay. Parker told customs that they could throw the mats into the sea, which is exactly what customs was going to do.
Parker’s friend, an admiral in the Coast Guard, saw to it that the duty was reduced. Ed Parker, like us, would not have been able to go to a Japanese import store and buy the tatami at retail price.
Our judo friends told us what some poor judo schools did for mats. They framed the workout area with two-by-fours. Then they filled the space with four inches of sawdust and put on a canvas cover. The two-by-fours were just a few dollars. The sawdust was free from a local lumber mill that wanted to get rid of the stuff anyway. We got the canvas from an awning shop, which also sewed it to the right size. All we had to do was stretch the canvas tight and tack it down to the two-by-four frame.
Every couple of days you had to vacuum the canvas, as the dust would start to seep through. And once a month we had to take up the canvas and rake the sawdust even and put the canvas back on. It was unusual, but workable.
Insignificant at the time, this primitive “workable” method of using sawdust mats would change the history of American karate, but not in San Francisco. However, this is getting ahead of the story.
Eventually, Al and I enrolled at San Francisco State College, which was not far away from the karate school.
There was one class that Al wanted to take badly, but the class was filled up. This was with Professor S.I. Hayakawa.
This professor was famous. So Al sat down with Professor Hayakawa and talked him into letting him audit the class.
1962 was at the very beginning of the counter-culture movement. During an on campus rally the extreme-radicals held a bitter strike. A photo was taken of Professor Hayakawa wearing his red beret pulling the wires from the speakers. This photo was splashed across the front page of every newspaper in America.
This act would propel Professor Hayakawa into the presidency of the college, and eventually, make him the US Senator from California.
But that is not why Professor Hayakawa was famous.
He was a Japanese-Canadian who married a Caucasian woman. His brother-in-law became the protégé of the famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and took over his communal organization in Arizona upon Wright’s death.
The famous architect brother-in-law would marry Stalin’s daughter, which made Stalin’s daughter Professor Hayakawa’s sister-in-law.
That also is not why Professor Hayakawa was famous. For all of these events were a few years in the future of 1962.
What made Professor Hayakawa famous in 1962 is the fact that he was recognized as the world’s authority on semantics, “the true meaning of words,” in other words, logic. No one in the world could understand, speak, or teach logic better than Professor Hayakawa.
Such was his prestige that he was known simply as “Hayakawa.”
In 1962 the karate masters of the world were still teaching and running their schools the same way as they had for hundreds, even thousands, of years. And Al Tracy was studying logic under “Hayakawa.”
My first day at San Francisco State I sat in class and at the opposite side of the room sat the prettiest Chinese girl I had ever seen. After class I stopped her at the door and found out that she was from Hong Kong.
Knowing the Chinese culture, I did not think she would be allowed to date, let alone date a stranger. I feed her a line that the college wanted the American students to help the foreign students learn about American life and culture, and I wanted to help her learn about America. She fell for it. This way our dates were not really dates, technically they were cultural exchanges.
It was more than love. I was infatuated with her. She is all I thought about. A nice Chinese girl from a good Hong Kong family, I knew that she would never be allowed to marry a Caucasian. At the end of the semester she told me she was returning to Hong Kong. “I am to be married.”
I think it was an arraigned marriage. I don’t think she knew the man she was marrying. I never heard from her again. I am sure she gave her husband many sons!
When we first opened our karate school we immediately signed up the neighborhood. This gave us the bulk of our students. We then fell into the standard enrollment pattern we experienced at Pasadena, which was enrolling on the average of two new students a week, if we had a good week.
One of the first students I signed up told me, “I saw you in a movie when I was in Bangor, Maine!” Bangor was not exactly the Cannes Film Festival.
Within a few months we reached the level of sixty active students, which was the minimum for running a successful full-time karate school. The enrollment would fluctuate between sixty and eighty students. But, the number of students never rose above eighty. We never knew from one month to the next what the number of students would be.
“It was a very insecure business that Ed Parker had created for the nation.”
Among the first students to sign up were Paul Olivas and Ray Klingenberg. Both would be instrumental in making karate in America a mighty industry. To begin with Ray Klingenberg was just a regular student who was on an apprenticeship electrician-training program. His significance would come a few short-years later.
Paul Olivas had an immediate effect on our personal lives because he knew people. Paul was a handsome, proud Mexican. Today they are called “Latinos.” At this time, 1962, the “Latinos” were almost entirely of Mexican ancestry. There were very few Latinos represented from the other Latin American countries at that time in California. The Mexicans were also our best friends. You went to school with them. You dated their sisters. They were immensely proud of their heritage, and San Francisco!
This brings us to why we moved to San Francisco. You will remember that it was one of our good friends and karate students in Pasadena who recommended we go to San Francisco. Our friend was Mexican. The Mexicans loved San Francisco. They even had their own neighborhood. San Francisco was their Mecca.
But, the Tracy brothers are not Mexican. We are Irish and Scotch-Irish. San Francisco was not our Mecca.
Paul Olivas was a musician who played the various clubs in San Francisco. This was at the very beginning of the counter-culture movement that would sweep across America. This was the beginning of the flower child. And it all started in San Francisco, almost on the day we arrived. Paul Olivas was part of the movement. He was in from the beginning
Paul had several different daytime jobs during our San Francisco years. One was working for the phone company. One day the telephone supervisor chose six workers, put them in one room with orders to make illegal wire taps on the phone lines of the liberal Berkeley-Free-Speeches. The phone taps were sent to the room upstairs. It didn’t take too much brains to figure out who was upstairs, the FBI.
What the phone company, and FBI, did not realize was that Paul Olivas and the other five phone tappers were all close friends, and all liberal Berkley-Free-Speechers!
Through Paul Olivas, and his nightclub contacts, Al would become a friend with Mort Saul and Lenny Bruce. Red Foxx took karate lessons from Al whenever he was in town working the San Francisco nightclubs. These were the perfect years, and San Francisco was the perfect place for these two counter-culture comics, and Red Foxx would one day become a household name.
Paul Olivas introduced Al to two of his musician friends: Fred Marshall and Jerry Granelli. The two musicians become Al’s karate students and friends. They were part of the Vince Guaraldi Trio.
Vince Guaraldi was a local boy made good. In the same year we moved to San Francisco, Vince Guaraldi composed and recorded a smash hit jazz piece titled “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.” It won a Grammy. Once in awhile it is still played on the radio. It is a masterpiece!
However, Fred Marshall and Jerry Granelli were not part of the trio that recorded this famous jazz record. Two otherns did that.
You have all heard these two musicians. They were part of the Vince Guaraldi Trio that did the music for most of the Peanuts television holiday series.
We had a problem with our karate school from the very beginning. The building we were renting for the karate school was not well designed for our needs. It had two rooms each twelve-foot wide and separated by a partial wall. The rooms were not level with each other but had a ten-inch step-up.
After a few months in this building a better building came up for rent just two blocks up the hill. The Republican headquarters was currently renting it. You would think that the Republican Party would have no problems paying the rent. However, the Republicans were having a hard time that year. We let the realtor know that we wanted the building if they could get the deadbeat Republicans out.
Richard Nixon’s political career was at a low point. Nixon was now “irrelevant.” He was working hard to rebuild the Republican Party and his own career. He came to San Francisco and gave a speech at this Republican Party building. He was trying to rally the troops.
Nixon told the small crowd how important it was to keep the faith even though it looked like they might loose their headquarters building. A few days later we took over the building. We were never that political!
I can only remember voting once in San Francisco. Al didn’t vote at all. And therein lays a short story. One election we decided not to vote, but just before the polls closed we changed our minds. We had just a few minutes to get to the polling place, which was just a block away. We decided that Al would stay at the karate school while I voted then I would come back to the school and Al would go vote.
I voted and told the poll worker that my brother would be there in a few minutes to vote. She asked me my brother’s name. I said, ‘Al Tracy.” She looked at her form and said, “He has already voted.”
We bought our karate uniforms from a Japanese importer in San Francisco. We were planning on using sawdust mats in the new building when something strange happened. Our uniform supplier came to us with an unusual offer. It seemed that on the East Coast there was a manufacturer of submarine insulation who was looking to expand their market. Somehow, someone came up with the suggestion that they could be used as judo mats.
The material was a form of pressed rubber, three feet by three feet and one inch thick. It was solid but flexible, almost indestructible and heavy. It could also be cut to size.
Here was the offer: The supplier would sell the material to us at cost if we would agree to let the other karate and judo instructors come into our school and workout on the mats to sample the product.
We asked for a few sample pieces to test on the floor of our new building. Among our friends was a judo man named Bill Paul. He had been a member of the US Olympic Judo Team. Not only was he a judo master but he earned his living as a bouncer at the San Francisco nightclubs. Bill Paul was a tough boy.
We asked Bill Paul to come over to our school and test the mats, give us his professional opinion. He said they were the best mats he had ever worked on.
Thanks to the submarine industry we finally had professional mats. But how were we going to get rid of the sawdust we used for our old mats?
One of our students came up with the idea of boxing up the sawdust. Then he would put the boxes in his pickup truck, drive up to the mountains at Twin Peaks in the nighttime and dump the sawdust in the mountains.
It would take several night trips as we had quite a bit of sawdust. We would box up a load of sawdust during the day and put the boxes in the bed of the pickup. The student would drive over to the local pool hall, go play pool until it got dark and then make his night run.
The night runs got to be a routine. One night he finished playing pool and went out to his pickup to make his run only to discover that someone had stolen the sawdust!
After our karate school had reached its full compliment of students we decided to cut out the middleman and make few extra bucks by importing our karate uniforms directly from Japan.
We located a manufacturer in Japan and I composed a letter “business style” just as I had learned in my college business administration class. The letter would have made my professor proud.
I soon received a letter from Japan in reply.
“Please send us nice big order.”
Forgetting everything I had learned in college, I replied, “Me send you nice big order.”
The problem was that we had to receive our shipments of uniforms on time. Otherwise we would have to go to our local supplier and pay full price. I would send a check to Japan and they did not always send the shipment on time. Their excuse was that they had always just been hit by a typhoon.
I found out that San Francisco State College gave a class in International marketing where I could learn to solve my “on time” problem. I tried to sign up for the class only to be told that I had to take a prerequisite class to qualify for the class I needed. I tried to tell the college that I had a box of karate uniforms sitting in Yokohama Harbor that I wanted to get to San Francisco and did not have time for prerequisites!
I wound up getting a book from the library and found out that there was a simple way to solve the problem. If they did not have the uniforms on board the ship by a certain date then the manufacturer could not cash my check. All of a sudden the typhoons stopped hitting Japan.
One afternoon I received a phone call from a man with a strong Chinese accent. “My name is Alex. I have just got off the plane from Taiwan and am at the San Francisco airport. I saw your karate ad in the Yellow Pages. I know nothing about karate and want to come to your school right now.” (The Chinese are secretive.)
“Come on over Alex.”
We spent a few days with Alex… who knew nothing about karate. We treated him to the restaurants and nightclubs. Alex then led us down the back alleys of Chinatown to the different Kung Fu schools. He would knock at the door and be greeted warmly for he was well known and respected.
At each school the instructor had the students put on demonstrations for us. At Wong’s school there was an old photo on the wall taken in China, which showed Wong among a group of twenty students with their instructor. When we left, Alex told us that he looked at the photo and recognized the instructor.
“We have the same Sifu (instructor), but I am senior to Wong.”
On his last day in San Francisco he gave us his business card and told us he owned three Kenpo schools in Taiwan. Our Yellow Page ad had Kenpo written in Chinese. That is why he wanted to see us. Remember that we taught kenpo style karate.
Whenever we were in Chinatown we would usually drop by one of the Kung Fu schools and pay our respects. One time I saw one of my ex-students standing against the wall in a Kung Fu stance. He had completed the three months beginners programmed with me and I had not seen him for the past six months. I asked him how he liked his Kung Fu lessons.
For six months all he learned was this one Kung Fu stance and was being charged three times what we charged. The Kung Fu instructors were willing to take the white man’s money, but all were not yet ready to teach the whites.
I dropped out of college after the first semester and Al left after his second semester. We had to put in two years just to get our bachelors degree and then another three or four years in law school. Law school was looking more and more like an unobtainable goal.
We decided to try to make a success at the karate business. Our San Francisco karate school was successful by the standards of the day, but it was not able to support four people.
We decided to open a second school outside of San Francisco…in California. For most of California is a dry, sunny, warm place. We choose Sacramento because it was only an hour and a half away and there was no competition from any other karate schools.
Al and Steve Fox moved to Sacramento to run the school. I stayed in San Francisco and Will decided to move back to Pasadena. Al would travel back and forth between the two cities spending half of his time at each school.
We chose a poor location in Sacramento, which almost doomed the school to failure, as few people knew we were there. What saved the school in Sacramento, and San Francisco, were the Yellow Pages.
There had always been a small market for people who were looking to take self-defense lessons. They would look under the Yellow Page listing for “Judo.” Yellow Page listings for “Karate” were yet to come. Now the heading is “Martial Arts,” which would take many years to appear.
In both cities we placed small display ads in the Yellow Page Directory. These display ads used the word “Judo” at the top with the word “Karate” at the bottom. Karate was still relatively unknown. We found that fifty percent of the business came from the Yellow Pages, with the bulk of the other half coming from referrals, and a few from our sign. As in Pasadena, we were constantly putting on demonstration “here-and-there.” These demonstrations would usually bring in a few students.
The Sacramento school limped along at best. While there, Al took some Kung Fu training under “old-man-Masak.” He was in his eighties, a Chinese herbalist and Kung Fu master. Al not only learned more Kung Fu but also meditation, philosophy and had a source for Chinese medicines. Al was the only white that Masak had ever taught.
After a disappointing year in Sacramento, Al turned the school over to Steve Fox and returned to San Francisco. Steve took another direction, going to college, became a schoolteacher and eventually left the karate business.
Our dreams of empire were beginning to look… doubtful.
By 1964 we were one of the very few full-time karate schools in the nation. We were making a descent living and even able to acquire two new compact cars. I use the word “acquire” because we leased the cars, which required no down payments. We were doing all right, but not getting rich.
Chuck Norris opened his first karate school in the Los Angeles area the same year we opened San Francisco, 1962. Chuck only had thirty-five students. A year or two later, Chuck opened his second school is Los Angeles… and had 35 students!
“It was a very insecure business that Ed Parker had created for the nation.”
Another thing that saved us was the fact that it didn’t cost much to live in those days. Apartment rents were cheap. Cars were not that expensive. This was before the days of inflation.
A few minutes away, just across the bridge in Oakland, lived the Kung Fu master Jimmy Lee. He accepted white students and taught them legitimate Kung Fu.
Jimmy Lee contacted Ed Parker and told him that there was an up-and-coming young Kung Fu man from Seattle that he wanted Parker to meet. The meeting was to be held at Ralph Castro’s school in San Francisco. Parker wanted Al and I to be there to meet the guy.
It was on a weekend and the meeting only lasted a few minutes. The man was young, my age. He showed a few movements. The guy was fast, although Ralph Castro beat him at backhand. Al gave him some advice on how to be a success in the Kung Fu business.
“Get out of Seattle!”
Al told him that we were raised in Seattle. We knew that there was no Chinese community large enough to support a Kung Fu school. At this time karate was just beginning to be known, but Kung Fu was still a Chinese thing. Al suggested he move to the San Francisco Bay Area or Los Angeles.
The meeting was of no significance to us. In less than ten years the up-and-coming Kung Fu man would be the most famous actor in the world. The young Kung Fu man’s name was Bruce Lee.
When I first saw Bruce Lee I said to myself, “He is small, but average size for Chinese.” He was five foot six and weighed 132 pounds. He looked like your typical skinny Chinese. Al said he was as skinnier than me. I did not think he was one hundred percent Chinese. He looked Eurasian.
Bruce Lee came from an upper class Hong Kong family. His father was a Chinese opera star. It was arraigned for the mother to be in San Francisco at the time of his birth. This was well planned in advance so that Bruce Lee would have American citizenship. Through his father he had Hong Kong citizenship and through his grandfather, Mainland China citizenship. For a Chinese family they had all the bases covered.
However, Bruce Lee was not Chinese, not one hundred percent Chinese. His mother was part white. The Chinese are a racially pure society where a mixed-breed is an outcast. There was great prejudice against Bruce Lee when he was growing up in Hong Kong. He was not your humble Chinese. Bruce Lee took Kung Fu lessons and fought back! One thing we all noticed at the San Francisco meeting was that Bruce Lee was cocky. You don’t see that with the Chinese.
Concerned for his safety in Hong Kong, Bruce Lee’s parents made arrangements for him to move to Seattle where a family friend owned a Chinese restaurant. Bruce Lee was still a teenager when he moved to Seattle.
Bruce Lee didn’t do much during his Seattle years. He took a few classes at the University of Washington but never graduated. He started a Kung Fu club on campus and made a few dollars. He supported himself by working at the restaurant.
After our San Francisco meeting, Bruce Lee married one of his students, an American girl, and moved to Oakland where he and his wife lived with Jimmy Lee. And he opened a Kung Fu school in Oakland, the East Bay area.
Bruce Lee visited our school a lot. He and Al would workout together. Al left the Air Force at five foot eight and weighing 182 pounds. By the time we got to San Francisco he weighed 205 pounds. Al overpowered Bruce Lee. At their first workout together Bruce Lee told Al, “You know more Kung Fu then I do.”
What was it like working out with Bruce Lee? Al explains, “If one person was watching, he was Bruce Lee. If two people were watching, he would turn into an actor.”
Al confided in me, “I couldn’t handle Bruce Lee’s speed.”
No one could handle Bruce Lee’s speed. He was the fastest Kung Fu man in the history of the world.
The Tracy brothers and Bruce Lee became good friends, but Al was especially close. Bruce Lee would come over to our school and work out with Al. Al would go over to visit at Jimmy Lee’s home, and later, at their own apartment.
Bruce Lee put on quite a few demonstrations. I knew his routines well so I watched the expressions on the faces of the audience when he made his first move. Everyone’s mouths dropped open.
My god was the guy fast!
Bruce Lee would spend a year in Oakland then moved to Los Angeles. It was through one of Ed Parker’s Hollywood friends that Bruce Lee got the role of Kato in the TV series “The Green Hornet.”
The producers were trying to imitate the success of the “Batman” series. But, “The Green Hornet” was a flop. Bruce Lee only made $350 a week while working on the series. (Bruce Lee was so fast that he had to slow down his kicks and punches to the point the movie camera could follow the movements.)
However, “The Green Hornet” was a huge success in Hong Kong. Bruce Lee signed a movie contract with a major Hong Kong movie producer and soon becomes the most famous actor in Asia.
Then Hollywood takes another look at Bruce Lee. His first American movie, “Enter the Dragon” was a smash hit. Two more movies come quickly, and then, suddenly, in 1973 at the age of thirty-two, Bruce Lee dies. He was the most famous actor in the world. (The autopsy revealed that he was born with a brain defect that does not show up medically and causes death at an early age.)
Bruce Lee had become China’s Native Son. Through Bruce Lee the entire nation of China, a nation that comprised one-sixth of the world’s population, could show the world that they too had a super-hero, a real life super-hero.
We never gave much thought to it. For us this was just our normal every day life.
It was during Bruce Lee’s year in Oakland that we once again decided to expand our empire. This time we looked south, an hour’s drive to San Jose. I found a building I liked but knew I could not afford.
This building was in what I will call a primary location. There were four lanes of traffic, but these four lanes were the freeway approach. The traffic flow was fantastic! Our locations in San Francisco and Sacramento were secondary locations. They were on two lane streets, which did not carry that much traffic.
The problem with a primary location is that the buildings cost more money. I knew this building in San Jose would be way out of my budget. It was two stories and took up half the block.
I decided to check it out anyway and called the number on the “For Rent” sign. The agent was a young Jewish guy who told me a strange story. It seems that the building was in an estate, which was a complete mess. The estate had been tied up in court for years and was expected to be tied up in court for years to come.
The court had current control over the building. Because, in theory, the estate problem could be settled any day, the building could only be rented on a month to month basis. A long-term lease, or even a short-term lease, was not possible.
No business person is going to invest their money in a building that they could be kicked out of the next day.
There was another problem with the building. The entrance was a room about fifteen by twenty feet and the floor was rotted in several places. In these places of rot the floor had actually collapsed.
The agent worked for the court, and it was his job to produce income to the estate on this property.
Here was his offer: I could rent on a month-to-month basis all or just any portions of the building that I wished. I could rent just the front room to begin with and then expand to the other rooms as I needed by simply paying additional rent for the extra rooms.
I saw immediately how I could make the building work for a karate school. The floor was collapsed in places in the main room. However, the floor was on top of two-by-fours, which were just two inches above the ground. The space between the ground and the top of the floor was just six inches.
All I had to do was go back to sawdust mats. This way the collapsed spots did not matter. It would be a tight fit. I would use the first four feet of the building for the walk-in area and put a small desk and chair at one end. This left a mat area of only fifteen-by-sixteen feet. I could only get ten students on the mat at the most. But, it was workable.
The rent was ridiculously cheap, only fifty dollars a month, and because it was a month-to-month rent and not a lease there was no deposit or paying the last month in advance. Fifty dollars, that was it!
I took the building, laid down the mat with a canvas cover and put up a sign. However, this sign was different then what we used before. In San Francisco we had a sign flat against the top of the building. In Sacramento we had a sign, which could not even be seen.
In San Jose I decided to take a four-foot-by-eight foot piece of plywood and have it protruding from the building, above and across the sidewalk. I painted the sign black with large letters “KARATE” in fluorescent red, lighted by two floodlights.
My total cost to open the door was just two hundred dollars.
It was a rat hole. Even a Kung Fu school in Outer Mongolia wasn’t as bad as our San Jose school!
I decided to sell the lessons cheap, ten dollars a month. This was half the price we usually charged and less than most other karate schools were charging.
The second student I signed up was named Dave Cardenas. He was a high school teacher who was driving by and saw the sign. While I was giving him my sales pitch the floor collapsed beneath him and he literally fell through the floor! Luckily, it was only a two-inch drop.
Dave would become a good karate student. We would become friends and Dave would receive his black belt from me and one day open his own karate school.
Dave Cardenas had a brother, Rene Cardenas, who lived in San Francisco. Rene was a power in the music industry and made “The Kingston Trio” rich and famous. The brothers were close relatives to the politically powerful Cardenas family of Mexico.
Paul Olivas was a friend and karate instructor of Rene Cardenas. Paul Olivas knew people.
From the first day I opened that “rat hole” in San Jose the school started signing up three students a day! I was signing up more students in one day than the average karate school in America signed up in a week. I quickly broke that magical barrier of having a maximum of eighty students.
For the first time money was flowing in with practically nothing going out. As the student enrolment increased I started renting more rooms. This success was in spite of the fact that there were already two karate schools in the area. One was a Hawaiian and the other was a Korean style school. Top-notch instructors ran both schools.
Students were coming into the new school at a tremendous rate, but they were also dropping out at a tremendous rate. In the karate industry only ten percent of the students were still there after three months.
The rat hole did so well that Al decided to give up the San Francisco school, selling it to one of our black belts, and moved to San Jose to help me. Not long after, our brother Will moved to Portland, Oregon where he opened a karate school.
We were out of San Francisco for good. However, in defense of “The City” I must say that there are those who love living there. When prospering financially I took a couple of trips to Europe. Every foreigner’s first “holiday” choice was to visit San Francisco with Las Vegas their second choice. I have come to the conclusion that San Francisco is a uniquely individual thing.
It was not long after Al moved to San Jose that we were making enough money to move the school a couple of miles down the same street to a descent building. This was a standard twenty-foot by sixty-foot commercial building.
We were becoming quite successful in San Jose, but that rat hole school was only the prelude to our success.
Strangely, the greatest advancement in American karate would be brought about by a person who was not a karate man at all. He was a dance instructor. Enter Tom Connor.
Tom Connor was thirty-five years old, short in stature with a magnificent body developed through years of bodybuilding. He was extraordinarily handsome. His career had been as a dance instructor and he knew the industry well. He operated his own dance school and had a side business running his own vending machine company.
He was one of the very first students we signed up at the rat hole. At almost the same time we also signed up the assistant manager of the local Arthur Murray Dance School named Bob Roberts.
Within a few weeks, both of these dance instructors told us that they believed our karate business could be run the same as the dance schools. What they were saying is that we could make big bucks!
By the time we were in our new “respectable” building Tom Connor had developed a certain degree of proficiency as a karate student, and we had become friends.
He approached us with the idea of trying, on an experimental basis, the dance industry way of doing business. What he asked us to do was to send the next few students we signed up to his dance school for karate instruction. What cinched the deal was that he offered to give us all the money from these few students. He was not interested in the money. He wanted to know if he could make the system work. This was no problem as the dance school was just a few blocks away.
To understand you have to know how the two industries were run at that time. I have already told you how Kung Fu had been taught for hundreds, even thousands of years.
Karate schools in America were run basically after the same pattern established by Ed Parker in Pasadena. A prospective student would come into a karate school and watch a class. If a class was not going on then one of the instructors would put on a brief demonstration of karate moves for the customer. If the customer liked what he saw (Notice the word “he.”) then they would sign up for lessons usually paying on a month-to- month basis. They would then show up for their first lesson, wander out onto the mat and try to figure out what was going on.
It was all very unprofessional and the dropout rate was high.
In the dance business when a prospective student walked into the school they were placed on a five-private-lessons introductory program. This introduced them to the world of dance, and if they wished to continue they were placed on a program. For decades the dance industry made a lot of money because they catered to people with money, often selling programs that cost thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars. The student paid freely for socializing, romance, and just plain fun.
Tom Connor envisioned karate lessons being marketed to the average person. The difference being that we were selling self-defense, physical conditioning and self-confidence.
In order to make the lessons more affordable he decided to sell five one-half hour private lessons as the introductory course rather than one hour lessons used in the dance industry. The price he charged the karate students for the introductory program was $19.50. He then put the student on at eighteen month karate program for $30.00 down payment and then $10.00 a week. For this the student would receive two one-hour group lessons, plus one one-half hour private lesson per week. Teaching the few students we sent to him, Tom Connor found that his system worked very well.
Then, Tom Connor went bankrupt. His bankruptcy would make the Tracy brothers very successful and change American karate forever.
You will remember that in addition to his dance school, Tom Connor also ran a vending machine business. He placed them wherever he could: gas stations, convenience stories, Laundromats, here-and-there. The vending machines were very expensive to purchase and brought in very little money.
