“In Gratitude: Remembering the Teachers Who Guided Our Journey”

“A tribute from my book to my martial arts teachers: Jan Kallenbach (RIP), Anne Beukema (RIP), Harry de Spa (RIP), Chris de Jongh, Richard van Asdonck, Ries van Toorn, and John Kenbeek.”

“In their guidance, I found not just direction, but unwavering support when the path grew uncertain.”

The impact of martial arts teachers is significant, whether they are present as mentors, coaches, trainers, or therapists. The martial arts teacher is invaluable and therefore highly respected. Respecting our teachers, mentors, and predecessors is part of martial arts culture.

In martial arts, we are very aware of those who came before us. We take their dedication and insights seriously and pass them on. In short, we respect our predecessors and the tradition. This form of respect and the passing on of stories are pearls in martial arts.

Therefore, I would like to share from personal experience about mentors and what they can mean. I start with three of my martial arts teachers who are unfortunately no longer with us: Jan Kallenbach, Anne Beukema, and Harry de Spa. I bring them, for inspiration, back to life in this book.

And as psychiatrist Dirk de Wachter recently said in an interview about death: those who are no longer with us can still be present in our lives. Because of that, I would like to tell you about four martial arts teachers who are fortunately still with us: Richard van Asdonck, Ries van Toorn, John Kenbeek, and Chris de Jong. They have all given pleasure, wisdom, and strength to thousands of men and women.

Jan Kallenbach (RIP): Standing like a tree! As a young man, I was captivated by Master Jan Kallenbach. A giant of 100 kilos of muscle. Top judoka and top karateka, feared in Japan and the rest of the world. He discovered an unknown martial art (Tai ki Ken) there in Japan that would change his life and later that of others. For decades, he was a martial arts teacher at the Academy of Physical Education (ALO) in Amsterdam. A man ‘as strong as an ox’ who slowly moved towards the internal and softer martial arts. A man with a huge stamp on martial arts. I visited him as a young boy and especially enjoyed the conversations we had. I hung on his every word and enjoyed the stories. Now, forty years later, I teach at his ALO in Amsterdam in the Dojo that bears his name. Life goes in circles, and this circle is complete again. Beautifully round, and I often think of him when I sit in his spot. So now I teach young ALO students, and his portrait looks at me. I look back and wonder: am I doing it right, Jan? Am I on the right path? Jan stood for something. You couldn’t ignore that. He also stood for something bigger than himself. Now he’s gone, and the question arises: where do I stand as a teacher? What is my core message? How do students/participants remember me, and what have I essentially passed on? His life shows me that standing for something as a teacher is one of the great gifts you can give (through). If you stand for something, students can relate to you. They can take on a part, and they can push against a part. Standing firmly for something provides the opportunity for students to push against a standard. And pushing against, rubbing against, and colliding, like identifying and adopting, is an essential part of becoming an adult and formation.

Anne Beukema (RIP): You can’t get more Dutch than that. The personification of ‘just act normal’. But he wasn’t normal, not an average teacher. Anne from Groningen was, without him knowing it, one of the best martial arts teachers I’ve met. Somehow, which I can’t explain, as a young boy, I kept looking for ‘harder and better’. To test myself? Searching for invincibility? Who knows, I don’t. I found that in Kyokushin Karate but around 1987, I discovered kickboxing. At that time, almost a kind of ‘underground’ martial art. The founder of Kyokushin Karate sent his top students to Thailand where they supposedly got a beating from the Thai Boxers. Kickboxing was born in Japan, and Karateka from the Netherlands brought it to our country. I crossed the mental threshold of the Kickboxing gym in Groningen and was greeted by the deep voice of teacher Anne Beukema (RIP). The epitome of a good teacher: accessible to everyone, paying attention to everyone. His physique and technique were unparalleled. He didn’t need to dominate us. He was truly there for us. The love for the sport radiated from this master mover. The runs on weekends around a lake, with hot chocolate and tough stories afterwards, were all I needed as a little boy without a father. I absorbed, observed, and imitated everything in this formative period. From Anne, I learned the beauty of moving smoothly. Being able to spar without really hurting each other. Being accessible to your students and setting a good example yourself. And yet, around my twenties, I started to miss something. Kickboxing was great but I was still looking for meaning. Kickboxing was cool, and the teacher was the best I had. But I missed the philosophy of life that I so needed. So I ended up back at karate, but in a very different way.

Harry de Spa (RIP). Despite my self-confidence through martial arts – I was a karate teacher at eighteen – adventure beckoned, and I left Groningen. I went to live as a resident student with the great man of Goju Ryu Karate in the Netherlands. This Dr. Harry de Spa was my new idol: a giant, bouncer, philosopher, educator, and intense lover of life of the first order. My curiosity was about to explode in his private library and the trips we made in Europe. We taught karate from East Berlin to London and spent hours visiting cultural sites. He talked openly about architectural styles, Picasso, and German history, and woe betide me if I didn’t stay up to date. ‘The pen and the sword are one’ was the motto: the warrior develops not only his fighting skills but also his knowledge and wisdom. I was Harry’s young assistant, teaching, even skipping a 2nd dan and being graded to 3rd dan Goju-Ryu Karate. Again, that self-confidence, and those psychological basic needs, and above all, the feeling that life has a purpose. But in life, sunshine and dark clouds alternate. Harry passed away at a young age, leaving behind a wife and four beautiful children. I was stunned, I cried, and I felt displaced and adrift. But there was a difference, because in the meantime, I had a girl who was with me and comforted me. Without others, we can’t do it, says the current trauma, stress, and coping literature. I experienced it and would experience it hard again later. From Harry, I learned to live life intensely and about the beautiful connection between martial arts and philosophy.

