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In Memoriam - Maestro Peter G. Urban, Ph.D.
With honor and love of our Maestro, We share our stories...
So that we who were fortunate to know him in
"The Then and There",
can share fond memories for those who read
this in "The Here and Now".
August 14, 1934 - April 7, 2004
In Memory of O'Sensei Peter G. Urban,
Father of American Goju Ryu Karate
My condolences and
deepest sympathy to the Urban family and his followers of the USA Urban
I am saddened to have learned of the news of the passing of a great
man, Grand Master Peter G. Urban. I learned of his passing by my good friend and
a brother in the martial arts, Hanshi Steven Malanoski who lives and teaches in
Fort Myers, Florida at Goju Hall #280. He was the one who called me to tell me
of the news on that Wednesday morning at 10:20 AM. Hanshi Malanoski is one of
the TRUE followers of Master Urban.
Today, I would like to share
some of my memories that I can remember about the man and his great Dojo -- The
Chinatown Dojo and why he was a special person to me.
He was one my first
Karate teachers in my very beginning of my martial arts' career. I can say
that Master Urban was a GREAT MAN, who had a vision. He believed that he can,
and had, made a difference with his Karate in the changing of the martial
arts in the USA and the world. His system of American USA/URBAN
Goju, along with his followers and their different off-spring organizations had
done just that. To changed the Asian based structure.
Master Urban had a
charisma and energy (and with his projection), that is second to none, and what
he lacked in the traditional martial arts, his persona and unique abilities
would gap the differences, making him the "Patriarch" that he
claimed. He just had a way about himself and with people.
how did I come in contact with Master Urban who changed my
life? When I first met him, it was in January 1966, just right
after the New Year. At that time, I was 15 years old and was living in the
famous area of "The South Bronx - The Fort Apache Area", where I saw the
violence, lived it and was a victim. It was because of these reasons
that I had the necessity for training in the martial arts. But, my
parents did not allowed me to study the Chinese martial arts, in fear of the
Chinese "underground world" with their influences in the Kung-Fu schools.
My parents didn't want me to get involved in the martial arts to become like my
grandfather, who was a notable leader as a "Hatchman" with the big association
during the early to mid 1900s Tong Wars in NYC.
I figured that because
this was Karate and it is not Chinese Kung-Fu, my parents couldn't reject this
choice of mine…Besides, it is a white man, a Low Fon, that is the teacher
- With NO Chinese influences here.
I can remember when Master Urban
opened his Chinatown Dojo, at 232 Canal Street in back in 1965/1966. I was
walking from the subway station right off Canal Street towards Chinatown were I
was going to go to a restaurant named Hong Fat on Mott Street. It was 8:30 PM, I
had planned to eat dinner and get back to the South Bronx, for I had just
finished one of my bi-weekly classes of astronomy that I enrolled in at the
American Museum's Hayden Planetarium.
As I was walking on Canal Street
and crossing Centre Street, I heard the many loud "Kiais" coming from this
building on the corner. I have never heard Kias before, and I
thought that there were some crazies who were on drugs and they were doing their
"thing" -- You see, marijuana and Heroin was an "in thing" and LSD was making
the scene in the U.S. at that time. I was really curious about the
loud Kias by the chorus of the masses so I walked upstairs to the second floor
and when I saw the class -- IT WAS POWERFUL! IT WAS AWESOME!
THE ENERGY! The knuckle push-ups, the leg raises, the Jyu Kumite and
the kicking of the "gong" -- It was for me. I just had to join... Just to
be trained by Master Urban. I waited for the class to end and I followed
Master Urban to his office on the third floor, as to find out all the
particulars in enrolling. I got my forms to take it home for my
parents to sign.
Unfortunately, my parents still did not approve of
me enrolling and I needed their signature on the forms. I bargained with my
parent for weeks to no avail. I went back with the forms unsigned and spoke
to Master Urban, he understood my predicament, and my need to study the
art, and so he accepted me.
For me, training was on a daily basis on a
Mondays to Saturdays, and with work in my family's restaurant every
Sunday. Now to get to the Chinatown Dojo for training, I had to get
home right after school pronto! Home was the laundry that my family
lived in. It was also the business that my father had on the corner of
Westchester Avenue and Hoe Avenue in the South Bronx. So, right
after school I would quickly head home to grab my Gi and travel downtown by
subway by myself, to Canal Street Chinatown and I MUST return home by 10
PM. I was still responsible for my schoolwork, so I would do my
homework on the train rides. By the way, I was on the Honor Roll all
During those years it was the turbulent times of NYC the
Race Riots and the high crime of the South Bronx and at 15 years old in ninth
grade junior high school, it did not sit well with my parents. For me, it was no
big deal, since many times I had to go to many places in NYC without my parents'
knowledge anyway. Several months later in the month of May 1966, my parents sold
the laundry and we moved downtown to Little Italy, to Hester Street and Mulberry
Street. That was two blocks north of Canal Street and from The Chinatown
Dojo. This move had become a better deal for me. Although I have since
moved from Hester Street, I presently today still live two blocks from the two
old Chinatown Dojos -- The 232 Canal Street and the Crosby Street Dojos.