He was forced to file for a big bankruptcy and was looking to start all over again, which bothered him not in the least.
It was at this time he called for a meeting. Al and I sat down in the karate school and listened to what he had to say. He explained that he was now looking for some new business to go into. This did not bother him for he felt he could go into anything and make a living. This was true for Tom Connor was a natural salesman.
However, he felt that with his proving the dance system could be used in the karate business, then this is the business he would like to go into.
“Would we be interested?”
“On what basis?” Tom Connor asked.
“A three way split,” was our reply.
Tom Connor then spent the next two hours laying out in detail how the business would be run. In that two hours Tom Connor changed the way karate had been taught for thousands of years.
The first problem was what to do with our existing students. Wisely, Connor decided not to mix the two systems, the old with the new. His solution was simple; run two karate schools at the same time.
We would rent the building next to the existing school and handle all new business from there. The existing school would be used to teach off our present group lesson obligations. If any of the old students wanted to switch over to the new program we would let them do it. However, we would not actively solicit the old students for the new system.
Connor foresaw the potential market for women and children. Women would be taught on the same basis as men, which meant the same program at the same price. Children starting at the age of eight would be taught. Again, on the same program and at the same price.
The program we would sell would, again, be $30.00 down and $10.00 a week. He changed the industry standard of charging by the month because in those days $10.00 a week was a lot of money. His thinking, correctly, was that a student getting paid weekly could better pay for karate lessons weekly.
Ten dollars a week does not sound like very much money today, but in 1965 the minimum wage in California was only $1.30 an hour. Today it is $7.50, which is nearly six times greater. In today’s money we would be charging $60.00 per week. Keeping this in mind you can see Tom Connor’s logic in having the students pay by the week.
How could we justify charging two to three times more than any other karate school. Simple. Give the student their money’s worth by quality instruction spearheaded by a private lesson program.
A million-and-one things had to be done. Mathematically, one hundred students would require one hundred private lessons to be taught each week. This was in addition to the group lessons.
Over the next few months we gravitated to what each of us did best. Tom Connor taught me the dance system method of teaching professional private lessons. I then created a formal class just to train instructors.
Al took over the business end. This was the day-to-day bookkeeping, accounting, payroll, etc…
Tom Connor handled the program sales.
In addition we all took care of the telephone and walk-in interviews and taught full time private lessons. Tom Connor did not teach group classes, as his karate training was not that far advanced.
Our business growth was fantastic! We started signing up three to ten students a day. Because the students were on individual programs they learned twice as much, twice as fast. Students now stayed two to three times longer, which means that one private lesson program student was now worth two to three group students. Plus, they were paying two to three times more money than group students.
The math is simple. Each student under Tom Connor’s program was worth four to six times what an ordinary group student was worth. That did not take into consideration the fact that we were getting $30.00 up front on each program.
It takes time to train a staff of professional instructors. In the meantime the three of us had to carry the teaching load, which was exhausting. We would start at ten in the morning and continue teaching until ten at night.
Al had great physical stamina and would sometimes teach till one in the morning, so heavy was the teaching load.
We had to expand our building space to accommodate the ever-increasing student enrolment. We already had two buildings side-by-side. We took the third building next door and then the building across the street. This was still not enough room.
We moved once again, back to the area just two blocks from the original rat-hole school. This time we were across from Sears. We took a series of three inter-connecting buildings, plus a house next door. The house worked out just fine as we could easily teach private lessons in the individual rooms. In addition, above the third inter-connecting building was an apartment. We took the apartment to give us a place to rest whenever we could take a break.
In eighteen months we had gone through nine buildings and were now teaching six hundred students! At this time we had three full time secretaries and thirty-five instructors.
Besides the three of us we only had three to five additional full-time instructors. Part time instructors who taught at night did the bulk of the teaching. Some would teach only two hours a week to earn just enough money to pay for their own lessons. Others would teach as much as four nights a week. We were quite flexible.
Women and children made up no more than ten percent of our students, which added to the bottom line. The main thing is that we had proven that there was a viable market for women and children.
We realized that the students would be paying a lot of money and be putting in quite a bit of time and effort learning karate. We had to come up with a system to recognize the student’s achievements. This was done traditionally with the belt system.
However, the karate belt system was very limited in those days. The karate belt system evolved from judo. There were three belt levels: white, to signify beginners; brown, to signify intermediates; and black, for expert.
There are degrees or grades within each division just like grammar school, high school and college have different grades. Each karate school chooses the number of degrees in each belt division that they wish to award. However, most karate schools followed the judo system of two levels of white belt.
At Ed Parker’s in Pasadena, a student would have two degrees of white belt before reaching brown belt. However, there was no way to recognize what level the student had achieved. We decided that the student should have some form of recognition for each degree of advancement.
Our mother was into sewing. We used her brown iron on patches and cut the patches into one-half inch strips and ironed them on the end of the white belts: One strip for each degree.
The problem was that after a few weeks the brown strips would become dog-eared and start to unravel, which required ironing new strips back on. The system was primitive like sawdust mats, but it did give recognition.
The use of iron-on strips was too primitive for the quality we wanted in this new system. We couldn’t use Kung Fu belts because all they use is a sash to hold the jacket together. Traditionally, Kung Fu students hide their level of proficiency. (The Chinese are secretive.)
The logical solution was to have a different solid color belt for each degree. But where were we going to get solid color belts aside from the commonly available white, brown and black?
I wrote to my karate uniform manufacturer in Japan and asked if they could provide colored belts. Remember that judo was the national sport of Japan. Judo uniforms, and belts, was a big business. Now that karate was beginning to become popular the judo uniform manufactures also started making karate uniform. Judo belts were simply used for karate belts.
Some judo schools in Japan used red belts for master and purple belts for children instead of the adult brown belt. The manufacturer wrote back that they had made a big mistake in manufacturing a batch of red belts. Someone got the dye formula wrong and the red belts came out orange! The problem was that no one used orange belts. So here this manufacturer was stuck with a bunch of orange belts that they could not get rid of. They were willing to sell them to us cheap at ten cents a belt!
We broke with tradition and decided to use four degrees of white belt with orange being the first degree (because we got our first order for ten cents each), then purple, blue and green. Because almost every student would reach the rank of orange belt we placed large orders. As our schools expanded across the nation we flooded the karate tournaments with our students wearing orange belts. Eventually, almost every karate school in America would follow suit and use the orange belt.
Today, most karate schools around the world follow the system we created and use multiple levels in the white belt, and using one-upmanship, they have added a wide variety of belt colors: solid colors, combination colors, stripes and tips. The colored belt system today is limited only by one’s imagination. And it all started because some idiot in Japan made a dumb mistake in mixing a batch of red dye!
I have just told you the wacky story of the origin of the color belt system. I am now going to tell you an even wackier story that has to do with the karate school … and color.
One day I walked into the school, Al touched me on the shoulder, started laughing and said, “I have something funny to tell you.”
It seemed that Fred Marshall had come up with a crazy idea. (He was the musician that played the music for the Peanut TV series with the Vince Guaraldi Trio.) He wanted to borrow $700 each from five people to rent a theater in San Francisco. He was going to mix liquid colors on a glass plate and project the moving colors on to the movie screen. At the same time he was going to play live music to synchronize with the colors.
He wanted Al to lend him $700. We were doing well by this time and Al and Fred Marshall were friends. So Al lent the guy the money.
Laughing, Al told me, “I will never get the money back.”
He rented the theater and opened the show. Al was invited to the premier. Al then took me along to the second showing in San Francisco to see his “investment.” It was interesting but I would not be interested in seeing it again.
Immediately, the other musicians in San Francisco started to imitate. Then the San Francisco artists started doing the color “art thing” without the music. Rapidly it spread throughout the world. Fred Marshall had created the psychedelic movement.
Fred Marshall would never receive fame, or wealth, or even recognition for his gift to the world…and Al Tracy never got his $700 back.
That is the story of how the Tracy brothers financed the psychedelic movement.
We never gave much though to it. For us this was just our normal every day life.
We are now doing quite well for ourselves. Al picked up the phone and ordered a new Porsche. Tom Connor overheard him and said, “Get me one too.” I got a new Riviera.
Of course, there was the airplane.
We had a successful business formula and were now looking forward to living the good life.
One day, in the midst of all this success, I was walking to the car with Tom Connor when he casually mentioned, “My last business partner jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge.”
I had a foreboding that we were going to have problems with Tom Connor.
Tom Connor was a hard worker. He put in the long hours holding down his end of running the karate school. He taught us the dance school way of running a business. As we can see, Tom Connor made the Tracy brothers very successful indeed.
However, Tom Connor had some peculiarities, which were beginning to show themselves. While the three of us were all sitting on top of the karate world Tom Connor decided to buy a small neighborhood bar in San Francisco. His was not an absentee ownership as he also decided to help run the bar. He would leave the karate school in San Jose at closing time, which was ten o’clock at night, then drive the one-hour trip to San Francisco, and tend bar until closing at two A.M. He would then drive back home in the middle of the night.
The freeway was mostly a straight shot. In order to catch up on sleep he would wait until he was on a straightaway and then close his eyes and count to ten. At the count of ten he would open his eyes, correct the steering and continue on his way. This worked well until the inevitable happened.
One night he counted one…two…three…four…five…six…seven…eight…crash! He had hit a bridge overpass pillar, totaled the car and walked away unscratched. Tom Connor had the habit of totaling at least one car a year and always walked away unscratched.
Another time he was driving back from San Francisco during the rush hour. He was in the fast lane when all of a sudden the woman in front came to a sudden complete stop. Tom Connor plowed right into her. Neither driver was hurt.
Bewildered, Tom Connor asked the woman, “Lady you were in the fast lane. Why did you stop?”
“I really don’t know,” she said. “But you should always be alert.”
Tom Connor didn’t even have to be in his car to total it. One time he was in his house when he heard a loud crash. Someone had totaled his car while it was parked at the curb!
A few years later I was with a mutual friend in a southwestern city. I asked him if Tom Connor had totaled any cars recently.
Taken aback he asked why I asked. I then gave him Tom Connor’s past demolition derby history.
He told me that one time he and Tom Connor were scouting another southwestern city to locate a karate school. They stopped at a car rental agency and rented a car with Tom Connor being the driver. Tom Connor drove the car one block. He went right through a red light and crashed the car in the middle of the intersection. Crawling out of the overturned car, both men, unhurt, walked back to the car rental agency.
Tom Connor threw the car keys on the desk and said, “Can I have another car?”
“What is wrong with the car we just gave you?”
“It is wrecked.”
“Can you drive it back?”
“No… I don’t think so.”
Being a passenger in a car driven by Tom Connor was a terrifying experience! I did it just once. He would drive onto the freeway without looking at the other traffic. If a sign said, “Do not pass,” he would pass. The rules of the road did not apply to Tom Connor. Never again would I ride in a car with Tom Connor as the driver.
After that one experience of driving with Tom Connor, Al and I both took out large insurance policies on Tom Connor’s life.
Al was the first to perceive that for all of Tom Connor’s genius there was something amiss. Tom Connor went into the partnership with the understanding that he was the boss who ran the business. Al and I agreed. It was only two months into the partnership that Al pulled me aside and said, “Tom Connor doesn’t seem to understand how a business is run. I am quietly going to take over running the business.” For all the successful years we were with Tom Connor, Al actually ran things without Tom Connor realizing it.
Money is pouring in and Al starts investing. He does not invest in stocks and bonds but in guns, wine, and knives. These are not off-the-shelf items at Sears. They are all exotic, which Al would buy ridiculously cheap and sell ridiculously high.
Today these same guns, wines, and knives sell for absurdly high prices. One rifle he bought for $850 and later sold for $1500. That same rifle today sells for $60,000! He got into wines right before the fad hit. He was paying $12 to $15 a bottle. Later he sold for $300 to $400 a bottle. One of his wines now sells for $3,000 a bottle!
The knives were handmade when there were only five or six companies in America that made knives by hand. One of these manufactures was Randall. Al bought one Randall knife for $35. Then came the Viet Nam War and all the Special Forces soldiers wanted handmade knives. Al sold that $35 knife for $1,000.
Al Tracy wound up having the best knife collection in America. There came a time when the waiting list for a Randall knife was eighteen months, and even then priority was given to the military. By this time we had a chain of karate schools throughout America. One of our managers wanted a Randall knife but did not want to wait eighteen months. He called Bill Randall and told him that he was a successful businessman who owned a Tracy’s Karate School franchise and was willing to pay a premium price for a Randall knife, if he could have immediate delivery.
“Why don’t you call Al Tracy. He has more Randall knives than we do.”
We had accomplished what no one else had ever done in the thousands of year’s history of Kung Fu. We had proven that a karate instructor could make a very good living teaching the martial arts as a full time profession. And, of course, we were just hated by the rest of the karate instructors in America!
There was no such thing as American karate. The karate instructors in America were now Koreans or Japanese, and a smattering of other Asian countries. Or, more commonly, they were Caucasian servicemen who studied in Korea, Japan or Okinawa who returned to the United States and opened their own karate schools teaching those nation’s particular karate style and philosophy.
The Asians could not accept the fact that two young Caucasian Americans made it big in their art. Subconsciously, they felt that they were “losing face.”
The Chinese loved us. Ed Parker, with his prestige, stood up for us telling the rest of the karate world that we were right. As the years went by the hatred towards us turned to admiration. Today, virtually every karate school in America uses business and teaching methods created by the Tracy brothers and Tom Connor.
Then…we were about to become more successful.
Tom Connor approached us with a plan to make big bucks using a different angle teaching karate lessons. What we would do is sell a few black belt programs to just a select number of students. The price was $4500 cash up front. This was broken down at six one-hour private lessons per week at $20 per lesson.
Here was the angle: The student was sold a franchise to open a Tracy’s Karate School. The franchise cost $4500. Of course, the student had to be a black belt to open a karate school. So…the $4500 included a crash course to bring them up to black belt level.
Simply put, the franchise was a gimmick to get the student to purchase, and pay in advance, for an accelerated black belt program. It was a little sneaky but both parties were happy. We got a quick $4500, and the student got legitimate, high quality instruction.
“We did it all the time in the dance business,” Tom Connor assured us.
Al and I said “Fine.”
Tom Connor knew exactly what he was doing and quickly selected four students as prime candidates to purchase “franchises.” Within a few days we had an extra $18,000 in our pockets. In today’s dollars that would be in excess of $112,000.
We had no intention of opening a chain of karate schools. We were merely selling four students, four karate programs, only differently. The unforeseen consequences would find the Tracy brothers soon opening 150 franchise karate schools throughout the United States and Canada.
All of the karate chains in America today have their origin from that one meeting where Tom Connor told us that he had an idea how we could make more money by…
There was one little problem with Tom Connor’s get-rich-quick karate lesson scheme. In a few months the franchisees had finished their black belt programs and wanted to know when they were going to open their own karate schools.
Tom Connor was totally bewildered.
“In the dance business no one ever opened a franchise dance school,” he said.
The now impatient franchisees kept pressing a bewildered Tom Connor for a grand opening date.
Finally Tom Connor made a decision.
“Let them open their karate schools…and within a few weeks they will all fail.”
And that is exactly what happened… except, within a few weeks all the franchisees were making fortunes!
To Tom Connor the four franchise schools now became a detraction from our real job of running the mother school. The schools had to be serviced with Tom Connor visiting on a regular basis to handle the sales. To him, the franchises was simply selling four courses of karate lessons, nothing more. Now he had these darn franchise schools out there that he had to service constantly.
However, Al and I began to think of franchising differently and wanted to continue experimenting with franchising on a limited basis to find its potential. We met halfway. Tom Connor set up a huge franchise promotion banquet at a fancy restaurant. This he had done many times before in the dance business. It gave him a chance to do his own thing. It was as much as a PR stunt for Tom Connor’s ego as it was a business promotion.
It also provided an opportunity for Al and I to test the interest among our students and staff for selling franchises. We must have had 200 invited guest including their wives. The main serving was a roast pig with an apple in the mouth. The banquet is still talked about among the old timers to this day.
We opened a few more franchise schools in Northern California but our main interest still was in our own school. The franchise schools, now less than ten, were a still a distracting sideshow.
Our main focus was continuing to bring in the big bucks in our San Jose school. It was back to business as usual.
Unfortunately, “back to usual,” meant dealing with Tom Connor’s unusual behavior. One time Tom Connor came walking into the school all excited.
“Let’s close the school down and write a book, which will make us all rich and famous!”
Al had the ability to control Tom Connor and tactfully talked him out of the idea. Besides, Al and I were already rich and famous.
We wanted to repeat the success of our San Jose school and decided the best thing to do would be to open a second school, but outside of California. We already had a chain of schools in Northern California and we wanted to stay out of Southern California.
We decided to open our second school in Arizona, in Phoenix.
I moved to Phoenix. My year in Phoenix was uneventful. However it did gross one-half what the main school grossed, which wasn’t bad.
It reached the point where Al could not control Tom Connor’s erratic behavior anymore. We decided to break up the partnership. It was amicable with the obvious split with Tom Connor taking over the Phoenix school and Al and I taking the San Jose school.
Tom Connor willingly gave us all the franchise schools as he had no interest in franchising.
Tom Connor used to fly into Phoenix every two weeks and stayed two days each time to handle the sales. He liked Phoenix and was comfortable with the school. The year was 1967 and our time with Tom Connor lasted less than three years.
Breaking up our partnership was the toughest decision we ever made. The combination of our talents had changed the karate world forever. We figured that with just two or three more years with Tom Conner’s genius we would have had enough money to never have to work again.
Al and I continued living the good life. While Tom Connor was with us Al married one of his San Francisco students and later bought a new house in an upscale neighborhood. Then he put in a swimming pool; then bought a BMW and a red Ferrari. We also had lower status cars like the Cadillac.
We got rid of our first airplane and bought a bigger one.
We were the wonder of the karate world. The average karate instructor in those days did not drive their red Ferrari to the airport to fly their own airplane to inspect their chain of karate schools.
Throughout these San Jose years we still maintained a close relationship with Ed Parker. On several occasions we brought Parker to San Jose as the grandmaster to award black belts personally to our students.
Ed Parker was in awe of what we were doing.
The average karate instructor in America was still small time. Chuck Norris was still starving. Most karate instructors were still starving as they had been for thousands of years. You simply could not make a descent living in the karate business doing things the “old way.”
Now, some in the karate world were beginning to look at the Tracy brothers and wanted the same success. At this time we were simply known as the Tracy brothers. Later, as we expanded throughout the country it was shortened to “Tracy’s.”
While we are doing our own thing in San Jose, our brother, Will, was doing all right for himself running a school in Portland, Oregon. Will was not into exotic cars like Al, but he did have his airplane.
One day an adorable little white stray cat came walking through the karate school door. Will and his wife, Mary Ellen, fell in love with the little thing. Now Mary Ellen is a collector. So she started collecting all the stray cats she could find.
Not only did this include alley cats but all the neighbors who had litters they didn’t want. Then Mary Ellen decided to upgrade and decided to collect cats with pedigrees, cats that are registered. Will’s wife is now really getting into cats and they read up on ocelots and decide to join the Long Island Ocelot Club.
Mary Ellen decided she wanted her very own jaguar. Will had an old friend from his army days who had contacts in the animal business as he was now wrestling alligators in Florida.
The alligator wrestler puts Will in contact with an importer of exotic cats who worked out of Miami. Will wanted an ocelot but the importer couldn’t get one. But he could sell them a jaguar cub out of South America. They decided to get the jaguar. But the jaguar was not shipped by the time promised. You just couldn’t depend on these jaguar raisers in the jungles of South America to ship on time.
It seems that there were two lion cubs out of Cincinnati that were up for sale. They bought the one cub that was just five days old. A few days later they got the second cub for free as it was getting to be pretty mean and the guy wanted to get rid of it.
I was running the school in Phoenix when I signed up a teenage girl who used to study with Will at his Portland school. She told me that she would be in class doing kicks… and the lion cubs would jump on her legs!
In San Jose we were now operating the most successful karate school in the world; and in Portland we were operating the only karate school in the world where lions jumped on the students’ legs while they are practicing their kicks!
Mary Ellen decided to turn her hobby into a business and they rented the building next to the karate school where she began selling exotic domestic cats.
The Jaguar kitten finally arrived.
“The jaguar was always sickly just like you,” Will said.
Will then bought a house next to the park. While other people walked their dogs in the park, Will would walk his lion cubs. This brought a howl of protest from the regular park patrons.
The news media knew a good story when they saw one. The TV news and the local Portland paper gave the story a lot of coverage. As you might assume the city counsel was none too happy with a man and his wife walking their lions in the city park.
Will saw nothing wrong with what he was doing. He pointed out that the lions were on leashes. Besides, there was no law against walking your lions in the park.
The upshot is that the news media had a field day. Then the city of Portland passed a law against walking your lions in their parks, leash or no leash…and Will Tracy got tons of publicity making his karate school even more prosperous.
Will ended up buying twenty-two acres in the country where he built his own house and cages for the cats. Eventually, he would have fifty exotic domestic cats and nine big cats, which included African lions, the jaguar, and a cheetah.
Will had other animals besides cats. He also had a Rhodesian Ridgeback pup. The dog was incorrigible. No matter how hard Will and Mary Ellen tried they could not get the puppy to obey. They couldn’t control him or get him to do anything.
One day when the pup was six months old Will took it into the lion cage with him while he tended to the big cats. The cage had a three-foot high bench for the lions to sit on. Will left the cage not realizing that he had left the pup in with the lions.
Later, when Will realized his mistake, he went rushing back to the cage expecting to find a dead, mauled, eaten dog. Instead he saw the pup walking back-and-forth with the hair raised on the back of its neck, teeth bared, snarling…and the five grown lions were all on the bench cowering against the wall scared to death!
The news media covered the ongoing stories of Will Tracy and his cats for years. Will was known throughout the entire Pacific Northwest.
It cost a lot of money to support fifty exotic housecats and nine big cats, what with food and the astronomical veterinarian bills. But for every dollar Will spent on his cats he made back a hundred-to-one in publicity. The karate school prospered.
One time Ed Parker flew into Portland and stayed overnight at Will’s house. The next day they drove up to Tacoma, Washington, for a karate tournament with the jaguar in the back seat. Ed Parker was paralyzed with fear!
During the four hour drive the jaguar left Ed Parker alone. The jaguar didn’t care for Ed Parker either.
Another time a Japanese karate man walked into Will’s school. In broken English he said, “I would like to work out with your number one student.”
“Sure,” Will replied. “Quimau.”
The jaguar came lumbering out.
Whenever a jaguar walked through the front door of our San Jose school everyone knew that Will Tracy was visiting.
Not only was Will Tracy a karate expert but he had also become a lion expert. This adds a strange twist to the Tracy brother’s story. The strange twist began with a phone call… but that is getting ahead of our story.
Al and I were beginning to think more and more about franchising. Our chain of franchise schools in Northern California proved that the concept would work.
The concept was simple. We, Tracy’s, would sell the rights to use our name, karate system, and business system to qualified karate men. (Women had not yet entered the business.) We would charge a franchise fee up front. Our original fee for the first few schools was $4,500, which eventually rose to $9,500 for the latter schools. This was the price to purchase a territory.
In addition, we would charge a percentage, royalty fee, of what each school grossed. Originally this was four percent, which eventually rose to six percent for the latter schools.
We would provide the karate and business training and help the schools get set up and running. In addition, we would provide follow-up help.
We envisioned a chain of a thousand Tracy’s karate schools throughout America and Canada. On paper it looked unbeatable. Al and I were going to become fabulously wealthy!
However, the best made plans of mice and karate men often go astray. Or something like that.
We did not know if what we had successfully accomplished in Northern California could be repeated across the country some hundreds and thousands of miles away. The schools we presently had were all within driving distance.
We decided to open a test school far away in Columbus, Ohio. If we could successfully operate a franchise school in Columbus then that would prove that we could open a national chain.
Columbus was chosen because it was the hometown of one of our very best instructors, Jay T. Will. Jay was a big, tough, football player who had come up through our San Jose school. He had just graduated from San Jose State College and was beginning to look for a career.
Jay jumped at the chance to open his own karate school in his home town. He was quickly trained in our business methods, went back to Columbus where he opened a karate school, and from day-one started making a fortune.
Now Ray Klingenberg comes back into the story.
Klingenberg was one of the very first students we signed up when we opened our San Francisco school. He was six foot five inches tall, of medium build. Although his height made him look slim. In competition he could stand up against the best in the world. By this time karate tournaments were starting to become popular.
Klingenberg had a franchise school in San Mateo, which was half-way between San Jose and San Francisco, about twenty five miles from each city. It was a beautiful school having previously been an Arthur Murray Dance School. The school was quite large for the times at 5,500 square feet, maybe larger. Ray Klingenberg prospered in that San Mateo school. However…
He saw limitations. Being on the Peninsula the population was restricted to a drawing population of just 78,000. His top instructors were starting to take franchisees, some on the edges of his own territory. He was also looking at a hefty rent increase on his building.
We approached Ray Klingenberg with an idea, an offer. Our offer would soon see our franchise karate schools explode across the country.
Klingenberg had these credentials: We were personal friends from the beginnings at San Francisco; He was one of the best karate competitors in the country; He was a top notch instructor; He had run a successful Tracy’s franchise school, sold franchises for us, trained instructors and managers.
With this background we proposed that he move to the East Coast and start opening Tracy’s karate schools in the large cities.
Negotiations lasted for several weeks. Finally, a plan developed. By this time, 1968, karate was becoming known in America. There were a lot of karate schools and karate tournaments were drawing good size audiences. However, America is a vast country. Ninety percent of American cities still did not have a karate school. There were cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York with populations running into the millions with just one or two karate schools. By concentrating on large cities with little or no competition we would have a monopoly.
A lot of details had to be worked out to expand nationwide. At this time fifty percent of a karate school’s business came from the yellow pages. You could not open a successful karate school without yellow page coverage. Which brings us to a story…
Paul Olivas had us sell a franchise to a college student whose father is a successful businessman in San Francisco. The son started college in Southern California where he also opened his franchise karate school.
The contract is signed with the yellow pages for his karate school ad. The phone book comes out, but there was no ad. The phone company made a mistake and the karate school was automatically out of business.
A meeting was set up with the college kid’s father and his San Francisco lawyer, Marvin Lewis. I was asked to attend the meeting. The legal issue was pretty clear. The son had a contract with the yellow page company for an ad that never appeared, which destroyed his business. Could the phone company be sued? What were the damages?
