Battle of the 7 Cities Reunites Authentic Karate Masters
By Lincoln Stone
Special to the
New Journal and Guide
Some of the nicest people you would ever meet are some of the deadliest men you could ever know. This was particularly evident at the seventh annual, Battle of the 7 Cities, martial arts tournament which was held Saturday, June 5th, at Granby High School in Norfolk, Virginia.
The tournament is hosted each year by Virginia Black Belt Hall of Fame inductee, Master Jack Dark, III. This event showcases martial arts schools from all over the area and beyond. The practitioners competed in sparring and forms (choreographed movements which simulate fighting). Some of the form categories included various martial arts weapons. The top winners in each category received trophies, medals, plaques or belts.
Abundantly apparent during the event was the amount of respect, discipline, manners, attention to protocol, and positive energy each participant possessed. The older the black belts, the more reverence they managed to receive and project. These men earned their rank the old-fashioned way, through countless hours of grueling practice and dedication to their discipline, art and science of martial arts.
Among the many black belts in attendance was a core group who earned a difficult to achieve black belt from Norfolk’s own Grandmaster Harold Hankins. Hankins was a student of one of the pioneers of martial arts in America, Ki Whang Kim. It was Ki Whang Kim who granted Hankins (along with fellow classmates, Leon Nicholson and Gaylord Patterson) permission to teach Korean karate in this area.
Master Jack Dark is the highest ranking student from Grandmaster Harold Hankins, co-founder of the first karate school in Norfolk, the legendary Authentic Karate Club which was located on 35th Street near Newport Avenue in the Park Place section of Norfolk. Hankins has retired from teaching and rarely but occasionally appears at events. He has left his legacy in capable hands.
Each of these veteran warriors has decades of martial arts experience and are reservoirs of deadly knowledge and fighting skills. Yet, they all are quick to smile when approached and project an aura of politeness and humility in the presence of others. Still, one gets a sense that these men could easily inflict massive and devastating punishment if they had the desire or need to do so. They are old-school black belts and gentlemen in the time-honored sense of the word.
Master Jack Dark carries on the great tradition of the 35th Street Karate system, a system which includes the teachings of some world renowned martial arts masters who visited and taught there. Besides Ki Whang Kim (Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan), martial arts masters such as Shiyogo Kuniba (Motobu Ha Shito-Ryu/Seshin Kai), and Duncan Leung (Wing Chun) also taught at the little school in the heart of Park Place. Aikido, Ju Jitsu, boxing, and other martial arts studied by “Mister” Hankins were incorporated into this system as he brought in numerous martial arts masters to offer special instructions for his students to expand their skills.
Master Dark has taken that package, added Korean sword fighting (Haidong Gumdo) and has operated his own successful martial arts school for years now, which is currently located 928 Diamond Springs Road, #108 Cypress Point Shopping Center in Virginia Beach, VA. Dark’s charisma, skills, and engaging personality helps draw participants from miles around.
Grandmaster Albert Cheeks, former heavyweight World Tae Kwon Do champion and a member of the prestigious Taekwondo Hall of Fame was a special guest in attendance Saturday. Cheeks was one of the greatest competitors in the martial arts history of this country. Cheeks was the solo student of Grandmaster Ki Whang Kim at one time and continues to carryon the traditional teachings of the late, great Grandmaster Kim. Recently, Grandmaster Cheeks promoted Dark to 7th degree black belt.
Eugene “The Cyclone” Wynn was notorious for his devastating techniques in local tournaments on his way to winning championships, a minister; Wynn was a classmate of Jack Dark at the Authentic Karate Club. Together they were known as “The Dynamic Duo” and were a formidable pair in any tournament even participating in the infamous Fu Jow Pai full contact karate tournament which was held annually in New York’s Chinatown.
Austin “Butch” Simpson aka “Mad Dog,” was the first student to earn black belt under Harold L. Hankins at the Authentic Karate Club. Simpson was a fierce competitor who struck fear in the hearts of many tournament opponents on the way to numerous championships. “Butch” traveled from Maryland to assist his classmate, Master Dark, with his tournament. Coincidently, Simpson had another type of homecoming that day, being a graduate of Granby high school where he earned a number of awards in sports and music.
Herbert Lee Fayton is also a senior black belt from the Authentic Karate Club. He has retired from the Norfolk Police Department where he was a detective who often worked under cover on a multitude of dangerous assignments. Fayton credit’s the skills he acquired from martial arts with saving his life several times. Fayton has his own school now, located 211 Providence Road, Chesapeake, VA.
Bernard Floyd was a classmate of Albert Cheeks and a student of Grandmaster Kim. He was arguably the fastest competitor on the martial arts circuit in the golden era of the 70s. Floyd was known for his lightening kicks and precise technical skills. Master Floyd, now 7th degree black belt, has been lightweight, middleweight and heavyweight champion before retiring from the fighting circuit. He has also emerged from retirement a couple of times to reclaim championships.
One of the greatest fights ever, in the memory of those who witnessed it, was the battle between Bernard Floyd and Bernard Christia. Christia was also a champion black belt from the Authentic Karate Club and gained notoriety for his amazing speed and the fact that he competed with only one arm, the other lost due to an accident.
Josiah “Big Jo” Blount earned a black belt from the Authentic Karate Cub, where he operated as an assistant instructor to Grandmaster Hankins for 15 years. Blount has also been bodyguard for a number of artists when they came to town, such as Luther Vandross, Phyllis Hyman, Prince, Patti Labelle, LL Cool J, Ice Cube, and many others. Blount often operated as the school’s enforcer, even while building a career in the music business with his own Dangerous Jams record label.
Another black belt from the Authentic Karate Club, who showed up later at the event, was Willie Hunter, Jr. Hunter heads the Tiger Martial Arts Academy in Portsmouth, Va. As a child competitor on the local karate tournament scene, “Little” Willie was a martial arts prodigy. He currently operates one of the largest and finest schools in the area and continues to travel and study various martial arts styles to expand his own knowledge and hone his teaching methods.
Saturday, these well-seasoned warriors got a chance to reunite and pose for photographs following the black belt meeting before the competition began. They were all armed with warm smiles and magic memories as many in attendance recognized this historic reunion which was being witnessed at this prestigious event and snatched the opportunity to record the reunion for posterity.
Andre “AJ” Burden won the 18-29 lightweight black belt division. Burden was competing in the men’s division for the first time and is a student of Jack Dark III. Isaiah Pace was the 18-29 heavyweight winner and eventual grand champion. Pace is a Haidong Gumdo student of Jack Dark. The tradition of excellence continues.