Even today, I still walk by both locations on a daily bases.
Chinatown Dojo... at 232 Canal Street was a two-floor operation on the second
and the third floor, about 25' X 75' each floor. The ground floor was an
exterminating business, which had chemical odors that permeated the building and
it was irritating and obnoxious at times, especially on the humid
The Chinatown Dojo started on the Third Floor. To join or to attend
training, one had to walk up to the third floor. On the third floor, one
half of the floor housed Master Urban's office and the men's changing room and
the other half was the women's changing room and with Judo mats.
second floor was the main training hall/floor with seats for visitors and on
lookers located at the rear end of the dojo. The doorway entrance separated the
training floor and the spectators' area. All I can remember is that there
was not one day that would pass by that the Dojo floor was not cramped with over
30 plus students, as well as with the visitors and other on-lookers. There were
little or no heat in the winter and there were no fans to move the humid air in
If you were a student, you headed towards the office and the
changing facilities. The changing facility was basically a small area with
a heavy large black material curtains hung on a rope that stretched across the
main wall towards the bathroom wall to separate it from the rest of the third
floor. Before one went to the changing facilities, one had to place their
membership card on his desk and then proceeded to the dressing rooms to get
changed into their Gi. Once Gi-ed up, one would go down stairs to the second
floor for the class. The Dojo's walls were white and the wooden floor was
painted black, with various makiwaras mounted at different locations on the
walls, and when we ran around the Dojo doing "laps" during class, we would had
to strike them all as we ran by.
I can also remember the many
"unforgettable" free fighting matches that took place nightly, as well as some
of the winter training, which included running around the block in snow and ice
and working out on an open parking lot across the street from the Dojo in just a
Gi and bare feet. This parking lot is no longer there for that property is
now part of the famous "100 Center Street" complex of the new northern
facilities, which is divided into two parts; there are commercial businesses
where the parking lot had stood and the other half of the building which houses
the inmates to be processed in the criminal judicial system.
In the mid
summer of 1966, Urban had headed off to Japan to see the famous Gogen "The Cat"
Yamaguchi of the Japanese Goju-Kai. His primary visit was to be
promoted to "GO DAN" (Fifth Degree). Yamaguchi had denounced Master Urban,
stating that: "No American would be promoted to Go Dan." This prompted
Master Urban to start his "URBAN USA GOJU." In the fall of 1966 he
had held the famous "HATCHET MEETING" to inaugurate his desires.
"Hatchet Meeting" was the great divide for his organization...You were labeled
as either a "THEM" or "US." "Them" were (his ex-students) did not
wanted to stay and to abide with his new ways. "Them" was also the people
who Master Urban disliked and disdained, such as the Koreans and the players in
the Korean martial arts. A story for another time!
Master Urban made
a large chart board, which housed the listings of the people of "THEM and
US." It was mounted on the main training hall's wall right opposite
where he stood and taught class. On the chart, it showed paired off,
"certain martial arts groups" against his "The USA/Urban Organization." Under
that chart's listing were the names of many of his famous ex-top students such
as "Roy Meyers, Joseph Lopez, Thomas Boddie, etc." which were paired against his
committed followers: "Al Goty, Leon Wallace, Padu, Gerald Orange, Frank Ruiz,
William Louie, etc." Sad to say, I was on the "THEM" list, and paired off
against William Louie, when I had told Master Urban that I decided "to leave and
to go and continue to train with Sensei Thomas Boddie, as I had done when he was
away in Japan."
Urban really never hated me, and I never hated him.... He
always was fond of me as a young kid of 15 years old when I joined his
Dojo. I can remember the day when the hard covered book that he wrote, "The
Karate Dojo", came off the presses. I brought the book at his third floor
office, in which he wrote: "To: The fastest student of my fastest student
...(signed) Peter G. Urban!