The father and I sat down with the attorney and were told the following. His law clerk had researched the law and the law said that even though a contract had been violated and the son had been clearly damaged, he could not sue the phone company. Because…this was long before the days of deregulation. There was just one phone company and one yellow page company with both companies being the same. They were public utilities.
If people were allowed to sue the yellow pages, being a public utility, then the people’s phone rates would have to go up to pay the damage awarded. So…to keep the people’s phone bills from going up the law said you could not sue the yellow pages even if they were guilty.
Simply put, the yellow pages were immune from lawsuits. Al and I were mad as heck with the phone company and there was not a thing we could do about it! What we did not know at the time is that the day would come when we would have our revenge on the phone company.
It really did not matter as the father, who was financing the franchise, was rich and could afford to take the loss.
This story tells how important yellow pages were to our successfully opening a nationwide chain of karate schools.
However, there is another angle to this story. I was so impressed with this lawyer, Marvin Lewis, that Al and I decided to use him as our lawyer and promptly put him on retainer. I had met this lawyer at a short meeting, which at the time had no significance out of the ordinary. Then we learned that the man had one of the top law firms in the country. Marvin Lewis was in the same league as the famed Melvin Belli and F. Lee Bailey.
We would soon find out that Marvin Lewis had an impressive resume: A former San Francisco Supervisor; Founder and first president of the California Trial Lawyers Association; President of the Western Trial lawyers Association; President of the American Trial Lawyers Association.
Through a chance meeting we now had one of the best lawyers in America.
You may not have heard of Marvin Lewis, but you undoubtedly heard of one of his trials, which was one of the most famous and bazaar legal cases in American history. This was the case of a young woman who got jostled on a San Francisco cable car and claimed that this experience turned her into a nymphomaniac. The jury awarded her $50,000!
Two days after the trial I asked Marvin Lewis what happened with the case. His mouth dropped open and with astonishment, he said, “I never expected to win! I put on my case and the city did not put on a case. All the city had to do was to put a psychiatrist on the stand to say that it could not happen, and I would have lost. The jury figured that because the city refused to put on a case then the city must be admitting that it was all true.”
I am not through with the yellow pages yet. The fact that the yellow pages were a public utility, and could not be sued, also worked to our advantage. We had a problem. We were going to expand our chain throughout the major cities of America. However, we did not know which cities. And…we had to have yellow page coverage in advance of opening these karate schools, in cities that were yet undetermined.
Here is what I did: I contacted several yellow page companies in major cities by calling them collect. So far it cost us nothing. I had them send me their current yellow pages for free, which as a public utility they were obliged to do. It still cost us nothing. I looked at each city’s yellow pages to confirm that there was little, if any, karate school competitors. If there was too much competition I simply went on to another city. America was a big country and it was foolish to go head-to-head with good competitors when there were so many cities wide open.
I then placed an ad in certain select city yellow pages. These were usually small display ads as it was foolish to place a large, expensive, display ad in a yellow pages when we were the only ad.
The yellow page ad had to be connected to a phone number, also established for free. The phone number and yellow page ad did not start billing until the yellow pages came out. So far everything was free. It just took a lot of planning and time consuming work.
The day the yellow pages came out I had the phone number disconnected. This automatically stopped the billing for both the phone number and yellow page ad. I now have yellow page ads in several major American cities…for free.
Our franchisees fell into two categories: There were those, like Jay T. Will, who wanted to open a school in their hometown. And there were those who were willing to go anywhere that they could make the most money. Most of our franchisees were willing to follow the money.
I taught this yellow page set-up to Ray Klingenberg and he immediately took it big time. Klingenberg set up one room in his San Mateo school, which he called “The War Room.” He contacted, and is sent, yellow pages from every major and medium size city in America.
He then set up yellow page and phone service in about thirty cities…in anticipation of, hopefully, getting a franchisee to open a school in that city during that yellow page year.
The process now became assembly line: Sell a franchise: Train the franchisee in all aspects of karate and business: ]Then let the franchisee chose which of the thirty cities he wished to open a karate school.
We were usually there to pick the studio location, negotiate the building lease, install signs and everything else. The day the school opened we had the phone number reconnected, which activated the yellow pages and the school was off to a flying start.
This system worked beautifully. If we did not open a school in a particular city where we had yellow page coverage it did not matter as the yellow page ad and phone number were all free anyway!
We were working with so many cities with yellow page set-ups, in addition to so many other aspects of the business, that we were bound to make mistakes. We would make a mistake, a simple mistake, which would one day make Chuck Norris rich and famous…and today’s American icon.
But that is getting ahead of the story.
We also have to have franchise contracts to sign. The original franchise contracts were drawn up by Tom Connor’s attorney…Tom told us. Later we were to find that Tom Connor drew up the contracts himself, which were pretty bad.
We have Marvin Lewis on retainer. So, he assigns his law partner to draw up a valid franchise agreement. It was pretty long at more than fifty pages, which created a problem.
Today, to make a copy of this franchise agreement all one has to do is take the original pages down to Kinkos. They will copy and bind overnight and charge you a few dollars.
Forty years ago photocopy machines were of such poor quality that you could not get a good print copy. This had to be done by an off-set printing press, which meant a large run. It was a very expensive process.
We bought a printing press, which was quite expensive, and Al ran off hundreds of copies of the franchise. In just that one printing the press paid for itself. If we had a commercial print shop do the job it would have cost more than buying our own press.
We now have one little problem. We have thousands of franchise pages printed but no way to collate them, put them in order. One of our instructors had a job working in the local government’s printing shop. And…he has a key to the shop! The instructor and I sneak into the shop in the middle of the night and use the government collating machine. It is a big job taking up most of two nights..
I tell you this story because I believe in being honest in writing this story. Also, I am telling you this story because the statute of limitations has run out.
We purchased a hardback book binder, which again was expensive. It continued to be expensive because in addition to the binding machine we had to keep on buying the custom printed book covers and binding materials.
We finally have our franchises ready to sign.
During this time, Ray Klingenberg is doing something which would soon give the Tracy’s organization prestige, recognition and even admiration from the rest of the karate world.
Klingenberg starts grooming the world karate champion to join Tracy’s.
You notice I use the word “grooming.” There is one aspect of the karate world at that time that I have not yet mentioned. Just about every karate instructor who ran their own school was crazy! I mean they were total whackos!
Today, the karate business is mostly run by solid business people, both men and women. However, at this time in history, solid, mentally stable karate instructors were hard to come by. The funny thing is that many of these crazy instructors did a terrific job of teaching and turned out some excellent karate students.
There was nothing wrong with the students who took lesson. They were quite normal. And many of the instructors were quite normal. But those who decided to open their own karate schools, somehow, all metamorphosed. Carrying on a logical conversation with these people was quite difficult. Carrying on a business conversation was impossible!
Early in our San Francisco days, Paul Olivas had a successful business friend who wanted his own chain of Tracy’s Karate Schools. (You notice how Paul Olivas keeps coming back into the story.) The business man went to several competing karate schools with an offer to buy them out and keep the instructor on as his professional manager.
Finally, the business man came to Al and I and said in frustration, “All these karate schools I tried to buy out are run by lunatics. Aren’t there any karate instructors in the world that you can carry on a logical conversation with?”
“Yes,” replied Al and I, “there are just two, and you are now talking to them.”
“Oh, no!” groaned the business man, “That is what I was afraid you would say.”
Now you see why Ray Klingenberg chose to “groom “ the world karate champion to join Tracy’s. You could not use a direct approach as in any other profession. You could not set down and offer him a job, at a wage, to be part of our company.
The champion’s name was Joe Lewis. (His father named him after the boxing champion.) He was the second world karate champion after the first champion, Mike Stone, retired.
Klingenberg flied Joe Lewis up to visit his San Mateo school several times and wines and dines him. His top students work out with the champion and let the champ kick them around. Klingenberg slowly builds up a friendship, a comradely with the champion and the Tracy’s people.
Months latter, Ray Klingenberg’s “grooming” would pay off and Joe Lewis came into the Tracy’s organization…and did a terrific job.
Ray Klingenberg started stripping his school of instructors sending them throughout the country to open schools. Eventually, the San Mateo school didn’t have an instructor left and the school closed… and Ray Klingenberg headed for the East Coast.
He sent a twenty-one year old instructor named Jim Miller to Buffalo, New York. The kid opened two schools quickly and is rolling in money. Just as quickly he buys two new Lincoln Continentals.
The franchise karate schools are turning out to be good deals for the franchise owners. They are making money faster than they can spend it! It isn’t turning out to be such a good deal for Al and Jim Tracy.
The problem we had is that most of our franchisees were young. They did not have the business experience, cash or credit to open a business. The instructor who opened the school in Bethesda, Maryland, was only seventeen years old.
As a rule, one of us, Al or I, or Klingenberg, had to go into the new city with the instructor, pick the building location and get the school open. Al and I usually had to guarantee the lease, the payment for the mats, the sign and all other bills that required payments.
Al and I were on the hook for everything!
This would not have been so bad if we were getting the franchise fee ($4,500, then $6,500, finally $9,500) up front. But few of these instructors had enough cash to pay up front. What cash they had, or could beg or borrow, was needed to move to a new city and pay for opening the school.
Because we were guaranteeing the expenses of many of our schools we devised a plan to protect ourselves. We rented an office in San Jose where Al set up, and ran, an accounting firm that handled all of the money-in and money-out for the schools.
All money coming into the schools went to San Jose on a weekly basis. Also, on a weekly basis, all the schools’ bills were sent to San Jose. Al had a staff of two to three women who handled the day-by-day work. The accounting department was called Tracy’s Accounting Service Corporation, (TASC). The accounting department also took care of the school’s payroll and taxes. TASC eventually became a pretty big department in the Tracy’s organization.
TASC had more advantages than just guaranteeing that Al and I would be protected when giving our credit to the school owners. It also freed the franchisee from a lot of paperwork so they could concentrate on teaching karate.
While all of these preparations were being made for the big push to the East Coast, Al had a late meeting with Klingenberg at his San Mateo school. He left at three in the morning and stoped in San Jose at an open phone on the sidewalk to make a quick call to his wife to let her know he will be home in a few minutes.
Al is driving a new Cadillac and wearing an expensive suit.
A man approaches from the front. Al knows instinctively what is going to happen. A man is approaching from behind who will tap Al on his shoulder expecting him to turn and look backwards. At that moment the man in front would throw a punch. They are going to beat him up and steal his wallet.
It was a classic attack situation, with defense techniques we had done thousands of times under Ed Parker while students in Pasadena. The man from behind taps Al on the shoulder. At the same time the man in front throws a punch. Al simultaneously blocks the punch while throwing a kick. Then Al does a half-spin backwards catching the man behind with a back fist, leans forward and hits the man with a rear kick. It is all over in two seconds.
Al’s suit and shirt are covered with blood, but it is not his blood. Al walks away with a small bruise on his head.
I tell you this story so the reader does not forget the reason a student takes karate lessons.
Once Ray Klingenberg moved back to Philadelphia things really started moving. The guy was a human dynamo. He opened a school in Philadelphia to make money for himself and to use as a base of operations.
He started training new students, which he quickly develops into instructors, managers, and just as quickly, franchisees. He picks up some top karate competitors from the region and brings in some California instructors. Within a year he has a chain of schools operating in the Philadelphia area.
Dick Willett, from Klingenberg’s San Mateo school, opened a chain in San Diego. Chris Trujillo, from our San Jose school, opened a chain in Denver and Colorado Springs. He was one of those who went back to his hometown of Denver. We opened a chain in Chicago, staffed mostly with instructors from San Jose.
In addition to the chains we also have individual schools opening across the country. All of this is not done over night. It all takes time and a great deal of work.
In was not long before Ray Klingenberg pulls off the greatest coup in the history of American karate. He gets the World Karate Champion, Joe Lewis, to join Tracy’s.
Joe Lewis was the World Heavy Weight Karate Champion. He was your typical good-looking California beach boy type with blond hair, although he was not from California. Joe stood six feet tall and weighed 205 pounds. He had good muscle definition due to a serious body building regime. Joe was only twenty-four years old. We were all young. Not only were we young but Al, Will and I looked extremely young. We looked like freshmen in college.
After we had a chain of schools established on the East Coast, Ray Klingenberg set up a two-day weekend karate seminar for Joe Lewis to give to our students. Ray got 100 students to attend and charged then $25 each. At the end of the seminar, Ray Klingenberg handed Joe Lewis $2,500 cash. In today’s money that was $13,000.
Joe Lewis didn’t have to do too much figuring to realize that this was just for two days work.
We keep the hiring secret because we wanted the announcement to have a big shock effect on the karate world. We waiting for a big karate tournament on the East Coast, and had Joe Lewis, wearing a Tracy uniform, walk into the arena as head of the Tracy competition team.
With that one event, the karate world caved in. All had to acknowledge that the Tracy brothers ruled karate in America.
And we were…still, just hated. Our competitors just could not accept the fact that these young kids had made it work, and we were so… rich.
One potential franchisee told me that he had told a karate master that he was thinking of taking a Tracy’s franchise, and asked for advice.
“I don’t think much of their karate,” said the master. “But you will make a lot of money.”
Everyone in karate now knew that if they took a Tracy franchise they would make a lot of money. However, few came into the organization. They all knew that they could be instantly rich if they “sold their souls to the Tracy brothers.” Yet, they would not do it.
And here is what was so amazing. Almost all of our competitors were just barely making it financially. If they taught karate as a full time job they were just surviving. Most had to continue with their daytime jobs to supplement their nighttime karate schools. Every one of them knew that they could be rich over night if they just joined Tracy’s. (Well, maybe.) Still, most of them would not do it.
Why? Again, they just hated us.
Looking back, if every one of our karate competitors had taken a Tracy’s franchise, we would have had our thousand-school chain, and everyone would have been friends, rich and famous. (Once you joined Tracy’s you automatically had your fifteen minutes of fame.)
You just couldn’t deal with the other karate instructors on a logical, business-like basis. They were just not normal. You just couldn’t carry on a logical conversation with any of them. They were all crazy. But that was about to change.
One of the reasons we were such good friends with Bruce Lee was because he was one of the few Kung Fu/karate men you could talk to and have a sensible conversation. What I remember most about Bruce Lee is that he was a lot of fun to be around. Also, our fighting styles and philosophies were the same. Bruce Lee was different. And…Chuck Norris was different, which, to our surprise, we were soon to find out.
Shortly after Joe Lewis joined Tracy’s, Chuck Norris, now the World Middleweight Karate Champion, walked up to Al at a tournament and asked Al. “Why did you hire Joe? Why didn’t you hire me?”
Al was stunned and replied, “Actually Chuck, I would have preferred you. To tell you the truth I didn’t know you were available.”
Al couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Chuck was saying, “Why didn’t you sit down with me and have a businessman to businessman conversation, make me your offer, and I would have accepted.”
We lost Chuck Norris because we made a dumb mistake. We didn’t realize that Chuck Norris was one of the few karate men in the world who was normal.
Chuck Norris lost big. We gave Joe Lewis $18,000 a year on the payroll. In addition, he picked up another $18,000 a year running karate seminars at our different schools. In today’s money that is more than $200,000 a year. And there was more. We gave him a new Cadillac and a deluxe two-bedroom apartment in Hollywood.
This was our offer to get the World Karate Champion, who the day before was starving. (Note: “Starving” is a traditional karate term, which means you were not very successful in the karate business…until you met the Tracy brothers.)
And, Chuck Norris could have had it all if we had not made that dumb mistake. Poor Chuck was starving and would continue starving…for awhile.
It would not be long before we would make another dumb mistake, which would make Chuck Norris rich and famous beyond his wildest dreams, and the American icon.
To be honest, not everyone who took a Tracy franchise became rich. There were those who simply were not business orientated. They simply could not run a business. When that happened we would try to get another instructor to take over their franchise school. There were also those outsiders who could not adapt to the new way of doing things and left the organization and went back to the old way of teaching. And there were those crazies that we should have never given a franchise to in the first place.
We had some franchisees that made a great deal of money and those who just did very well for themselves. We would open 150 schools, but the most we ever had running at the same time was around 100 schools. (Those are the figures I remember. Al believes the numbers were higher.)
This meant that we had 100 managers. Some schools had secretaries and they all employed between five and ten instructors. If you add them all up we had 1,000 people on the payroll, with most of the payroll being processed out of the San Jose accounting department. Al Tracy was very busy running TASC.
Following our game plan, we opened our Philadelphia and Chicago schools by establishing our yellow pages and phone numbers ahead of time. These were large market areas. When I say Philadelphia and Chicago, I mean the metropolitan areas. These are very big areas. We knew ahead of time that we were going to have a lot of schools in these two cities.
We set up one large, expensive, yellow page ad with each city. Each large ad had about ten locations named by area with phone numbers for each area. But there were no school addresses, as we had no schools open yet.
The fact that the yellow page ad was expensive was not important, as each school in the ad would pay its share.
I want to tell you again that this was long before the days of deregulation. In America there was just one controlling phone company, Ma Bell. There was just one controlling yellow page company, Ruben H. Donnelly, whose headquarters was in Chicago.
They could not just run wild and do as they please. They were a regulated public utility. Ma Bell and Ruben H. Donnelly worked hand-in-hand.
You will remember that we had a run-in with the yellow pages before, only to find that they were immune from lawsuits. Now we were about to have another run-in with the yellow pages and this time the yellow pages would find that Tracy’s Karate Schools were immune from lawsuits.
There was a technicality, a big technicality that we gave no thought to when we set up the Philadelphia and Chicago yellow pages. We were working with the idea of setting up one yellow page ad with one phone number. When the yellow pages came out we disconnected the phone number, which stopped the bill. We could reactivate the yellow pages anytime in the future at our choosing. Once the phone number was reconnected the phone and yellow page billing started…at that point. They could not go back and charge for any time before reactivating the phone number. Nothing was retroactive.
When we have ten different phone numbers in ten different areas of Chicago all in one yellow page ad, the billing is connected to just one of the ten numbers. When that one number is disconnected it stops the billing even if the other nine locations are open and operating. The nine other schools have to pay the regular phone bill but they have no obligation to pay for the yellow page ad.
In short, we get the yellow page advertising for nine schools for free.
And that is exactly what happened in Philadelphia and Chicago. And…the yellow pages and the phone company were not happy. They wanted their money. The Chicago yellow pages alone cost $12,000 for the year. Philadelphia, including the yellow page books in the surrounding areas, cost as much. In today’s money we owed the yellow pages between $100,000 and $150,000. And they were not getting a penny of it.
Klingenberg had set up yellow pages for metropolitan Philadelphia. Then he started disconnecting numbers. The phone people wanted their money. They did not care if the billing numbers had been disconnected. They very adamantly wanted their money.
The problem is that we had set up so many yellow pages ads in the Philadelphia area, with so many phone numbers, and then disconnected so many phone numbers, that we lost control of what we were doing.
Simply put, we didn’t know what was going on.
The problem is that Ruben H. Donnelly and Ma Bell couldn’t figure out what was happening either.
They just wanted their money!
Ray Klingenberg set everything up for Philadelphia. He tried working with the phone people. We told them that we had no objections to paying the bill. But, what was the bill? Which of our schools owed what amount? We assured the phone people that with each of our schools paying their share then there would be no problem paying the bill. All we needed was a breakdown on their bill.
But…they could not give us a break down because the billing number had been disconnected. The account was so confusing that the phone people couldn’t tell us who owed what. They just kept screaming that they wanted their money.
Klingenberg can’t get it straightened out so he turns the problem over to me. I didn’t know what was going on because I didn’t set up the Philadelphia yellow pages. I had my own cities I was working on yellow page set-ups.
I tried to explain to the phone people that there was no problem getting the different schools to pay their share. But, I had to have a billing breakdown, an invoice of who owed what. They can’t give me a breakdown. All they kept saying (now screaming) is that they wanted their money.
The people at Ruben H. Donnelly and Ma Bell are beside themselves. They don’t know what to do. They handled the phone and yellow page service for the entire population of America, which was 203 million, 302 thousand, and 31 people: Their accounts run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, and they never had this happen before. It was Tracy’s version of Three Mile Island.
Klingenberg couldn’t get it straightened out. I couldn’t get it straightened out. Finally, I told my assistant to drive to Chicago and sit down with the people at Ruben H. Donnelley and get it straightened out once-and-for-all.
My assistant drove to Chicago and has a face-to-face meeting with some very unhappy people. He told them, as we had so many times before, that our schools were willing to pay the bill but we needed a breakdown for each school.
All he gets is a runaround. They just keep saying that they want their money.
Finally, the phone people tell my assistant. “We can’t get this straightened out here. It will have to be taken care of at our headquarters.”
“Fine,” Says my assistant, “I will go over to headquarters right now and get this straightened out.”
They would not give him the address of their headquarters!
They finally decide to sue us, in Chicago, where they have their headquarters, their top executives, and their lawyers. In Chicago we had the same problem as Philadelphia, a lot of karate schools getting free yellow pages.
Al went to Chicago for deposition. The deposition took two hours with the phone people simply establishing the facts point-by-point. They were confident that they were going to win. We clearly owed them the money, or so they thought.
However, the best made plans of mice and phone men often go astray, or something like that.
Al returned to Chicago for the trial. The judge took only a few minutes to look at the facts.
He told the phone people lawyers; “You made the rules. They were playing by your rules. You can not change the rules because you decide that you do not like them.”
Later, one of the people at Ruben H. Donnelley told Al that they had their top people analyze everything that Tracy’s did and came to the conclusion that everything we did was legal.
Because of Tracy’s Karate Schools, Ruben H. Donnelley changed the way they did their yellow pages throughout the entire world.
Which brings us back to Chuck Norris, the American icon. We placed an ad in the yellow pages where Chuck Norris had a school in Southern California. It was a mistake. Who made the mistake? Was it Ray Klingenberg or me? I do not know. It was a mistake because it was our policy not to put yellow page ads in areas where there were open, competing karate schools. Our ads had a phone number with no address because we didn’t have a school open. We were just thinking of having a school open in those areas, a big “maybe.” If a prospective student looked in the phone book and saw an ad with a karate school in business they obviously are going to contact that school rather then ours, which did not exist.
Again, it was a mistake because we had no intention of opening a school to compete with Chuck Norris. Besides, he was the Middle Weight World Karate Champion. In fact, we never did open a school in that area.
Chuck Norris told Al Tracy that when he opened the new yellow pages and saw our ad in his territory, he panicked. He knew that he could not compete with a Tracy’s school.
So he sold his school and decided to get out of the karate business.
Chuck Norris went to his friend and student, super star Steve McQueen, told him his problem and asked if he could suggest a new profession.
The famous actor said, “What is wrong with my profession?”
Chuck Norris became an actor.
Years later, after he had become a movie star, Chuck Norris told Al, “At the time I did not like what you did. Then I realized it was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
In Pasadena we studied at Ed Parker’s Kenpo Karate School. Kenpo was the Chinese-Hawaiian style that he taught. In San Francisco we named our school Tracy’s Kenpo Karate School. In the early days the schools were usually named after the instructor. No one was on an ego trip. That is just the way it was done.
When we first started franchising we still used the name Tracy’s Kenpo Karate Schools.
One evening Al and I were driving past one of our competitor’s schools. The school was just around the corner from our San Jose school. They taught a Korean style and were really good.
We were on friendly terms with them from the day we first opened our San Jose school. Sometimes we even had their top men come over to our school and compete with our top men.
The head of their organization was a Korean who had come to San Francisco for an education and stayed on for a few years. He was also teaching karate. He eventually returned to Korea. Even Ed Parker was impressed with the guy. Parker told us that he had seen the Korean instructor do something that he had never seen. The Korean stood face to face with a student and roundhouse kicked him to the temple.
Our competitor’s top student was Jim Stuart. If we could get him to join us then he would bring with him all of the school’s top students. What we were up against was our competitor’s inborn resistance to going with another organization and teaching a different style.
We decided to give it a try. We had one advantage. We knew them and they saw us start from nothing in a hole-in-the-wall school with sawdust mats, then grow to driving a Ferrari and Porsche in a short period of time. We knew they were impressed. We knew that they knew that if they joined Tracy’s they could have the same.
We went into the school and pitched the guy. It only took a few minutes. His only objection was using the school name with the word “Kenpo.” Al and I said “What the heck! We don’t care. We will drop the word Kenpo and become Tracy’s Karate Schools.”
Jim Stewart brought several of his men with him and we eventually got twelve to fifteen schools out of it. One of their schools was in Atlanta.
One of our Atlanta students was the superstar basketball player “Pistol Pete” Maravich. He was a pretty good karate student. Karate gave him a lot of self-confidence. So-much-so, that when he retired from basketball he wanted to open his own chain of Tracy’s Karate Schools.
Also, at our Atlanta school was the baseball player, Hank Aaron. He may have been a student at the time he broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. I remember suggesting to Al at the time that we approach Hank Aaron about endorsing Tracy’s Karate Schools. I didn’t understand why Al was so cool to the idea. He was thinking the obvious. “Are you stupid?! The guy would want a million dollars for the endorsement.”
It took time for our district managers to open their own chain of schools, usually two years to get all of them operating. We opened a lot of schools but used mostly our own people. There still existed that inbred resistance among our competitors to join Tracy’s. Our best year was 1969, or 1970, when we opened fifty schools in just one year.
Our upper management was starting to work independent of one another. This gave us more efficiency. I used the San Jose school to train the franchisees in management.
While Al was busy in the accounting office running TASC, I was busy training managers.
Klingenberg was on the East Coast selling franchises, training managers, opening schools…and setting up yellow pages.
Joe Lewis was in Hollywood. The World Karate Champion was not just a figurehead. We hired him to head our competition team, run workshops at our various schools, and show the flag.
He did far more than we asked. Joe Lewis became loyal to the core. You would think that he was born with the last name of “Tracy.”
One time I visited him at his apartment. This was shortly after he joined us. Joe told me that he would sit there looking at all of his trophies… that he could not eat. They were just trophies without any money attached. He remembered all of the people who told him all the great things they were going to do for him, and never did. Tracy’s were the only one’s who ever did anything for him.
We gave Joe Lewis a two-bedroom deluxe apartment with the understanding that anyone in the upper echelons of the organization could stay there while doing business in Los Angeles. The extra bedroom was used a lot.
Joe Lewis was the World Karate Champion and sought after by the Hollywood crowd. He blended in well. One time I was staying with Joe and he had an evening date with Pricilla Presley. When he returned I asked, “How did it go?”
