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Professor Byron Walker
by Master Jerry Strickland
Dec 1st, 2006viewed 5285 times
August 1st, 2004

It is with the greatest sense of humility that I submit this inadequate remembrance of Professor Byron Walker, founder and Grandmaster of the School of Eight Directions. My thoughts and recollections can scarcely do justice to a teacher who, through his own personal excellence, a burning desire for knowledge and the demand for the best his students had to offer, so positively and definitively influenced the lives of those he called his students. Humble as this offering may be, it is never the less vital for students of Professor Walker’s way to have a sense of their roots and the legacy of excellence given to us by our teacher. The titles conferred on a skilled martial artist are many these days, and one hears titles such as Master, Professor, Kwan Chang Nim, Sifu, Shihan, and countless others tossed about frequently. But a teacher possessing the highest levels of knowledge and understanding will transcend all titles. Perhaps Professor Walker’s greatest single attribute was that throughout his life and his quest for knowledge, he continued to regard himself as a student more than anything else. He was, in my opinion, the consummate student, and I believe this is the way he would most appreciate being remembered. Not as the ultimate master, but rather the ultimate student.

Professor Byron Walker was born in Amarillo, Texas on October 14, 1943. He was the younger of two brothers, and grew up in a lower income area of this sleepy panhandle town. As a child, he was a self-described “mama’s boy” and his mother was his guide and protector during his early years. His mother was a powerful influence on him, and at a very young age, introduced him to the artistry of the photographic medium through a Kodak “Brownie” camera. The Brownie was his frequent companion for many years, and through his experiences with the little camera, he cultivated an eye for art, balance, form, function and beauty, which would serve him the remainder of his lifeAt Professor Walker’s funeral, a friend who attended elementary school with him described the two of them riding around Amarillo together on a small motor scooter. The friend painted a vivid portrait of the two of them cruising the streets on the scooter, getting into mischief, and just being kids left to their own devices. He was a normal child, a bit prone to creating havoc, and not much of a believer of the benefits of a formal education. Though I never heard him say so specifically, I can assume with a fairly high degree of confidence that he did not enjoy going to school, and regarded the time he spent in class as a waste of time.

During his youth in Amarillo, he also stumbled across the second passion of his life. One of Professor Walker’s childhood haunts was the Amarillo Community Center, a club much like the YMCA, except for the less affluent. The Community Center contained a swimming pool, handball courts, and a basketball court. It was on Saturday mornings, in one half of the basketball court that Professor Walker was introduced to the art form that defined his life, the martial arts. In the 1940’s, ‘50s and ‘60s, at the height of the cold war, Amarillo was home to an Air Force base. Soldiers would come and go during their tours of duty, and naturally they brought with them many diverse cultural activities. One soldier, a Sergeant remembered only as “Jets” taught a martial arts class at the Community Center. Even though he was only 9 or 10 at the time, Professor Walker was intrigued, and made it known that he wanted to be accepted as a student. He was promptly turned down, and instructed to vacate the basketball court, as children were not allowed to watch the classes. Not to be deterred, Professor Walker would regularly sneak in and watch, until Jets spied him and ran him off. Ultimately, Jets was transferred to a new duty station and the class closed, but by that time the seed was planted in Professor Walker. It would be many years before Professor Walker would pursue the arts again. He acknowledged many years later that he never did learn the name of the style of martial arts Jets was teaching, but believed it was most likely a Japanese form of Karate, based on his recollection of the techniques and movement patterns.
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His next opportunity was in Hawaii many years later, during Professor Walker’s tour of duty in the Navy. He enrolled in a Karate class that he described as “real long on calisthenics and real short on technique.” He maintained enrollment in this class for the duration of his stay in Hawaii, but learned very little of what he would come to regard as true martial arts. He regarded the instructor as having the primary focus of relieving the Americans of their paychecks. This exposure, in spite of the minute amount of real training it provided, only added fuel to his determination to someday study the real article. After his stint in the Navy, in the mid- 1960s, he returned to Amarillo and was introduced to a Jiu-Jitsu instructor, Professor William R. (Bill) Beach, Sr.

