Kekionga Black Warrior Series
Part 2 of 2
Click here to read Part 1
THE HACKLEY REPORT By Eric Hackley
The following is the second part of a two-part interview with Bob Hawkins, owner of Bob Hawkins House of Fish restaurant at 2619 Weisser Park Ave., at the Corner of Pontiac Street, where he has been in business since 1974. The following is a continuation of Brother Hawkins’ story in his own words:
My competitive nature came from when I was a kid in those long, hot Arkansas days in the field where you couldn’t quit. You couldn’t say, I’m tired, I want a bologna sandwich, some water or anything that. That was not inbred in me as a kid.
An interest in karate
There was a young lady I was associated with who was about 5’ 5” and about 125 lbs. She was attending a karate school and she always wanted to practice on someone. Every time I saw her, she wanted to practice a block, a move or she wanted me to hold her in a headlock or something. Naturally, I was much bigger and stronger than she was but I noticed as time went on, she became a little more wiry. She was harder to hold or put into restraint and keep her there because she could always get out. She would tell me, “Bob, you’re really fast and strong for your size. If you got into this, you’d really be good at it.” That’s how I really got into it. I just happened to notice how quick and strong she was getting. This chapter happened in the early 1970s when I was an adult.
There were two primary schools in Fort Wayne that I was looking at to join, Robert Bowles and Parker Shelton. Both these gentlemen had been national champions. Mr. Bowles was a national champion in weapons and he was about 5’ 8”. Mr. Shelton was about 5’11 or 6 foot at 250 lbs. At that time I was about 6 foot, 170 lbs. He was a national champion in kumite (fighting). So I figured, if I had a weapon, I didn’t need karate. The way I looked at it, karate was using your feet and hands, so Mr. Shelton was a six-time national champion, so I decided to go with him to study in 1972 and that’s what I did.
I went there primarily to stay in shape. I always stayed in shape after I graduated high school with push-ups and sit-ups, exercises of that nature. And when I went to his school, it was primarily kids there. I was the only adult. The next oldest person was 13. Anytime Mr. Sheldon wanted to do a demonstration, he would pick me because I was his size. So basically I was getting private lessons with more hands on in working with the instructor. I played the role of the oki or dummy so I had hands on training and that’s how my talent and ability evolved.
I had a chance to fight some guys who eventually became national champions. One was Ross Scott out of Kokomo, Ind. Glenn Keeney was his teacher. Glenn Keeney, Parker Shelton and all the masters know each other pretty well. A lot of times, they would bring their students to your dojo and you would take your students to their dojo to have inner dojo competitions. I can say this about Mr. Shelton, I was the only black who started there. There were some other black students who came later, but I can truthfully say, he showed no prejudice or anything of that nature.
I started out like everyone else as a white belt. In Fort Wayne, I rose to a 1st degree brown belt. When you first get a brown belt under the Shorin-Ryu style, you’re 3rd degree. It’s kind of backward. You start out as a 3rd degree, then a 2nd degree and when you’re beginning to test for black, you’re 1st degree. I was recommended four years after I started to go for my black belt, but I never did.
I didn’t reach my black belt until International Harvester closed down and I moved to Ohio to work at Navistar International. While sitting around the house in the evening with nothing to do, I met some guys at work and they told me about a karate school there in Urbana, Ohio, so I decided I would check it out. I stood there and watched the guys and the brown belts that I saw at that school, I noticed that Indiana karate was a lot more intense. That’s how I kind of arrived. I started going to that school and started beating the brown belts because when you took karate under Mr. Shelton, by me being as large as he was, he didn’t hold back. So I was taught well at the Shelton School and I learned a lot.
If you beat the brown belts, they’ll put you with a black belt for the overall tournament champion. I was a heavyweight at the time weighing 195 lbs. So they put me in with a black belt and I beat him. After I knocked him down a couple of times, and this guy was a 3rd or 4th degree black belt, they said, “Where did this guy come from?” I told them I came out of Indiana. They said they wanted to test me and move me along. They said, “At his skill level, he shouldn’t be a brown belt.” Basically, if you’re a brown belt and you beat a black belt, that’s not good for the black belt you beat. It basically embarrasses their system. So I was tested .