“Pricilla is attracted to macho men, “ Joe replied.
“I guess that leaves me out, “ I said to myself.
Joe did a lot of good PR work for the organization just by being there. He would spend his days taking one phone call after another from our managers all over the country. They just wanted to talk with him. Joe was always available.
He had individual and conference calls with Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee. Again, PR work.
Joe Lewis knew his position in the organization and he a fantastic job.
We were starting to put some really good, solid karate men into the field; we had some good, solid managers. However, we were starting to get some of the real crazies that plagued the karate world at that time. It was not just our San Jose school that was starting to have problems with the crazies, but our district managers were starting to have problems with their own recruits.
It took a great deal of time and effort to train just one manager. Not only was I training managers in San Jose but our schools out there in the good old USA were training their own managers… and, we were starting to lose control.
I trained one manager at the San Jose school. He was from outside the organization. He trained well and did an excellent job in training. It was not just theoretical training, but on-the-job training where the trainees would actually run the schools under supervision.
Confident I had a good man, we sent him back East to manage a school. As soon as he got to the school he fell in with one of the students and they decided they would go to Brazil together and build concrete airplanes.
Another of our franchisees had what he thought was a good manager until one day he went to the school and the manager was gone. Not only was the manager gone, but so was the owner’s new Lincoln Continental.
Two months later the manager comes walking back into the school, handed the owner the keys to the car, and said sheepishly, “I’m sorry.”
When Al and I started franchising, everything looked good on paper. All we had to do was sell franchises, train the people in our karate and business system, and help them open their schools…and then we would sit back and watch the royalties pour into the bank.
It was not happening that way.
Al and I started thinking of preventative maintenance. How could we weed out these crazies before we wasted the time and effort developing them for a school? This is a problem that plagues businesses all over the world. Other business people may not have had the same degree of crazies, but they all have problems hiring people they wish they hadn’t.
We went to one of our San Jose students and asked for advice. His name was Dr. Arvis Tally. He was a doctor of chiropractics. He was not just your ordinary chiropractor, but absolutely worshipped by the other chiropractors. The guy was a genius. He was years ahead in his thinking. He was one of the firsts, if not the first man to X-ray an Egyptian mummy and see what was inside. He was into hypnosis. He was a brilliant clinical psychologist and an expert on psychological testing.
Doctor Tally was one of the very first students we had signed up when we opened our San Jose school. He was about fifty-five years old and had just been in a serious car accident. He was very dedicated about recovery and chose karate as his way to regain his health. When we started our new private lesson system he requested to be placed on a private lesson program.
Each day he would take a private lesson, followed by a one-hour beginner’s class, followed by a one-hour intermediate class, followed by a one-hour advanced class.
Karate restored Dr. Tally’s health, and we made him our children’s class instructor.
Why was he worshipped by the other chiropractors? They would send him their most difficult cases. One case was a man who had back problems. He went to one chiropractor after another without any improvement. The other chiropractors could not find anything wrong with the man’s back.
Finally, they sent him to Dr. Tally, who immediately laid him on the table and started to adjust his back. While working on the man’s back, Dr. Tally hypnotized him. Once under hypnosis, Dr. Tally asked the man what was wrong.
“It is my wife,” the man complained. “She is always griping. She never stops griping. I wish she would get off my back!”
I went to Dr. Tally with our problem. He knew what we wanted as he had done pre-screening for other employers. I decided to send my next franchise applicant to Dr. Tally for a complete psychological examination before I signed him to a franchise.
The guy I chose looked really good. He was mature, being in his late twenties. He had a good solid business background and just looked like the perfect candidate.
I sent him to Dr. Tally who did extensive testing. When the testing was complete, I went over to Dr. Tally’s office and said, “Tell me about this guy.”
“He is suicidal,” Dr. Tally replied.
I sent two more applicants to Dr. Tally only to get more negative results. We were beginning to realize that the men we were considering for franchises were more disturbed than we ever imagined. Each applicant we now looked at as not just a problem, but a possible nightmare.
Dr. Tally was expensive. Just one of his tests had to be given ten minutes a day for ten days.
I had another meeting with Dr. Tally.
He said, “What you want is a simply, inexpensive, test that can tell you if you should accept the person for a franchise.”
“Yes. That is exactly what we want,” I replied
“Why don’t you use handwriting analysis?” He said.
We would have dismissed handwriting analysis automatically as being quackery. However, we had the utmost respect for Dr. Tally. He referred us to Charlie Cole who was a handwriting expert who lived in San Jose. He did personnel analysis for businesses, which was exactly what we were looking for.
Handwriting analysis is little known in America, but has been used as a valid psychological test in Europe since before the Second World War. Many European handwriting experts also have their Masters and PhDs in psychology, with some highly respected universities offering classes in graphology.
A lot of research has been done on handwriting. There are some traits that show up very clearly in handwriting. One of those traits is mental instability. We paid Charlie Cole to analyze every applicant for a franchise.
Charlie Cole started to separate the good applicants from the bad, but as in everything, there are no absolutes.
Not only did Charlie Cole do handwriting analysis for businesses, but he also taught classes on the subject. Al and I took one of his courses, which was quite extensive. Joe Lewis, Ray Klingenberg and our brother, Will, also were interested.
We all met in San Jose to take a weekend workshop. The three Tracy brothers came to be pretty good at analyzing handwriting. Because we traveled a lot we had the habit of always analyzing the handwriting of the waitresses.
One time Al was in Florida with our district manager of Miami and one of his students who was a lawyer. Al asked the waitress if she would like him to analyze her handwriting. They always said, “Yes.”
The mind does hundreds of things subconsciously in the handwriting. This is why a course of instruction takes so long. When you first look at someone’s handwriting there are always one or two things that are obvious; they jump right out at you. With this one waitress Al was wrong about everything. He then asked her what was her favorite color? She said blue. He next asked what were her hobbies. She said playing baseball.
Everything she said, and her handwriting, was masculine.
Al remembered in class that Charlie Cole said that whenever you are wrong about everything then always ask if they have a twin of the opposite sex.
Al asked her if she had a twin brother.
“Yes,” she said.
“What is his favorite color?”
His hobbies were all feminine.
Al was analyzing her twin brother’s handwriting.
Al Tracy was the busiest man in the organization. Not only was he running the accounting department for the chain but he was also selling franchises and setting up schools.
Al opened the franchise school in Vancouver, Canada. He drove his Chevy Blazer nearly one thousand miles to Vancouver. It takes several days to get the school operating. Then he drives back.
This shows the vast distances we would travel to open just one school.
Ray Klingenberg would give up his own school in Philadelphia to spend full time selling, training managers and opening franchise schools. Klingenberg is put on the corporate payroll as is his red racing Ferrari.
I am selling, training franchisees and opening schools.
Eventually, Al and I would give up the San Jose school and turn it over to a manager. We would not need the income from the school because we would be making lots and lots of money off of franchise fees and royalties, or so we thought.
Joe Lewis is living his life of luxury in his Hollywood apartment and showing the rest of the karate world his new Cadillac, courtesy of the Tracy’s organization.
Joe led our competition team to victory in tournaments, which was really hard to do because we were still hated by the rest of the karate men. The judging was always against us.
Begrudgingly, the rest of the karate world was beginning to adopt the Tracy’s system, both in teaching and business.
We are opening franchise schools throughout the country. The district managers are opening their own chains but they limit themselves to only a handful of satellite schools in their area.
With a larger chain now established the money is starting to come into the corporation. But Al and I are not getting any of it.
We were now selling the franchises for $6,500. If we sold 200 franchises that would be $1,300,000. In today’s money it is $6,500,000. In addition, we were to receive six percent of the gross of each school in royalties.
200 schools with 200 students each would gross $1,600,000 a month. At six percent they would pay $96,000 a month in royalties in today’s money. That is the way it looked on paper…in theory.
We had one franchisee with two schools, which paid $2,000 a month in royalties. In today’s money that would be $10,000 a month. That was coming from just two schools. It looked so good… on paper. But it was not working out so well in reality.
We were not getting the millions of dollars up front in franchise fees. We were getting nothing up front in franchise fees. The people who were buying our franchises did not have the cash up front to pay the franchise fee. What money they had was used to travel to a new city and pay for the expenses of opening the karate school.
The franchise fee was paid by signing a promissory note and paying us at the rate of $200 per month. This was obviously not cash up front. It was only a promise. If we were lucky we would get $500 or $1,000 up front, sometimes nothing up front.
The royalties provided a great deal of money coming in each month to the corporation. However, we had a lot of money going out. At our peak we were running a fleet of twelve to fifteen cars.
The two racing Ferraris were in the shop once a week. The Mercedes and BMW were in the shop every two weeks. Mercedes and BMWs are very expensive to repair. You would not believe how much it cost to repair a racing Ferrari!
The airplane was in constant use. We even bought a small motorcycle with a breakdown kit. We could carry the motorcycle in the airplane, which gave us our own ground transportation. Airplanes are expensive.
We had the expenses of the accounting firm, TASC, which included rent, the pay for bookkeepers, the printing press and all the other office expenses. The postage was enormous!
We had Ray Klingenberg and Joe Lewis on the payroll. We could have had Chuck Norris but we did not have enough money for two world champions.
There were constant travelling expenses, motels and meals.
There were the commercial airfares as we were always flying somewhere. Phone bills were quite high before the days of deregulation.
We have our lawyer on retainer and are constantly in his San Francisco office.
The three of us, Al, Ray Klingenberg and I envisioned a chain of hundreds of karate schools across the nation and Canada. We expected that each would pay their franchise fees every month along with their royalties. After training and getting the school open we would then sit back and count the money as it came rolling in.
With some schools, like Saint Louis and Tulsa, that is exactly what happened. The two schools ran like clockwork. Everyone made money and everyone was happy. Some of the schools, did indeed, work out just as predicted.
However, we had too many schools that were nothing but problems. Klingenberg had to visit the school to troubleshoot. Then Al would have to go into the same school to fix the problems. Then it was my turn. It tied up our management team, wasted time and cost us money to service these problem schools.
The managers often burned out and quit, and we were right back to replacing managers again.
And, we don’t have 200 schools open. Right now we have less than 100. We are still getting little, or no franchise fees up front. We do have royalties coming in, but they are all being eaten up by expenses. We were paying the monthly expenses, but there is nothing left over for the two principle stockholders, Al and Jim Tracy.
This is not the way we figured things were going to be.
No problem, Al and I thought. All we have to do is open more schools.
This is the way it went until January of 1971.
In the meantime Tom Connor and Ed Parker are not sitting idly by watching the Tracy brothers dominate the karate world in America. When we opened the karate school in Phoenix we used the name Traco, for Tracy-Connor.
Tom Connor took over the Phoenix school and lived the life of the successful karate tycoon. It was an illusion. Tom Connor had a brother he had not had contact with in twenty years. The brother was on the board of directors of a Fortune 500 company.
Shortly after Tom Connor moved to Phoenix his brother died leaving a large life insurance policy with Tom Connor named as the beneficiary. I heard the amount was $200,000. If this were true then the amount Tom Connor collected would be well over one million dollars in today’s money, which passes cash, tax-free.
The illusion he gives is that of the successful, karate tycoon. He bought a Maserati. When he heard that Al Tracy bought a Ferrari he sold the Maserati and bought a Ferrari.
Over the years he would open a chain of schools. However, Tom Connor was never really a karate man. He was a dance instructor who saw karate merely as a business opportunity. He was far enough along in his karate training and he was a professional dance instructor. Anyone who studied in his schools received decent instruction.
Tom Connor had other interests other than karate. He was heavily involved in bodybuilding and even entered senior’s competition. A capable manager ran his chain of schools. She had been his secretary in his dance school and came with us when Tom Connor went into partnership with Al and I. She even went with me to Phoenix to help run the expansion school. The manager was very capable of running the karate schools as a business: seeing that the bills were paid, the payroll met, and taking care of all the other aspects of the business. This left Tom Connor free to have a life outside of karate.
Tom Connor and Ed Parker soon got together and opened a few schools under the name Co-Par, for Connor-Parker. Then Ed Parker opened a few more schools under his own name.
There were now three karate chains in America all using the same system. I don’t think Tom Connor or Ed Parker opened more than fifteen schools each.
In January of 1971 I moved to Baltimore.
Paul Olivas was running a school in Baltimore. (You notice how Paul Olivas keeps coming back into the story.) The school is on the ground floor of a three-story building. The second and third stories were two bedroom apartments.
We take over the entire building and convert the apartments into army barracks style dormitories. I buy sixteen army surplus bunk beds and put them into the bedrooms. I have created a primitive but what would prove to be an extremely effective training center for managers.
We still envisioned a chain of hundreds of schools. Tracy’s now had a central location for the soul purpose of training managers on a mass-production “assembly line” basis.
The existing schools start sending their managers for training. It was simply called ”Central Training.”
There were now two competing karate magazines. One loves us and the other magazine hates us. Asians ran the hating magazine. Caucasians ran the loving magazine. We took out full-page display ads in the one magazine for advertising our franchises.
There were a lot of ex-servicemen with karate training who were returning from overseas that were looking for a business to get into. There were also existing karate students seeking to make their fortunes.
We are now getting franchisees from two sources: Those from within the organization and those who were outside Tracy’s. This would create an unexpected problem. The outsiders had no loyalty to us.
We were getting a lot of applicants from all over the country from our ad. We are also getting franchise sales from our own schools. When sold a franchise, the new managers are sent to Central Training for management training.
There is a third group of trainees; they are assistant managers to help run a large school, or to open a second school for the owners.
Central Training is a “killer!” It is unbelievably intense. The trainee received 400 hours of always-supervised training. The training staff consists of me, Paul Olivas and a nineteen-year-old instructor out of our San Jose school named Ted Mancuso. The kid is a genius and his age was never a problem with teaching managers. Paul Olivas was a 24-hour workhorse.
There was one advantage to the schools location. It was in an integrated neighborhood, half-white and half-black. We are constantly driving to the airport at all hours to pick up the trainees who are flying in from everywhere.
We taught anywhere from ten to sixteen managers at a time. We were usually at our capacity of sixteen.
We would get everyone up at 8 A.M. Breakfast is for one hour at the coffee shop next door. Lunch and dinner is also one hour. Training stops at 10 P.M. They are never alone except from 10 to 8 when they are sleeping. It is constant training.
Only ten percent of the time is spent on karate training. The rest is on how to run a successful karate school. How to handle a phone interview takes ten hours of training just by itself.
It is 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week, for four weeks. The managers we were turning out were superb.
If we had Central Training in an all-white neighborhood we would have had complaints with all the 24 hours of coming-and-goings. However, as long as you leave the blacks alone and don’t bother them; then they will leave you alone. We never had any complaints from our neighbors.
The four of us: Al, Klingenberg, Joe Lewis and myself are now working independently. We are in our own worlds, touching bases when necessary. We were so independent that it wasn’t until recently that Al told me that he and Elvis were friends and that he had been to Graceland.
We had developed a successful formula. If everyone did their job then we would be selling franchises by the hundreds, sending them all off to Central Training, then help open their karate school…and sit back and watch the money flow in.
All we needed to do was open more schools… and Al and I would be rich beyond our wildest dreams.
Everyone did do his job. However, the best made plans of mice and karate corporate executives…or something like that…often go awry.
It is now “24/7” for all of us. We have cars traveling across country, constantly. The company airplane is flying across country, constantly. We are all flying commercially across country, constantly. Running a national chain is getting to be enormously expensive, far more than we ever expected, and it is exhausting.
Al had high energy and could handle it. Ray Klingenberg had high energy and could handle it. Joe Lewis did not need high energy for his job. Even if he did he could have handled it.
I was about to collapse.
“You always were sickly.”
In the first six months of Central Training we trained seventy-five managers. That means seventy-five new schools, which means 150 newly trained managers and new schools each year. This did not include the fact that some of the schools did not send their new managers to Central Training, but trained them themselves.
With an assembly line for producing managers we would now be opening 150 new schools each year. But, it did not work out that way.
Central Training now became part of the franchise benefits. Any school owner could send their men to Central Training for free management training. The trainees were well qualified to run a karate school, but not all were inclined to do so.
Some of the franchisees sent karate students that the manager of the school had talked into attending Central Training with the expectation that the student would become a school manager. Many of these students would take the training but never go into teaching, let alone become a manager. We would find out that we had a lot of dead wood.
Not everyone who graduated from Central Training wound add a new school to the Tracy’s chain.
It gets very cold in Baltimore during the winter and after a few months of operations the water pipes froze and burst in our Central Training apartments. We were temporarily out of business as far as training goes.
Then, I lost my two trainers. Ted Mancuso went back to California and Paul Olivas went back into teaching where the real money had always been…. and I moved to New Jersey.
We were expecting to open a lot of schools in the region, so New Jersey would better position me to help in the expansion. I wanted a building for Central Training to be in a black area; so I chose East Orange. This was just a few minutes away from New York City where we already had some schools and were expecting to soon open more.
I walked into a realtor’s office and told the manager that I wanted to buy a house. He said that he could not sell me a house right now. I would have to come back tomorrow because they were running a training class for all of the salesmen on how to sell houses.
I went to another real estate office and bought a house that afternoon.
It was a large, three-story house with plenty of room for training. Training sixteen men at a time was no longer done. I now trained only two to six men at a time.
Central Training would last for two and a half years and would produce about 200 well-qualified managers. Many decided to go into management and some were very successful.
Central Training would never have happened if it were not for Paul Olivas. It was he who provided the first building and shared the hard work to make the training center successful.
Looking back thirty years later, I do not think Paul Olivas realized how much he contributed to making karate in America “big business.” He was one of the few who proved karate could be done on a large scale.
Central Training eventually would be held in motels in the various cities where the need was greatest. By this time the training was down to just two weeks.
Just ten minutes away from where I lived in New Jersey there also lived a man named Daniel Anthony. He was the nation’s number one handwriting expert. He was named after the rabble-rousing brother of the famed suffragette, Susan B. Anthony. Dan Anthony was in her family tree. It was a socially progressive clan. While growing up, Dan Anthony was constantly being told “Remember Aunt Susan.”
Not only was Dan Anthony recognized as the best handwriting expert in America, but he also taught college classes in handwriting analysis, big time. He taught a four year course in graphology across the river in New York City at the prestigious, although offbeat, New School for Social Research. He also taught a psychology class at the same school.
Dan Anthony made his living doing personnel analysis for corporate America. I went over to his house and asked if he could help us.
We were becoming unhappy with the results we were getting on the handwriting analysis done by Charlie Cole. He was definitely eliminating a lot of the problem applicants before we wasted time on them. But, we were still getting to many bad apples.
Because I now lived almost next door to the best handwriting expert in America we decided to use Dan Anthony.
First, he wanted to know what he was up against. He asked me to send him ten samples of the handwriting of some of our problem managers and also some franchise applicants.
I gave him ten samples and two weeks later called him from California where I was temporarily living.
“I have never seen so many nuts as the ten samples you sent me! I used to think that every nut in the world came into my handwriting and psychology classes. I was wrong. All the nuts in the world are in karate. I don’t know if I can help you. I think I can.”
We sent up a meeting at his house when I returned from California. First, we had to discuss the terms of pay. For corporate America he charged $75 for each handwriting analysis. In today’s money that would be $350 each. He would typically spend three hours on each analysis.
However, we were talking of a high volume of analyses. We were running a full-page ad in each issue of the karate magazine. We were getting fifty applicants a month from the magazine ad. In addition we were getting twenty to thirty applicants each month through our own schools.
We could have fifty applicants a month, or as many as one hundred. If we had one hundred and paid the full corporate rate it would cost us $35,000 a month in today’s money. We both realized that would be unrealistic.
Dan Anthony decided he would do a cold reading and spend just a few minutes on each analysis. We would pay him a monthly retainer for unlimited readings. We were Dan Anthony’s biggest customer. I would go over to his house every Friday for two hours and he would give me the readings.
“There is nothing wrong with this guy and I would not be surprised if he were black.”
Guess what color he was?
Of an already existing manager Dan Anthony warned. ”He will be the best manager you ever had, if alcohol doesn’t get him first.” Alcohol got him first.
Dan Anthony eliminated ninety percent of the applicants as being too mentally unstable, or simply not having a personality suited to business. There was nothing wrong with these applicants. They were just not business material.
If we accepted every person who applied for a franchise we would have had our 1,000 karate schools. We also would have been running the world’s largest lunatic asylum!
Ray Klingenberg and I split the workload of interviewing applicants in the field. Klingenberg took half and I took half. We had so many applicants to visit face-to-face that it made no sense to have both of us interview the same person.
Dan Anthony was so good at analyzing handwriting that he could tell us the personalities of the persons we would be meeting with. He was only wrong once.
It just so happened that it was one of the rare times that Klingenberg and I saw the same person. Klingenberg had the first meeting with the man and I had a follow-up meeting with the same man.
Dan Anthony gave the man an A-plus glowing report. He advised us that the man would be excellent for the organization. But Klingenberg and I had the same unfavorable impression of the man. He was just a regular “Joe Blow.” Nothing about him was at all significant. We did not take him into the organization.
It was the only time Dan Anthony was wrong out of hundreds of readings. We figured those were pretty good odds.
One application was from an Air Force sergeant in Wichita Falls, Texas. Dan Anthony looked at his handwriting and said, “Who else do you have for Wichita Falls?”
He was saying that he was not the greatest, but neither was he that bad.
What we were hoping to do with Dan Anthony was to eliminate ninety percent of the problem people up front. Then spend all of our time, effort and money recruiting that good ten percent, which we hoped would be successful.
I flew the company plane from New Jersey to Wichita Falls and picked up the Air Force Sergeant and his wife. We then flew to Tulsa where I showed them a successful school.
This resulted in a franchise sale. I followed up by taking another flight to Texas where I picked up the Sergeant and another franchisee and flew them back to New Jersey for Central Training.
This shows you the tremendous time and effort and money we were willing to put into getting just one franchise sale. Not all trips ended with a franchise sale. Most applicants wound up taking a forty-hour-a-week-sure-bet-job with an American corporation like IBM.
I then went to Wichita Falls to help get the school open. In his first year running a Tracy’s franchise the sergeant made $5,000 in Air Force pay, which was still his full-time career job. He paid taxes on $100,000 from the karate school, which was from his part time job. Although he had the school staffed full time, his daytime job was the Air Force. In today’s money his profit from the karate school for his first year was more than a half million dollars!
The other Texan who opened his school at the same time never made anything. The business was there, but he just wasn’t a businessman. This brings us to a story. While the two Texans were at Central Training I took them over to meet Dan Anthony. He did their handwriting again.
“You two have different personalities.” Dan Anthony said. “Let me give you an example. Let’s say you get to the door at Central Training to come over here. Rick might say ‘I don’t know about this shirt. Maybe I should put on another shirt.’” And you might say, “Come on Rick. It doesn’t matter.”
When they reached the door at Central Training to go over to Dan Anthony’s house… that is the conversation they had word-for-word.
A karate school in Mexico City saw our ad in the karate magazine and contacted our District Manager in San Diego, Dick Willett. They were serious about getting a franchise. What they really wanted was to be with an organization that had Joe Lewis, the World Karate Champion.
Ray Klingenberg, Joe Lewis and I got into the company plane and I flew us all to Mexico City. We expected the negotiations to take two days and we would all be back home.
There were two karate schools in Mexico City that wanted franchises, but the negotiations were complex lasting ten days, and at the end I pulled out of the deal. We were having enough problems with our US and Canada schools. We just were not ready to expand to any other foreign nations.
We had three of our top men tied up for ten days, plus the expenses, and we walked away without making one peso. This shows the unseen cost of franchising the world’s largest chain of karate schools.
Our system of pre-screening made things better but not perfect. We still had an unacceptable number of poor performing schools. And then there were always the problem schools…
If we could not open karate schools in foreign countries, I thought, why not bring the foreign country instructors to America. As soon as I moved to New Jersey I brought into the organization a twenty-one year old that had recently been discharged from the army.
His name was Rodney Hard and he had a unique background. He was born to a Presbyterian missionary family in Seoul, Korea. Raised in Korea, he could speak both languages fluently. He knew the culture so well that he could even dream in Korean.
I approached Rodney with the idea of importing Korean karate men who spoke good English, train them at Central Training, then use them as assistant managers in our American schools.
Rodney replied that at that time, 1972, there would be no more than eighteen karate men in all of Korea who could speak English well enough to be successful with Tracy’s. He also added that he knew how to find those eighteen karate instructors.
Rodney had served his military tour in army intelligence in Korea. He was a close friend with the number-three man in the Korean CIA. His CIA friend also spoke fluent English. Rodney contacted his friend in Korea and made arrangements with the CIA agent. We now had a representative in Korea who would contact the English speaking Korean karate instructors, interview them on a tape recorder and offer them a deal of a lifetime. We would pay all expenses, bring them to America, train them in our business system and set them up as assistant managers in one of our schools at top pay. But the big payoff is that they were looking down the line at American citizenship.
Rodney Hard was so impressive that I made him my assistant. We also added our Korean agent to the payroll.
Now we had to consider the process of importing the Korean karate instructors to work in the US. I contacted a Korean employment agency in Washington DC, to ask for their assistance. The manager told me that they could take care of the entire process for a fee.
I attended the first meeting with the employment agency by myself as Rodney Hard was out in the field. The one fear that I had was that the employment agency would take us for thousands of dollars. Tracy’s would pay the airfare to get the Korean instructors into the U.S. legally. Tracy’s would pay their expenses at Central Training, provide them with a good paying job as an assistant manager in one of our successful schools, and then they would say “bye-bye” to Tracy’s.
I left the meeting telling the Korean employment manager that I would arraign another meeting to discuss things further. I told the manager that I had never eaten Korean food. On our next meeting I wanted him to choose a Korea restaurant and I would buy us lunch. He agreed.
For the second meeting I took Rodney Hard with me to Washington D.C. The Korean employment agency manager did not know Rodney spoke fluent Korean. During our meeting the manager carried on a phone conversation with a potential Korean karate instructor in Korea.
We then went to lunch. As we set down for lunch I told the employment manager that I would pay. The manager would not accept my paying for lunch. He strongly insisted that he pay. I told him that I promised to pay and felt it was my obligation. The manager got very emotional.
“No! No! I insist on paying,” he begged me for the second time.
“All right,” I agreed.
While we were driving back to New Jersey, Rodney told me what had happened. He listened carefully to the phone conversation the manager had with the karate instructor in Korea. Rodney was able to hear both voices. I was right about them wanting Tracy’s to pay all expenses then they were going to have the Korean instructors leave the organization.