Professor Beach was teaching a variation of the Kodenkan Hawaiian Jiu-Jitsu style created by Professor Henry Okazaki. This form of martial arts was indeed “the real thing” and Professor Walker immersed himself in study with Professor Beach. He attained the rank of Green Belt before tearing up a knee and after having to put his training on hold for a period of time. Professor Beach was a unique instructor, a small, wiry man weighing all of 145 pounds. He believed in harsh training methods for his students. He had a background in law enforcement and security, and consequently had a very practical and straightforward approach to training. One of his primary tenets was that if a technique did not work “in the real world” then it was not worth practicing. This concept became a part of Professor Walker’s core philosophy, and remained the primary objective of all training and teaching for the duration of his life. It is this key philosophy that fueled his creative technical genius, and drove his quest to understand the “how” and “why” of the techniques he studied.

At the same time Professor Walker also began to study a karate style called Shotokan under Sensei Ray Meier. Over the course of these early years, 1966 and 1967, Professor Walker trained with both instructors, until his knee injury. The Jiu-Jitsu seemed to aggravate the injury the most, so his Jiu- Jitsu training discontinued. Sensei Meier was an excellent instructor and also demanded a high level of technical proficiency from his students. Sensei Meier’s Shotokan class was associated with the Dai Ichi Association under the tutelage of Sensei Austin Box. After training in Shotokan for a couple of years, Professor Walker was promoted to the rank of Sho Dan. As a First Dan, he began to assume teaching responsibilities with the class. Over time, he realized that he had differences of opinion with Sensei Meier on many issues, and at many levels of understanding. He began to contemplate pursuing another course of training. When Professor Walker first attended the Shotokan class in 1966, another new student began to train there as well. This was Professor Gary Jones, my grand teacher, and Mr. Mike Jones’ great-grand teacher.

Professor Jones was also in the Air Force, and had already acquired a background in the martial arts. Professor Walker stayed in touch with Professor Jones after Professor Jones transferred to a base in Omaha, Nebraska. At the point where Professor Walker began to investigate other style opportunities, Professor Jones told him of a new style that he had been introduced to in Nebraska, called Tang Soo Do. Professor Walker made three trips to Omaha to train with Professor Jones and it was during these trips that the teacher/student relationship was forged between the two. Theirs was a relationship of nearly 40 years and was at times tumultuous. But the bond between teacher and student was strong and the relationship endured, in spite of the challenges.
Professor Walker was promoted to Cho Dan in Tang Soo Do and became a member of the US Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do Association, under Grand Master Hwang Kee. The organization was going through many changes in the late 60s and early 70s and ultimately Jae Chul Shin was appointed as the Association director in the US. Professor Walker initiated communications with Grandmaster Shin and Grandmaster Shin was the senior signatory on Professor Walker’s Cho Dan certificate, along with Professor Jones.

I was introduced to Professor Walker by Sensei Tim Joe, headmaster of Tim Joe’s School of Judo. I had studied Judo with Tim for a little over a year, during 1966 and 1967, but was not a very dedicated student. At the time I was a competitive trampolinist and this endeavor occupied most of my time. However, by 1970, I realized that I was not going to bounce on the trampoline forever and began to contemplate what physical activity would take its place. I ran into Tim one evening and he mentioned that he had a new Karate instructor at the dojo, and wanted me to meet him. We arranged a time that Professor Walker and I would get together. This meeting changed my life. Immediately I was struck by his quiet, low-key manner, and yet beneath his surface there was an obvious level of intensity and high regard for his art. I was instantly convinced that he would be a demanding teacher and was not disappointed. Workouts were grueling, two or two and a half hours long, three days a week with one very short water break in the middle of the workout. Classes were highly structured, no nonsense, and very disciplined. Children were not accepted in the class, and very few of the teens that were accepted stayed long. One young student who did manage to survive remains involved in the arts to this day, and his name is Master Mike Jones.

