Respecting Our Elders





This is O-Sensei Keiko Fukuda. First female 10th degree judo black belt ever, judo goddess and feminist icon. After teaching martial arts for longer than Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris and Ed Parker combined, she passed away last week at the age of 99.

I have the sad duty of writing her obituary for Black Belt Magazine.  In doing my research, I had a realization. In the martial arts community, we have a deep respect for our elders that western culture seems to have mostly dropped. We listen when the talk — and not just because most of them can still beat us up. We travel long distances and pay considerable sums for the privilege of spending time with them.


When was the last time you, as a writer, spent some time with your elders? If you write science fiction, did you visit Asimov, Bradbury, Verne, Heinlein or Phil Dick this year? Horror writers — when was the last time you checked in with Poe, or Dunsany, or Lovecraft? Have the romance and erotica writers out there left Auntie Nin and Grannie Austin to molder in a bookshelf?

Shame on so-called crime and detective novels who didn’t at least send Chandler and McDonald a Christmas card.

It’s different, I know. Martial arts masters have been learning for decades, while the books we love often happened early in a writer’s development in her craft. It’s also true that the art has evolved. Journey to the Center of the Earth isn’t Ender’s GameBleak House holds zero candles next to The Brothers K.

But those earlier works, the ones by the writers who defined the genres, they have an energy to them. A sense of what that kind of writing is all about. They handle the themes and questions barehanded, and wrestle with them in ways newer works never get around to. Your favorite books might only be six or ten years old, but they wouldn’t exist if not for the work of those earlier generations.

So take a moment to check in with your literary elders. You might see something in them you missed the last time. Besides, it’s good to enjoy the advantage writers have over the martial arts community. Our copies of those books will still be there for us to visit with, long after the people have moved on.

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