“That Korean karate instructor spoke really good English! “ Rodney said in amazement.
Then he told me a funny story about our lunch. It is the custom in Korea that in a restaurant the most successful businessman is obligated to pay. That would be me. However, the person you are dining with is obligated to put on a theatrical display where he insists on paying. He must insist three times that he pay, again, very theatrically. The third time it is now my obligation to again insist on paying, and he then graciously allows me to pay.
Knowing nothing about Korean customs, I only insisted on paying two times, which meant that he was stuck paying the bill.
When he realized that he was picking up the tab he told the waitress, in Korean, they we were not very hungry. He ordered something simple, and cheap. Just then Rodney speaks up. Rodney said that he had heard of a good Korean dish that he would like to try. According to Korean custom the manager was obligated to buy us the most expensive meal on the menu. Rodney had purposely stuck him with the bill.
The manager was amazed at how well Rodney pronounced the name of the Korean meal!
One of the first jobs I gave Rodney Hard was to talk one of our East Coast franchise owners into giving up his franchise and selling the school to someone else. The studio owner turned out to be a real flake.
I told Rodney not to leave the meeting until he had the guy’s signature on the contract giving up his franchise. Rodney succeeded. Shortly thereafter I took Rodney with me to Dan Anthony’s house to sit in on the handwriting readings.
At the end of the readings, Rodney asked Dan Anthony to do a reading on the signature of the man who gave up his franchise.
Dan Anthony replied that you never analyze a signature by itself. A signature is always done in conjunction with the body of the writing.
“I will do it anyway,” Dan Anthony said.
He takes one glance and said, “This guy is like Melba Milk Toast, completely bland. The only thing that keeps him going is the absolute belief “that tomorrow things will always be better.’”
Rodney told us about their meeting. For two hours he kept telling the franchise manager, “You have been in business for six months and you have lost money every month. We have a man who will buy out your school; you lose nothing and you can go into another business.”
For two hours the franchisee kept saying, “Give me another chance. I just know that next week the school will start making money.”
Here is where we stood in 1972, after we had been franchising for six years; although we had been franchising seriously for only four years:
We had in operation one hundred schools. Al says the figure was higher. He is probably right as he was controlling the entire organization from the accounting service. We had opened more schools, but some had closed.
We have all of the bills I listed before, but now we have added Dan Anthony.
If we were lucky we would get $1,000 up front on the franchise fee, but the promissory note we were still financing ourselves. Looking at the cash in and cash out ledger, things were not looking too good for Al and Jim Tracy.
Once in awhile the two of us would take a few thousand dollars out of the corporation, but not very often.
We had long ago given up interest in the San Jose school, which cut off our income from that source, which had made us rich and famous. The corporation was picking up some of our bills such as the cars. But Al and I had been dipping into our personal assets to pay our family expenses. Al would sell his wines, guns and knives as he needed the cash. I was dipping into my personal assets.
Not to worry, Al and I said. On paper things still looked good. We had some fantastic schools like Wichita Falls. We had a lot of schools that were doing well, making more money for the owners than they could earn doing anything else.
But there was still that unreasonably large number of problem schools. All we had to do was be more careful of who we let in the organization…we thought. These problem applicants we were now weeding out with the help of Dan Anthony…we hoped.
It was not just that we were unhappy with some of our managers. Some of our managers were unhappy with us. One manager said that he did not like Tracy’s. We were to controlling. We told him everything to do in running his karate school. Then…he realized what we were doing. For the first time he owned his own home, had money in the bank, and was driving a Porsche.
Thirty years later one of the managers said that he never was that successful when he had a Tracy’s franchise.
Our response, “You were nineteen years old and bought a Ferrari, and you bought a Rolls Royce, and you bought a…”
We owned no karate schools. Every school was individually owned. As the franchise company we can only give aid and advice. We had schools out there expanding on their own. Sometimes they would tell us about their new school after it was open. Being on their own they kept bringing their problem people into the organization.
With Al having his pulse on every school through TASC, we were able to help the problem schools as soon as the problems began to show. We would send in a trouble-shooter. Maybe they needed an extra manager or instructor. We would try to get them the personnel. If they had problems paying their bills or rent then we would pay their bills. Some franchise owners were simply not businessmen. They were not suited to run a business. We would get someone to buy them out so that they would not lose any money. Our policy was to save an established school, which was easier then opening a new school.
When Al set up the accounting department he sought out the help of one of the country’s largest accounting firms, Arthur Anderson. The firm recently had a nationwide scandal and is now defunct.
We had the cost of paying Arthur Anderson to show us how to set up a nationwide controlling system. That was added to our expenses. Then we had the monthly fee paid to Arthur Anderson for advisers. As the chain grew we had to hire
full-time managers for TASC. Add that to the cash out column.
For all of the years we worked with Arthur Anderson they just never could understand what we were doing. They always worked on the basis that it took a new business several years before the business started turning a profit. They just could not comprehend that a karate school could make a profit from the day they opened.
The Arthur Anderson adviser that was assigned to us got to know Al and our organization pretty well. Month after month he tried to explain to his bosses what we were doing. They just never could understand.
Finally the adviser told the partners at Arthur Anderson. “Look!” he said. “Give the Tracy brothers $10,000 and they will create a cash flow you would not believe!”
The problem was that the cash was not flowing into Al and Jim Tracy’s bank account.
It was the year of 1971, or 1972. Those in the organization who dealt mostly with Al Tracy thought that Al was running Tracy’s. Those who dealt mostly with me thought I was running Tracy’s. Those in the Pacific Northwest thought our brother, Will, was running Tracy’s. In fact, Al was running the entire organization out of the accounting department, TASC, in San Jose.
This brings us back to our brother, Will, still in Portland.
One day he got a phone call. The man introduced himself. His name was Noel Marshall. He was a Hollywood movie producer and was currently developing a movie called “Lions, Lions and More Lions,” that had to do with lions. He had heard about Will and his lion and was interested in his lion.
Will replied that the lion was not trained to do movies, but he was open to discuss the possibilities. The conversation ended with Noel Marshall paying for a plane ticket to have Will fly to Los Angeles and have a face-to-face meeting.
Will was to be met at the airport by Noel Marshall’s partner, Joey Thompson. Years later Joey told me the story of meeting Will at the airport. Joey is looking for a Six-foot-five Mountain Man who wrestled lions with his bare hands! Will was five-foot-nine, 146 pounds, wearing a valor vest and dressed like a rock star.
Will is looking for a movie producer, dressed like a movie producer. Joey is dressed in dungarees with an open shirt. Everyone files off the plane. Will and Joey walk back and forth passing each other continuously, neither finding their preconception. The arrival area thins out until there are just two men left; they point at one another and yell “Will Tracy!”— “Joey Thompson!” This was the beginning of a long friendship and business association.
They drove over to Noel Marshall’s home in Woodland Hills, which is north of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley. During the drive they talked about lions and the karate business.
Joey introduced Will to Noel, who in turn introduced Will to his wife Tippi and their fourteen-year-old daughter, Melanie. (Will started putting two-and-two together. There are not many women in Hollywood named Tippi.)
Will stayed at their house for several days while they discussed what Noel was trying to do with the film. On the second day Will asked Joey if Noel’s wife was Tippi Hedren?
“Yes,” was the reply.
Tippi Hedren was a famous actress. She had the starring role in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic movie “The Birds.”
Will told me that during his Hollywood years he would meet many famous actors and actresses, and they did not look at all like they did on the screen. This is why he did not recognize Tippi Hedren. He was only suspicious when they were introduced because of her unusual first name.
Noel was in the preliminary stage of putting everything together for the movie production. The script was written by Noel in collaboration with an old time, very successful, television writer. Noel wanted to do the rewrite job himself. (Every movie script goes through rewrites.)
The movie would be shot in California, with everything made to look like Africa, and, again, it would be about lions. It would also involve other African animals. Noel figured that if he did it right then no one would be aware of the difference between California and Africa.
Will pointed out that the TV series, Daktar, which was also supposed to be in Africa, was actually shot at “Africa USA,” which was just down the road from where Noel was planning on shooting his movie in good old Sunny California.
There was an animal trainer for the movie industry who had a compound 25 miles from Noel’s house. Noel rented space at the compound as he already had two seven-month-old lion cubs.
Noel had seen a photo of Will’s lion before he made the phone call to Portland and wanted Will’s lion, Shurze, to star in the movie. He needed Will to teach all of the cats to act.
Why a lion movie? It seems that the family, like Will’s family, were cat lovers. They made plans for Will to bring his lion down to the compound, and have Will live with the family for a few weeks while they worked out the details: how long the project was expected to take; line up the financing; what Will would be paid, etc…
Will had capable managers for his school in Portland and his second school in Vancouver, Canada.
In Portland Will had a Nissan pickup with a cab that one of the karate students reinforced and fitted so nothing could get in, or get out. It was your typical lion vehicle you saw on the roads of Oregon.
Will put his male lion in the pickup and drove down to the compound in California. The lion weighed nearly 500 pounds. You have to pump the gas yourself when you have a lion in your vehicle. At least, that is the law in California. I don’t know what the laws are in the other states.
Will stayed with Noel’s family for a month and then rented a house and brought his wife and two small boys down from Portland.
When Will, Mary Ellen, Noel and Tippi went out for the evening, their fourteen year old daughter babysat the two boys. They were good kids and Melanie enjoyed babysitting.
Melanie was Tippi’s daughter by a previous marriage and Noel’s stepdaughter. Her father was Peter Griffith, also a movie producer. The babysitters name was Melanie Griffith.
The animal trainer’s compound was mostly for small animals: coyotes, raccoons, squirrels, etc… Also on this compound Will was introduced to one very big lion that Noel wanted to use.
It was a 700-pound castrated male that had everyone scared to death. It was 300-400 pounds overweight. Whenever anyone approached the gate the lion would charge letting out a terrifying roar. He didn’t scare Will. After all, Will Tracy was a black belt in karate.
The first time Will approached the gate the lion charged letting out his usual terrifying roar! The lion was appropriately named “Boomer!”
Will told everyone, “We’re going to put an end to this fast!”
The lion cages are big with ten-foot high sides and heavy gates. The next time Will approached the cage the lion went through his usual act. Will opened the gate and slammed it as hard as he could right into the lion’s nose. The lion stepped back in surprise and let out a whimper. From then on Will had no trouble with the cat. He just had to know who was the boss.
It seems that the animal trainer had raised Boomer from a cub. But, when he grew up no one could handle him. Whenever anyone opened the gate he would charge and try to get out.
Will recognized that Boomer was a loveable, playful kitten, who loved nothing more than to sit on someone’s legs, chest, or head and jump into the arms of anyone who tried to open the gate. Everyone was misinterpreting playfulness for viciousness. When someone opened the gate the lion would stay ten feet back from the door then charge with a roar and try to jump into the person’s arms. Everyone’s fear of Boomer was really just a false alarm as they did not realize that this was the cat’s way of being friendly. Besides, Boomer didn’t like being caged up all day. He wanted to get out and run around.
Will knew that Boomer was a good cat who merely wanted to romp and play. He had Boomer following him around the compound like a dog without a leash. Boomer got along with Will’s lion like they were old friends.
After Noel saw that Boomer could be trained he bought the cat for the usual 700 pound lion price.
It wasn’t long before Noel bought the compound and relied upon Will to help in negotiating the purchase price. After all, Will was one of the few worlds’ experts on animal compounds.
In time, Noel would add other cats to his menagerie, including two cheetahs. He also bought an elephant and a giraffe.
In 1972, Hollywood was a small community. Everyone knew one another, or knew someone who knew someone. Usually, the powers that-be would work together informally: by phone, at lunch or at someone’s house, or even at the animal compound.
The Hollywood people wanted to see the animals, so holding a business meeting at the compound while Will was petting the nose of a lion was not unusual. The movie people liked to combine business with pleasure.
Will was not limited to working with the lions. Noel took Will along on his Hollywood dealings. Noel Marshall was known by everyone in Hollywood. It wasn’t long before Will could have meetings with the Hollywood crowd by himself because “He works with Noel Marshall.”
Eventually, he was accepted by everyone in the business because “He is Will Tracy.”
Noel ask Will to read the scripts he was considering buying and get Will’s opinion. Will learned fast and after reading a few scripts figured he could do screenwriting as well as the professional Hollywood screenwriters. He starts thinking of being a screenwriter.
One script Noel had Will read was the ‘Harrad Experiment.’ Will thought it was a good script and so did Noel. This is the second movie that Will would be involved in. Noel started putting the deal together. The producer was young and this was his first film.
But the producer had no money of his own to finance the film. They discussed going to the producers’ father and have the father mortgage his ranch in Oregon. It was then that Will realized that the father’s ranch was close to Will’s property in Oregon and the two were friends.
Instead of a mortgage, Noel worked a deal to guarantee the funds for the movie, and it was done for $60,000 cash, with a guarantee of payment after the film was sold.
The movie did good at the box office and everyone made money.
Of course, The ‘Harrad Experiment’ starred Noel’s wife, Tippi, and he even put Melanie in as an extra. The movie also starred a young, 22-year-old Don Johnson, who would marry Melanie, twice.
Melanie Griffith would go on to be as famous an actress as her mother.
Will Tracy was very impressed with how Noel Marshall could put a movie deal together. Will was learning the Hollywood game. He would soon show all of Hollywood just how fast he was learning with a movie called ‘The Exorcist.’
William Peter Blatty was a successful Hollywood writer who had just written a book by the same title. Noel Marshall was Blatty’s manager. Blatty needed $60,000 for the screenplay to buy a new Rolls Royce.
The book had been a best seller, but now the sales were flat. $60,000 was an unheard of price for a screenplay in those days. This was all irrelevant to Blatty. He wanted $60,000 for a new Rolls Royce.
Joey Thompson, and his associates, traveled to fifteen major US cities and went into the local book stores and bought up copies of ‘The Exorcist.’ They spread themselves out well enough so that the publisher doesn’t realize what was happening, that they were getting conned. They made enough book purchases to put ‘The Exorcists’ right back on the best seller list.
As soon as Joey and friends get back from their sojourn, Noel and Will then went to a Warner Brothers head and tell him that they have a best selling book by Blatty, and they want $60,000 for the screen rights. Noel was willing to settle for $45,000, if he could get it. $45,000 was still an awful lot of money for a screenplay.
Noel figured if he could get $45,000 for the screenplay then he could somehow come up with the other $15,000 and get Blatty his Rolls Royce.
Warner Brothers offers $23,000. Noel and Will hold out for $60,000.
Warner Brothers called back and upped their offered to $38,000. Noel is on a speakerphone so Will could hear the negotiations. Noel whispers to Will, “We’ve got them.”
They hold out for $60,000.
Warner Brothers called back the next day and talked to Will. They were willing to pay the $60,000.
“That was yesterday,” Will replied. ‘Today it is $80,000.”
The guy starts screaming and swearing at Will.
“You wanted $60,000 and we are willing to give you $60,000!” he screamed, as he continued swearing.
“A contract is only valid if both parties agree,” Will explained calmly. “You refused our offer yesterday. Today the price is $80,000.”
Warner Brothers hung up, still screaming and swearing.
Will told Noel Marshall what he had done, and Noel loved it!
The next day Warner Brothers called Noel. The guy was still screaming and swearing about that S.O.B. Will Tracy! Then he agreed to pay the $80,000.
“That was yesterday,” Noel replied. “Today the price is $100,000.”
“**%$?!” was Warner Brothers response.
In the end, Noel and Will got $240,000 for Blatty. (After all, the book was a best seller.) Warner Brothers made one of the most famous horror movies of all time, and Blatty received an Academy Award…and the screaming swearing executive would one day become head of Warner Brothers.
The $240,000 was only part of the deal. Noel also got “points,” a percentage of the film’s profits. Hollywood is famous for its double bookkeeping system, a standard procedure. Of course, no major movie film ever made a profit, (Just look at the books!), thus no percentage to Noel Marshall. Noel sued, standard procedure, and got one million dollars.
Will was learning the movie business from a pro…and Will was acting like a pro.
From the time we started franchising seriously Al had in his mind taking the corporation public. Instead of bringing in the money on a monthly basis we would cash out for millions. Our attorney advised us on how to prepare the corporation to become publicly owned.
We needed a business that showed a good cash flow. That we had. We needed a business that had a good growth curve. That we had. We needed a business where the expenses were not out of line in relationship to the profits. That we also had.
We would have to show a successful business pattern for at least two years. Then our attorney would go through the complicated process of listing us on the stock exchange and selling stock. In theory, like Google, we would all become millionaires overnight. Our attorney advised us that we would need to have 500 karate schools before we could qualify to go public. As I told you before we were expecting to have a thousand schools. After years of franchising we would not even come close.
Being the World Karate Champion, Joe Louis knew important people and he would set up business meetings with these people with Al and myself. One was a meeting with a man who controlled the health spa industry in America at that time. We met and, “had lunch,” at the man’s house on Malibu beach. The former owner of the house was Elizabeth Taylor.
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the possibility of him taking over the Tracy’s organization.
We hired Joe Lewis just to teach workshops in our schools, head our competition team and show the flag. He took it upon himself to do a lot more for the organization. Setting up meetings with important people was just one of the extra benefits we reaped from having Joe Lewis in the organization.
The health spa genius laid out for us how he had built his empire in the health spa industry. His purpose was to convince us that he could do the same for Tracy’s Karate Schools.
First, he never used his own money but always worked with other peoples’ money. He borrowed several million dollars and started opening a chain of plush health clubs. These were the forerunners of the high class health clubs you see today. The customers signed term contracts, which were paid on a monthly basis.
There was a finance company in Salt Lake City that bought the contracts and processed the monthly payments. Not only did he control the chain of health clubs but he also controlled the finance company.
When we held this meeting the man had about eighty health spas, which he found to be a controllable number. Some spas he owned himself and some were franchised. We had the same experience. We found that when we had eighty karate schools that it was a controllable number. Once we got above eighty schools we started having serious problems.
After the meeting, as we walked to the car, Al told Joe Lewis that this was the sharpest businessman we had ever met, and if he could do what he said he could do then he was worth doing business with.
I immediately flew back to the East Coast and back into my own world. I always thought that this was as far as it went. It wasn’t until recently when I interviewed Al for my autobiography that he told me he had several follow-up meetings. This just goes to show you how independently worked. Al even flew into Salt Lake City and visited the finance company. He was very impressed with the finance company and how professionally it was run.
The finance company was the key to the success of the organization and would make the man with whom we had lunch with rich: many millions of dollars; many, many millions of dollars… but not in any way you can imagine.
After he had a successful chain of health club spas in operation he then approached a billion dollar multinational corporation that had 119 subsidiaries. He proposed that they buy out his organization and add it as their 120th subsidiary. Not only did they buy him out, which profited him millions, but they also gave him a seat on the holding company’s board of directors.
Now you will see the real genius of this man. He tells us the story of sitting in a board meeting and pushing on everyone his concept of getting into the health spa business, telling them that the corporation should pour money into the health spa industry and expand in this direction.
One executive was adamantly against having anything to do with health clubs, and he expressed his opposition adamantly! He did not want the holding company to get into the health club business, period. Our new member of the board tried all of his persuasive skills to convince the board to get involved in the health spa business, only to face firm opposition.
Finally, our man pulled the cat out of the bag.
“You know the finance company that you bought from me? “ he told everyone. “I have to tell you that they only have one customer. Whether you like it or not you are in the health spa business.”
Everyone’s mouth dropped open. They had bought a finance company not realizing it was a front for what was actually a chain of health spas!
The health spa genius wanted to take over our organization and do the same for the Tracy brothers as he had done in the health spa industry.
We were about to cash in and get our millions, which the reader should now realize was our just reward.
Here was the proposal: His corporation would take us over and have complete control; He had in his health spa chain the world’s most experienced business managers who would be moved into manage our karate schools; and then he would start pouring money into the karate schools.
When all was running like clockwork…he would then sell the karate corporation to a multi-national and we would all make millions!
Al held follow-up meetings and began to see flaws in the proposal. First, the genius had created a dummy corporation to use to take us over. The man was protecting his personal wealth. In the previous year the corporation he wanted to use to take us over had lost a million dollars and no one was taking wages out of the corporation. We had no objection to turning everything over to him. We had done the same thing when we first went in with Tom Connor. However, we were not going turn everything over to a corporation that was not worth the paper it was written on.
Second, we had no objection to him pouring money into the karate schools; making them more plush and pushing the advertising heavily.
However, Al explained to the health spa guy that he did not understand the minds of karate black belts. A karate black belt will only work under, and take orders from a karate master. It does not matter how experienced a business manager is in the health industry, if he tries to take over a karate school and give a karate black belt orders…the black belt will punch him out!
It had been that way for thousands of years in Kung Fu. Just imagine a health spa manager trying to take over China and telling Genghis Khan what to do.
There is one difference between the world’s leaders and the Chinese leaders. Throughout history most of the nations of the world have been ruled by military leaders. Might makes right. The Chinese leaders throughout history have all been marital artists. In fact, the leaders of China today are all Kung Fu men!
At the time we had that lunch at the Malibu mansion (previously owned by Elizabeth Tailor), Bruce Lee just so happened to be the most famous actor in the world, and the world’s most famous Kung Fu man, and he was Chinese, and he was China’s national hero.
Al soon saw that it would not work and did not accept the man’s offer to take us over…and make us rich.
Joe Lewis then set us up with a meeting with Chuck Norris’ people. I say “people” because Chuck had been taken over by a corporation. When Chuck signed on with the corporation he gave up all of his rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
(After we put the yellow page ad in Chuck’s territory and ran him out of town, Chuck did not change professions and become a movie star over night. It took Chuck a long time to become successful at acting and become a star. During these years of “paying his dues” Chuck remained involved in the karate business in an off-and-on way.)
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the possibility of Tracy’s taking over Chuck Norris’ chain of karate schools. The corporation had pumped money into a chain of about eight Chuck Norris Karate Schools. On the surface they were successful.
It was a strange meeting. The corporate owners were not interested in Tracy’s taking them over. They wanted to do things their own way.
Two weeks later the corporation folded.
Then, the health spa genius takes over Chuck Norris’ organization with his dummy corporation. It took him just one month to find out the hard way that Chuck Norris’ black belts would not take orders from his highly qualified, experienced health club managers.
So the health spa genius turns Chuck’s organization over to another businessman who had never even heard of the word “karate.” This man fumbled for awhile and simply gives everything back to Chuck.
Joe Lewis showed the flag by doing PR work. A friend of Joe’s got him a guest appearance on the popular Merv Griffin TV show. That is, he told Joe Lewis that he had made the deal to appear on the show only to find out it was not true. That happens a lot in Hollywood. People lie!
Joe Lewis and Ray Klingenberg liked the idea of having Joe do a guest appearance on the Merv Griffin show. So they get in to see Merv and talk him into having “My good friend the World Karate Champion, Joe Lewis,” appear on the show. That is the way it is done in Hollywood. Not only were Merv Griffin and Joe Lewis not good friends; they had never met.
Joe wore the Tracy’s karate uniform and all America saw the Tracy’s name on the back of the jacket and were told that Tracy’s was the countries’ largest chain of karate schools. Burt Reynolds also was a guest on the show.
Burt Reynolds got the best of Joe Lewis as far as reviews go. Joe was not experienced before the camera. Burt Reynolds was a professional and came off brilliantly on camera. The TV viewers thought that Burt Reynolds was brilliant. However, the women in the studio audience said, “Forget Burt Reynolds. Give us Joe Lewis.”
One of Ed Parker’s first students was a man who would become Vice-President of Universal Pictures. He would later become a friend with my brother, Will, and a very close friend with Joe Lewis.
This means it was time for Joe Lewis to have his own national TV show. That is the way it goes in Hollywood. The Tracy brothers and Joe Lewis took the chance of having our own national TV show very seriously.
Joe Lewis took acting lessons and Will also worked with Joe. Universal was going to shoot a pilot. This was to be a half hour sample show. We had two reel-to-reel video recorders and gave one to Will so he could work with Joe Lewis on camera. This was before the days of VHS video recorders.
Joe and Will worked on the project for months. The fitness craze was hitting America and the theme of the show was to be an exercise workout with Joe Lewis, World Karate Champion. The name of the show was to be “Shape Up with Joe Lewis.”
Joe had his format down, his acting down and his guest list for interviews. Joe Lewis and the Tracy brothers were ready for the day of the shoot. Al and I flew into Los Angeles for the shoot, which was at Universal Studios.
We got to Universal at 2:00 in the afternoon. However, the delays and the actual shooting did not start until 1:00 AM the next morning. By this time we were all exhausted. Things were getting off to a bad start.
During the long wait the two producers came floating by filtering with their abstract minds. They told Joe that they were just thinking that women were concerned about their weight. So…and it is now a very big “So,” they were walking down the hall and ran into Maureen Reagan, the daughter of Governor Ronald Reagan, a wannabe actress…and they asked her to be a guest on his show, and wanted Joe Lewis to question her about what she did to control her weight.
And…”big AND” they also ran into another actress in the hall and wanted her to, also, be on the show and to ask her what she did about controlling her weighed. The two Tracy brothers and Joe Lewis made a simultaneous gulp!
Joe Lewis had been preparing for months and now at the last minute everything was changed. That is the way it goes in Hollywood.
When the shooting finally began, Joe Lewis started off by asking Maureen Reagan what she did to control her weight.
“Oh, nothing,” was her reply.
Joe then asked the second actress what she did to control her weight.
“Oh, nothing,” was her reply.
The pilot show was a disaster and Joe Lewis never became a TV star, and the Tracy brothers lost their chance at having a national TV show. That is the way it goes in Hollywood.
Joe Lewis was also a contestant on the TV show “Dating Game.” They had two versions of the show. One was in the daytime and the other was in the evening. Joe competed with two other men for the right to win a date with the girl. Joe won and was awarded an all-expense-paid vacation with the girl.
However, the difference between the two versions was in the prize. If you won the primetime, or nighttime show, you could win an all-expense-paid trip to an exotic place like Paris. But Joe was on the daytime show, and, I think, he only won a trip to Bakersfield, California.
Actually, Joe said, the trip was pretty good.
The lion movie, “Lions, Lions and More Lions,” was eventually made, although not until 1981, some ten years later. The title was changed to “Roar.” The budget was 18 million dollars and it was shot in Africa. The movie lost almost all of the 18 million. Noel Marshall wrote himself and his wife in staring roles. Melanie was also in the movie and Noel’s two sons by a previous marriage were in the film crew.