I was a red belt when Master Jones began training, in 1972, and recall that he learned quickly and prospered under the difficult workouts. No idle talk was tolerated, and proper manners were demanded at all times. Students were expected to observe proper dojang etiquette, bowing to one another and to Professor Walker at the correct times. Acknowledging Professor Walker’s instructions with, “Yes, sir” or “No, sir” was essential. Infractions were met with pushups. If a student was proving to be a problem, the solution was always the same. Increase the intensity of the workouts until the problem student went away. This accomplished two goals: the first obviously was to get rid of the problem and the second was to emphasize the level of expectations for those of us who remained. His approach performed both functions superbly.

Professor Walker maintained a strong friendship with Sensei Meier, and on special Fridays, we would have a joint class, either at the YMCA, where the Shotokan class trained, or at our dojang. These classes were always especially painful, for two reasons: first because of the intensity level and second because of the different floor surface. Regarding the intensity, both instructors had the same basic approach to the class structure. The first half of the class was basics, walking down and back across the floor doing many repetitions of a single technique. The second half of the class was used to train hyung, one step techniques or sparring. Normal workouts were very intense to begin with. On the nights of joint training the hosting instructor increased the training intensity even more, knowing it was a point of pride for each class to see if any students would fall out of the workout due to exhaustion or if they became ill. Very few did, a testament to the conditioning, fortitude and determination of the students of both classes. The second issue, the floor surface, also played a part in the pain level of the workout. The Shotokan class trained on a linoleum floor; the Tang Soo Do class trained on tatami mats. The feet of the students of both classes went through a process of conditioning to accommodate the surface they trained on. When put on the unfamiliar surface, it was as if the feet were baby soft. Blisters were the norm and the ones acquired during the joint workouts were large and painful. For days afterwards, we had reminders of the workout. The blisters, bruises and minor injuries were worn as badges of honor. There were conditioning exercises we performed to strengthen the knuckles, shins and forearms. These exercises were brutal as well. But after a few months of pain and bruising, the swelling went away, the pain subsided and we were left with tools that were impervious to destruction. We regularly practiced breaking techniques, with materials that included: cinder blocks, cement slabs, wood, house bricks, paving bricks and tree limbs of varying sizes. Conditioning was maintained and practiced regularly.
Professor Gary Jones had finished his commitment to the Air Force and had moved to Houston. Professor Walker suggested during the summer of 1971 that he and I take a trip to visit and train with Professor Jones, a trip I was more than happy to take. I was a 5th Gup and had heard many stories about Professor Jones and was excited to finally meet and train with him. We spent a week in Houston, training as much as possible, as much as ten hours a day. It was in Houston that the idea was hatched to try the arrow blocking techniques. Mas Oyama, founder of Kyokoshinkai Karate, had published a book that showed pictures of one of his students blocking an arrow that was shot at him from a bow. This looked like great fun and quickly a 25 or 30 pound bow was located. The tips were cut off several arrows and replaced with balls of cotton scotch taped on the ends of the shaft. We spend a good portion of two days playing with this skill and by the end of the second day Professor Walker was very proficient at blocking the arrows. Professor Jones and I were not so adept and we both suffered many stinging impacts from the not to well padded arrows. While the arrows did not penetrate our skin, they left very nice round bruises.

Upon returning to Amarillo, we continued to practice the arrow blocking skills. I achieved some skill as the archer and Professor Walker knew that if he failed to block the arrow, he would have the impact of the arrow on his ribs. At one point, he began to catch the arrows instead of just blocking them, and over time became very proficient at this ability as well. The arrow techniques led to several other types of special techniques, some far more bizarre than others. Professor Walker created a demonstration exhibition in which he would lie down on a three foot by three-foot area covered with broken glass. Two or three cinder blocks were placed on his torso, and with his hands stabilizing the cinder blocks, I would knife hand strike and break the cinder blocks. The technique looked impressive but in fact was not very difficult. By this time, breaking three cinder blocks was extremely easy, so the most difficult portion of the demonstration took place after the break when we had to extricate the slivers of glass from Professor Walker’s back. We had several other demo techniques that Professor Walker conceptualized with some more difficult and more dangerous than others. We spent time learning to kick cigarettes from each other’s mouths with full speed, full power round kicks, hook kicks, and spinning hook kicks.

