Transcription of Episode 13 - Interview with Senior Grandmaster George Pesare
Tim: Today, I have the honor and privilege of speaking with the man responsible for bringing Kenpo Karate to the New England area of the United States. As a tenth degree black belt under Grandmaster Victor Gascon, he’s been training in Kenpo Karate since 1958, also holding high level black belt rankings in Judo, Taekwondo, Escrima, and Aikido, not to mention college degrees in Advertising and Science. It is my great pleasure to welcome Senior Grandmaster George Pesare to the Martial Arts Lineage Project. Thank you so much for speaking with me.
Now, I always like to get a feel for how masters in martial arts began their journey. So, can you tell us briefly about what inspired you to begin your training in the martial arts?
George: Well, when I was a young person I was always interested in the martial arts—Judo, Karate, even when I was fifteen, sixteen years old I used to look at these booklets with these people hitting the wooden boards and all that. So, I was always interested in it. And, when I got married, I went to California, I went to Burbank, and I hooked up with a fellow worker there in the aircraft place and he was training with Victor Gascon. He asked me to come down and I went down. They just said, “You think you’re good enough?” because that’s the way Hawaiians were.
I said, “Hey, I put my pants on one side at a time just like you. And that’s the way we went. We went from there.
Tim: And you started training with Victor Gascon at that time?
George: Victor Gascon, Joe Blacquera, and Bill Ryusaki.
Tim: It seems like a lot of people I talk to in this show, their inspiration for beginning training in the martial arts is sometimes Bruce Lee. This was before that time.
George: Yeah, it is. Bruce Lee was just; he was just a name. I mean, Ed Parker gave him his big start. After that, you know, after he was Kato and whatever he was. Then, all of the sudden he became, you know, the Kai### of this and that, you know, this and that. You know, he was overrated as far as I’m concerned.
Tim: Okay, all right. So, you started training with Victor Gascon, in, at that time, was it Kajukenbo?
George: Well, you wouldn’t know because Victor trained with John Leoning. They both came across to the United States, to California. But Victor had trained with, I believe was Emperado and he had some falling outs with Emperado. He says in those days, he said he didn’t train in Regada Jin Po###, Karazenpo, he just trained, not with the Kajukenbo, he developed the Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu, which is a name, it’s not a style.
He had to teach what he was taught. You follow me?
Tim: I see.
George: No matter what you do, you got to teach what you’re taught. I mean you can change it around, you can do this, and you can do that. But it will still be what he was taught. And that’s the bottom line.
Tim: Was there a main reason for him changing the name was, maybe some disagreements with Emperado?
George: It was, he had disagreements with Leoning and Emperado.
George: So you don’t even know where that went.
Tim: Sure. Now, what are the main—these two styles that we’re talking about now—Kajunkenbo and Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu—obviously, one and the same. But they eventually evolved into what we know as Kenpo Karate in the United States.
Tim: Were there changes to the philosophies or the goals of Kenpo Karate as it changed from, you know, these former styles to what it is today?
George: What was taught back then was okay. It worked back then, you follow me? But things changed. It’s because everybody was doing tournaments and people were seeing what the Shotokans did, what the Taekwondo did. Kenpo at that time was, you know, was, you know, it was limited in high kicks, and that sort of stuck.
When I brought it back from California, I added some kicks and stuff like that, and people never saw that in the original Kenpo training. I mean the original Kenpo was very limited in kicks.
George: They may not want to say it, but it’s a true story.
Tim: Sure, sure. It’s interesting to, you know, get all these different perspectives. I speak with so many different people on the show, and there are a lot of little things like that that are lost over the course of history.
George: Absolutely, absolutely.
Tim: So, you came back to the New England area, and you were also a part of the Kaito Gakko. Can you tell us a bit about that? Where does it come from?
George: Kaito Gakko is Polynesian; it means school of schools.
George: You know these Hawaiians had this big fetish about patches and stuff. So, I developed my patch, and I made it Kaito Gakko and some Hawaiians were up in arms, saying, “Hey, you can’t do that.”
I said, “Whoa, if you don’t want it, come down and tear it off my gi and then we’ll straighten it out.” They never did, you know, because they’re mostly full of hot air.
Tim: I’ve heard that the Kaito Gakko is refered to as a school, but it’s also a style. Is that right?
George: Well, probably. It could be a style, but I mean, what kind of style is it? Where did it come from? Adriano Emperado? Chow? I mean it’s like pizza my friend. Giuseppe makes pizza, and he puts a little pepperoni in it. So then, he brings in a helper, and he teaches him all about pizza. Now, the helper wants to make his own pizzeria. So, he opens up his own pizzeria, but he doesn’t want it like Giuseppe. So, what he does is he adds some peppers and design and he says, “Oh, mine’s better than Giuseppe’s.” It’s all pizza.
Tim: [chuckles] Yeah, that’s true. I see that, actually, a lot, you know, speaking with the people that I do. There are little things that may I or not be…
George: It’s all the same. What everybody’s trying to say well, you know. Whatever you’re taught, that’s what you’re taught. You can change it around, but you’re taught what you’re taught. That’s it, that’s the bottom line.
