Cecil T. Patterson Keeping the Wado Flame Burning
By Jim Mahanes © 2002



I first met Cecil T. Patterson as an orange belt, though the exact date escapes me today.  He had come to my home dojo in Murfreesboro, Tennessee to conduct one of his annual seminars.   I was one of about 60 kyu ranks energized and ready to have my empty cup filled with knowledge about Wado Ryu from Shihan Patterson’s vast wisdom and experience.

As we were called to attention, my heart raced.  I was about to get my first glimpse of the man I had heard so much about.

We turned to face the door to bow, and there stood this stoic man peering out across the room as if he were studying every face, every rank.  I strained to get a full view of him from head to toe.  His face showed signs of aging, yet I could see by his stature and frame that his physical being was that of a man younger than his years. His presence and aura could be felt by everyone in the room.

As my eyes traveled from his face and down his body, I was struck by something odd.  Here was a man, whom I’d heard and read so much about, wearing a white belt.

“A white belt?” I thought to myself.  “Why would someone of such high regard and reputation, be wearing a white belt?”

My question would not be answered for several years.  I was a young newspaper reporter hoping to get into the magazine industry where the salaries and subject matter were far more palatable.  Mr. Patterson did me the honor of sitting down for what ended up being a two-hour interview I was hoping to have published in one of the many national martial arts magazines on the shelves today.

I was nervous about a one-on-one meeting with one of the most influential people in American martial arts.  Would he be arrogant, pompous and unforgiving of some of my questions?  Would he spend the majority of our time talking about how great he is and touting his own accomplishments?  After all, there are countless people in today’s martial arts world who easily fall into those categories.

But to my surprise, he was none of those things.  I was welcomed with a smile and a warm handshake into the home of a humble, kind, and gentle man — a true martial artist.

Sadly, the article was never published, and the more and more martial arts magazines I pitched the idea too, the more discouraged I became.   It seems that with my last name not being “Wallace,” “Lewis,” or “Gracie,” and since I wasn’t trying to sell the latest “learn-martial arts-from-home” video, magazine publishers were not interested.

Over the next several years, I continued to pitch the story with the same results.  I would from time to time see Mr. Patterson at various federation functions, and though his time and attention were usually pulled in many directions at these events, he would always make a point to say hello in a warm, friendly demeanor.  I kept him updated on my progress on getting the story published and he would always simply nod his head in understanding.

The last time I saw Mr. Patterson, I was preparing to take my exam for Shodan, my mind racing with nervousness and anticipation.

As he always did, he greeted me with a warm smile, wished me luck on my test, and asked about the article, which I had long given up on getting into a magazine.  Fully expecting him be upset with me for not getting it published, I again explained my efforts and was surprised when he said simply, “well, you tried.”

I asked if he would consider putting it on the United States Eastern Wado Ryu Karate Federation website. He agreed and plans were made to get a copy of it to him and he would post it.

Later that afternoon, Cecil T. Patterson passed away.

The time I spent with Mr. Patterson will forever be one of my most cherished memories.  I feel great sadness for those who never had the same opportunity.  The following is the article I wrote from that interview.  It’s my wish that those who read it come away with a sense of what made him such a great leader, great martial artist and great man.  I offer it up as my tribute to him.

Wa No Michi,

Jim Mahanes ~ Shodan ~ USEWKF

Read The Interview



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