A memory of Tom Kelly

A video from the 1973 karate tournament between the UK and USA has been doing the rounds on Facebook. I don’t keep up with what’s going on in karate, but I came across it and remembered that Tom Kelly had been part of that team. I went to look him up and found that he’d passed away in 2012.

In 1973 I was at Earlham Street and had gone off in my own direction, full-contact fighting. But I still had contacts within karate, and was highly regarded by the chairman of the BKA, Len Palmer. David Dubow also had a friend from LA called Meyer, who was associated with Ed Parker. David was always looking for a way to get me into the American mainstream. He tried it through Aaron Banks and I said, ‘No,’ and he was even trying to get me involved with Ed Parker through Meyer, and I also said no.

Shortly after the competition documented in this movie, Len Palmer rang me up to check out what kind of mood I was in. He knew I wasn’t interested in the karate establishment. I’m not sure what was going on, all I know is that  he and David Dubow turned up at the club with Ed Parker and some of the team. David  had been entertaining Ed while he was in London.

I showed them round the gym, it was the usual martial arts banter, talking about equipment, training methods, and so on. I remember telling Ed about how I used to use a film editor to watch old boxing movies and run them forward and backward to pick up the details of the exchange. By going backwards, the idea struck me that every move had another ‘side’ to it that contributed to the overall effect, and I began to explore what that other side might be, the hidden side of movement. Anyway, Ed was interested and it was a friendly meeting.

Tom Kelly was among those guys, and David said to me, show Tom around London while he’s here. Which I did. I took him around Chinatown because I had friends there. We went and had a meal in Chinatown, where I introduced him to my Chinese friends and those kung fu guys I knew at the time. In the Soho area there were a lot of little bookstores I frequented, both Chinese and Western, and what you have to remember is that in those days it was hard to find information. It wasn’t like it is now with the internet, so you had to know where to look. I took him around my favourite shops, and he seized on Musashi’s Book of Five Rings, which I bought for him. We went to the late night Chinese cinema and watched movies for most of the night.

Tom and I got on well. At that time I was going around fifteen and a half stone—nearly 220 pounds—and standing next to him I felt small. He was a really nice guy. He was one of those guys you would like to be a friend. Of course, we were on completely different trajectories in the martial arts.

When you get to be my age, it’s not supposed to be a shock to find out that someone you knew when you were young has died. But it’s still a shock, and because I’m no longer part of that martial art community I often don’t hear about it until years later. It’s like when Gary Spiers died, I found out well after the fact.

I’m somebody who focuses on going forward and not looking back. I’ve never been one to go to reunions or meet up at the pub to talk about old times, because my eye is on the future. At the same time, those were some happy memories.