Managing a restaurant working fulltime
I was fortunate enough to have six sisters and we were a close knit family. My mother was a head cook and kind of ran things at one of the elite restaurants here in Fort Wayne, Bob Hadley’s Trolley Bar. Her management skill was kind of passed down. My sister worked for the Gerber House Restaurant and my brother and Dave (who eventually founded Wendy’s) cooked at Colonel Sanders
When I first began the restaurant, I was working alone and would open on Thursday, because that’s when I weekly came back to town, through Saturday. Then my sisters Willie Mae Hendricks and Georgia Butler said, “While you’re working in Ohio, we’re not really doing anything. We can come down and run it.” That’s how I managed the restaurant. And, my Karate classes were on Mondays and Wednesdays after work from 6 to 9 p/m.
When you come out of a cotton field, buddy, I want to tell you that I don’t believe there’s anything you can’t do because that is manual labor. It wasn’t like you going to work at 7 or 8 in the morning and worked until 3 in the evening because that’s what you do in a factory. In a cotton field, you work from sunup, to sundown. That’s five or six in the morning to seven or eight at night during the summer months. Once that work regiment was instilled in you as a child, that’s basically your work ethic. So, working at Navistar International was child’s play for me compared with the work to which I had become accustomed.
Before I went to International Harvester, I had other jobs. I worked on car lots, washed windows and I worked at Parkview Hospital. I also worked at the Van Orman Hotel Supper Club where I went to work at four in the morning and on the way to work, I had to go to Westfield and pick up four or five guys. I worked in the kitchen washing pots and pans and then became a short order cook. All this was right out of high school at 17 and 18 years old. When I got off work at three, I’d be over parking trucks at four in the afternoon until 10 or 11 at night. So to me at that time, anyone who didn’t have two jobs was lazy because I had been use to working in the cotton field all day from sunup to sundown.
The kids today don’t have a good work ethnic in terms of stick-to-ativeness. There is an old saying, “You have to crawl before you walk.” They don’t have any of that. Everyone is looking for a handout, they don’t want to work and earn it like I did. The problems of drugs and violence, I think those start at home. I went to school with a girl who had a kid at 14 years old, and yes, you can say it was kids having kids. But her kid, to my knowledge never went to jail and today he is a professional. So I think it goes back to the parents. And, also today’s laws. When I was in school and you did something wrong, you were chastised and punished through the power of fear. Now today’s educators and psychologists are saying that damages a kid. I never went to prison or jail. I don’t consider myself being damaged. But, I do know if you don’t put fear in a child, you don’t get the respect later on. So if I did something out of line, I knew what would happen to me.
A lot of times that person who saw me do something wrong would discipline me. We don’t have that now. If that happens today, they want to sue that person. Once a child knows nothing will happen to them regardless of what they did, you can’t control them. If you can’t control them, how will you get them to want to work, or have the initiative to do what they need to do or the stick to it. How do we change this condition? We have to put discipline back into the home. “Spare the rod, spoil the child” should become the family motto. If I tell my child not to mark on the wall with their crayon and he marks on the wall, and I tell him “I told you not to do that!” Those are just words. They don’t mean anything to him. But, if he puts a mark on the wall and I take his hand, I’m not saying abuse him, but take a ruler and hit that hand, and when he goes to that wall again he’ll look around to see where I’m at. If he does it again and I hit that hand again, the chances are great that he won’t do it again and that is what instills the foundation for self-discipline.
Eric Hackley is a veteran independent journalist, television show host and producer focusing largely on history, particularly family history in the black community. His award-winning public access television shows have featured a host of local and national icons. Hackley recently produced two historic calendars. “The purpose of the ‘2012 Fort Wayne Blacks Declare War on Willie Lynch Slave Mentality Calendar’ and ‘2013 Fort Wayne HIS-Story Reform Calendar’ is to stimulate local interest, debate and action to correct the American History lies and distortions used to brainwash blacks and retard the literacy and relevance of Fort Wayne History,” explained Hackley. Both calendar documents are for sale at the Fort Wayne Urban league. Hackley can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in our May 15 print edition.