After a couple of years, word began to spread and many martial artists traveling through Amarillo would come to train with us. These artists included tournament fighters, beginners, advanced students, good martial artists and poorly skilled martial artists from a great many different styles. Professor Walker welcomed any martial artist that he recognized as someone from whom he could learn something of value. He was constantly seeking and absorbing information, reading, talking to others, and comparing notes on every subject imaginable. I recall one particularly interesting and educational such encounter. Professor Walker had very long limbs, and his body structure was a perfect fit for Tang Soo Do kicking techniques. Few artists could keep from being pounded with his very fast and very linear kicks. Because of his skill, he regarded some martial art styles as suspect because they were not “hard” enough to be viewed as viable fighting art forms. Most of the Chinese arts fell into this category. That is until he met a Wing Chun stylist named Stanley Mong.
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Now days, many Chinese stylists wear colored belts like the karate and Tae Kwon Do styles have for years. The old way in Wing Chun had no belts or sashes indicating rank. In the old days, the sash, like the Japanese obi and the Korean dee, were used to hold the dobok closed. There were three forms, or kuen, that made up the entire system of Wing Chun. The name Wing Chun translates as “Beautiful Springtime” and this, plus the soft appearing techniques of the forms, gave one the appearance that this is not an efficient combat style. According to Sifu Mong, a Wing Chun student began to learn the first form after a certain period spent perfecting the stance, this period of stance development time represented as long as a year. Think of it, spending a year just learning how to stand still correctly. After the first year of standing in place, the student began to learn the first form. After the first form was mastered, the second form was taught; this occurring anywhere from five to eight years after the student began training. After another acceptable length of time (another five to ten years) the third form was taught. Obviously, by then the student was well versed in the techniques of this style.

Stanley Mong was a beginning third level student, as I was told, and Professor Walker’s introduction to Wing Chun must have been an eye opener. I was not allowed to watch, but afterwards Professor Walker told me of the events. He explained that Tang Soo Do is most effective at a specific distance, i.e. the length of the leg. Wing Chun is most effective very close in. Apparently, the entire time that he and Sifu Mong sparred, Professor Walker experienced the soft absorbing blocks neutralize his powerful kicks. This was followed by Sifu Mong sliding in and counter punching him in the solar plexus and ribs with lightening fast and very powerful straight line punches that Professor Walker could not get positioned to block effectively. Professor Walker described the encounter as “an awakening.” This event, I believe, is one of the most significant in Professor Walker’s life, because it taught him the function and true meaning of yin and yang. He opened his eyes to the soft as well as the hard, and I believe as a result, he ultimately came full circle in his martial life by returning to his Jiu-Jitsu roots late in his life.

But Professor Walker had the capacity to learn from virtually every experience, and always said that his greatest teachers were his own students. I look back in retrospect and wonder what I had that might have been of value to him. He always gave his best to me, and I tried to return the same to him. Somehow I think that I ended up with the better end of the deal. In the summer of 1973, we made another sojourn to Houston, and it was during this trip that Professor Walker was promoted to E Dan and I was promoted to Cho Dan. Both promotions were a surprise. Professor Jones made the rank presentations on a cool evening in front of Professor Jones’ full class. That night was the first and last time I saw Professor Jones and Professor Walker spar each other with such intensity.