Will Tracy only stayed on the project for a few months then decided to go on his own trying his hand at screenwriting and movie producing. He made enough money on the Lion project to live on comfortably for awhile and he had money coming in from his two karate schools.
He also had an ace-in-the-hole or, rather, a lion-in-the-hole. He rented out his lion in the staring role for a movie titled “Frasier, The Sensuous Lion.”
It took two weeks to shoot the movie, which was filmed locally. Will received $12,000 for the two weeks lion rental. That was $60,000 in today’s money. Not knowing how Hollywood worked he should have received more. The shooting went over schedule by ten days. The other animal trainers had written into their contracts that they got paid extra for every day the movie went over schedule. Will didn’t know about this “extra” and did not have the clause written into his contract.
I have not seen the movie, but the reviews say it is a good movie for small children and the lion did a fantastic job. Will said that in the final scene the lion dies. The human actor kept blowing his lines and they had to reshoot the final scene 42 times! And 42 times Will’s lion rolled over and died on command! The frustrated director told the human actor, “Why can’t you act like the lion?”
Some screenwriters will take months, or even years, to write a screenplay. Will could write fast. He sat down with Joe Lewis and wrote a screenplay in two days. The title was “Tong” and was the story of a good looking, muscular, blue-eyed blond young American man, who in modern America gets taken in by a Chinese husband and wife in San Francisco. The Chinese husband is head of the Tong, the Chinese mafia.
The young, good looking, blue-eyed young man is Joe Lewis, of course. That is the way it is done in Hollywood. You write in your friends as the main characters.
Will Tracy learned very fast that to make a movie in Hollywood there has to be a part for the producer’s wife. There has to be a part for the executive producer’s wife. And there has to be a part for the director’s girlfriend. Any parts that are left over go to your friends.
The way you succeed in screenwriting in Hollywood is by getting the right people to read your scripts. The way Will Tracy got the right people to read his scripts was to use friends and influential people
One day Will attended a lunch. He really did not want to go, but went anyway. Only a few people were there. He started talking to a man about karate and then Will asked what the man did.
“I am a writer,“ the man replied.
“I have written a screenplay,” Will said. “I would like you to look at it.”
“I will look at it,” was the immediate response.
It seems that when this man first came to Hollywood he asked someone to look at his writing, and the stranger agreed. Since that day, whenever anyone asked him to look at their writing he said “Yes.”.
The man was Stanley Ralph Ross and was of unbelievable talent. He could write, create shows, act, write music and so-on-and-so-forth. He was a power in Hollywood, knew everyone, and by the time of his death in the year 2000 would become a legend.
Will and Stanley would become very close friends. Will’s kids simply called him Uncle Stan. Will had a copy of “Tong” in his car and gave it to Stan. Will arrived home two hours later. The phone was ringing as he opened the door. It was Stan. He read the script and loved it! He wanted to introduce Will to a movie producer who he thought might like to make the movie.
One time Will was at Stanley Ross’ office and was introduced to one of Stan’s friends. They got talking about karate and the friend asked Will to show a karate move. Will threw a quick punch to the man’s head.
The next day Will told Stan, “That is the bravest man I ever met. When I threw the punch to his head he did not flinch.”
“He is blind,” Stan said.
Stanley Ross introduced Will to not just a movie producer but a famous movie producer, G. David Shine. He was an Executive Producer of the classic movie “The French Connection.”
Being involved with “The French Connection” is not why G. David Shine was famous. He came from a wealthy and powerful family that was involved in movie theaters, hotels and real estate.
But, this is not why G. David Shine was famous.
His claim to fame would come in an unexpected and unwelcome way. His family’s status brought him a job of being on the staff of US Senator Joseph McCarthy. In 1954, Shine was drafted into the Army as a private. This in itself would not be unusual; but his senate job for the previous two years had been to investigate Communists in all areas of government, including the US Army.
It seems that the Army resented Senator McCarthy and his staff, which included G. David Shine, poking around the military looking for Communists sympathizers. The Army retaliated in words by accusing another staff member, Roy Cohn, of trying to use his influence to get the Army to give Shine preferential treatment including an officers’ commission.
Senator McCarthy fired back by accusing the Army of trying to retaliate for the unwanted investigation of the Army by his committee. It is the type of squabble that happens all the time in political Washington DC. The funny thing is that this squabble would start as a little snow ball rolling down hill that would soon turn into an avalanche.
As usual, the Congress decided to hold hearings to resolve the issue. It has gone down in history as the Army-McCarthy Hearings and has become part of American history. The hearings would take 36 days and would be brought into American homes by a relatively new medium called television.
This was the first time that a Congressional Committee hearing would be carried by live television and it would rivet 20 million Americans to their TV sets. In the end neither the Army nor Senator McCarthy came out looking very good, and G. David Shine would become famous for a generation. It was the biggest story of the era.
Part of the Shine family’s hotel chain was the famous and historic Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. It was here in 1968 that the Shine family gave complimentary use of the hotel to Robert F. Kennedy and his staff for his presidential run. The two were friends having served on Senator McCarthy’s staff together, although one was a Republican and the other a Democrat. It was here at the Ambassador Hotel that Robert Kennedy was assassinated.
Will Tracy sold an “option” for “Tong” to G. David Shine. This is the standard procedure in Hollywood. An option is where a writer sells temporary rights’ to their screenplay. In this case it was for one year. During that time the producer has time to put the movie together: arrange financing, line up a director, scout locations, etc… At the end of the option the screenplay reverts back to the writer unless the producer decides to purchase the screenplay, or buys another option.
Will got to know Shine and his family very well. Not only was Shine successful in the businesses just mentioned, but he was also an accomplished musician and conductor. He also had his hands in the music business.
For all of his accomplishments, Will Tracy considered G. David Shine’s greatest accomplishment to be his marriage to a former Miss Universe. When Will knew the family she was forty years old with six children, some already teenagers… and she was gorgeous!
Will and Shine traveled to San Francisco and spent a few days scouting locations for the movie. They got complimentary rooms in the most expensive hotel in San Francisco. That is the way it goes in the hotel business.
San Francisco and Chinatown were Will Tracy’s old hunting ground.
The movie was never made. That is the way it goes in Hollywood.
Very few people in the movie business are wealthy. The truly wealthy in the movie industry are just the tip of the iceberg. It is difficult to break into Hollywood and make it big. Talent has nothing to do with success in Hollywood. The greatest movie scripts are still laying on some producer’s desk.
Tony Randall, of “The Odd Fellows,” fame said that he knows 200 people that are better actors than he. These are actors you have never heard of.
Will Tracy made money selling options and doing rewrites. He had a friend who was a stunt man who asked Will to come up with an idea for an opening scene for a James Bond movie.
Will sat down and wrote a few pages in just a few minutes. He had two helicopters fighting one another with one chopper going into a high-rise building that was under construction and chasing James Bond.
The stunt man presented the script to the James Bond people. They liked it…but! The way Will wrote the two minute scene it would take six million dollars to shoot. What they offered to do was buy the idea and have their staff writers rewrite the scene.
Will said that since he sold the script that there have been a dozen movies with vaguely familiar scenes: a helicopter coming up to a building and blasting the building, helicopter verses buildings, things like that. People steal ideas in Hollywood all the time.
Will was also working movie deals with Ed Parker and Joe Lewis. Ed Parker had a creative mind but did not know how to put a movie deal together. One time Will told me that in Hollywood they are either your friends or your enemies, and there is no in between. Then he added that not everyone in Hollywood was Ed Parker’s friend.
Will had another friend who was a real power at MGM. He gave Will his card and wrote on the card, “He is a friend. Let him in.”
This gave Will Tracy full access to MGM.
Being a screenwriter in Hollywood is progressively depressing no matter who you know. The Hollywood producers rarely buy a script. For every script they buy they read and reject hundreds. The major studios have professional script readers. All they do is search for a script that they think will make money for the studio.
If the reader likes a script they then send it on to the script analyst. The script analyst’s job is to say “No!” Their job is to come up with all kinds of reasons why the story will not work.
Whenever Will Tracy would become depressed with a string of rejections he would go over to MGM and see Sherry Lansing. She was head script reader for MGM. She liked his scripts and always sent them on to the script analyst with her glowing approval.
Sherry would do everything she could to console him and encourage him to keep writing. She showed Will a note from the script analyst: “Fantastic film. Ahead of his time.” “This is a writer you have to keep your eyes on. He is as good as any writer in the business.”
However, the problem is that Hollywood only wants to make movies that have been done before. They want a repeat pattern. The movie production companies do not want to take a chance of spending millions of dollars making a movie that is new and financially risky.
Example: All of the Elvis Presley movies are the same: Elvis meets girl; Elvis sings a song: Elvis falls in love with girl; Elvis sings a song: Elvis is confronted with a problem; Elvis sings a song.
Will Tracy was involved with two lion movies. A few years before, a lion movie was very successful, ‘Born Free.’ So…”Let’s make another lion movie.”
Sherry Lansing would at the young age of thirty-five become the first female president of 20th Century Fox. Then she went on to be head of Paramount and was considered one of the most powerful women in America. She would rule Paramount for twelve years and had an unbelievable success record. Eighty percent of her films returned a profit, which was unheard of in the industry.
Sherry Lansing would call Will every few weeks and ask if he could send her a script. However, Will Tracy’s scripts “had not been done before.”
Will added, “She was gorgeous.”
If you knew what you were doing it was not impossible to be a successful movie producer. And you could make a movie cheap. You could make a bad movie cheap. You could make a good movie cheap. You could make a great movie cheap. You could make a classic movie cheap. Easy rider was made for $350,000.
Through it all Will was able to beat the odds…almost. He had a major movie deal ready to go. The person he was dealing with lead a sedentary life style. One day his partner was on the tennis court, took a swipe at the in-coming tennis ball, and dropped dead of a heart attack. The movie deal dropped dead with him. Will’s partner was only forty two years old.
He had another major movie deal ready to go with another man. His partner was driving his Rolls Royce, drunk, on Laurel Canyon Road, hit an oak tree and was killed. The movie deal was killed.
Bruce Lee wanted to rewrite Will’s screenplay ‘Tong’ and remove Joe Lewis and put himself in the lead roll. Bruce Lee was now the most famous actor in the world and impossible to get hold of to finalize the deal. It wasn’t like the old days when Bruce Lee lived in Oakland and would call us at our karate school in San Francisco and say “I am leaving home now and I will be over in a few minutes.” Then Bruce Lee died suddenly. The movie deal died just as suddenly.
Will had another major movie deal ready to go with another friend when the friend told Will, “I have decided to just do musicals. So write me a musical.” Will said, “I can’t write a musical!” Then the friend told Will, “Then I have decided to do a musical with another friend, Andrew Lloyd Webber.” Who knows, in the crazy way thing are done in the movie business you just might some day see “Tong, the Musical.”
All of these failed movie projects happened within a short period of time.
“The stars were not lined up,” Will Tracy said, philosophically.
In 1971, Bruce Lee made a Kung Fu movie in Hong Kong. It was distributed throughout Asia and made Bruce Lee the most famous actor in Asia. The following year, 1972, Bruce Lee made two more Kung Fu movies in Hong Kong, which were distributed throughout the world, including the United States. These movies made Bruce Lee the most famous movie star in the world. Everyone in America wanted to take karate lessons and be like Bruce Lee. Students came pouring into the karate schools.
But…Al Tracy saw the end coming.
The problem with all this free publicity generated by Bruce Lee’s movies is that the demand for karate lessons was too big, which created a fad—a boom that could not last forever. So much money was being made teaching karate that anyone with just two weeks of karate training could put on a black belt and open their own karate school and make money. And this is exactly what happened. Within a few months there would be 52 karate schools in San Jose alone.
The days of monopoly were over. These were still the days when the Yellow Pages were being regulated. When someone opened a business—any business—they received with their phone number a free one line Yellow Page listing.
They did not need a plush karate school with a good location or be open full-time to be listed in the Yellow pages. All they needed was a business phone with their address and they got a free listing in the Yellow Pages. The day would soon come when there were just too many karate schools for the number of students wanting to take lessons.
Most students looking for karate lessons wanted to go to the school closest to them. So, they looked in the Yellow Pages and chose the closest school. No longer did a person interested in taking karate lessons go to Tracy’s… just because we were the only karate school in town.
We were not just competing with individual karate schools but we were now facing stiff competition from well-financed and well-organized chains. The Koreans were pouring into the country and running their chains in a business-like manner. Everywhere you looked in America there was a Korean karate school! And the Koreans taught good karate.
Our schools were making so much money that a lot of the franchisees became lazy and didn’t pay enough attention to running their businesses. Some franchisees even became absentee owners.
Some schools were cheating on their royalties and not paying the full amount. Others took their cheating to a higher level. They violated their franchise agreements and went independent. Tracy’s had taught them karate, trained them in running a successful business, picked their locations, set them up and even gave them an exclusive territory… and, I might add, made them prosperous.
They didn’t need Tracy’s anymore and by going independent they figured they could put more money in the bank by simply not paying the franchise purchase fees and royalties. This resulted in the loss of schools and their cash flow to headquarters. It also increased our expenses as we were now involved in lawsuits.
The financial loss was huge as some franchisees had their own chains and when they pulled out of the Tracy organization they took more than one school with them.
There were still some existing schools that were poorly managed and we were not able to save them. These schools with their royalties were lost forever.
There was one other problem to franchising: A technicality, but a big technicality. When we sold our first franchise there were no franchise laws. By 1972 the different states were beginning to enact such laws. In order to sell a franchise in a specific state you first had to hire a lawyer in that state and go through the process of qualifying to do business. This was expensive and time consuming as each state had the potential of having different laws.
The problem was that the laws were so strict that we could not even discuss selling a franchise in that state unless we were previously registered. Let’s say that someone from Casper, Wyoming, responded to one of our magazine ads and requested information about our franchise program. Maybe it was a serious inquiry or maybe just someone casually wanting information.
We could not talk to that person on the phone or send information unless we were first registered to sell franchises in Wyoming. We would have to hire a Wyoming lawyer and go through the process of conforming to Wyoming franchise laws before we could even respond to an inquiry from Wyoming.
State franchise laws were popping up all over and it was just a matter of time, a short time, before we would have to go through the process of qualifying in all 50 states just to discuss with a potential buyer the information about our franchises.
Despite all of the years we had been in franchising, in the end, Al and I really did not make any money. It just wasn’t worth it anymore. The day came when Al Tracy saw the end coming and tried to save what he could.
The biggest problem we were facing was the large amount of money we owed two leasing companies. We had one leasing company that financed the automobiles and airplanes and another leasing company that financed the school’s equipment: mats, furniture, signs, etc….
We started with a small plane, got rid of it and bought a better one and then got rid of it and bought a bigger plane. The entire fleet of automobiles were leased, again with little down in advance and monthly payments.
Getting out from behind this first lease debt was no problem. We simply sold the airplane and the exotic cars. Al bought his Ferrari for $10,600 and sold it for $10,000. Ray Klingenberg also sold his Ferrari. The other luxury cars were sold off. The days of the Tracy brothers driving Cadillacs, Mercedes, BMW’s and Porsche’s were over.
The 1968 red racing Ferraris are a funny investment, as time would show. At the height of the Dot-Com boom, these two 1968 red racing Ferraris sold for one million dollars…each!
Our most serious problem was the leasing company that financed the schools; the signs, furniture, mats, etc… We owed them nearly one million dollars. The franchise owner owed the loans, but we had guaranteed them. We were on the hook for nearly a million dollars! This debt could bankrupt us. Then one day Al Tracy got a phone call from the leasing company with an offer that we could not refuse.
The leasing company was nervous about our ability to pay. They considered us a risky debt. It just so happened that the leasing company was selling out to a larger financial institution and they needed to make their books look good for the sale to succeed. They did not want any risky loans, especially for one million dollars, to show up on their books. So…they offered to forgive our loan just to erase us from their books. They were willing to lose a million dollars on our debt in order to make millions more on their sale to the bigger institution. With one phone call we wiped our million dollars in debt!
Our expenses were now substantially reduced but our income from the schools was, also, substantially reduced. It was one step forward and two steps backward.
We started cutting back on personnel. Ray Klingenberg was gone to Atlanta where he opened a school and then went back into teaching. Actually, the money had never been in franchising. The money had always been in teaching.
My assistant at Central Training also left. He had opened a school and, also, went back into teaching.
Over the next few months the lawyers were all gone; the Arthur Anderson Accounting firm and their advisor were gone; Dan Anthony, the handwriting expert was gone; The manager of our accounting department was gone; Others were gone.
Month-by-month we kept cutting our expenses. And month-by-month we kept losing more-and-more in unpaid royalty payments. It seems that we were in a no-win situation. No matter what we did we were still facing a no-profit situation.
We had one advantage…we thought. My memory—and I have a poor memory— says that we had opened, over the years, 150 karate schools. Al says the number was closer to 200. No matter which of us was right the fact is that even with our losses we still had a lot of schools operating.
We figured that if we reduced, kept cutting back on our expenses, then we could still make money on the remaining schools as we still had quite a few good solid schools operating.
The day came when we finally made the decision to stop selling franchises. On that day I had fifty franchise applications on my desk. I sent a letter to each applicant telling them that we were no longer selling franchises.
With no new schools opening and old schools being lost we simply watched the chain being down-sized every month. But, we kept thinking, we still had some good schools operating. We would have no problem making it off of our good schools.
In 1973, the American movie production companies wanted Bruce Lee. He now made a movie with Warner Brothers, which was a big hit. The problem was that in July, Bruce Lee died just six days before the movie was released. Bruce’s Lee’s unexpected death was a foreboding of things to come in the karate business.
At about the time of Bruce Lee’s death I took a plane trip from Tulsa to St. Louis. We had karate schools in both cities. American Airlines had made a mistake on my ticket and failed to book me in the coach section. If I wanted to catch this flight I would have to buy a first-class ticket. What the heck! The first-class ticket was only ten dollars more.
The first-class passengers were boarded first. After all the first class passengers were seated the coach passengers were not immediately boarded as was the standard procedure. There was a slight pause while Oral Roberts, the famed televangelists, entered the plane, walked down the aisle and took a seat next to the window… right next to me.
As Oral Roberts walked down the aisle I saw on his face the look of complete exhaustion. I have never in my life seen another person with such a look of exhaustion. I felt sorry for the man. As he took the seat next to me I decided to let the poor man rest and not bother the guy by talking to him.
After the plane took off the stewardess asked him, “Are you Oral Roberts who founded Oral Roberts University?”
“Yes’” he replied. And then he added, “I did this and I did that…etc.” the man would not stop talking about all the great things he had done!
Halfway through the flight something funny happened. He started talking to me. He wasn’t exhausted after all. Oral Roberts always had the look of exhaustion on his face! He told me he was flying to New York City to give a speech before the board of directors of American Airlines. This is why we were both flying on America Airlines that day. I did not figure it out until later, but giving speeches was the way he added to his personal income
I enjoyed talking to the man, found him to be very interesting and would like to have continued our conversation all the way to New York City. (We had karate schools in New York City, also.) Upon landing at St. Louis, I said goodbye to Oral Roberts, told him how much I had enjoyed our conversation and left with the impression that he was well-read and very intelligent…and very capable
Three months after Bruce Lee’s death, on October 17, 1973, OPEC announced the oil embargo…and the Tracy’s Empire collapsed!
People, and karate students are people too, could not buy gas for their cars to drive to their karate lessons. The oil embargo triggered a severe recession, which saw inflation running at an unbelievable twenty-two percent. It seemed that half the people you knew were out of work and the other half were in fear of losing their jobs.
When people have a choice of buying food for their families or paying for karate lessons they obviously are going to take care of their families first.
The day before the embargo, Chuck Norris was teaching so many karate students that he had a waiting list to take lessons. Chuck later told Al that four weeks after the embargo hit that he walked into his school… and there wasn’t one student!
Our mighty chain did not actually collapse over night but rather it slowly disintegrated. The day before the embargo we still had a large chain of loyal and successful schools. After the embargo few students were coming into any karate school in America for lessons. Within six months of the oil embargo ninety percent of the karate schools in America went out of business.
Most of our schools stayed open, but they were in desperate financial condition. They could barely make enough money to pay their rent. As a desperate means of survival our school managers started cutting back on expenses. The first to go were their full-time and part-time instructors. Then school secretaries were fired. Eventually, there were hardly any students left to be taught and no student accounts for the secretaries to handle.
It soon came to the point where the franchisees had to make the decision whether to pay their rent, or royalties to headquarters. One-by-one, even the loyal schools dropped their franchise and went independent.
Somewhere along the line, Joe Lewis was removed from the payroll. His Cadillac was sold and the luxury Hollywood apartment was gone.
Every month we were bringing in less-and-less money, not only from the loss of royalties from the schools that left the organization; but the schools that remained were now paying royalties based on a percentage of gross income that was vastly diminishing.
Al started reducing the number of bookkeepers at the accounting department. Eventually, we gave up the accounting department building and had just one bookkeeper and she worked out of her house. Then the day finally came where Al notified the remaining schools that the accounting department was being closed.
By the end of 1974 there were only a handful of schools remaining in the chain and what little remained were paying royalties that could hardly be counted. Tracy’s Karate Schools, the mightiest chain of karate schools the world had ever seen… was no more.
Al was able to pay all of the bills and stave off bankruptcy. I was left with a few dollars and Al was able to save his house, which was worth a lot of money.
Would we do it all over again?
Al recently told me, “The worse thing we ever did was franchise.” We made karate what it would be in America for the next thirty years. Every commercially successful karate school and every successful chain of karate schools in American that followed were successful because they were using some methods created by the Tracy brothers and Tom Connor.
Al can not count the number of millionaires and multimillionaires today that came up through the Tracy’s organization as instructors, managers or franchisees.
Nor can we even come close to counting the number of karate students we taught. It must be in the hundreds of thousands!
We made a lot of franchisees happy. We made a lot of Americans happy by teaching them karate, and we even saved some lives.
But…we did not make Al and Jim Tracy happy. Sometimes we were happy, but other times we were just plain miserable. One time the pressure got so great that Al Tracy wound up in the hospital with a bleeding ulcer. You can die from a bleeding ulcer!
Since Tracy’s ceased to exist some very smart business-orientated people, both men and women, have been very successful in the karate business. In the ensuing years there have been chains that perhaps had more schools and maybe made more money than Tracy’s. There have been some good years and bad years in the business but in the good years some individual schools and chains made a lot of money.
What the successful karate chains of today saw was what we did not see. I was the first to teach separate children’s classes. Yet, we never saw the potential in teaching children, especially small children. Today, ninety percent of the karate students in America are children.
The smartest thing some individuals and the chains are doing today is buying their own buildings. In a few years their buildings will be worth a lot of money. We never bought our own buildings. We did not have a monopoly on all of the good ideas.
Al said, accurately, “If we could have just stayed with Tom Connor for another two or three years we would have had enough money that we would have never had to work again.” Al paused, and then added, “We would have never made it. We could not take the eighteen-hour days. We would have collapsed.”
Instead, we chased a dream by franchising… and almost lost everything.
We prefer to look at it philosophically, like Will, “The planets were not lined up.”
Everything started with Ed Parker. If he had not taken that job with the Probation Department in Pasadena, California, in 1956, then quit in disgust and opened a karate school there would have been no Tracy brothers. California would have had three more lawyers, and the karate business as it is known in America today would not exist.
Ed Parker appeared in a few movies, although not in starring roles. The movies did not do big box office.
He would die of a heart attack in the Honolulu Airport in December of 1990. He was only 59 years old. During his lifetime he would be known as the “Father of American Karate.”
Eighteen years after his death, Ed Parker has become a mere footnote to history; “Elvis Presley’s karate instructor,” is all that is said about him today.
American karate owes more to Tom Connor, the dance instructor, than anyone else. He changed the way karate/kung fu had been taught for thousands of years. The fact that karate instructors today can make a good living can be credited to no other man. He created business and teaching systems that are used by every present-day successful karate school in America. He taught the karate world how to run their schools as a professional business and not like a Ming Dynasty Kung Fu Club.
Without Tom Connor the Tracy brothers would never have had a chain of 200 karate schools, nor would the other karate chains exist today.
Tom Connor had his faults and his erratic behavior forced us to end our partnership. However, many great things throughout history have been accomplished by geniuses who had their faults. And…Tom Connor was a genius.
Tom Connor died in Phoenix in August of 1989, just sixteen months before Ed Parker died. Like Ed Parker he died at the comparatively young age of 59. For the last few years of his life he was confined to a wheel chair with Lou Gerhig’s Disease. He no longer remembered the friends from the San Jose school, nor did he die knowing what great things he accomplished.
His passing would go unnoticed in the karate world.
Ray Klingenberg doubled the size of the Tracy’s chain. He provided a tremendous number of franchisees, district managers, managers and instructors from his San Mateo school. He then moved back to Philadelphia and helped developed the East Coast operations by selling franchises, training personnel and opening schools.
If it had not been for Ray Klingenberg we would have never opened more than 100 schools.
Today Ray Klingenberg lives in Atlanta. None of the Tracy brothers have had any contact with him for the last 30 years.
Joe Lewis finally did become a movie star and would star in four action-adventure movies. Three are available through NetFlix. However, Joe would never become as famous as his good friends, Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee.
Joe Lewis is considered to be one of two best world karate champions of all time. Joe Lewis and Al Tracy keep in touch on a regular basis.
Today, Joe makes his living by travelling the world giving karate workshops, although, most of his workshops are in the US.
Over the next few years Will Tracy would continue trying to be successful at screenwriting and producing movies. He, and his partner, Joey Thompson were introduced to an Israeli movie producer named Menachem Golan who had Israeli money and was looking for a project. Will and Joey had projects and were looking for money.
They negotiated with the man for several weeks but were never able to make a deal. They got to know each other very well. Golan would move to the US and buy a struggling film production company called Canon films. He made the production company the king of “B” movies and turned out over 100 films.
Canon would make eight Chuck Norris films, which turned out to be Chuck’s most successful movies. Chuck Norris would win in Hollywood, but Will Tracy never made it big.
While I was doing my six months active duty with the National Guard, Will helped run Ed Parker’s Santa Monica school. One night he was teaching the beginners class when a teenager came into watch. Will said “hello” and went back to teaching. Will taught the beginner’s class, then the intermediate class, and at 9:00 PM, the advanced class. There were only two students in the advanced class.