I mean, I was taught from Victor and the other two guys. And, I changed some things around. I put some high kicks and stuff, but the majority is what I was trained to do.
George: I didn’t blow thunderbolts out of my ass that stick to the ceiling with Velcro and developed something brand new. I love it when people say, “I developed my own style.” Get out of here! What style did you develop? You just got some stuff, changed it around and called it your own style, which is all bullshit.
Tim: [chuckles] So it’s interesting to try to understand what the line is between developing a new style from scratch, like you said, or taking what you know and ‘adding pepperoni’.
George: Probably, the only guy that developed from scratch that he didn’t develop, it was Daruma. He learned it from India, but somebody must have taught him!
Tim: [chuckles] Right, that’s very true.
George: So, you know, give me a break.
George: These people that say they developed their styles, I laugh at them.
Tim: Yeah, you know since it’s all somewhat the same.
George: It’s all the same, a kick and a punch.
Tim: So, I’ve studied Shaolin Kenpo in the New England area, actually, and looking back through my lineage, you are five generations back from me, so it’s really interesting to be interviewing you right now.
George: That’s good. We just had the IKCG last May.
George: International Kenpo Council of Grandmasters.
Tim: I see.
George: That was the first one we had. We had over 400 people on the East coast.
George: Four hundred people from the New England area that all come from my family tree.
Tim: That’s great.
George: Isn’t that great?
Tim: That’s a lot.
George: Generations and generations. Next one is next year, June. If you want, write this name down, Steve Nugent.
Tim: Yes, I’ve heard the name.
George: All right, you get a hold of him and you get a hold of all the information on the IKCG. It’s gone haywire. This is our first one. People thought we were going to fall on our face. It was a tremendous success.
Tim: [chuckles] Great. That sounds like fun.
George: And the main thing that brought it together was Kenpo. These people wanted their roots. They wanted their lineage. That’s why it became such a success.
Tim: Yeah. It’s great that martial artists are so much of a family.
George: Absolutely. I mean everybody at that event popped their egos out the door.
Tim: That’s great. So having trained in the Shaolin Kenpo that I have, I learned Six Kata. That was actually one of my favorite Kata that I learned, and I continue to practice it as much as I can still, today. As I understand, you created that Kata. Is that correct?
George: I did.
Tim: That’s really interesting.
George: Five, six and seven.
Tim: Five, six and seven, is that right?
Tim: All right, I was unaware of that. So what motivated you to add that material to the Kenpo curriculum?
George: Well, because as we said earlier, or as I said, Kenpo is really limited in certain aspects, from what I trained. I mean I trained up to the fifth pinan, do you follow me?
George: That was the original pinan that I teach them to this day. But, there were things lacking, such as high kicks, takedowns, et cetera. So I sat, got together with my black belts, and we developed, I developed, fifth, sixth and seventh. Then I went over it, went over it, went over it and then I taught them.
Then they went over it, and went over it, and went over it, now that’s what we got today, because it brought different material that wasn’t prevalent with the original Kenpo training. And, like I say, they might now want to believe that, but that’s a true story.
Tim: Sure, sure. And one of the big reasons was the high kicks?
George: Yup, because we didn’t have those kicks. I developed kicks over tables. Do you know what I’m saying? Takedowns from tables, things that you basically do when you’re fighting, because you know, nothing’s prearranged. You don’t know what’s going on. So, you have to develop stuff that can’t be broken. That’s how I developed the fifth, sixth and seventh.
Only my top black belts who know the fifth, sixth and seventh, to this day, train in it.
Tim: Now, I’ve spoken with a lot of people, actually, a lot of other people talk about high kicks not being as effective because they’re not used in street fighting as much. But, what you just said, it kind of sparked something in my mind. You know, if someone’s on a table, you know, you need a high kick for that. So, that’s interesting.
George: You can’t kick the table. [laughs]
Tim: [laughs] Sure, that’s not going to do much good.
George: People take that shit out of perspective. I’m not saying do a straight high kick him straight. I’m saying there are certain obstacles that you’ll be sitting down or doing something and you’ll have to do a high kick.
George: You know you can’t do that on a table if you don’t know how to do it.
George: You know I got a video out there that a friend of mine, Puru### ran for me. What we marketed in the video was doing a demonstration, and people never saw high kicks over a table before. You know, because they say, you know, high kicks are not that effective in the street.
I say, “Fine, but if you’re doing it over a table, or if you’re doing it over some obstacle, you need a high kick.”
Tim: Sure, yeah.
George: Those are the basics that people don’t get; they don’t get perspective about it, you follow me? Everybody is black and white, “Well, you know, high kicks aren’t that great.” Well you know, fine. If they’re in a cage, high kicks aren’t that great. If you’re over a table, all right, high kicks are that great.