I can also remember the Chinatown Dojo when I
was there... All the various training that took place in the classes; the
jumping and the kicking of the gong at the end of class which was suspended from
the ceiling some seven plus feet in air. All the various memories of the
nightly free fighting matches with the "sudden death" matches that took place
with the top black belts such as Thomas Boddie, Al Gotay, Leon Wallace, Kamfoa
Padu and his brother Sekwii Sah, Brian Spitale, Gerald Orange, Louis Delgado
etc, etc, etc! I can still see many other faces, but I can't remember all of
their names. And, who can forget the "first time", when he pulled off
his "SKEET SHOOTING PUNCHES" by breaking ten boards in secession on each
hand! A first for the modern martial arts world at that time in
Some time in 1967/68 he then moved his Dojo from Canal Street to
Crosby Street and Howard Street, but by then I had left the Chinatown Dojo
because of the controversies that was brewing and I had already been attending
full time at Uptown Dojo with Sensei Thomas Boddie, who was with Master
The worst martial arts day in my life brought me close in
relationship to Sensei Urban. It was a tournament held by Gary Alexander at the
Manhattan Center in March of 1966. I had just turned 16 years old, and was
just promoted to Green Belt. I had enrolled in the Kumite contest late,
(because my parents resisted signing the consent), and when they did, it was at
the last minute. This then had me paired off with another late attendee
too. The late attendee was six plus feet tall, a purple belt and much older
in his early twenties. He was much heavier in weight, and I was 5' 4' and
110 lbs. Remember, this was the time when there were no gender, weight, or
height classes. There was NO protective gears for the body back in those
days, except for jock cups. We bowed in, took our Kamie positions, and he
shot off a roundhouse kick to my chest to which I tried to block. I
wasn't strong enough or skilled enough, and his kick dropped me to the floor,
knocking me out cold. All I can remember, was master Urban attending to
me, and trying to revive me with his famous "Katsu". He gave me words of
encouragement: "Don't give up!". From that day on, I promised never to lose
again, and I never did! I placed in every tournament
The next tournament was "The First East Coast Goju
Tournament" that was held in Town Hall in the Fall of 1966, sponsored by Master
Urban. I came in second place, green belt division in Kumite. Master
Urban had a video transfer made from a professional filming that documented that
event. This transfer was produced about two years ago, where he had praised
me for my fighting abilities and called me "Sammy something" for... I guess he
forgot my name.
Just as a note of interest. In November 1967,
there was "The East Coast Goju-Kai Tournament" held by Aaron Banks at the
Manhattan Center with the famous Gogen "The Cat" Yamaguchi and his sons and
daughter in attendance. Uptown Dojo took six of the nine trophies, 1st and
2nd Black, 1st and 2nd Green, and 1st and 3rd Brown. I took the Third Place
Brown, losing to one of my classmates due to me not being serious during the
bout. After the tournament, I made Black Belt at Joseph Lopez's Dojo (The
Goju-Kai East Coast Headquarters) with all of the Yamaguchis in attendance, and
with Gogen Yamaguchi presiding over my test. After experiencing the events
of the tournament and the grading of my Black Belt test, I also left the
Japanese Goju-Kai right afterwards -- I then understood why Master Urban left
Yamaguchi. Another story for another time.
Since leaving Master
Urban, I have watched his organization grow into something to be reckoned with,
and to be respected. Master Urban has touched the masses and he had set
many milestones in the martial arts, whether people like his ways or
not. He was a tough act to follow.
Again, my leaving of his
organization was because of the various politics that surrounded his
organization. I never left the man in my heart. Master Urban did set a new
way of the martial arts, whether you and I, may or may not, agree with
In closing, I would like to say that, he taught me one thing.
How to be an AMERICAN. The very same attitude that sparked his start of
his URBAN USA GOJU.
I have set the time to mourning for him, and I will
continue to respect the great man that he was!
My first meeting with Grand Master Urban was when
I was first introduce to the Martial Arts by my instructor Shihan Thomas Bennett
8th Dan, USA GoJu. Shihan Thomas drilled GM Urban into all his student's
heads. The first time I actually met GM Urban was at a tournament in
Manhattan N.Y. in the mid 1970's. I was a young kid who had just won his
first few kumite matches. On the next to the last match I was kicked in my
private part and saw stars. GM Urban came over to me and worked his magic.
That magic gave me the strength to beat the opponent that I was sparring.
He made the pain go away. As a young kid in the 1970's he was a Martial
arts wizard, right out of a Martial arts movie to me. That was the same
day I met his daughter Julia for the first time. Many years later I got
the chance to perform the Urban Kooroorunfa kata at a tournament where he
awarded me an 8 out of 10 score. I was very happy. From short
meeting and additional meetings later, GM Urban (both directly and indirectly)
had become a very strong influence in my life. Through out my 30 or more
years of training in the Martial Arts/Combative sciences I have met many, but
none like GM Urban.
In March 2004 he
called me on the phone to talk. Even on the phone, he was teaching.
It was a great thing. He told me, " Zurriane, GOD willing I will see you at the
Annual Gotay Tournament in April, and we will take so pictures." He said
pictures are like time capsules.
