Community mourns loss of martial arts master

Bob Daigle with two of his students at the Cayman Karate Academy in 2014.

Tributes continue to pour in for martial arts master Bob Daigle, who passed away on 7 Oct. at the age of 59, after an 11-month battle with stage-four brain cancer.

Daigle moved from his native Boston, in the US, to Cayman in January 1987, and within weeks he opened the Cayman Karate Academy. For the better part of the past 33 years, he served as a trailblazer for the sport in Cayman.

“I’ve seen martial arts studios programmes come and go over the years, but Cayman Karate Academy has been one of the mainstays in martial arts,” said Sensei Geddes Hislop, a senior instructor at Purple Dragon Cayman.

Hislop, who described his relationship with Daigle as a “friendly rivalry”, told Cayman Compass that Daigle’s death was a loss to the community.

“Bob was a pioneer in several areas,” said Hislop. “Bob was the first person to secure corporate sponsorship for martial arts. Before then, companies normally gave to the larger, more established sports, such as football and cricket.

“Bob got the sponsorship and showed us it was possible. He was also the first person to take a team of students off-island for karate and to win a championship overseas. So, we did it as well.”

Those who knew him well have also attested to his efforts in the community.

“There were my parents, and then there was Bob,” said Brian Braggs, one of Daigle’s former students. “I started learning karate from him when I was about 12-years old and continued until I was 19 and had to go off to college.”

Braggs was one of Daigle’s first students to receive a black belt under his tutelage. He is one of several former students who have shared their fond memories of their beloved instructor.

For Braggs, the most heart-warming memory was when he attended a world karate championship with Daigle, which turned into a moment fit for a Hollywood blockbuster movie.

“It was February 1994, and the Cayman team was going up against three-time defending champions Guatemala,” Braggs told the Compass. “There were three of us on each team and, at the end, the matches were all tied.

“Although he was the team leader, my instructor and a way better fighter, he told me to go,” said Braggs. “He told me, ‘I believe in you, and you have it in you to win this for us’. That sent my confidence through the roof, and we won.”

Daigle often said he worked with children to help them, through the medium of martial arts, to deal with their challenges in life.

In an interview with the Compass in 2014, he said, “My job is to keep students motivated long enough for them to acquire the life skills of discipline, focus, respect, confidence and a positive attitude.

“Acquiring these life skills is why parents send their children to martial arts classes in the first place.”

Hundreds of other former students have taken to social media to pay tribute to Daigle.

“I fondly remember the day I met Bob and it changed my life,” wrote Jamil Solomon, who began training with him at the age of 16. “He gave me an escape from issues that I felt I had no refuge from, gave me an outlet to manage my anger, and taught me to be a better man.”

Luigi Moxam wrote on Facebook, “Thank you, Bob Daigle! He gave a whole generation of #Caymankind Ninjas confidence and taught us discipline, hardwork and sportsmanship.”

Daigle was a father of four, a Martial Arts Hall of Fame inductee, a world heavyweight kickboxing champion, a Seventh Degree black belt in Kenpo Karate, and a gold medallist in the Kenpo Karate World Championships, among other achievements.

“Although his body failed him, he did not lose the fight,” said Braggs. “I was with him during the last couple of months, and I watched him become thinner and weaker, but he never lost the fight in him. He taught me that I should play to my strengths and that it’s not just about fighting, but knowing how to live and giving your best.

“In the end, he gave it his all, and I know, for him, that would still be a win.”

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