Hawaiian Son – Texas Star*


By Duane R. Ethington

Think about it for a moment.

Before you are even six years old you lose your parents in a tragic airplane accident. You have only one relative, an uncle you don’t even know who turns out to be cruel towards you. You have no family, no friends, and a bleak outlook on what might seem like no life, at all, with no foreseeable future.

What do you do?

Many, many folks would give up or easily fall into the wrong crowds and spend the rest of their lives getting into trouble. Basically, they would give up on life before they even had a chance to live it.

But GARY LEE certainly is not your average person. Young Gary took this pot of despair, loneliness and heartbreaking travesty and turned it into a banquet of life. Not only has Gary Lee pulled himself from nothing to an enviable career in the martial arts and life, but he has done it with a style and grace that can only be the envy of most people around him.

How this remarkable man achieved a life so full and rich from such a desolate beginning is a phenomenal story in itself.

Many avenues could have been taken by the young boy. With an uncle who yelled at him a lot, a house with no TV or radio or air conditioning and a life that wasn’t much fun for a six year old, it could have gone bad.

But Gary thanks God every day for that walk on the beach the day he topped the little sand dune and made the discovery that would literally change his life.

Following the strange grunting sounds, young Gary discovered himself before a small hut where he found a hole big enough to look through. There he saw a small group of Kenpo black belts training under the watchful eye of a stern-faced sensei. The six year old had never seen anything like it and was ‘hooked’ immediately.

“I’d sneak out at night to watch them.” laments Gary. “Even though I knew I would get yelled at and probably hit or punished in some other way.”

From that very first look at the black belts Gary knew that this was what he wanted to be involved in for the rest of his life. He had no way of knowing that martial arts would not only consume his own life but change many lives which would cross his path in later years.

The stern-faced sensei turned out to be Sensei Kishi.

To this day, Gary does not understand how it came about as his uncle would not even disclose it on his deathbed, but Sensei Kishi came to one day and told the young boy that from now on he would be living with him.

“I think my uncle traded me for something.” says Gary of the incident now so far in his past.

However it came about, the fact that young Gary, now seven years old, was placed with Sensei Kishi was probably the best thing that could have ever happened to him.

For seven days a week, every day, for the next seven years, Gary Lee ate, breathed and lived martial arts. This way of life was implanted into the core of his very being.

The road wasn’t easy by any means. A young boy training with a bunch of seasoned black belts brought plenty of bruises and lumps as well as an acquisition of a vast amount of knowledge which would stick with Gary for the rest of his life.

This phase of the young Hawaiian’s life would not be complete without the retelling of ‘The Tale of the Forty Brooms’.

If you want a first hand version, hang out with Gary Lee and ask him. For this abbreviated version, I will put it in Gary’s own words so you might understand the significance of the lesson learned.

“Once, and only once, did I ever raise my voice or smart off to Sensei.” says Gary with a raised eyebrow as he, undoubtedly, remembers every moment of the event. “I wanted to go surfing as the waves were breaking some ten to fifteen feet off the north shore. Sensei said no, that a bad storm was brewing. Impatiently, I told him that all I ever did was train and I wanted to go surfing. No surfing today, was Sensei’s short response. But I want to go surfing, was my only answer.”

At this point, Gary just shakes his head as he recalls the unfolding of the day back then.

“I had never seen Sensei look at me the way he did that day.” continues Gary. “Instead of surfing, I was instructed to go to town and bring back some brooms that Sensei had ordered. The store, by the way, was about ten miles away. Why would sensei send a nine year old boy so far on foot to get brooms? I remember how mad I was and I cried most of the way there and back. It rained a cold, hard rain almost all the way of my journey into town. Later I heard that two surfers had drowned in the pounding waves. Suddenly, it hit me. Sensei knew the danger and was only protecting me, as always, when he refused to let me go. I had only been thinking of myself and probably would have gotten killed had I gone. The lesson learned was this: that I should never question Sensei. He is Sensei, the teacher, and he deserves all the respect I can give him. Just do it and do it without an attitude. Never talk back and respect your peers and most importantly, never question Sensei. Respect! Respect! Respect! Osu.

What happened with the brooms, you might ask? That night, in class, Sensei demonstrated Kyoshi-jujitsu. After giving each student a broom, he instructed them to attack him as they wished. One by one, with flawless technique, Sensei would break the attacking brooms, which represented arms, with a précised blow. He would break low for a wrist, medium for an elbow or high for a forearm. To this day, I have never witnessed anything like it again.

Sensei stopped at 39 brooms and handed me the last broom. With over 30 black belts watching, he had me strike at him. He caught the handle of the broom and swept me to the floor and then swept my face and body, all in about 3 or 4 seconds. Then he gave me the unbroken broom and told me that he wanted me to sweep the front of the dojo (which was sand) every day until I left. Without question or hesitation I said yes and swept the front of that dojo every day for the next five years. Then I left for the mainland after I got my black belt at age 14.”

Even getting that black belt was not easy for Gary. Sensei Kishi failed Gary on his first test try, saying that he didn’t have the proper attitude. Six months later, Gary passed with flying colors.