Chris de Jong: Chris just does what we all should do: keep training and learning every day. No fads, no gadgets, just perfecting the basics. Now you might think: how boring. But nothing could be further from the truth. Because although Chris doesn’t chase after every fad, he is very versatile. As a young man, he spent six months in Japan learning ‘old school Judo’. And he mastered high grades in Aikido, Okinawa Goju-ryu Karate, and traditional Japanese martial arts like Ryushin Shouchi-ryu iaijutsu and Hyōhō niten ichi-ryu kenjutsu. I came across Chris when, after kickboxing, I was still looking for an attitude and philosophy of life that could give me direction. I started reading about Aikido: yielding instead of fighting and effortlessly deflecting attacks. Standing unwaveringly but smoothly in your center in the eye of the proverbial storm, as I read in the books of the Aikido grandmasters. And so I went to the Aikido training of Sensei Chris de Jong in Groningen. After two lessons, I knew: I’m not ready for this yet. However, Chris also practiced a very old style of karate, Okinawa Gojuryu. Now that I was there, I gave it a chance. With my full-contact karate and kickboxing skills, I lazily kicked at the legs, and then I got to spar with Sensei Chris himself. Now, you should know that Gojuryu also includes wrestling and grappling techniques. And you should know that Chris was a former Judoka. So now you know where my sparring session with him ended. No, not hard on the ground. Could have, but he didn’t. However, he made it clear that I also had to consider others and that you get what you give. I would train with him for years, earn a black belt, and even teach karate lessons under his supervision. Chris represents for me the tradition of respect and good manners that are so important in martial arts.

Richard van Asdonck: Richard van Asdonck is a pioneer in martial arts and has done it all: karate, kickboxing, even Krav Maga. And everything he did and does is with passion and fire. His demonstrations of techniques are famous and feared. Intense and realistic. In addition to his passion for martial arts, from 1981 he worked at the Bijlmerbajes, the Koepel in Haarlem, the Wolvenplein in Utrecht, the PI in Nieuwegein, and in the women’s prison in Nieuwersluis. Here, Richard gave sports classes to detainees and trained staff in physical and mental resilience. Together with Richard, I founded the Foundation for Kickboxing and Martial Arts Education, the SKMO. Where we trained hundreds of participants to become kickboxing instructors at all levels. This training was eventually recognized by NOCNSF and the martial arts authority. Which was unique because kickboxing was not affiliated with NOCNSF. Richard is a master at teaching, and I have learned a lot from him. Especially the passion for martial arts and teaching. Unfortunately, our friendship was broken because I left the SKMO in a non-tactful way. Even though there has unfortunately been a break between us, my respect and gratitude for Richard van Asdonck remain the same. He recently wrote the book ’40 years behind bars’ about the double life of a martial artist. What a great book this is. An intensively written book. It’s wonderful to read how he became captivated by Krav Maga. I have experienced his Krav passion firsthand, and you really had to watch out sometimes when he wanted to demonstrate something with fire. Richard embodies martial arts and teaching.

Ries van Toorn. Ries van Toorn is a renowned karateka and kickboxer. A pioneer in full-contact karate and kickboxing. A man once feared on the mat and in the ring. Powerful punches and kicks. As a young boy, I regularly went to his life’s work: the Bushido gym in Tiel. He spared me because of my too-light weight and age, I think. But I have seen what this fighter is capable of. A great fighter. But that’s only half the story. Because this martial arts teacher has a heart of gold and can teach children to the elderly like no other. Someone who knows how to combine East and West and tradition and innovation in his training and lessons like no other. Whole generations have been trained in his gym, and everyone is full of praise. From him, I learned about playfulness, discovering, and exploring in martial arts. Developing fun, challenging, and active practice material. Such as his almost legendary practice forms with noodles and tennis balls. But Ries van Toorn is above all a very accessible martial arts teacher with a heart of gold.

John Kenbeek: If you imagine a marine, it’s John Kenbeek. Captain of the Marines and former head of the sports section at the Rotterdam barracks. Together with John, we developed and provided teacher training for kickboxing trainers. In addition, John was active for many years in training boxing and rugby coaches. From John, I learned things like acting ‘straightforward’ and not beating around the bush. To demand the best from yourself as a teacher, not to be satisfied with what you know but to keep learning. John also taught me to expect a high standard from the students. If they want to learn, it has to come from the student. You can expect something from them. John was honest in his feedback: if it was insufficient, it was insufficient, and if it was good, it was good. John is a teacher who really has something to say and who is listened to with pleasure. John is a master in training theory and applied strength and conditioning training. But always developing himself, and we attended many further training courses and congresses together. But more important than all of this: you can always rely on John. A wonderful teacher from whom hundreds of sports trainers and marines have learned a lot.

Key Lessons and Reflection

Based on a personal story, I have tried to share the power of martial arts. The main insights from this are as follows:

Martial arts has the potential to be healing and strengthening;

The martial arts teacher plays a crucial role in the positive effects of practicing martial arts;

The environment in which martial arts is practiced has a great influence;

There is a great diversity of martial arts, and it is valuable to delve into them.

Reflection Questions

Ask yourself these questions:

What role did martial arts play or does it play in my life?

And in that of my students or participants?

What lessons have you learned from your teachers and mentors?

In what way do I fulfill my role as a martial arts teacher/coach/therapist?

How have I organized the environment in which I teach and train?

How have I developed myself as a martial arts instructor?