While teaching, Will also had to run the business: collecting money, answering the phone and signing up new students (Will signed up four new students that night.) Halfway through the advanced class the kid left. After Will closed up the school he walked down the street to the hot dog stand. The kid was sitting on the bus bench waiting for the next bus.
They introduced themselves. The kid’s name was Weiland Norris. He was a second child. Will told him that second children are always given odd names. He told Weiland that he was a second child and was named Wilbur.
“I’ll just call you Norris,” Will said.
“I will call you Tracy,” Norris said.
Will then gave the kid bad news. It seems that the next bus didn’t come until four the next morning. Will offered to give the kid a ride home and to buy him a hot dog. The kid was broke… and the kid’s house was forty miles away!
On the drive they got to know one another very well. The kid was nineteen years old with an older brother named Carlos, and a younger brother, Aaron. The older brother had come back from Korea where he did a tour of duty in the Air Force. While in Korea he studied karate. The kid, Norris, was taking karate lessons in their back yard from the older brother.
What is not commonly known is that Chuck Norris’ legal name is Carlos.
Norris was impressed with the way Will ran the school and taught classes. He noticed that Will had signed up four new students in just one night.
“Ed Parker must pay you a lot of money to run the karate school,” Norris said.
“Ed Parker doesn’t pay me anything!,” Will replied. “Ed Parker doesn’t pay anything to his managers or instructors. You teach for free to show respect for the master.” Will paused, and then added, “I think Ed Parker told me that it had something to do with the Tong Dynasty. “
Will told Norris that he had a job selling life insurance on a good guaranteed wage for six months. He told Norris that he only sold one insurance policy!
Will dropped the kid off at the house but didn’t go inside. He never met the mother or two brothers.
Tracy and Norris would become the closest of friends…and it would be eight years before Will Tracy found out that Weiland’s bother was Chuck Norris!
The kid showed up a month later at the school. He had a friend give him a ride. Will took Norris down to the hot dog stand and bought him a hot dog. The kid was always broke. Norris wanted to take kenpo lessons under Will but he could not afford to pay. Will told him that the Koreans had good kicks but were not so good with their hands. Norris liked the kenpo hand techniques he saw Will teach.
Will pointed out that if you got into a fight and kicked the man in the head then you would go to jail. (That was true in 1961. Kicking someone was considered to be dirty fighting.)
Will knew what it was like to be broke so he put Norris in class and gave him free lessons. Norris was a darned good student. So good, that Will put him in the intermediate class. Will did not run the school full time. Norris would come in for a class only when he could get a ride, which was two or three times a month, and only when Will was teaching.
Norris was not just “darned good.” Will sad he was the best karate student he ever saw. The guy was fantastic!
Norris came into two classes when someone else was running the school, and then the manager found out that he was not paying. He refused to teach him for free. Ed Parker asked Will, “It doesn’t matter to me but are you teaching students off the record?” Will replied that he was not. “What about this Norris guy?,” Ed asked. Will explained that the kid was dead broke and really wanted to learn kenpo, so he was the only student he was teaching for free.
Parker knew what it was like growing up poor in one of the ghettos of Honolulu so he told Will to teach the kid for free.
There was a good Japanese restaurant just three blocks from the Santa Monica school. Will would take Norris to the restaurant and buy him a class meals.
There was an art theater down the street. Will would take Norris and other friends to see Samurai movies. Norris had never seen anything like it them before. The first Samurai movie he saw just blew him away! The two became very close friends. Will always paid. Again, the kid was always broke. Again, we knew what it was like to be broke.
The Tracy brothers never socialized with our Hollywood friends outside the school. We were broke. We couldn’t pay for a double date with the Hollywood crowd!
Norris felt guilty because Will always paid. Will lied, and told him not to worry about it. He said he was making really good money selling life insurance and working all night loading trucks. Which was true, Will did load trucks all night.
Norris picked up odd jobs now-and-then, and what little money he made he gave to his mother. Norris never talked about his brothers or his family life. Over the years Norris told his mother stories about his best friend “Tracy.” Norris was deeply devoted to his mother. His mother would come to cherish “Tracy,” who she never met. To this day she remembers the stories about “Tracy.” From all of this would come an incredibly strange story. That story is yet to come in the next chapter.
When Will was in Portland he would contact Norris whenever he was going to Los Angeles, and the two of them got always gotgether.
After an eight year friendship…one day, Will got a phone call from Ed Parker.
Ed Parker asked Will if he could get Joe Lewis to do something for him. Parker explained what he wanted Joe to do.
“I don’t think Joe will do it,” Will said.
“Can You get Chuck Norris’|” Parker ask.
“I don’t know Chuck Norris’” Will replied.
“You have your friend Norris?” Parker asked.
“Yes,” Will said.
“His brother is Chuck Norris,” Parker said.
About 1968-1969, the Viet Nam war was going full bore and Norris called Will in Portland and told him he was going in the military. Will can’t remember if he was about to get drafted or was volunteering.
In his Portland school Will taught the members of the Air National Guard Air-Sea Rescue. One of his students was the Commander. Will told Norris that he could get him into the Air National Guard Air Sea Rescue and he could stay out of combat. Although, Will told Norris that Air Sea Rescue was just as dangerous as combat.
Will explained that as a rescue medic he would have to jump out of an Albatross into freezing water near the victims. The Albatross would then land in the water near by and taxi close to them and pick them up. He would get nine months of training, which included Basic Camp, Medic, Airborne, Underwater Demolition, Desert Survival, Jungle Survival and Arctic Survival.
The Grumman Albatross had a speed of over 225 mph, and a range of over 3,000 miles. It was used in the Pacific North West from Portland to Alaska. Helicopters were not used because they were too slow and did not have the range.
Will explained that all the Air Sea Rescue members out of Portland were his students and the commander would enlist any karate student that Will recommended. That is because Will’s students were in excellent physical shape.
“Where would I be stationed?” Norris asked.
“In Portland,” Will said.
Will told him that it was wintry: cloudy, rainy, cold, drizzling, foggy. In short, it was miserable all of the time.
Weiland would not move to Portland. He was adamant!
Weiland wanted to take a franchise.
Will told him that he would have to come to Portland for training in teaching methods, and business procedures.
Weiland was determined not to go to Portland.
It was only recently that Will read the autobiography of Chuck Norris’s mother, Sheltered in his Arms.”
She tells how Weiland had sever childhood asthma, so sever that the family moved to the Arizona desert.
Now Will knows why Weiland would have nothing to do with Portland. An asthma attack is terrifying. You feel like you are drowning!
Will always wished that he had sat down with Norris a few times and explained to him in detail why he should go into Air Sea Rescue. He regretted that he didn’t tell Norris that once he completed training he could get him transferred to Southern California.
He told Norris that with all the Air Sea Rescue special training he could then transfer to the regular army and be highly valuable.
The next thing, Will gets a letter from Norris from Nam saying that it was hot and stank! Within a few weeks, Weiland was shot in combat and killed.
Will found out about Norris’s death when a man came into his school to sign up for lessons. He was with Norris in Viet Nam. The guy said that Norris always talked about his good friend “Tracy” who taught karate in Portland and raised lions.
Chuck Norris came on the karate scene late. He didn’t start fighting until 1966 and he won the Middle Weight Karate Championship in November of 1968.
Will moved to Portland in 1965. In the beginning years, karate tournaments were not that big a deal simply because there was no money in fighting in tournaments. Like many people in karate, Will ignored the tournament scene. Will Tracy didn’t hear about Chuck Norris, never heard the name, until 1973.
When Weiland Norris was killed it had a devastating effect on Will as well as Chuck.
Since that day, Will Tracy really never wanted to get to know Chuck Norris or do movie deals with him. The memory of Weiland’s death was too much to bear.
Will sold his two karate schools before the oil embargo hit. For the next 30 years he would have some lean years and some good years. He had some good jobs and there were times he was out of work.
One of the best jobs he had was as a building inspector for the city of Santa Monica. He never worked very hard and made good money. He became important to the Building Department… because, Will had the unique talent of making friends out of enemies. When he was in Portland he even had a friend who was a Black Muslim.
The Building Department gave Will all the jobs no other inspector would take. These were the building owners who were obnoxious and hated the government. By this time Santa Monica had become the second Beverly Hills. The world’s rich and famous were building homes there. All of the other building inspectors were too intimidated to inspect the homes of the rich and famous.
It was Will Tracy who was sent to inspect the homes of the movie stars, producers, and the rich and famous of the world that had decided to move into the neighborhood. Will would put out his hand, introduced himself and started talking about their mutual friends.
While working as a building inspector he formed a partnership with a wealthy man who owned cottages on Santa Monica Beach. Will took over the property and for a few years made pretty good money off renting the cottages.
One of the things he did as a building inspector was find houses and property for his Chinese friends. The Tracy brothers always got along well with the Chinese. After all, as kids we were raised Chinese.
As a building inspector Will would handle home owner’s complaints about their neighbors who were letting their property get run down. These were three-million dollar homes that the owner let go to pieces. It was always because the guy was going through a divorce. Will would make a deal for one of his Chinese friends to buy the property for $500,000. Then Will got a finders fee. Will’s Chinese friends were very wealthy and within twenty-four hours would hand the owner cash!
Will had a sign over his desk, “Words to live by: Always repay your Chinese investors.”
Speaking of building deals: Will told me that he recently went by our stepfather’s old exotic pet store building in Hollywood. Our stepfather made really good money selling imported and domestically raised pets. When the Second World War came the importation of exotic animals from the Pacific were cut off so our stepfather sold the building and got out of the business. The building is still there at Hollywood and Vine. The building today is worth a fortune!
During our Pasadena years studying karate under Ed Parker and going to college, our stepfather got back into the exotic pet business. Will worked with him at times in the pet store. Will was used to working with exotic animals. This is why Will was comfortable getting the exotic domestic cats and large African cats when he was in Portland.
Will Tracy always had side deals going on… including going to law school. He worked for a law firm for awhile and found out he didn’t like law. Will had his own movie production company. He had a friend, a beautiful actress named Jewel Shepard, that he wrote a screenplay for. The deal was that Jewel Shepard must have the starring role! He was offered $50,000 for the screenplay, but, they wanted to put another actress in the starring role. Any other screenwriter would have sold the script, but not Will. It was Jewel or nothing and no amount of money would change his mind. Will turned the offer down.
When the Internet first came out, Will got on it right away and became a computer expert. In 1995 he even started his own Internet company with his sons. In addition to his own business he got a job with a computer company and made good money. Will worked on commercial computers and not PC’s.
In 1999 he was on a job installing a component on a computer. When he was finished he went under the steel counter to plug in the computer.
When he put the plug in the socket there was an electrical short which hit him with such a jolt of electricity that he slammed his head, neck and shoulder into the bottom of the steel bench. He hit with such force that he lifted the 300-pound bench off the floor. He lay paralyzed on the floor for two hours.
He would have serious and permanent damage to his head, neck and spine. The injury will leave Will Tracy in severe pain for the rest of his life. The doctors want to give him a pain killer that is stronger than heroin. But he won’t take the medicine because it screws up his mind and he can’t think straight. He has learned to deal with the pain.
When Will took over running Ed Parker’s new school in Santa Monica he taught a few private lessons in the student’s homes. Will pointed out, “I taught the private lessons and Ed Parker took the money!” ”Tong Dynasty again.”
One of his private students was Audie Murphy, the war hero, and now a movie star. Because of Audie Murphy’s war wounds, Will had to modify some of the karate techniques and other movements so that Audie Murphy could do them. But on the karate moves he could do, Audie Murphy was very good.
Will said that Audie Murphy was always in intense pain.
“Now that I am always in intense pain I know what Audie Murphy was going through!” Will told me.
Will Tracy and his wife live north of Los Angeles.
As the year 1974 drew to a close there was nothing keeping Al Tracy in San Jose. The old franchise organization no longer existed. We no longer owned the San Jose karate school. Although the karate business was barely alive in America we still had a handful of schools that were doing quite well.
One of these schools was in a working-class suburb of Seattle called Redmond. The manager was a close friend of mine and my ex-district manager. Redmond was a small school but making a very good profit.
Because of the manager’s resume; that is, being a top executive with Tracy’s Karate Schools, an international corporation sent a recruiter to Seattle and interviewed him. They hired him, but he had to relocate to Los Angeles.
So the manager gave the school to Al. The money had always been in teaching so Al moved his family to Bellevue, which was right next to Redmond. Bellevue was a very upscale neighborhood and Al bought a very upper-class house.
The recession had not wiped us out completely. We both still had some money and drove new cars, although we were no longer driving luxury cars.
I took another path. I had just ended a three-year marriage and wanted to get away from everything. I decided to move to London, England, and look at the possibilities of teaching karate in England, which was an open market with almost no competition.
Within a few months of taking over the Redmond school the effects of the recession started to be felt. The business began to fall off slowly. The day would come when Al would make a living teaching karate but not the big money we once made.
What saved him was that his personal expenses were very low. Although he had an upscale house in Bellevue the mortgage was only $300 a month. Al had a low mortgage on his new house because he could afford to put down a large down payment from the sale of his San Jose house.
Al simply cut back on his life style. He didn’t take any more weekend photography workshops under Ansel Adams, one of the world’s most famous photographers. Al was heavy into photography and was darned good at it! He first learned photography from our stepfather. Our stepfather even had his own processing lab in our house.
No longer did Al Tracy take any more white water rafting trips in Idaho with our best managers. He cancelled a fishing trip to remote Canada. You had to fly in on a float plane… and there was a three-year waiting list for the next trip. People from all over the world were waiting in line to make the trip. After the recession hit there were so many cancellations that Al was notified that he could go on the next trip!
As the years went by Al started getting into other things. When the tear gas canisters first came out for women’s protection Al got a distributorship and made $20,000 in just one year. Enlisting his karate students to sell tear gas for him, Al made $12,000 in just one month. That is $35,000 in today’s money.
As VCRs started becoming popular Al decided to experiment in selling karate instruction videos. He made a few videos and placed an ad in a karate magazine. He started getting sales. He made money but the profit was limited.
In the early days the blank videos cost $19.00. That was $70.00 in today’s money just for the blank! This means that the karate videos were expensive to make and sell and the profit was not too large. However, as each year went by the blank video tapes became cheaper and the sales became larger and the profits better.
As each year passed Al Tracy learned that much of the Tracy organization was still there, only different. There were a lot of our schools that survived that bad times, and the good times were coming back. These old Tracy’s schools needed the grandmaster!
The schools needed a central organization to give belt advancements, teach advanced karate and teach local karate workshops. So Al Tracy started making trips around the country awarding belt ranks and teaching karate workshops. Instead of getting royalties he was now being paid for issuing belt rank certificates and teaching karate workshops.
Al Tracy now made his living by teaching karate out of his school in Redmond, Washington. He was making his living by an increase in sales, and profit margin, by selling karate instruction videos. And he was now making his living visiting the old schools and awarding belt certificate and teaching karate workshops.
All of this evolved over a number of years.
After eight years in Redmond, Al’s major income was coming from his work outside the school. This created a logistical problem. Look at a map. Seattle is in the extreme northwest corner of the United States. Al could not drive to Florida, or New York, or Chicago to give workshops. This requires flying long distances and paying long-distant airfares.
Al had learned that 80 percent of his business was coming from those schools located east of the Mississippi river.
The logical thing to do was to relocate to a city that was in the epicenter of this market area. He chose Lexington, Kentucky. It is a nice place to live and not that congested. He was able to buy a 3,000-square-foot house outside of town for practically nothing. All-in-all, Lexington is a nice place to live. And…it was within driving distance of most of his market, albeit, a long drive in some cases.
Al moved to Lexington where he still lives today. He now markets DVD’s, and he still provides belt certificates and a variety of other Tracy products.
Step outside the old Redmond, Washington, karate school today and you can throw a rock and hit Microsoft headquarters building!
In 1999, Al Tracy held a three-day convention in Las Vegas for all of the old Tracy’s people: the franchisees, managers, instructors and top students. It was called “Gathering of Eagles.” Hundreds showed up! There were even world karate masters that attended from outside the United States.
No matter what successes they might have had since the end of the organization; to all of them their days with Tracy’s was their fifteen minutes of fame!
Al held a second convention, Gathering of Eagles 2, in Las Vegas in 2001. Again the convention was packed.
2007, again packed with hundreds of the “Old Timers.” This time the convention was in Chicago. Twenty kenpo experts flew in from Ireland and they reciprocated by giving Al and his wife a ten-day all-expenses paid vacation in Ireland.
Al is already preparing for Gathering of Eagles 4, in Chicago, in June of 2009. Thirty five years after the Tracy’s franchise organization ceased to exist, hundreds are still loyal to Al and Jim Tracy.
However, few remember the days of glory. There has grown up a new generation in the world of karate that has never heard of the Tracy’s brothers. Recently Al was in a Chinese restaurant. He told the young Chinese waiter, “I knew Bruce Lee.” The waiter didn’t know what Al was talking about. He served Al Tracy his meal and then sat down at a table and continued studying his English lesson.
I will end the chapter with a strange strange story, which Al and I only found out about last month.
During the first decade of karate in America, Tracy’s’ Karate Schools dominated the karate world. We were known simply as “Tracy’s,” or “The Tracy Brothers.” Some of the karate world knew the Tracy brothers to be Al, Will and Jim Tracy. But most of the karate world only knew the Tracy brothers to be Al and Jim Tracy. They did not know Will existed.
Will Tracy only knew Weiland as “Norris” and Weiland only knew Will Tracy as “Tracy. “ Will Tracy never met Weiland Norris’s mother or his two, who would become famous, brothers. When Chuck Norris and his mother talked about Weiland’s good friend, “Tracy,” they thought he was talking about Al Tracy. Until last month, Al and I never even knew that Weiland and Will knew each other and that they had been best friends.
And even now, Chuck Norris and his mother do not know that Will Tracy, who was really Weiland’s best friend… even existed.
Over the last thirty years Al Tracy and Chuck Norris get together, from time-to-time, at karate conferences and tournaments. Sometimes Chuck brings his mother. Al and his wife always sit down with the mother and spend most of their time with her. This gives time for Chuck to socialize.
Chuck’s mother loves Al because he reminds her of her son, Weiland, who was killed in Viet Nam. She speaks of Tracy being Weiland’s closest friend and how often her son spoke of “Tracy” and all of the wonderful things he did for Weiland.
Al nods his head, smiles and agrees with everything she says.
“I never knew Weiland,” Al told me.
For over thirty-five years no one knew it was the unknown Tracy, Will Tracy, who knew Weiland, and was Weiland’s best friend!
I moved to London, England, before Al moved up to Seattle. I quickly found out that doing business in England is not the same as doing business in the United States. After a few months in London I returned to the United States.
I looked at London as a much-needed vacation. I immersed myself in the English culture so deeply that I picked up the English accent and lived as the English lived. I look English anyway and could easily pass as English.
I became so much English that after returning to America it took me two years to adjust to the American way of life. Even today, if I had the money, I would prefer to live in England.
When I returned to America, Al was running the school in Seattle. I moved to Seattle and joined Al in running the karate school in Redmond. The school’s business was starting to decline and I could see that it would not be able to support two people.
I figured that the karate business had run its course and it was time to look at making a living doing something else. It was a hard decision as I had been in the karate business since the age of eighteen and I was now thirty-six. I had made it big at a young age and figured I could make it big again in another profession.
I researched career fields carefully and decided that the best job for me was to sell life insurance. I was tired of working with hundreds and thousands of people as I had in the old Tracy’s organization. I figured there would be little pressure, as I would be selling insurance just one-on-one. Also, in 1975 there was a lot of money to be made selling insurance!
I had a lot of job offers from insurance agencies but I picked my agency carefully. I was put on a very nice wage for the first six months and then I would be strictly on commission. I figured I had it made working for a well-established American corporation. I was looking forward to the good life, and an easy life. However, over the next few years I would become disillusioned with America’s corporations.
The first day on the job I sat down with the agency manager and asked him when I would be trained on how to sell life insurance. It seems that the manager was going through a divorce and just sat brooding in his office all day long. There was no training.
After spending a few weeks trying to figure out the business for myself I decided to leave the insurance business. I had interviewed with other insurance agencies only to find that none of them had training for their new salesmen.
I had a guaranteed wage for six months so I stopped selling insurance and started researching another career field. The manager did not know I was not selling insurance as he was spending all of his time brooding.
Here was a successful American corporation and I quickly learned that they didn’t know what they were doing.
I was using the old people in the Tracy’s organization to put me onto jobs as many of them were moving into new career fields. One of our mangers in San Jose had a student who was the District Manger for McDonalds, the hamburger people.
I was set up with an interview. After a ten-minute interview I was hired on the spot, at a high position, and at a high wage. As before, with the insurance agency, I figured I had it made working for a large successful corporation. I would soon become disillusioned, again
The McDonalds store I was assigned to was not too far from San Jose so it was like being back home. I was hired in the position called Operations Trainee. McDonalds hired just a few in this position each year. These were highly experienced businessmen who would be put on a fast track eighteen-month program, and then I could pick my job anywhere in the world with McDonalds.
The number one manger in the district would train me. My manager had been with McDonalds since high school, had stayed on, and had been a manager for the past five years. I was paid more than the manager. I was paid out of a separate account so that no one knew how much I was being paid.
I figured that I was the luckiest man alive. My background was in national chain franchising. Now I was with the best franchise organization in the world. I could not have been happier.
Let me say that I was really impressed with McDonalds. They really had their act together and really knew what they were doing. However, within a few days on the job I could see that McDonalds had some very serious problems.
The most glaring problem was that the McDonalds chain had just put in a new computer system in all of its stores. It was a very simple system compared to what we have today.
Twice a week you took an inventory of all your products: hamburger patties, catsup, napkins, etc… The stores did not have as many products as they have today so taking inventory was easy. You then went to the computer and typed in the inventory and two days later a big McDonalds truck would pull up with your supplies.
The only problem was that no one could teach how to use the computers. My manager told me to go to the basement and figure out how to use the computer by myself. I couldn’t believe it! Here you had the famous McDonalds with thousands of stores and there wasn’t one person in the entire organization that could teach how to use a simple computer!
My expertise was in training. All McDonalds had to do was teach me how to use the computer and I could have set up a system for training the national chain. However, I had only been with McDonalds for one week so I figured that I better not tell them how to run their business.
McDonalds took the easy way out and after several weeks pulled all the computers out of all their stores and went back to the old manual system.
The second thing I found most peculiar was the management structure of the stores. I am talking of McDonalds of 1977. I know nothing about the organization today.
I had a crew of eighty. For lunch we had eight cash registers running with eight lines of from between five to eight customers per line. And it was this way for an hour and a half. Dinner business was the same.
There were three adult manager trainees. I was also a manager trainee. There were four high school kids that were managers and one college kid who was a manager. The high school kids spent their high school and college years with McDonalds.
The adult manager trainees did not stay long. They quit before they finished their training and went on to other jobs. The high school managers trained the adult managers, which included me. It took me just a few days to figure out who was really running McDonalds. It was the high school kids! And these high school kids were doing a fantastic job of running thousands of stores for a billion-dollar corporation!
I had a lot of experience in the karate business working with high school and college kids. They were easy to train and were also the best instructors. But McDonalds never saw the potential in the teenage managers.
McDonalds gave these kids good jobs to pay their way through high school and college… so they could become doctors, lawyers and such. It never entered anyone’s minds at headquarters that these kids could be trained in all aspects of McDonalds and that they could have a career as managers, district mangers and even running corporate headquarters. I could not believe the waste of talent.
Another problem I saw was in the high management turnover rate. At this time it was 80 percent a year. It was not just true for McDonalds but for the fast food industry as a whole. The problem was simple. The managers were top caliber but were not treated in a professional manner, so they left.
I worked for a company owned store. I was paid well but most people working for the company were paid poorly. The funny thing was that McDonalds was making so much money that they didn’t know what to do with all of it.
My supervisor told me that his biggest problem was in recruiting new managers. On interviews the best prospects told him that they were going with our competitors because the competitors paid higher salaries. So McDonalds lost the very cream of the crop as far as managers went.
Most McDonalds stores were franchise owned, just like Tracy’s. The franchise owned stores paid their managers twice as much as the company owned stores!
The commonly used formula, although not mandatory, went this way: a franchise owned store paid its manager $30,000 a year. That would be $110,000 in today’s money. In addition the manager received any new car they wanted. The franchise owner usually stayed out of the store and had the franchise as a business investment. The owner netted $80,000 ($300,000 in today’s money.) per store per year. I knew one franchisee that owned five McDonalds stores. We are talking of big money.
The manager of my store had offers of twice the pay, plus any car he wanted if he would work for a franchise store. He stayed with the company because he figured he had a better career path.
McDonalds was just plain cheap. The district manger, and he had a very large district, was paid less than a franchise store manager!
All McDonalds had to do to retain their mangers was to treat them professionally and keep the high school and college kids in the organization. Again, I figure that I had been with McDonalds for just one week so I had better not tell them how to run things.
I found that working for McDonalds was a nightmare from which I never woke up. After six months with McDonalds I gave my two weeks notice. I used another one of my karate mangers to get me a job with a nationwide finance company.
As soon as it was known that I was quitting some of the other managers came to me and told me they too were thinking of quitting and asked me if I could get them a job with the finance company.
Before I quit I was interviewed at McDonalds district headquarters, because they wanted to know why I was leaving the company. This was just at the time that the TV series Roots was popular.
I told the woman interviewing me, “You remember Roots, where the slaves are being transported in the hold of the slave ships to America? Well, being one of those slaves is what it is like working for McDonalds.”
“Ahh!, she replied.
I told the woman that McDonalds was very successful so don’t listen to me. Just keep doing things the way they were. They did not listen to me and today are even more successful.
Later I read a magazine article on the 100 best companies to work for in American. It ended by saying the worst company to work for was McDonalds: ie; see Roots.
I was with the finance company for just a few weeks. I thought my job would be helping people get home and car loans. That is not how finance companies work. You are a bill collector. You spend all day on the phone threatening people with dire consequences if they don’t pay their delinquent loans.
I next decided to move to Sacramento. My mother lived downtown with her third husband. I moved just two blocks from her house and visited her quite often. Her third husband was much older and could control her crazy mind. By this time she had stopped drinking, which made her considerably less crazy.
It was 1977 and I was now thirty-seven years old and had run out of money. I had a series of low paying jobs none lasting very long. Then, one day I was walking down the sidewalk and met an unusual man who would change my life.
