MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Only a select few ever earn a ninth and 10th degree black belt in martial arts. John Graham is one of them. The retired Mobile Police lieutenant and former Marine competed in and taught a discipline that he loves for more than 40-years. Master Graham recently shared about his life in martial arts, the places it’s taken him and how he's teaching todays youth.
"I was at the USO and I heard the screaming and hollering. There’s this guy teaching these crazy looking moves that I had seen on the Green Hornet TV program, Bruce Lee (Kato) in Green Hornet. And, I don't know what happened, but inside me there was this crazy burning. I knew I had found my life pursuit," Graham remembered.
Graham was a young Marine stationed in Rota, Spain when he first experienced that burning for martial arts. In 43 years, it has taken him from the Corps to the Mobile Police, China and afforded him the opportunity to work with legends.
"It was the combination of the physical exertion with the mental, and building self confidence in yourself. I was a Davidson High school dropout. I didn't really didn't have a whole lot of stuff going for me, but I could see myself excelling in the martial arts," Graham shared.
In seven years in the Marine Corps, Graham earned an education, first his GED and then an associate degree, and martial arts experience.
"It teaches you Espirit de corps, to focus and have pride in yourself, pride in what you do. Anything is possible if you focus your mind, body and spirit and work towards specific goals. I took karate there seven days a week. I took karate from Goju Ryu, Shor Ryu and Kempo Karate. I just fell in love with it. While in the Marine Corps, I also taught martial arts," Graham said.
He was always seeking more knowledge. In London, Graham met a mentor.
"A Kung Fu master, a guy named Chee Kim Phong who lived in Malaysia, was visiting London. I was enthralled by how he used energy sources, in other words, the energy of the person attacking you to defend. He was the father of the karate that the Okinawans of Japan practiced. They went to an area called Puntin Province of China to learn and train. That meeting started our relationship which was for 27 years before he passed away," Graham said.
"When I left the Marine Corps after seven years, I became a police officer and I wanted to teach martial arts. So for 12 years, I was an instructor. I taught all the self defense at MPD. My specialty was close order combat. So no matter where I go, I end up teaching martial arts. Being a police officer, and with the Mobile Police Department, it was one of the best decisions I ever made," stated Graham.
Graham started a studio Elite Fitness in west Mobile to share his passion with students of all ages.
"If you learn how to control the negative thoughts in your mind, if you learn how to control negative environments and you do it in a way that everyone benefits; well then you've left that spot in time a better place and that’s what I teach. We have an anti bullying campaign here. We have a negative and positive peer pressure campaign. We also have the fitness program to try and get our kids more fit, more focused on being the best they can be both mentally, physically and emotionally," said Graham.
"Grand Master Bill Wallace, SuperFoot, he's one of the Legends I've worked with. Years before, I told my buddies as we were watching him, ‘I'm going to be one of his instructors one day.’ And they go, ‘Are you crazy? He lives in Hollywood and works with the stars.’ Bill Wallace had his first instructor school here at my school in Mobile," shared Graham.
Legends like Wallace and Joe Lewis came to Mobile to work with Graham.
"Lewis, he's the guy who was the first ever kickboxer. He invented kickboxing. I realized that for my art "Wuzuquan" to be known I had to go to the guys who were legends, to show them not the verocity, but the gentleness of Kungfu, but the effectiveness of it, because my art had never been taught in America," stated Graham.
Master Graham's efforts have earned him respect in Asia and worldwide.
"The Association officials in China said we've never had a Grand Master that’s not full blooded, Chinese in you. But, I got my 10th Dan Grand Master 2 years ago, And they voted me as President of the association, International South Shaolin Wuzuquan, which would be the first time they had a non Asian President. It was such an honor to represent the 26 countries that are in our organization. I made it happen through hard work, determination and focus. It was a challenge and life even though you get in your 60, 70, 80's, what keeps us alive is our challenges, what keeps us alive is our zest for life," shared Master Graham.
Graham has also produced and performed, including doing stunts, in ten movies. He's written a book entitled the "Lock Box,", and run for local political office. At this point in his life Graham says he plans to continue teaching, motivational speaking and martial arts research. Master Graham was recently inducted into the United States Martial Arts Hall of Fame.
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