James H. Hawkes

JAMES H. HAWKES 1936-2012

Grandmaster James H. Hawkes, one of the early pioneers of karate in the United States, co-founder/co-director of the United States Karate Alliance, and an internationally respected teacher (sensei) passed away in Albuquerque on March 5, 2012. He was 75.

Grandmaster Hawkes, a Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputy from 1977 until 1993, was a 10th degree black belt and instructor of Shorin-Ryu Okinawan karate. He operated Jim Hawkes Karate dojos in Albuquerque since the early 1960s, paving the way for full contact karate and mixed martial arts in New Mexico.

As a competitor in the 1960s and 1970s, Grandmaster Hawkes won or placed in more than 250 local, state, regional, national and international tournaments. Black Belt magazine named him one of the top ten fighters in the country in 1967, 1968 and 1969.

Grandmaster Hawkes was a member of the elite Trias International Society, the United States Karate Alliance Hall of Fame, and was the first Amateur Athletic Union karate president in New Mexico. He was also a national and state Coach of the Year multiple times, based on accumulated tournament points of his students.

A natural athlete, Grandmaster Hawkes attended Belen High School in the 1950s, where he played football, baseball and began boxing. He was a regional Golden Gloves boxing champion in 1955 and 1957, and played semi-pro baseball for an Albuquerque team.

“His passing is a huge loss to the world of martial arts and a profoundly personal loss for me and the rest of Sensei’s dojo family, said Albuquerque Journal reporter Rick Nathanson, a friend and student for 33 years. “The gifts he imparted in the dojo will last us a lifetime; but he was far more than just a repository of martial arts wisdom. His humor was legendary, he was astoundingly well read, and the sheer breadth of his knowledge regarding his many other interests was stunning.”

Fred Absher, 68, a local karate school operator, competed against Grandmaster Hawkes in the 1960s and ‘70s. “He was a giant, and one of the originals from karate’s earliest days,” said Mr. Absher, who also called Grandmaster Hawkes “a good friend.”

“He was the man to beat regionally and in the top 10 nationally — just an awesome opponent and one of those guys you really didn’t look forward to fighting. But Sensei Hawkes was well respected and always generous, even with his competitors, offering insights on how they could become better at their own game. So he was something of mentor to me.”

In the late 1950s, Grandmaster Hawkes worked as a locomotive fireman, engineer and lineman for the Santa Fe Railroad. While stationed in Clovis he exercised at a gym on Cannon Air Force Base.

“At the other end of the gym were these guys wearing white pajamas,” Grandmaster Hawkes once recalled of his first exposure to karate practitioners wearing the traditional “gi,” or uniform. “They moved in unison, going through what looked like precision, choreographed fighting techniques. I liked what I saw and asked the instructor if could join in.”

That instructor, martial arts luminary Ken Funakoshi, awarded Grandmaster Hawkes his first degree black belt in Japanese Shotokan karate in 1960.

When the railroad transferred Grandmaster Hawkes back to Albuquerque, he began training under James Kennedy, a former Air Force serviceman who had studied in Okinawa under karate Grandmaster Fusei Kise. Grandmaster Hawkes earned his black belt in Shorin-Ryu from Sensei Kennedy and then took over the dojo when Sensei Kennedy left Albuquerque in 1962.

As a Bernalillo County Sheriff’s deputy, Grandmaster Hawkes taught police defensive tactics to sheriff’s deputies, reserve officers and agents with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. He also served as a combative measures instructor for military personnel at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and Fort Bliss Army Base in Texas.

At a tournament in Phoenix, Grandmaster Hawkes met Grandmaster Robert Trias, who had founded the United States Karate Association in 1948, the first and largest national karate organization in the country. Grandmaster Hawkes became a regular competitor on the USKA tournament circuit and fought on the highly regarded USKA national team of the 1960s, along with teammates Victor Moore, Jim Harrison, Jimmy Johnson and Jim McLain. Grandmaster Hawkes was later appointed by Grandmaster Trias as the USKA’s Southwest regional director and Shorin-Ryu style head.

One of Grandmaster Hawkes’ biggest personal joys was guiding students as they advanced through the ranks and achieved great successes as a karate-ka. “But of even greater importance and more personally satisfying, is watching these same students blossom into intelligent, caring and decent human beings. For the true goal of karate is not to teach the practitioner to be a better puncher, a better kicker or a better fighter. The true goal is to teach the karate-ka to be a better person. That is karate-do. That is the way,” said Grandmaster Hawkes.

When Grandmaster Trias died in 1989, his association fell into disarray. Grandmaster Hawkes was instrumental in helping establish the United States Karate Alliance as a way to maintain Grandmaster Trias’ principles and organizational framework. The U.S. Karate Alliance became among the more prominent martial arts standards and sanctioning organizations in the country, with a national and international tournament circuit. Now, the U.S. Association of Martial Artists, established in memory of Grandmaster James H. Hawkes, and founded on the principles and ideals of both Grandmaster Trias and Grandmaster Hawkes is continuing to maintain these standards.

Grandmaster Hawkes was noted in saying, “that the commingling of different styles has been helpful in the past. We can all learn from each other. That’s important. We want to encourage individual martial artists to find ways to enhance their own style, while at the same time remaining true to the principles of their traditional systems.”

He said that it is important for a martial arts organization to “offer students the opportunity to further their skills, knowledge, and understanding.” And as Grandmaster Hawkes wanted, “we welcome our members’ ideas and suggestions so that we may grow together.”

Portions of this article were taken from previous interviews for articles written by Rick Nathanson.