Karate royalty spent time in the Cayman Islands last week, grading kids and adults alike at the Purple Dragon club.
Professor Don Jacob, the founder of the ubiquitous Purple Dragon schools has come a long way in his 59 years since starting life in an impoverished district of Port of Spain, Trinidad.
Jacob’s enchantment with martial arts began when only nine years old, growing up on the rough streets of Belmont.
A fighter by nature, little Jacob badly needed a positive outlet for his aggression and found it in judo lessons from Sensei Clyde Thomas.
He quickly became one of his teacher’s best students and after earning his black belt, Jacob got the opportunity to travel to New York where he met and trained with Jiu-Jitsu practitioner, the late Grandmaster Moses Powell.
“I used to be beaten when I was very small by older boys,” Jacob said. “So I had to learn how to run or how to fight.” No guessing which he chose.
Jacob spent years teaching, traveling and studying various styles of martial arts, including traditional styles like karate, which he learned from his second teacher.
In 1969, aged 16, Jacob set about realizing his dream of turning his special talent into a rewarding career.
In the humble neighborhood of Westbury Lane in Belmont he founded his first martial arts school, under the unofficial name “Hell Yard”, stemming from the exhaustive training there.
The following year, the school got its official name, Purple Dragon, which became synonymous with a school of champions unparalleled in Caribbean history.
In the years since, Jacob has traveled extensively, performing and teaching.
What is most noteworthy about Purple Dragon’s early beginning is that it was accomplished at a time when non-Orientals were virtually forbidden to open any new systems of martial arts – even more so in developing countries.
Despite the initial opposition and disapproval of his innovative system, Jacob forged ahead, making a name for Trinidad and Tobago, Purple Dragon and for himself.
His persistence and determination have not failed him. Purple Dragon now operates in 25 schools in Trinidad and Tobago. The organization is thriving too in other Caribbean islands besides Cayman where there are two schools.
The main one is run by Sensei Floyd Baptiste who is assisted by Sensei Antonio Thompson, plus input from Sensei Geddes Hislop at the Mirco Centre and there is a smaller one for tiny children on Crewe Road, run by Senpai Euclides “Beco” Pitta.
Tortola, Antigua, Grenada and Dominica have Purple Dragon schools as well as the US, Canada, Europe and Australia.
The DVD Unstoppable Force is one of the best sellers bearing Jacob’s success story.
He now holds a 9th degree black belt and the title (Hanshi) Grandmaster or Professor.
He has competed worldwide and is renowned internationally as a champion in various divisions such as fighting, forms, emphatic weaponry, self defense and multiple demonstrations.
A media magnet now, Jacob has appeared in magazines, newspapers, videos and on television including several of the world’s most influential programmes, such as ABC’s Wide World of Sports (US) and Trans World Sports (UK).
Jacob is a regular visitor to these shores. He said: “I’m here to support Sensei Floyd Baptiste and his team to ensure the quality control and also here to bring back to his country young Mario Dadal who just went on a grading tour with us to Canada and the US.
“It is the first time we’ve had a Caymanian with us on such a major tour and he did so well. He helped us on seminars and to showcase the work of the Cayman Islands and everywhere we went everyone thought highly of him and the great work Cayman is doing.”
The Professor thought that Dadal, 19, learnt tremendously in terms of social skills and general cultural awareness. Shinan Anthony Thompson, Sensei Antonio’s father, is accompanying Jacob on this tour.
Jacob prides himself on not just creating great athletes, he loves the fact that Purple Dragon helps develop disciplined and upright citizens.
Dadal is already an instructor since starting with Purple Dragon aged six.
He was fortunate to get the chance to tour with Jacob who normally takes more mature instructors on such exclusive trips.
But the founder’s new philosophy is to expose younger champs to such experiences so that they stay in the Purple Dragon system and continue his legacy for generations to come.
Dadal is grateful that his mother, Maribel introduced him to Purple Dragon as a kid. The Dadals moved here from the Philippines and initially he tried various sports but karate was the only one that completely fulfilled him, becoming a black belt and junior instructor at 15 before reaching full instructor status six months ago in Boca Raton, Florida.
“That was an amazing experience in Boca Raton,” Dadal said. “I learnt a lot about myself and other people and applying new knowledge learnt from that trip.”
Being recognized for his talent by Jacob is a great honor. “There is a saying: ‘Many are called but few are chosen,’ I was one of the few chosen to be actually taught by him.” Dadal visited Mississippi, New York, Atlanta and Vancouver.
“I have to thank more than just my mum. There is Sensei Floyd and all the others who really made me what I am today.”
Dadal is studying for a business administration degree at the UCCI and may go into accounting, but so strong is his love of karate it is not inconceivable that he could be running a dojo one day.
“I don’t have to work as an accountant. A martial artist contributes back to the community just as much, if not more, than an accountant.
“Senseis and instructors help raise kids from young. They teach them discipline before they can pick up a gun or become involved in crime.”
An accountant’s working life does not compare to the happiness Dadal already gets from instructing kids, he says.
Purple Dragon Cayman has over 100 members and Jacob believes when the next world championships are held in Trinidad in 2015 Cayman will do exceptionally well.
“Cayman is such a small place but for the world championships I feel they will be a strong threat,” Jacob said. “They will win a lot of golds. It’s not so much quantity as quality here.
“Sensei Antonio Thompson from Trinidad is here and helping out. He is working as a team with Sensei Floyd and I think the Cayman Islands is in really good hands.”
The increase in crime in Cayman since he first came here 20 years ago disturbs Jacob and he is pleased that Purple Dragon offers a better route. “We’re not just a style but a lifestyle.”
There has also been an upsurge in adult members locally.
Jacob enthused: “A lot of kids are coming in and doing fantastic but for reinforcement we need parents to get more involved and follow this healthy lifestyle. We want kids to love and respect their parents more.”
He recently brought out two books, The Fighting Man’s Bible and Don Jitsu Ryu Flesh and Bone, that he is promoting between all the visits and his homes in Trinidad and Florida.
“The general future of Purple Dragon looks very promising,” Jacob added. “We’re very optimistic, which is why we are taking young guys like Mario and others with us because we want to develop an unbeatable world team.
“Next July we’re going to Japan and the following year it’s the world tournament and a trip to Africa, probably Johannesburg, South Africa.”
Jacob is in great shape. Can he still beat all his senseis? “It’s not a question of beating them,” he laughed. “I’m getting old now but it’s about teaming up with them for us to beat crime and drugs and all these different ills on the streets.”