David Michelson Biography

Making the Candidate

My father Arthur grew up in a fairly tough Brooklyn, New York neighborhood in the 1950s.  He was picked on by some bullies at school who stole his basketball and challenged him to fight to get it back.  He was a bit scared and didn’t know how to fight, so he walked away.  When his older brother Steven heard the story, he got out a phone book and looked up what was then probably the only Judo school in the U.S. outside of Hawaii.  They joined together.  My uncle lasted a few months then got distracted by his success with high school football and girls.  My father stuck with Judo training until he went to college, reaching the rank of ichikyu.  In college, my father met a Japanese exchange student who was a nidan judoka and they trained and taught classes together.  A few years after college my father looked to return to the martial arts and tried out an Aikido school, a Wadokai karate school, two Jiujitsu schools, and two Kungfu schools, all of which were missing something important.  He had been attending classes at a Doshinkan karatedo dojo in the Bay Area for a short time when the founder of the school, Hanshi Isao Ichikawa, paid a visit.  Hanshi Ichikawa led the class in a kata that my father “knew” but with each repetition, Hanshi performed the kata with more speed and ki, until at last my father was so amazed that he could only stop and watch.  My father devoted much of the last 40 years training and teaching in Doshinkan, where he holds the
rank of 8th Dan Shihan. 

Dojos were a second home to me while I was growing up, training with my father, and I steadily advanced in rank.  I had some physical prowess back in my school days and I’ve always been blessed with a good memory.  Hanshi Ichikawa toured the U.S. twice a year and I had the opportunity to attend dozens of seminars with him in California, Oregon, and Washington State, as well as in Mexico, Austria, and Germany.  My father saw Hanshi Ichikawa as a guide toward spiritual enlightenment through traditional karatedo and he had profound respect for his knowledge.  As a child I had only a limited understanding of who our Hanshi was but I remember seeing him as physically powerful, passionate, thoughtful, and quick to laugh.  I didn’t always understand every word of the impromptu lectures he would launch into, in broken and heavily accented English, but he always had my full attention, even when it meant sitting or standing at attention for more than an hour in the summer sun.  My father would tell me then that he suspected Hanshi knew exactly how much pain his lectures caused and that he meant to train our minds to stay focused in adversity.  I know now that Isao Ichikawa was the student that Kanken Toyama considered his successor and that Toyama promoted him to 10th Dan shortly before he died in 1966.  Toyama was himself the direct successor of Anko Itosu, a founder of early karatedo.  Shotokan’s founder, Gichin Funikoshi, also trained with Itosu Sensei. 


   Masters Toyama (far left), Ohtsuka, Shimoda, Funikoshi, Motobu, Mabuni, Nakasone, and Taira meeting in 1930


            Hanchi Isao Ichikawa (aloft) in his early days…and as I remember him

Despite having had teachers with such impressive pedigrees, my training gradually fell by the wayside as school, work, and family responsibilities took up more and more of my time, and my physical fitness and mental toughness gradually waned.  I even remember being fairly resentful of karatedo at times in my childhood.  I was given no choice but to go to outdoor training early every Saturday morning.  Sometimes my father would just pull me out of bed and onto the floor by my feet, so I always went, even when there was frost on the grass or a thunderstorm was pouring rain on us.  My sister and I were often left with our relatives during our vacations so that my father could go to training seminars in Europe.  My father almost never came to school functions, basketball games, or school plays because his classes took priority.  Even so, those rainy day classes are still some of my fondest memories – running through the muddy grass to the edge of the shoreline to shout kiais across the ocean in response to the thunder.  I even have fond memories of being abandoned with relatives – I did get the chance to spend a lot of time with my very lovely grandparents.  My father just recently told me that he regrets having spent quite so much time away from us for selfish reasons. I told him sincerely that I admire the dedication he has shown and that I don’t see it as selfish, that he set a great example for me -- karatedo has probably helped to preserve the creativity with which he still inspires me and the playfulness with which he still makes me, and now my children, laugh.


   A younger and more flexible me helping with a demonstration my father gave in 1993

Long years of schooling and training led me to become a neurologist for children at a very busy academic hospital.  The work brings me a lot of intellectual and emotional satisfaction but the many hours per day I’m required to sit in front of a computer is only worsening my health.  I jealously watched two of my three children take classes at the USKL dojo for a year before I got up the courage to start again myself.  Now all three of my children, my wife, and I train with Sensei Leo Shortle every Sunday night and I regularly train with Sensei Lynn Aponte, Sensei Mike Whiteside, Sensei Bob Johnson, and Shihan Ty Aponte.  I have great respect for all of my teachers at the USKL dojo and appreciate how much they inspire me to improve myself.  I have many selfish reasons to try to follow my father’s example in pursuing a lifetime of karatedo training, and I feel very fortunate to have found a dojo in which I feel I can do so, but I also hope to carry on the small family tradition that my father started, teaching my children to live healthy lives and to always try hard, even when they have cold feet.

Dr. David (Dave) Michelson
USKL Ichikyu
December 2013