Retired librarian still hungry to learn

1 of 5

Bill Stockey, right, with student Stephen Walsh, has been studying martial arts for 50 years and said this passion never grows old. “If you talk to a painter, does he ever get tired of painting? No," Stockey said. "That's a passion. It's something that ignites him every time. ... It's part of you. You have to express it. "


By Kim Grizzard
The Daily Reflector

Monday, June 4, 2018

There is an old Japanese adage that says when the student is ready, he will find the teacher.

Evidently, Bill Stockey believes this. Why else would he build a karate dojo a quarter mile off the highway just outside of Fountain? There are no billboards to advertise it, no website or Facebook page. Just a small sign on N.C. 43.

Still, the students find him. They come from Kansas, Florida, Illinois and Virginia to learn from a former librarian considered by many to be a virtual encyclopedia of kata.

Jason Granling recently came from Missouri for a weekend of instruction. He has been traveling here a couple of times a year since Stockey, 67, retired and moved to Pitt County with his family about a decade ago.

It’s a 14-hour drive from Granling’s home in St. Louis to the in-home dojo on Stockey’s 28-acre property. The first time he made the trip, he questioned why in the world Stockey, who owns dojos in Illinois and Washington, D.C., would come here.

“But it’s OK,” Granling said. “There are no distractions out here. It’s a beautiful area.

“He keeps a low profile. The people who know what to look for, they find him.”

Stockey’s dojo is named Shoshinkan, which means “beginner’s mind.” But Stockey is hardly a beginner. He is a 10th-degree black belt in karate and kobudo and a ninth-degree black belt in Kenjutsu (Japanese swordsmanship). He has the prestigious title Meijin, given to a highly skilled master of martial arts.

Stockey, who teaches internationally, is the U.S. representative for Kodō Butoku Renmei, a traditional martial arts organization with members in about 30 countries on four continents. In 1985, he became the first person not of Asian descent to be licensed as “Kyoshi” by the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai, a premier martial arts institution sanctioned by the government of Japan.

Not bad for a kid whose first exposure to martial arts came from watching “Mr. Moto” movies as a 7-year-old growing up in New York.

“I cannot explain it to you,” Stockey said. “I saw it and I fell in love with it. It was just something that resonated in me like nothing else had.”

Stockey begged his parents for lessons. But in the 1950s, few karate schools would accept children. Besides, Stockey’s father, a police officer and a boxer, wanted his son to play sports.

Stockey attended William and Mary on a football scholarship. But when he wasn’t playing, he spent time pursuing his passion, martial arts. With a year or so of shotokan karate under his belt, Stockey began studying with a Japanese karate master, Hiroshi Hamada, who would be his instructor for more than two decades.

“My father used to say when are you going to stop that stuff?” Stockey recalled. “He didn’t quite understand it because he came from a sports background. Martial arts becomes a way of life, and there’s a difference. What you’re doing is a way of life. It’s you. It’s part of everything you do in a sense.”

Hamada taught him swordsmanship, along with karate. Stockey was an eager student, sometimes getting up at 4 a.m. to practice techniques before heading off to work.

“When I lived in an apartment in Arlington, I had the police come by several times as I was working out at 4 in the morning because people were like ‘There’s somebody out there with swords,’” Stockey said, laughing.

He shunned tournaments, adopting the shotokan karate position that competition is contrary to the essence of karate.

“One of the purposes of martial arts is to reduce your ego and make you a better person,” Stockey said. “I never understand going out and winning trophies, how that makes you reduce your ego.”

Earning his first black belt by the early 1970s, Stockey had a desire to go farther. He wanted to delve deeper into forms, called kata, in order to learn not only the omote (obvious) but also the ura (hidden) aspects of the movement.

“A lot of people get their black belt, their first degree, and they think they’ve learned everything and that’s it,” Stockey said. “All that means in Japanese is Shodan. All that means is beginner. That means you can walk and talk. We can now teach you because you’ve mastered the basics. It’s not the be all and end all.

“The black belt is nothing,” he said. “You’re always learning.”

Stockey’s students share his philosophy. At a clinic Stockey hosted this spring, there wasn’t a single participant who had not at least earned a black belt.

The youngest, Kamryn Walsh, 18, of Greenville, had a second degree ranking. She has been studying with Stockey for three years.

“He’s just a great teacher,” Walsh said. “We’re not put into this tiny, little box. It’s amazing how much he knows and how much we get to train in different areas.”

Jon Tupitza of Arlington, Va., met Stockey in 1984, the same year that the original “Karate Kid” film was released. Now a seventh-degree black belt, Tupitza has trained exclusively with Stockey for 30 years.

“He’s one of few people around who is capable of teaching people at that senior level,” said Tupitza, who travels to Greenville four times a year to work with Stockey. “A lot of people, you go in the dojo and they want your money and the guy’s a fourth-degree black belt. Well, what do I do when I need to be a fifth or sixth or seventh? Where do you find people who are pushing 70 years old, who have been doing this for 50 years? How do you find somebody who’s been training that long?

“Traditionally, the guys like him in Japan, they don’t look for students,” Tupitza said. “People have to get letters of invitation to go study with guys like him in Japan. They don’t put out the banner because no banner is necessary.”

Like the old masters in Japan, Stockey hopes to continue martial arts into his 80s or even 90s. He is in good health. Though he has had two hip replacements due to football injuries, he walks eight miles daily, in addition to two hours of martial arts training.

“There’s always something new to do and there’s some new way to do it,” Stockey said. “I wake up every day and I go, ‘Gosh, I wish I knew more.’ It’s a lifetime of activity.”

He teaches three days a week at his dojo, which accepts new students but does not go looking for them.

“My ego doesn’t require me to have a whole bunch of students,” he said. “If it’s meant to be, they will find me or I’ll find them.”