At the time of the sparring match, Professor Walker did not know he was being tested. But it was obvious to everyone in attendance that it was a battle of the highest order, for whatever reason it was taking place. At the presentation of rank, things made considerably more sense. I was very happy not to have sparred with either of them that night. My challenge was with Professor Jones’ senior student, a Cho Dan, and I had a significantly easier time contending with him that I would have with either my teacher or my grand teacher, especially after the battle that took place between the two of them.
Upon returning to Amarillo, I was given increased teaching duties. I had been assisting since I was a green belt, but the instructional chores took on a different meaning completely. As it was explained to me, I had spent three years learning to perform technique, now I was going to learn the techniques again, by teaching them to others. This was the beginning of the second cycle. In 1975, I tested for E Dan, and the teaching duties increased even more. In addition to being the home to an Air Force Base, Amarillo was also a SAC (Strategic Air Command) base, and in the tiny town of Panhandle was situated the Pantex Plant. This was the final assembly point for all nuclear weapons produced by the US during the cold war years. Around 1976, Professor Walker was hired by the security branch of the Atomic Energy Commission to serve his country as a guard, or courier, traveling with the atomic weapons as they were deployed to different areas of the country. He spent almost twenty years in this capacity, rising to the rank of company commander of the couriers, in effect in control of the security of the entire convoy he traveled with. Part of the formal training of the couriers included some self-defense training. When Professor Walker first went into the training program, the entire self- defense program consisted of eight hours of suspect and at best mediocre hand to hand training. He realized that this was not nearly adequate and over the course of the next few years, he developed a curriculum that contained two full weeks of training, an evaluation process and follow up activities for continuing education.

During his funeral, one of the men he worked with at Pantex spoke about the improvements in the training and security for the courier force that directly resulted from the creativity and ingenuity of Professor Walker. He said the curriculum had literally made our country a safer place because the added security and training of the courier force was so much more practical. This was the first I had ever heard of these endeavors. He had never mentioned to me he had done this work.

In the late 70s and early 80s Professor Walker traveled extensively for Pantex. I remained as instructor of the class in Amarillo until I moved to Austin in 1986. We lost contact with one another. I heard that he had divorced, remarried and moved to Florida. Then one day in the early 1990s I receive a surprise phone call from him. He was living in Corpus Christi and we agreed to get together. Seeing him again was like being reunited with a lost brother. We remained in close contact for the remainder of his life. I learned that he had indeed returned to his Jiu- Jitsu roots. He had become involved with Professor Bill Beach, the older brother to W. R. (Bill) Beach, Sr., and was a Sixth Dan instructor in the Kodenkan Hawaiian JuJitu system. He was once again involved up to his ears in the arts, and had begun the process of creating a training manual for his personal style, School of Eight Directions. I was asked to participate in the creation of this manual, and am very proud to have assisted over the next two years as the attacker in the photographs in the manual. Master Mike Jones also participated and lent his talents to the photographs in the publication.
Professor Walker’s finished book, Kodenkan Jiu- Jitsu, School of Eight Directions, Volume 1, was published in November 1996 in very limited quantity. It is a superb training manual for the beginning student of combat Jiu-Jitsu. Additional books were planned and underway when Professor Walker became ill and passed away. This is our great loss. His talent and knowledge was irreplaceable. For me personally, Professor Walker was a mentor, a teacher, a guide, a friend, and a brother. His excellence and genius was apparent to those fortunate enough to train with him over these many years. He was gifted in the ability to see to the core of things, and get to the heart of the matter. He saw more than what was on the surface. He was often not easy to understand and he could be a harsh taskmaster. But in the end, the benefits of his “Way” far outweighed the price paid for the knowledge.

Professor Walker’s seeds were planted 30 years ago in your instructor, Master Mike Jones, and you are receiving the fruits of the growth. It is fitting and important that the knowledge of your great grand teacher be part of your training, for it is his passion and determination that you see today in Master Jones. It was a gift given to him as a youth many years ago. It was a gift given to too few of us so many years ago. Please, remember Professor Walker and honor his memory.
Chronology of Rank and Promotions: Professor Byron Walker

Green Belt – Judo Inc of America (JIA)
Certificate dated February 11, 1968

Shodan – Dai Ichi Karate Association of The United States of America
Certificate dated April 25, 1969

Ni Dan – Dai Ichi Karate Association of The United States of America
Certificate presented in 1971, was returned to Association unaccepted.

Cho Dan, Association # 15821 – Korean Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan
Certificate dated July 1, 1971

E Dan – Korean Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan
Certificate dated October 14, 1973

Sam Dan – United States Tang Soo Do Federation Moo Duk Kwan
Certificate dated May 30, 1977

Sixth Dan – Hawaiian Jiu-Jitsu System, Okazaki Kodenkan
Date of promotion unknown, 1994
Respectfully submitted,
Jerry Strickland
6th Dan, President
School of Eight Directions

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