Sometime between 1968 and 1973 in Butsbach, Germany, a little boy ran home as fast as his little legs would carry him, panting and sweating with five kids in pursuit. His crime? Kindness to a little girl in the playground. They were incensed that he stood up for their target.
He made it safely home, but the incident led his parents to enrol him in martial arts classes which he at first hated because it took away his carefree days of childhood.
That little boy is now 56-year-old Carl N. Hudspeth III, a 182cm stallion of a man with a skin the colour of a Hershey’s chocolate bar. He rarely smiles, always looking at you straight in the eyes. Then he opens his mouth, grinning and exposing a cheeky gap in his teeth, that are accompanied by infectious laughter.
An intimidating man one minute, a teddy bear the next. But not a person you would want to provoke any time soon.
Carl was such a perfectionist that he thrived in martial arts. He has an 8th degree black belt in Kune Ki Do Wushu Gung Fu (Kung Fu), a 4th degree black belt in Karate, and a 4th degree In Chinese Goju. He ranked first on the West Coast of the United States in semi contact and retired undefeated in 1990. He was Vice chairman of the Armed Forces martial arts Association, and the United States representative for all of Rheinland-Pfalz.
For his extraordinary effort, Carl won 916 trophies and medals. Some he gave away to deserving kids practicing the art, a lot of them are proudly displayed all around his home.
As an African-American father of six – four girls and two boys – and grandfather of four, he took it upon himself to make sure his family could walk into any situation and handle it themselves. Carl would never let his kids be that scared little boy he once was because he closed the gate before it was ever opened, instructing them in self-defence and expecting self-control. Gender didn’t matter to Carl as he taught his girls the same way he would teach any boys.
Carl says he took a stronger approach with his first-born son, Ceejay, because he is of mixed race, as his mother is German. Carl says it doesn’t matter how light his skin is, he will never have the same respect as other Caucasian kids of the same age that might be behaving worse than him.
“As a young black man in America, you already have one strike against you,” Carl says.
Carl instilled into his kids that in today’s society, they will always stand out because they will always look different, so he wanted them prepared outside of his home when he could not be there to look after them.
To help his children understand the meaning behind ‘give to receive’, Carl made them do sets of push-ups for benign things such as wanting ice cream. He says it also gave them a sense of achievement as they have learned to do push-ups and can do them effortlessly.
When Ceejay learned to drive, Carl only allowed him to have one friend in the car with him.
“If the friend asked to go and do something bad, then my son can say yes, or no. That’s it. Now, if you have three kids in the car, you have two against one, and most kids will give in under peer pressure, so if you take peer pressure out of the picture, then you have nothing to worry about.”
Carl trained his children hard and pushed them past their expectations and limits.
“I didn’t teach them how to beat up somebody,” he says. “I taught them how to be good enough that they don’t have to worry and can just walk away from a situation.”
After all, Kung Fu is more than self-defence. It’s a way of life, a state of mind.