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On Harry Acklin and Bill Duessel

by Harry G. Smith


   In those days there were no McDojo's as there are today. Bill Duessel and Harry Acklin read about me in an article, and both being from Pittsburgh traveled to Harrisburg to meet with me, not even calling to see if I were interested, they just showed up at my door step one Sunday morning.


   Bill Duessel worked at wrapping heat pipes with asbestos. Harry Acklin was a bank messenger. His job was to drive canceled checks to Harrisburg from Pittsburgh and back. He actually drove 4 hours straight, made his delivery and then drove 4 hours back. He would pick me up in Harrisburg and I would lay in the back of the truck for 4 hours and then go to Harry’s and share the sofa with a 200 lb big white dog. We had one class all day Saturday and I took the bus back to Harrisburg Sunday morning, all for $50.00.


   Neither Bill or Harry, contrary to their biographies, never had any exposure to any martial art. In those days it just didn't happen and neither of them had any military background.


   We started the dojo in a town called Millhall, PA, a sort of YMCA, the poorest, most violent part of Pittsburgh. Classes were small until someone made contact with a TV station called KDKA. This gave us a great head start.


   This also was a time when I had no advanced students to demonstrate with so the onus was all on me.
This then gave some people ammunition to be used later in years. On the day KDKA came to the dojo room they wanted a demonstration of what we did. There was nothing I could do but demonstrate how we trained and the use of katas and their benefits. After all these years I can still remember those few hours. I started with Seisan and that went over like a lead balloon so thought I'd liven up the demonstration by doing what I thought was the fanciest kata at the time, Chinto.


   Chinto: Everything went right for about six seconds. When, at the beginning, I slipped back and started the fake kick followed by the real one, called the double kick, I hit my toe on some sort of plug in the floor and broke a toe or almost so. From then on I did what I would call a quick made up kata, had absolutely no bearing on Isshinryu, put plenty of fancy stuff in it, none of it made sense but I got through it. Thank God no one called me on it when we finally did start Chinto much time later.


   In those days I thought kata was a pain and of no use but a necessary one. I spent many hours on chart 2 and kumite. As a result I produced some of the best fighters ever to go on any circuit. My white belt, Joe Pennywell, at the Chicago USKA World Championships, fought in the Grand champion matches. He beat a brown belt and was 2 points against two points with a Black belt at the time, Lou Lizotte. Joe would have beat Lou had Lou not broken Joe’s concentration which is another very funny story.


   Anyway we lived for fighting and kata was just a passing thought and this is what I think caused the problems that started at the school.


   After a time I had most of my men ranked as Black belt, ShoDans because that’s was how good they were and the class they had to fight in.


   Bill Duessel and Harry Acklin were one of the first three ranked Black belt by me, the third being Joe Pennywell. I believe that my not ranking them higher than Shodan was the cause of the split. I could not rank them higher because they did not know the necessary kata and we never seemed to have the time to get to that. So, in writing that, I guess i can only blame myself for that. Seems a pity now. Joe Pennywell always asked me, "Is this the true way". Today I could tell him yes, back then I didn't know how to answer him.


   Something happened during this time that caused Bill and Joe to hold their own classes during the week without my knowledge and connected with a man named James Morabeto who had absolutely no background in martial arts, just money. It was James Morabeto who paid to bring my Sensei to Pittsburgh and have him live at Morabeto’s home. This was where Sensei’s dislike of Americans began. Long story short Bill and Harry and Morabeto formed another dojo using the same name as my dojo at the time. Duessel’s dojo in Pittsburgh today still carries the name of my dojo in Pittsburgh.


   Have always had good thoughts about Bill with the exception of his claiming my Sensei ranked him, yet all his interviews name me as his first Sensei.


   As far as Harry goes, he would, when I was not there, go through my personal belongings and when leaving took some of them with him to open his own dojo in Ohio. These were hanging on his wall in the dojo until he either moved or died. The one thing about his death that was of benefit to me was that someone mailed me back my belongings. When I say someone it means I never knew who sent them back.


   What were they? My set of 4 silks.




Copyright © 2005 Harry G. Smith