Great changes often bring up many emotions. I felt compelled to type this because of a rather large change happening with the Bellingham Academy of Self Defense. Due to the challenges of age, Sensei Sammons has retired from teaching karate and sold the building a couple years ago to another person. The current owner of the building has recently put the building up for sale. So, it comes with a heavy heart the era of “The Karate Church” has come to an end.
I started there when I was 14 years old, and the BASD had just joined the GKK, that was thirty years ago. Mr. Sammons had started the BASD around 1971, and it has lasted over forty years. Quite an accomplishment in itself, but then you think about the number of black belts produced from Sensei Sammons’ instructions, let alone all those who have participated briefly in his instruction, that have passed through the doors of BASD, and it becomes blatantly evident; Sensei Sammons and his dedication to the art and our organization is simply incredible.
I felt it appropriate at this time to include a couple excerpts from the BASD website, to reflect upon a great era, as well as build excitement for what’s to come next. As martial artists, if there is one thing we have all learned, it is to accept, confront and overcome challenges. In these last days of the BASD, no longer having Sensei Sammons’ instruction or the karate church to go train at; comes with sadness. However, there is also a level of excitement to take on this new challenge.
With the help of two other students of Sensei Sammons: Sensei Bill Carter, roku dan with renshi certification and Mr. Tom McKeon, roku dan with renshi certification; along with other GKK doshi, we will continue to train and share our art.
Duane Sammons, the founder of the dojo, is a foremost expert on Japanese martial arts and weaponry. His study of the combat arts began with Greco-Roman wrestling and boxing at the University of Washington. After graduating, he transitioned to Japanese martial arts with the study of judo. In the fall of 1964 he began Goju Ryu Karate at the YMCA in Seattle. His original instructor was Mike Youngren, a student of Bill Reuter. Once Reuter Sensei was out of the Air Force, he opened Bill Reuter's Karate-Spa in Bellevue, and Mr. Sammons starting training with him making a 180 mile weekly commute for years.
In 1965 Mr. Sammons moved to Bellingham, and began teaching karate at the YMCA. After a few years of being moved into smaller and smaller rooms, he opened his own school next door, in a very comfortable space above the World Famous Up & Up Tavern. In 1973, with classes growing, he purchased an old 1890's church from Bellingham 1st Lutheran Church, on the corner of Maple and High streets, near Western Washington University. Over the next several months, the doshi (students) worked to convert the building into what neighbors often call the "karate church". Soon the doors opened, and the Bellingham Academy of Self Defense was off and on its way to becoming a Bellingham institution.
In the late 60's and 70's, karate tournaments were rampant in the Seattle area. Ishinryu schools with Mr. Steve Armstrong, Shito Ryu under Mr. Julis Thiry, Goju Ryu schools with Mr. Bill Reuter, and a variety of styles from Canada, would compete across the Northwest. Sammons Sensei attended many seminars and competed in tournaments up and down the west coast.
He seldom missed any key event. He was present and trained under Gogen ("The Cat"') Yamaguchi when he came to Seattle in 1973. Coming away with valuable knowledge of Goju-Ryu Karate and cementing his relationships within the Goju-Kai. He would stay with the Goju-Kai for another ten years making multiple trips to the Honbu in both Japan and San Francisco.
Never satisfied with the status quo in the middle 1970's, Mr. Sammons undertook the study of kendo (bamboo sword with armor) and iaido (Japanese sword - katana). With diligent work and travel, he obtained his black belt in both arts. Mr. Sammons, along with two of his senior karate students, earned a kendo black belt from Tanagami Sensei. His original katana study came in Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Iaido from Hiroshi Oyanagi Sensei. In the 1980’s he began practicing Shinkendo under the guidance of Toshishiro Obata Sensei.
The 1980's were a time of dynamic change and extensive growth. In 1983 Sammons Sensei accepted an offer from Mr. Richard Stamper to join the Goju-Ryu Karate-Do Kyokai as the Northwest Representative. The Kyokai provided additional variety of instruction as Stamper Sensei, Paul Okami, and Motoo Yamkura Shihan all paid multiple visits to Bellingham. Towards the end of the decade Joe Lewis was invited to teach sparring and Lew Korea taught kobudo emphasizing the sai.
With ten to twenty yudansha training at every class, Sammons sensei decided to create an advanced class for black belt only instruction. This opened up a whole new area of curriculum and teaching opportunities for all as the yudansha where each required to teach their last promotional bunkai to the class. Mr. Sammons diversified into new areas with classes on hand gun defense, and a long intricate series on pressure points.
By the end of the decade Mr. Sammons along with help from some of his black belts created the GKK's Kobudo Kai (weapons division). Producing both a Weapons Instruction Manual and accompanying video for traditional Japanese/Okinawan weapons (bo, jo, kama, nunchaka, sai, tonfa, and yawara).
In the 1990's Mr. Sammons wrote Beyond Technique: Reflections for the Martial Artist. Early in the decade in response to the changes sweeping the martial arts world BASD added regular jujitsu instruction and certification. Mr. Sammons was designated as a WKF (WLJKO.) Level A Karate Tournament Official, and a Level 2 Examiner of the U.S. Judo Association.
As Sensei of BASD he has personally produced over 60 black belts. Most of those have gone past the shodan (1 st degree) level with several students who have been loyal for the last 30 years and reaching rokudan (6th degree) with renshi certification, and then shichi dan (7th degree) with kyoshi certification. These same levels have been reached by several former students who moved to other cities and started their own schools. When including the second generation of instruction the total number of black belts resulting from Sammons Sensei's teachings is over a hundred.
Duane Sammons is an entrepreneur starting three successful Whatcom County insurance companies. He has been involved with many community organizations including being the Ski-To-Sea race chairman for over ten years. He is a passionate musician and has been playing drums in bands since the 50's. One of his longest running bands was the Bathtub Gin Band that played Dixieland jazz up and down the West Coast at various festivals.
However it is his unwavering dedication to the martial arts that defines Sammons Sensei - shichi dan and kyoshi. Mr. Sammons found his calling in Goju-Ryu karate under the tutelage of one of the Northwest karate pioneers, Sensei Bill Reuter. He has been a student of many notable masters such Goju masters including Gogen, Gosei, and Goshi Yamaguchi (International Goju- Kai), Seigo Tada (Seigokan), and Motoo Yamakura (GKK). He has been sensei to thousands of Whatcom County residents. To those of us who have had the good fortune of training with him for decades he is the definitive martial artist.