A Memory of Kyo Sa Nim Richard O'Donovan

By Nance Boday

Richard O'Donovan

The first word that comes to my mind when describing Kyo Sa Richard O’Donovan is colorful.  Richard was one of the most interesting, brave, stubborn, gracious, respectful, playful and memorable human beings I’ve ever met.  When I first met Richard, I was training at Diaz Karate in Mount Vernon, WA. .  I was introduced to Mr. O’Donovan while attending a morning class- which had


become a great group of tight knit folk, training, dining and sharing life stories together.   I wondered, compelled this man of 67 years old to join us at the dojang?  I quickly sucked up my trivial pregnancy aches and pains and began to observe.   What a treat!

Richard, born June 7, 1921 at Camp Knox Kentucky (now known to us as Fort Knox), was a man of honor.  He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1942 and served on Eniwetok Marshall Islands among other posts.  After his discharge in 1946 he spent time in both the Army and Naval Reserves.  In 1969 he moved to Washington State and worked at the computer section of Whidbey Naval Air Station until his retirement.

In June of 1988, while going through a divorce, making new friends in the valley and searching for the next phase of life, Richard then 67 discovered Diaz Karate.  Meeting Mr. Ralph Scott, Colonel Adam Heller (who later became Kyo Sa) and Ms. Anne McGary, he quickly became part of “the morning class,” hooked and committed.  You could set your clock by Richard and the others.  Every other day at 10 AM, there he was ready to train.  Of course, being a proud Irishman, Richard was full of jokes and wry observations.  You could often hear him say to someone he just met “So, do you carry a knife, 'cause I brought my gun”, with a sparkle in his eyes!  The Golden Boy, as some of us knew him, was the life of the lunch table and jokes were his favorite things to tell and play.  Richard was also the first one to tell anyone who entered the dojang that Soo Bahk Do kept him alive and healthy.

Achieving his Cho Dan (31554) in 1992 he began working towards his own program called “Golden Seniors Karate” which opened March 22, 1994.  His first classes were held at the Freeland Community center with 5 seniors (ages 60-73). It was also at this time Richard married a wonderful lady named Valentine Dmitriev, a retired University of Washington Professor.

Once the word started to spread about Richard and his Soo Bahk Do studio, his student base quickly jumped from 5 to 15, ranging children to adults. He was well on his way to accomplishing the title of E Dan and KyoSa Richard O’Donovan.   

In the summer of 1997 at the age of 76, KyoSa O’Donovan was believed to be the oldest Soo Bahk Do practitioner in the Federation.  And, he had no intention of stopping!

While his location returned to Freeland Hall after his landlord doubled his rent, his student base followed and continued to grow eventually inviting on board another instructor, Kyo Sa Bill Blodgett (one of his original Golden Seniors who is still going strong today!).    Together they’ve hosted several gup tests, Regional Dan

Shim Sa events and regional clinics.  Richard was awarded Region 10's “Dan of the Year” and in June of 1998 he achieved the rank of the rank of Sam Dan.

In 1998, I attended the U.S. Soo Bahk Do National Championships with Kyo Sa O’Donovan and others representing Region 10.  I will never forget cheering him on to win First Place in the Golden Seniors division.  I’ll also never forget the trophy he won.  It stood from the floor to his waist, it was huge as was the grin on his face, and it was from ear to ear!

In 2001 I had the honor in assisting Kyo Sa O’Donovan fulfill one of his dreams. Seems he always had a dream to perform for Grandmaster Hwang Kee yet missing his last opportunity to travel to Korea to do so, I offered to videotape Richard. For those who help in this process, I’m sure this time brings a smile.

Beginning with Chil Sung O Ro and finding himself (then 79) a bit tired at the end, he moved on to practicing Naihanji Sam Dan.  While he enjoyed that hyung, he detected something was missing.  It wasn’t until our summer camp when Bartolacci SBN learned of our quest and suggested he demonstrate Du Moon Hyung. Richard smiled as he did at Nationals.  Learning the background of the Yuk Ro Hyungs and that they were designed for “the older” practitioner, he knew this was the one for him.

For the next 4 months while teaching classes and traveling from Whidbey Island to LaConner to train, his dream became a reality.  The tape was made, tears of joy were shed and I mailed his completed dream to the Grand Master in Korea in December 9, 2001.

I remember a colorful man who always had goals and dreams, positive energy and a prank to pull when things were getting to serious. Richard had a taste for Irish whiskey, a wink to the women, an opinion on everything and the knowledge to back it up.   He loved to share his personal history and loved to share Soo Bahk Do.  This was obvious by his amazing desire to train and teach.  His desire to pass along the gift he’d been given back in 1988.

Richard left this earth on March 19th 2002 at Careage Hospice in Coupeville, Washington, family by his side.  Valentine knew Soo Bahk Do was a large part of Richard’s life and at her request, Richard’s Sam Dan and Kyo Sa certificates hang on the wall at Whidbey Island Soo Bahk Do during each training session.  These certificates signify continuity and remind all of his character.  On May 18, 2002 the Region 10 Dan Association voted unanimously to rename the annual scholarship award to the Richard O’Donovan Scholarship.

Nance Boday