Paonia man teaches beauty of martial art
by Tamie Meck
September 1, 2010
In Paonia, Colorado there is a small movement under way to bring the arts into local schools. At the North Fork Vision and Home Community Program, one teacher has been offering Ochiba no Dojo, a class that draws influences from several of the martial arts and is taught by Michael Bailey, for five years.
........Saul Smithson has more than 60 years of experience in the martial arts, and an interesting and complex story to tell.
When he was three and living in Europe, his mother abandoned him, he explains. He lived with his dad. World War II was brewing, and the two, who were of Jewish descent, ended up in late 1940 in the Nederlands. Smithson said the Gestapo, the secret police of Nazi Germany, were looking for them. They befriended a Japanese man who suggested they separate. Saul was given documentation that proclaimed him a ward of the Japanese people.
It took his father three months to arrive in the United States, and Saul and his Japanese family a year. Shortly after arriving, they were placed in Poston, a Japanese internment camp in Arizona, as part of America’s response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Smithson was just 5.
There were 17,000 families there, he said. He didn’t get along with his peers, who called him “round eyes.” “They would beat me up,” he recalled. One night, an older boy, maybe 12 or 13, accosted him and made him lick the bottoms of his shoes, which Smithson said is an ultimate insult in Japanese culture.
“That’s when my martial arts training started,” said Smithson, who is working on an autobiography, “Postscripts of a Happy Warrior,” which covers his time there. One thing led to another and before he knew it he was training with the masters and founders of the arts that he was studying.
Smithson’s training led him to become a contender for the U.S. Judo Olympic Team, for which he was ultimately rejected because he had taught the sport and was considered a professional.
In the late 1950s, Smithson found Aikido, or it found him, while he was attending a judo tournament in California. After staying up all night between competitions, he stumbled upon an aikido studio.
A black belt, Smithson said he thought he was pretty tough until he got on the mat with an aikido student. He had never heard of aikido.
“The ego was greatly defeated,” he recalled. “From that day on, I couldn’t think of anything but aikido.”
Smithson’s history with martial arts is long and deep. He wants to continue sharing his knowledge and abilities with the youth of this area, but classes are not limited to high school students.
Students can earn belt ranks, awards and certificates as they progress through the class. The only equipment needed is the outfit (jacket, pants and belt), of which Smithson has extras for those wishing to try the class. Students ultimately need to purchase their own outfits.
The Smithsons lamented about how today’s youth spend so much time at the computer, and that much of the exposure they have to the martial arts is through games, where all the competitor has to do is punch a button to kill a competitor. There is no sportsmanship, no body awareness, no learning involved in this kind of competition. And computer games portray the arts as violent.
The arts, explained Smithson, promote peaceful resolutions to conflict and are a method of defense, not of fighting. “Sportsmanship,” he added, “is developed by working with people, not on computers.”
And by working with today’s youth, perhaps Smithson can find students willing to take over the teaching and pass on his knowledge.