The amount of people he has touched is
amazing. All those who he has touched will never forget him and will keep
him alive in their hearts and the hearts of there students forever. His passing
has been a great loss not just to the martial arts world but to all those that
he has touched over the years with his knowledge, wisdom and his
Renshi Zurriane Bennett, 5th Dan - Goju Hall #811
Bushi & Combination GoJu
School of Self Defense
My first recollection
of Master Urban was at the 1980 Ying Yee Cup Karate Championship held by my
sensei, Hanshi Anthony Lau. I remember that on that day, as soon Master
Urban set foot on the grand competition floor, everyone on that floor just
dropped whatever they were doing to acknowledge Master Urban's presence. The
whole floor remained silence until he was ushered and seated at the head table
along with other judges. I had never experience such a awesome site of one
person catching and holding the attention of so many. I was
speechless. Since that first encounter with Master Urban, I was fortunate
to have had many conversations with him, and he never failed to enlighten
On behalf of Hanshi Anthony Lau and the entire Yoshido
Goju Ryu Organization, we say a final prayer and salute to Master Urban. May you
rest in eternal peace.
Orlando Cabrera, Sensei
Godan, Yoshido Goju Ryu Karate-Do
I have just returned from an extended overseas trip to
hear of the passing of Maestro Peter Urban. I have had the opportunity
to extend my deepest sympathies to Julia and her family and received a
warm letter in return. Please allow me to extend my thoughts to the
extended Goju family of Sensei Urban, both recent and past. My own instructor,
Bob Jones, was strongly influenced by Maestro Urban in the sixties and seventies
(we were also former Yamaguchi Gojukai members...), meeting with him and
training under Aaron Banks and others. My organization came under Sensei
Urban's mentorship in the seventies and the great man was a source of constant
inspiration for me. The tyranny of distance eventually saw us drop out of
contact, but I continue to draw that same inspiration when I think of him. He
was a true legend of the modern martial arts and I am proud but to have had a
moment of his time in that great life.
May he live on through his family and his extended USAGA
Kyoshi, 6th Dan
(USAGA GH #257 - Goju Australia)
My first face to face meeting with Grand
Master Urban was at his Fanshua Monastery Dojo in Williamstown, N.J. where
he invited me to come and stay with him. I remember ringing the door
bell, and he answered with a beautiful bow and an embrace. After a short
rest, he then put me through several katas and Bunkai. It was quite an
experience to be in front of the Master himself. The next day, we sat down
to play a game of chess. I had been addressing him as Master Urban. He
looked up and said, "From this day forth, you can call me Sensei." And I have
ever since. We had very in depth conversations about the Bible
and the art of life. When the time had come for me to leave, he took off
the towel from around his neck and placed it on mine and commissioned me his
Chaplain of Martial Arts.
I finally had a childhood dream come
true. At the age of 12, I read his book "The Karate Dojo" and
trained under one of Sensei's original students who trained in the
early 60's. Then in 1989, I began to correspond with Sensei Urban and in
1990, I began what Sensei Urban called my destiny. He accepted me as a student.
What an honor. Up until his death we had many
memorable conversations about our Lord and Savior and the Bible.
His favorite book of the Bible was the book of Proverbs. And for
you who are young, remember, your dreams can come true. Mine did. I met my
Sensei and Mentor and a very special friend. Sensei Urban was a
brilliant man, a man ahead of his time. To me, he was the Einstein, the
Picasso, the Beethoven, the Hemingway, the George Washington, and the General
Patton of the martial arts, and much more. Yes, he was a man, not perfect
in all ways, but Sensei Urban devoted his life to his art, and his
To his daughter Julia and family, my family will always be
there for your family . And remember Julia, there is no love greater than
that of a Father's love. For someday your father will embrace you in
heaven, just as his mother, your mother, and his sister are embracing him right
To you Sensei, I say thank you for being you. I will truly
miss our talks and your guidance and wisdom in the art of life. As in life or
death, my loyalty will always be with the House of Urban Gojudo . I will always
stay the loyal course that you asked and commissioned me to do so. To call you
Sensei, I count it a great honor. But to have you call me your son, student,
friend, and spiritual son, I count it the greatest of honors. I know I
will see you someday in heaven, for sooner or later we all walk that last
walk and come face to face with our Maker.
My fellow Goju brothers, today is truly now. Grab
life with your hands and live it as an Urban Gojudo artist of life to the
fullest. May God keep you and bless you.
Hanshi David Box Jr., 10th Dan
"Sharp Shooter Woo"
URBAN GOJU HALL # 016
Box's School of Urban Goju
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Page updated on 10.28.06