Tim: That’s neat. Now, you’ve been in the martial arts field for so many years now. I’d love to know what your thoughts are on the development of Kenpo over the years, you know, since you began training, it’s obviously spread; it’s flourished through New England. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the style over the years?
George: Well, it seems some of the pinans that change and the katas. And, actually the kata is a basic drill. People do basic drills. I say, you know, “What is this?”
And they go, “Well, it is a kata.” It’s my original kata, but actually it’s a drill, you know. Probably the Koreans call it Hyeong, the Japanese call it whatever they call it, but it’s like an L-shaped thing—downward block, punch, downward block, punch, step and three times, punch, punch, punch and all that.
That’s a universal deal. But I changed that. Instead of moving the foot all the way backwards, I just turn. In other words, if somebody says, “Hey, Joe, you don’t move your foot all the way backwards, you turn.” You follow me?
George: You know things that are practical, things that work. Some schools still teach the hocus-pocus that it was taught 200 years ago. That’s fine, you know. They can teach whatever they want to teach, but not too many people go on the realm of the practical, besides kicking over a table, you know?
Tim: Sure. Now, have you seen examples of schools in Kenpo who have taken it into a direction, you know, without naming names, or anything like that, into a direction that you don’t think is the correct evolution or the traditional evolution of Kenpo?
George: Not too many, majority of schools are on the right track of Kenpo Karate and doing what, they’re on the right track. You got one or two that are smoke and mirrors, but that’s okay. You can always weed them out, but the majority of Kenpo schools in New England are on the right track.
We had this IKCG and part of the deal was we had to do testing. We had to get up there, you know, because they had to be retested for certain ranks. They had to get up there and do stuff. We’re talking hundreds of people. And I was so, you know we started 7 o’clock in the morning, and I was so amazed. I mean, they didn’t do everything the way I did, or I taught, but it, what’s the word I’m trying to look for. They’re not supposed to be the way I was. They’re supposed to be better than the way I was.
Tim: Ah, sure.
George: And that’s what they were. I mean we were there from seven to eleven o’clock doing this testing. I mean these people were super. I was so amazed that I cried. I see the evolution of this, you follow me?
I said it during the speech. “You don’t look like the way I did it, just like I don’t look like the way my instructors taught me, you follow me?” But, I didn’t go downhill, I went uphill, and I made it better, and that’s what these people in New England have made it—better.
Tim: That’s great. That’s a great thing to hear and it’s so interesting to hear that someone like yourself can look at the subsequent generations and be so moved and learn so much from how they develop it.
George: Absolutely. It was fantastic. That’s why you got to get a hold of Steve Nugent, you know.
Tim: Yeah, okay.
George: Get a hold of him and he’ll give you all of the information.
George: Steve is a tremendous man. I recently promoted him to tenth degree black belt.
Tim: Oh, wow. Great. So, are there any other hopes that you have for the development of Kenpo Karate and of the Kaito Gakko into the future?
Tim: Unity. Hmm. That says it all?
George: That says it all. Unity. Bring unity into it. That is our icon for the IKCG. Unity, coming home, I mean, they have this thing in California, and it’s a shame. Are you following me? It was a convention and people actually selling rank, do you follow me?
I brought this up three or four years ago to Don Rodrigues and a couple of other people. I said, “We’ve got to do that here, but make it legitimate, make it good.” And we talked and we talked, and finally we did it! People balked at it because they thought it’d flop, but then they were so amazed that it was such a tremendous success. Because, reason why is so many Kenpo people out there working for their lineage.
Tim: Hmm, is there any advice that you may give to someone who’s just starting their own journey in the martial arts?
George: Look for a good school. Make sure it’s not a rip-off, you know. Talk to the instructors. Ask the instructor who his teacher was, then ask him who his teacher’s teacher was. There’s a lot of people who don’t know.
George: I mean, you ask them who his teacher was and they don’t know.
George: This is very important. This is what I say. Ask who your teacher was, ask them who their teacher was and who their teacher’s teacher was. You’d be surprised how many people can’t tell you. I talked to black belts, I said, “Who’s your teacher?”
“Uhm, I really don’t know his name.”
Get out of here! How many times do you train with this guy, once a year?
Tim: So it’s interesting to hear you speak about lineage like that. I’ve been working on this Martial Arts Lineage project, where I try to document the lineage of as many martial artists as I can over hundreds of different styles now of martial arts. And, obviously there’s different conversations and different opinions about the importance of the understanding of your lineage when training in the martial arts. So, it’s good to hear that someone like you holds the importance of the lineage in such high regard.
George: And another important thing: do not badger other people. This is what I suggest to the people. You know, look at him and everything, but get over it saying, “Well, you know, I’m better than he,” and all that. Nobody’s better than anybody. So, for us to have unity, and that’s the most important part, is to get together and get this thing going. Like I say with the IKCG, it’s going to go off the ground.
Tim: Great, well I’m looking forward to watching the development of Kenpo in the future and seeing that unity. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much.
George: You’re welcome and keep up the good work.