He was in a wheelchair and looked to be in his early thirties. He was severely disabled; a quadriplegic with his arms strapped behind his back, and could only push himself around in his wheelchair by making small movements with his feet.
We introduced ourselves and he told me his name was Gene Bybee. He had just moved to Sacramento a week earlier from Jonesboro, Arkansas, where he was in graduate school at Arkansas State College.
He had a speech impediment but I could understand him. While a student in Jonesboro, he had a meeting with Ed Roberts who was then head of California’s State Department of Rehabilitation. It seems that the Governor of California was the offbeat Jerry Brown. Ed Roberts was a quadriplegic, so Jerry Brown thought it a good idea to appoint a severely disabled person as head of the department for disabled people.
In 1978 it was impossible for a severely disabled person to get a job outside of a sheltered workshop such as Goodwill Industries. However, the severely disabled are a band of brothers.
Ed Roberts told Gene to come out to California and he would try to get him a job with the department…that he headed!
It seemed that by the time his plane landed in Sacramento that Proposition 13 had passed and the government money had dried up. No state agency was hiring.
I took his name and apartment number and visited him later that afternoon. He was fifty-two years old and looked twenty years younger than his actual age. He was born and raised in a small town in Southern Illinois. He made it through grammar school and then through high school at a time when the severely disabled did not go to high school. Later he would get his bachelors degree from Southern Illinois University at time when the severely disabled did not go to college.
I lived just a few blocks away in a modest apartment. After a few weeks my new friend offered me a good deal. He wanted me to move in with him and become his attendant. He had a higher quality two bedroom apartment. I would get paid by the government, receive free room and board, and I also had a twenty hour a week part time job that I would keep. I took my friend up on the offer.
As time went on I found my friend’s life story to be very interesting and thought it would make a good book. Because my brother, Will, was a professional writer I approached him with the idea of writing the book. He liked the idea and drove up to Sacramento with his law partner to visit Gene. Will was not a fully licensed lawyer but what is called a Certified Law Clerk.
I figured the book could be written in six months.
Here was the deal: I would interview Gene on a tape recorder then send the cassette to Will. He would then use the recorded interview to write the story. Sounds simple…but!
I interviewed Gene for the first chapter. It went well. However, I forgot that I was used to Gene’s speech impediment. When I reviewed the recording it was all garbled. There was no way that Will could understand it. So I decided to transcribe the recordings and send my transcript to Will. But my transcriptions were out of context and there was no way that Will could follow the story.
So now I had to write the cassette transcriptions in a logical order, which meant that I was now writing the book. I remembered that when I finished my high school journalism class that I vowed never to be a writer! I told myself that I only had to be a writer for six months then it would be over. It would take years.
Gene’s mind was so damaged and complex that sometimes I would ask a question and get the answer two years later. I had to learn to work around his very unusual brain.
When I came to the part where Ed Roberts offered Gene a job at California Rehab, I simply went downtown and interviewed Ed Roberts at his office. He was very amiable.
It wasn’t long afterward that I ran into Ed Roberts when he was coming out of a grocery store. He had just received the prestigious $250,000 MacArthur fellowship, which is only awarded to geniuses. I congratulated him on the award. He told me that his greatest concern had been how to pay for a bicycle for his eight-year-old son. Then he got the news of the award.
I probably would have finished Gene’s book in short order except that at the age of forty-two I began to develop medical problems. Exhaustion came on suddenly. Then body pains and a confused mind. With the confused mind I also became groggy with a drugged out feeling.
My mother wanted me to see one of her weird doctors. I agreed to see her doctor only because she was paying. Really, it was the only way I could make her stop nagging me about seeing her doctor. Besides, she was paying for it.
By this time I was in really bad shape. I was having trouble with my coordination and was in constant pain. I could not get my mind to think straight. I was confused, had a poor memory and could not concentrate. I just could not get my mind to work right. In addition to the problems with my mind the exhaustion had become extreme.
The doctor gave me several small vials of what looked like water. I was instructed to put ten drops of each liquid under my tongue for ten seconds each day and then swallow the drops.
I left the meeting saying to myself that this guy was a quack! I did what the doctor said…and on the tenth day all of my symptoms slowly, very slowly, started to go away. My mind started to clear up. My energy improved. I began to feel comfortable.
At the end of six weeks I was 70 % improved. I went back to see the doctor. He gave me several more vials of funny water and told me to come back in six more weeks. At the end of the second six weeks I was now 95 % improved. He gave me more vials and in the following six weeks I was 100 % cured. I never felt so good in my life.
For all of my life I had medical problems, but did not know I had medical problems. I always thought that everybody felt that way. As far back as I can remember I had always had low energy, difficulty falling asleep and then the sleep was restless. I didn’t wake up until ten in the morning and then I had to drag myself out of bed with a groggy drugged out feeling. I was always hungry, restless, a pacer, irritable, craved sugars and was always cold. I had a constantly foggy, drowsy mind. I simply could not concentrate. I had great difficulty just functioning.
All of a sudden these conditions became much worse to the point I could barely function. That is when I went to see my mother’s weird doctor.
I started to study the type of medicine the doctor was using on me. It is called homeopathy. In the 1790s a German physician objected to the medical theories of the time. He started to develop the theory that extremely small dosages of like substance could affect a cure.
Over the years he developed a very complex mathematical system of reducing elements by massive dilution. By dilution I mean to the point that there was not even an atom of the element left.
Example: If you drink a cup of coffee it will keep you awake. It is like taking one drop of a liquid coffee and massively diluting it in a tub of water. You then take ten drops of this solution under the tongue and it will relax you.
Mathematically, and scientifically, there is no way that homeopathy can work. Yet, somehow it does work. For nearly 100 years it was one of the world’s premier medicines. To show you its popularity, in the year 1900 there were 20 homeopathic medical colleges in American. There were 15,000 homeopathic physicians and one out of every five MDs used homeopathy in their practice.
Then the germ theory came into favor and homeopathy started to decline.
What did homeopathy do for me? I would lay my head down on the pillow at midnight and fall instantly asleep. I had no dreams and at 8 AM my mind went “pop” and I was instantly awake, full of energy. My mind was clear. I was happy and my body was always comfortably warm. I had no sugar cravings and needed very little food, as my stomach always felt comfortably full. My allergies disappeared.
In short, I was normal. Only, I never knew what normal felt like until I was cured by homeopathic medicine.
I was normal for ten months. Then, I very slowly started to relapse. And the relapse was worse than the original symptoms. Not only did the previous symptoms return but now everything was more intense. In addition, I developed tremors on the left side of my body, which caused my left knee to buckle.
My homeopathic doctor sent me to the University of California Medical Center for a complete neurological evaluation. This would begin years of seeing one doctor after another: the best specialists; university doctors into research; every test and every medication that there was, all to little avail.
No one could figure out what was wrong with me. No matter what medicines they gave me they could not stop the tremors. Nor could they do anything to stop the constant pain.
My life now was surviving one day at a time. There was no letting up on the constant drowsiness, foggy mind, and confusion to the point I could not focus or concentrate my mind. The tremors and pain never let up.
The university professor of psychiatry told me that he had never had a patient with my symptoms. Nor did he ever have a patient who was as drug resistant as I was. No matter what drugs he gave me they would not work.
I was given every test available, including research test. All of the test showed up negative.
The university professor was experimenting with a new research drug that was getting good results for drug resistant schizophrenics. However, you had to be schizophrenic to be put on the research drug. The problem was that I was not schizophrenic, and the evaluation required a stay of 28 days in the psychiatric ward of the university.
In desperation they changed my diagnosis to schizophrenic and put me in the psychiatric ward for 28 days to test the new drug on me. The new drug helped a little bit, but just a little.
My mother came from a long line of herbalists, and psychics. Her grandfather was a famed herbalist in Glasgow, Scotland, in the late 1800s. People came from great distances to be treated by him. He was famous for “laying-on-of-hands.” She did not know what it meant but it was not religious.
Mother had a great knowledge of all herbs. She took me to the health food store and picked special herbs, vitamins and minerals for me to try. Some of her products worked exceptionally well for three to five days. Then I would spontaneously relapse and they lost all affect.
I took tranquilizers only to have the same effect. They would work for awhile; then, spontaneously, stop working. I took one tranquilizer for years then it spontaneously lost all effect.
The research professor could not find anything that would work on me. I was resistant to pain killers including aspirin.
I told him that whenever I caught a cold or the flu my symptoms would disappear. I told him that whenever I went to a dentist and had a shot of Xylocaine my symptoms went away.
The professor told me that he had done research at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. He had a friend who was experimenting treating incurable schizophrenics with Xylocaine.
He called his friend and was told that the research was with high dosages of Xylocaine given intravenously. He got good results for the first 24 hours, then nothing. So he gave up the research.
This just goes to show you that I tried everything and nothing worked.
I spent every minute fighting and fighting just trying to function as a human being. Mother would take me for a walk. I was so weak that the farthest I could walk was 100 feet. I could barely move one foot in front of the other. When crossing the street I would walk up the wheelchair ramp because it took too much energy for me to step up the eight inch curb.
I became unmindful of my appearance and looked like a homeless person. I withdrew from society and avoided talking with people. I did not talk to my two brothers on the phone for years. I was comfortable talking to my mother and a few close relatives but only people that I knew well. I was isolating myself from the world.
I had to give up being an attendant to my quadriplegic friend and he was now taking care of me!
What bothered me the most is that I could not get my mind to work. I was still working on Gene’s book. Every time I sat down to write I could not focus or concentrate. I would work on the book a few minutes here-and-there. Sometimes I could only write a few minutes a week. Sometimes I could get my mind to concentrate on writing for only fifteen minutes in a year.
I felt like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. I was desperately trying to find the Wizard, any doctor, who could give me a brain.
Unable to work, I desperately took jobs that would provide specific health insurance coverage that would let me go to specialists. I even took a job working in a Fotomat booth taking film orders.
You see how far the mighty have fallen!
Actually, it was not such a crazy idea. Fotomat had a terrific medical plan, which covered every experimental drug there was and every crazy doctor in the world including African Witch Doctors! It was the Fotomat medical policy that paid for my research doctor at the University.
And Fotomat paid for my acupuncture treatments. I found an acupuncturist who was definitely overly qualified. He was Taiwanese and had studied Japanese and western medicine and pharmacy in Japan.
His children were now in California going to the University. In Japan he was a neurosurgeon. So he temporarily gave acupuncture treatments while living in Sacramento. I took treatments for several months with only temporary improvement.
He could not figure out what wrong with me and he was a neurosurgeon.
He told me that I looked like I had Huntington’s chorea. But, I did not have Huntington’s chorea he added.
I bought a 21-foot self-contained camper and made plans to move to Yuma where the climate was better. I did not go. I went to Santa Monica for a few weeks and stayed in one of my brother’s cottages on the beach. It did not help. I moved back to Sacramento.
I stilled tried desperately to finish writing Gene’s book. I eventually succeeded by writing a few minutes at a time. I don’t know how I did it.
As time went on Will and I came up with idea of not only writing Gene’s book but also making a movie of his life. Enter Ed Parker. Twice I took Gene down to Los Angeles to have meetings with Ed Parker, and twice Ed Parker came up to Sacramento to have meetings with Gene.
There was a good chance of getting a movie deal because Parker’s close friend was movie mogul Blake Edwards. Parker was then having lunch every Saturday at Blake’s Edward’s house. However, Ed Parker was the world’s biggest procrastinator. We never could get Parker to set up a meeting with all of us and Blake Edwards. Parker simply did not know how to put a movie deal together.
I wrote over 80 letters to publishers trying to get them to read Gene’s manuscript. Seven editors asked to look at the manuscripts. They liked the story but there were no contract offers. It looks like all that literally agonizing work was for nothing.
The years would pass and nothing changed. I never did get Gene’s book published. The movie never was made. My medical condition never got any better. I accepted the fact that I would have my medical disability for the rest of my life and went on disability. I would get a check every month.
In October of 1987, my friend in the wheelchair died. Our friendship had lasted nearly ten years. Then my mother’s husband died. Mother sold her house downtown and we moved into a mobile home together so that she could take care of me.
We decided that the climate in San Diego would help my condition so we bought a mobile home in El Cajon and moved south. My condition did not improve and after three years we moved back to Sacramento again into a mobile home.
When I first moved to Sacramento in 1977, I started researching my family history, my genealogy. After a few years my medical condition was so bad that I took all of my research and put it in a box and left it in the closet.
Twenty years after I put my family history in storage I decided to try to finish the project. I had just bought my first computer and decided to finish my research on the Internet and when finished I would place the story on the Internet.
But I was fighting constant pain and a mind that would not work: A mind that could not focus or concentrate can not write a family history. I would take slips of paper and write down a word, or a sentence, or even several sentences and put the slips of paper into a box. These slips of paper would trigger my mind as I put the story together.
When I had a box full of notes I would look at all of the notes and decide which would be the first chapter. Then I would go through the notes and decide which would make the first paragraph.
I would write at two in the morning or four, or whenever I woke up. I could only work for a few minutes at a time. Sometimes I worked for 20 minutes at a time. If I was lucky I would work for forty minutes.
When I finished the first paragraph I would go to the notes again and decide what would make the second paragraph. When I wrote the second paragraph. I could not remember what I had written in the first paragraph. I couldn’t read the first paragraph and second paragraph together because I could not focus my mind.
And that is how I wrote my family history of 79 chapters and almost 400 pages. I never really knew what I was writing outside of the paragraph that I was working on. When I ran out of notes I would end the chapter. Or, some times I would end the chapter when I was too tired to go on.
If I was lucky, every three or four months I could read one of my chapters and understand what I wrote. Like Gene’s book, I eventually finished. How, I do not know. I wrote the family history the same way I wrote Gene’s book…by not really knowing what I was writing.
My long lost cousins throughout the world would find the site on an Internet search and they gave me surprisingly good reviews.
When the family history was finished I then tried contacting long lost cousins in Northern California to let them know that the family history even existed. I tried finding some long lost kin in near Red Bluff. I wound up out in the hicks in a small town where you had to drive twenty miles to the nearest gas station.
I talked with the local historian. You always talk with the local historians when you research your family history. He suggested that I talk with another genealogist who might be able to help me.
She lived an hours drive away in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We were able to determine that our families were very distantly related. She gave me a family history, actually an autobiography, written by her first cousin who was now dead.
It was written in the days before computers and with a faded typewriter ribbon. Only a few copies of the manuscript were given to family members.
I decided to read the story, because that is the way genealogical research is done. You waste 90 percent of your time researching material that comes up with nothing. It goes with the territory. I have read five full books that only produced one sentence of useful material.
I didn’t exactly read as my mind could not focus. My eyes went over the words and some how my mind would pick out what was important, and then my mind would concentrate. That is just how my mind works.
My mind caught something in the story that I did not expect and it had nothing to do with genealogy. It seems that the first cousin was many times beset with debilitating and impossible to diagnosis illnesses. His story sounded like my story. The only difference was that his illnesses were fatal. My illness was not fatal.
This is what caught my eye. One time he wound up in a hospital in the East Bay, across the bridge from San Francisco. The doctors did everything they could to save his life but to no avail. The doctors called in the family for one last visit. The wife, she was his third wife, loved her husband deeply… and she was Chinese.
In desperation she asked the attending physician if they would mind if she brought in another doctor for consultation. It was a lost cause. Of course the doctor would have no objection to her bringing in a doctor of her choice.
The attending physician just about had a heart attack when her doctor turned out to be a Chinese acupuncturist and herbalist…and he was from China. The Chinese doctor took one look at the patient and something like, “low life-energy.”
The American doctor had already figured that out. The Chinese doctor prescribed herbs that were brewed and then poured down the patience’s nose tube.
This was an accredited American hospital! The American doctor figured that their patient was a dead man anyway so he let the Chinese doctor treat him with herbs. The American doctor kept the unconventional treatment a secret from the hospital staff.
In twenty-four hours the husband was dramatically improved. The herbal treatment was continued. Six weeks later the husband was out of the hospital.
I thought that here was the only doctor in the world who could save her husband. With luck, maybe he could save me. The American doctors had long ago given up on me.
I drove up into the mountains once again to see the family genealogist. I told her that I was not there to talk about genealogy. I wanted to talk about the Chinese doctor who had treated her first cousin in the hospital. She knew the story well.
The story had taken place some twenty years before. I had two questions: Was the Chinese doctor still alive? Was he still practicing medicine?
She did not know. But the Chinese wife was still alive. She put me in touch with the Chinese wife.
The Chinese wife called me on the phone.
“Hello, this is Frances,” she said. She was very knowledgeable about Chinese medicine and proceeded to give me a short background as to the difference between Western medicine and Chinese medicine.
She explained that I could not take Western medicine at the same time I was taking Chinese medicine, as the Western medicine would interfere. She spent a few minutes asking questions and giving me advice.
“Chinese medicine is different,” she emphasized.
Then she told me that the Chinese doctor who treated her husband in the hospital was still alive and still in practice in the East Bay. The husband had died some ten years earlier but had lived several years after being “raised from the dead” by the Chinese herbalist.
I made an appointment to see the Chinese doctor.
Mother and I drove down to the Chinese doctor’s office. As I sat in the reception area I read the doctors resume. He had impressive credentials. He spoke good English as well as Mandarin and Cantonese. He had studied both Western and Chinese medicine at Peking University.
I felt that this was the one doctor in the world who could cure me. When it came time for consultation I briefly told the doctor my symptoms. I told him that Frances had referred me to him.
“Oh! How is Frances?,” he asked.
“I don’t know Frances,” I explained. “I only talked to her on the phone.”
“I saw France’s husband in the hospital. He was very sick!!!”
Then I came to the point. “You raised France’s husband from the dead. I want you to raise me from the dead!”
He didn’t know if he could do that.
I then told him the story of being raised by a Chinese family and speaking only Chinese as a child. I asked him if he knew a Chinese hypnotist who could hypnotize me and take me back to my childhood and see if I could remember how to speak Chinese.
“No. But that is interesting!”
Then he told me something that crushed my hopes. He said that because I was drug resistance to all western medicines then he could not treat me with herbs, because herbs were medicines and I would be just as resistance to any herbs he gave me.
He was going to treat me with acupuncture. I knew it would not work as I had months of acupuncture from a Chinese doctor. The acupuncture treatment lasted one hour and I stabilized but I knew the effects would not last. Five hours later the improvement wore off and I relapsed.
I had given it my last shot. Through a strange series of circumstances I had found the one doctor who could cure me only to find that it was a lost cause.
I contacted the Chinese wife and told her that the Chinese doctor who had raised her husband from the dead could not treat me. I thanked her for all of the kindness she had shown to me. But I had accepted the fact that I was going to have to suffer for the rest of my life. Her doctor was my last hope and there was not another doctor in the world who could treat me.
The Chinese wife did not give up on me. She got right back and told me that Chinese doctors were different. There was another Chinese doctor she wanted me to see. He was also in the East Bay. The doctor was out of town for a few weeks and when he returned she would make an appointment. She wanted to see me on my first appointment and talk to me before treatment.
She told me that this doctor was very good at “laying-on-of-hands.” I then remember that my mother’s grandfather in Glasgow was a famed herbalists… famed for “laying-on-of-hands.”
The appointment was made. The doctor worked out of an apartment. As I met Frances I had the same impression as when I first met Bruce Lee. “She is small but average size for Chinese.”
She asked me about my medical and family background. She handled herself very well and I had the impression that she had professional training in counseling. For all of my life I never confided to anyone my problems. I poured my heart out to the Chinese wife. I told her about my alcoholic father, stepfather, and mother, and what a miserable life I had had.
The meeting lasted forty minutes. She finished by saying, “It sounds like you come from a troubled background.”
She then turned me over to a friend who would interpret for me as Frances had another appointment to attend a Chinese fundraiser. The Chinese doctor did not speak English.
I asked Frances, and her interpreter friend, if they knew of a Chinese hypnotist. Their minds went blank. They had never heard of a Chinese hypnotist. There were a billion Chinese in the world and there is not one Chinese hypnotist!
I told the interpreter to be very specific in telling the doctor that the best doctors in the world had treated me. I had every test and every medicine and nothing worked. I emphasized that I was drug resistant. I had difficulty speaking as my allergies made me gasp for air.
The doctor was not interested in anything I said. At the end of the interview he said, “I can treat.” He told me that he could improve my condition but could not guarantee that he could cure me 100 percent.
I was laid on a table. Then he took herbal oils and rubbed the oils into my chest for twenty minutes and then he rubbed oils into my abdomen for another twenty minutes. When I got up from the table all of my allergies were gone. The treatment he gave me was called “laying-on-of-hands.”
He asked me what was my number one problem. I told him that it was the foggy mind. He gave me two bags of herbs with instructions how to brew. As I drove back to Sacramento I felt progressively better. And I did not relapse.
I drove to the East Bay once a week for treatment. At the end of two months the fogginess was gone. It took me three months to understand what the two Chinese ladies told me, that “Chinese medicine is different.”
I had found the one doctor who could treat me. A Chinese doctor had saved me as a child and now as my life was nearing an end another Chinese doctor was saving me.
It became a race against time. The Chinese doctor was retired and only treated eight patients. He would not have accepted me as a patient if it had not been for his friendship with the two Chinese women.
There was a problem. The Chinese doctor was planning on going back to China to live out his retirement. I had to get treatment before he returned to China.
The Chinese doctor and I became good friends. My brothers and myself always got along well with the Chinese. I soon learned that he was “Number One Doctor.” When you saw every doctor in the world and they could do nothing for you then you saw Number One Doctor. He was the doctor of last resort.
He explained that Western medicine is all the same: The medical schools all teach the same; the textbooks are the same; the tests, treatments and medicines are the same. This is not true of Chinese medicine. In China they have different theories and methods of treatment
His method was to treat the organs. If the organs are functioning properly then you are free of disease. If there is a problem with one or more of the organs then it is manifested by disease: cancer, high blood pressure, or whatever. The blood circulates through the organs and disease affects the color of the blood. By looking in the eyes and the color of the face he knows the condition of the organs. That is why he was not interested in what I had to say during consultation. He knew what was wrong with me when he first looked at my eyes and face. Besides, he had heard it all before.
He was seventy-two years old and had been a doctor since the age of sixteen. His father and grandfather had been Chinese doctors living between China and San Francisco.
We could communicate but on a limited basis. I was used to the Kung Fu men from my San Francisco days. I would say short simple sentences and he would reply with short simple sentences and half the time we could understand each other. There were days when he would spend the entire session speaking like Shakespeare on stage, and I could not understand a word he was saying!
Six months into treatment my mother died. I was improved enough that I could take care of myself. Before my mother died she asked me to promise her that I would see a psychic and have a reading. I agreed because she was paying for it. . However, my mother did not know a local psychic who could give me a reading.
Now the two Chinese ladies came back into the picture. They had a friend with a home in Mexico. And the friend had a friend who was a psychic living in central Mexico. The doctor told me the psychic would be visiting the East Bay and giving readings. The two Chinese ladies were arranging the appointments.
I made an appointment for a reading. I spent time with the Chinese lady interpreter and analyzed the handwriting of everyone. I had a good day and I had fulfilled the wish of my mother to have a psychic reading.
After a year of herbal treatment I had improved enough that I decided to try functioning as a human being. It would take practice. I started to join a friend at the donut shop, which was one block from the house. He had a handful of friends that he met with every morning for coffee and donuts. Anywhere from three to six men would show up each morning.
I would sit and say nothing. As I sat, I watched how their minds formed thoughts and then how their thoughts formed sentences. As time went on I practiced joining in the conversations using little thoughts and short sentences. Eventually, I joined in and carried on more normal conversations, but not always with success.
Problems developed as I practiced being with people and carrying on conversations. I found that I talked too much. I talked too fast and did not know when to stop talking. I would focus on one person and ignore everyone else. I offended people, especially when I was in a group. Even today I avoid groups of people. However, I was able to function more like a human being.
A year ago my mind had improved enough that I decided to edit my family history with a lot of help from some of my donut shop friends. It took several months and we did a respectable job, although not according to the Columbia School of Journalism Guidelines.
We edited from the first sentence to the last. As I worked on the editing I was embarrassed at the stupid mistakes. It was not only replete with spelling errors but I would copy and paste repeat paragraphs. I had historical facts that were stupidly wrong. I made one stupid mistake after another. Some of the grammar had much to be desired.
I get a lot of visits to my web site. My cousins from around the world love my stories as ours is an illustrious heritage. They simply ignore the grammatical errors and concentrate on the stories. Family histories are interesting, if it is your family.
The doctor never did return to China. My treatments would last three and a half years. He never cured me 100 percent but did improve my condition 85 %.
I feel like Rip Van Winkle coming out of a twenty year sleep. I simply lost twenty years of my life.
And how am I doing today? I am still on disability and have been on disability for one-third of my life. I am free of pain. I can now halfway function as a human being. My energy is low but I am able to walk between one and two miles a day.
I still have many problems. I hesitate to talk to people on the phone unless I know them well. My mind comes and goes. I can get tired and confused, which makes me sound drunk. (I do not drink.) The problem is that I never know when I will get tired and drowsy or confused; or know when my mind will clear up. I prefer to communicate with most people by e-mail so I can respond when my mind is working. I have simply learned to deal with my disability.
I still do writing on my family history and, this, my autobiography. If the reader can look beyond the grammatical errors in my writing then you will find the story. Just remember, I wrote my family history and autobiography without having a mind.
I am lucky that I have lived in my mobile home park for the last ten years. Everyone knows me and they are my friends and look out after me. The other day the park manager told me, “You are a lot better than ten years ago!”
I simply live in my own world, which is mostly the mobile home park.
Sometimes I think of Frances, the Chinese wife who would not give up on me. I know but little about her. She was born in San Francisco, which makes her Chinese of American heritage. However, she is very much Chinese. She is Buddhist, speaks Chinese fluently and lives comfortably between the two cultures. She does her grocery shopping in Chinatown and is strongly involved in the Chinese community.
I know she has three or four Chinese children. I can only assume that she married a Chinese man and then divorced. She then married a Caucasian who brought three children into the marriage. It must had been an interesting family life raising the Chinese and Caucasian children together.
I know nothing about the Chinese children. I can only assume that due to their heritage that they are all successful. I know something of the Caucasian stepchildren. The one stepson is a successful academic. The stepdaughter is a successful restaurateur. Then there is her other stepson that she raised from the age of ten. He is a successful actor, Tom Hanks.
Jim Tracy passed away on July 9, 2021.