Monday. April 10, 2017 |


‘The journey is not over’: Sensei marks half-century in martial arts

Posted Monday, April 10, 2017 10:30 pm

By Drew C. Wilson
Times Staff Writer

In 1965, Jerry Pritchett walked into a martial arts school and watched a master black belt teaching the art of karate.

What he witnessed altered the course of his life.

“I guess I felt just about every emotion that you could feel when you are watching something like that, everything from fear and intimidation through love and feeling like I’m going to do this and I’m going to do this forever,” Pritchett, 66, of Wilson, remembers.

Martial arts schools were not then as widespread as they are today.

“Back at that time, it wasn’t martial arts schools trying to get students to come to the school, it was students who had to convince an instructor to teach them,” Pritchett said.

The 14-year-old went through an interview and even a background check before being invited to begin lessons.

“It’s been a passion in my life for my whole life,” Pritchett said. “When I started back in 1965, the time frame to go from white belt to first-degree black belt, which is your first black belt, was about 10 years.”

Pritchett is now a seventh-degree black belt and has been teaching traditional Japanese karate, Japanese sword (laijutsu) and Okinawan weapons (Kobu-do) to students for years.

“There is nothing else like it,” Pritchett said of teaching. “I’ve seen people come in to my school and over the course of the years that they were there, and the things that they learned about the art, and how they embraced it, they leave a different person, a better person. If you embrace it, it is no longer an activity. It’s not like golf and Monday night poker. It becomes a way of approaching life. It pretty much guides you through the rest of your life.”

“Aspects and precepts of the martial arts are also applicable to friendships, to business relationships and every aspect of life,” Pritchett said. “You’re not just learning how to fight, you are learning a type of character. You are learning a way of approaching life and you practice your art constantly. The study of the martial arts has defined me as a husband, a father, a brother, a friend and as a man.”

Pritchett’s immersion into martial arts and his teaching career were all done in the evenings while he had a day job, so to speak, working in manufacturing and supply chain management. 

From 1987 until present he has operated a martial arts school in Wilson called Budokai Traditional Martial Arts Association.

“I have no clue how many hundreds or thousands of people that have gone in and out of one of my dojos over the years,” Pritchett said. “I could not even venture a guess.”

Pritchett admits that he has been a strict sensei, preferring the traditional approach through which he was brought up.

“When I was coming up, if you failed a belt test, you waited a year before you took it again,” Pritchett said. “Now, if a student fails a test, they typically will go without a belt for a period of time and then be tested again once they have strengthened up in whatever area that they weren’t prepared in when they tested the first time, and most people typically would get through the test OK on the second try, so it doesn’t take as long now as it did when I was coming up through the ranks.”

Pritchett once went to an exhibition that another school put on in a local shopping center trying to draw new students and the owner had his students out there breaking boards.

“The guy who was the head of that school told everybody, after the young people had broken boards, that he actually saws boards halfway through in order to help the kids build confidence in what they were doing,” Pritchett said. “We never permitted anyone in our school or any of our affiliated schools to look at it that way. We kind of developed a saying after we went to see that, that we never saw boards. If you break a board in our school, you broke the board, and you won’t break that board until you have learned how to do it and leaned how to do it right. You may have hurt your hand a few times while you were learning, but when you finally broke it, you broke it. It was your achievement and it was your accomplishment and nobody sawed that board before you hit it.”

Things have changed a lot because martial arts have become more of a business now, Pritchett said. 

“People that are teaching the art now that have a lot of pressures on them to make enough money to afford the place where they are teaching and make a living doing what they are doing,” Pritchett said. “Sometimes the art gets watered down a little bit, and maybe made a little bit easier and maybe some shortcuts are taken here or there to keep everybody happy. I never did that, and most of the people in my circles that taught and practiced traditional martial arts didn’t do that. Sometimes it is hard to build a huge student body when you are going to be strict and stand by the traditional methods of teaching the art but the art should never be compromised.”

The rise of mixed martial arts and the Ultimate Fighting Championship series has brought the martial arts into the limelight in a more realistic way than a lot of people used to see it, Pritchett said.

“When I was coming up through the ranks as a younger karateka, that type of competition didn’t exist yet. At most of the tournament competitions among schools, everybody was well-padded. There were lots of rules and regulations to keep the competitors as safe as possible and it was a very controlled match that ended on points, rather than ending on someone getting knocked out or a submission. When I had my experience with that when I was younger, along with being probably one of the most rewarding things that I ever did, it was also one of the scariest things I ever did. In MMA and UFC fighting, those guys are just full-out.”

Pritchett recalls what it is like to be in a full-contact competition.

“When you’re are at one end of the ring, and you look across at the guy on the other side, he always looks unbeatable. He always looks like he is 10 feet taller than you are and there is nothing scarier than that person on the other side of the ring, but, you meet that challenge head-on and you meet that challenge right in the middle of the ring, and most of the time, you find after all, he wasn’t really 10 feet taller than you, and once you got into it, you often find that he’s really not that scary,” said Pritchett. “And if you ever get hit and get knocked off your feet, and you are trying to get back on your feet, all of your friends, your trainers, your coaches and your instructor can stand outside looking in, cheering you on, but the only person who can make you get back up on your feet is you.”

Martial arts are full of life lessons, Pritchett said. 

New students in martial arts, Pritchett said, should not get concerned over belts and rank, but rather focus on the journey.

“That is where the art lies,” Pritchett said. “And during your journey you will meet some of the most wonderful people you will ever know and have many of the most wonderful moments of your life.”

In the martial arts community, it is very typical for someone who has been in the art for some years who has achieved a black belt to get a dragon on the inside of the forearm, Pritchett said.

“So I never did that. I just never was a tattoo person,” Pritchett said. “I have never had a tattoo in my life, but when I had spent 50 years of having worked in, taught and practiced this art, in doing all of that for 50 years, I just decided that I think marking 50 years in this art it’s time to get my tattoo, so I  went ahead and got it.”

The tat goes from his elbow to wrist, a dragon with symbols for the style that Pritchett teaches.

“The journey is not over,” Pritchett said.

For those interested in lessons from the master, Pritchett can be reached by calling 252-230-3167 or visit our website at  You can also email us at | 265-7818