When he left Hawaii in 1969, it was with a small backpack, his black belt, a copy of the 1968 Black Belt Yearbook, a cream colored Gordon and Smith Surf Board and that broom.


With the passing of his only living relative, the uncle, Gary Lee was truly all alone in a huge world.

However, the kid with the big heart and huge smile and a vast thirst for knowledge and adventure soon found himself welcome in many martial arts circles. Gary Lee adopted the martial arts community as his new family. People like Ed Parker, Mike Stone, Sid Campbell, Masayuki Ward, Mako and Jack Farr became his ‘fathers figures’. Others who Gary learned from and learned great respect for were Jim Harrison, Bob Wall, Sam Chapman Steve Fisher, Sensei Nakumara, Joe Corley, Dan Anderson , Andrew Tamper along with countless others.


Gary Lee’s martial arts accomplishments could fill a book and are far too numerous to reveal in a story like this. However, to give you a small idea of the tremendous impact Mr. Lee has had on the martial arts world I will list but a very few of his accomplishments.

Gary Lee has placed in EVERY tournament he has entered for THIRTY years.

He is the only competitor to win two tournaments in the SAME DAY. The Dragon Rock AOK Open and The National Black Belt Leauge Masters, fighting. Kata, weapons.

For years he gave daily martial arts shows and demonstrations at Houston’s Astroworld and Six Flags where he performed over 5,000 shows.1982-90

Texas State B.A.S.S. Federation Champion 1987

National Weapons Champion USAKF, Gold Medalists 1992

He has been ranked in the TOP TEN for A.O.K., NBL, SOCK, SKI, USAKF, TNT

Lead actor for The Hollywood Stunt Show and Comedy Hour, Six Flags 1993 -94

He is the creator of The Living Legends Celebrity Roast

Gary Lee has been inducted into several Black Belt Hall of Fames and has garnered countless plaques and awards for ‘Outstanding Contributions to the Martial Arts’.

Won the Golden Greek Award., Texas MVP 1997

Was one of the feature actors in Sidekicks, The Movie.

Has choreographed multi-movie stunt scenes.

Heads up Hawaii Rock Production Company and was co-founder of Black Belt TV

Gary Lee has excelled outside the martial arts world, as well, in winning the Texas State B.A.S.S Fishing Championship and spends his time giving countless seminars to youngsters and adults on the finer points of bass fishing at the Houston and Dallas Boat Shows since 1987.

He is sponsored as a Pro-Staff for Denver Marine, N .C, Ranger Boats, Lone Star Graphite Rods, Greg Bingam’s Check- It – Stick and “The Dock Buster” Flippen Stick

Flow-Rite of Tennessee, Fish Formula, Worden Lures and He still fishes all the major tournaments in Texas and surrounding states.

Another of Gary Lee’s passionate dreams is coming into fruition. That is the construction and opening of The Sport Martial Arts Museum.

Master Ed Parker, Bruce Lee, Bill Ryusaki

Gary said” The museum will be the last event that I will work on ,I have collected the finest minds in the world as History Generals to help do the documentation and history analysis of our sport and when we are though it will be a fun, entertaining ,educational and informative site for the family or the hard level traditionalist.”

When asked to pick one out of his many stories and and his absolute favorite he was very quiet for a moment ,looked up at the camera and said “ I do have one that is always with me and it happen along time ago.”

“”I remember working out in California and visiting many, many studios.

This one dojo was so intimidating I would cry and get myself all in a mess before I walk in.

One day I was two doors down from the studio and getting ready, when I heard a voice and it said “hey kid why are you crying it is just Karate”

The man’s name was Al Hippert; he was just coming back from his third tour of Viet-Nam, where he was covert operator and a tunnel rat. He was a real serious person

He had been training at the dojo I was at but I never seen him before. He was small but stocky and he had the look, that stare, it was almost creepy, heck it was creepy!!

He asked me to work out with him and it change my life.

He was first a Karate man and then the JUDO consumed his life.

When he first asked me to Randori , I assumed it was sparring ,punching ,kicking all that stuff .It turned out to be choking ,joint locking, passing out, finger manipulation , arm barring and of course roto-segin nagi and ippon segin nagi,thousands of times , throws ,take downs, sweeps , stomps ,elbow strikes and of course head butts

And anything goes until you tapped out or you were choked out, he taught me how to fight for real, life and death situations, mentally to be prepared and have PMA

He also taught me about life, the manners, the yes sirs and the no sirs, to help a needful person and to help that one kid who has to mentally get in tune with himself before the pressure of life.

That is the story that stays with me the most for he was one of the first mainland sensei’s to touch my life and give me direction to where I was going “”

He hurt me to teach me! I think about him everyday, every moment whenever I feel pain !!

I have been in the martial arts for nearly forty years, myself, and can tell you from the heart that Gary Lee is on a small list I have of those whom I truly respect above all others. He is a Texas transplanted Hawaiian with a tremendous heart and a man I am proud to call friend.

From a Hawaiian boy lost on the beach, Gary Lee has grown to be a force in the martial arts world and a leader in life. He is truly a Hawaiian Son who has become a Texas Star and he deserves our respect.




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