Grandmaster Donald Baker
Grandmaster Donald (Don) Baker was born February 6, 1934 in St. Louis, Missouri . Baker’s interest in the Martial Arts dates back to his youth from watching commando movies and the James Cagney movies made during World War I. He received his first formal basic exposure and training in Martial Arts (Combat Ju-Jitsu) in 1953 while serving as a paratrooper in the 11th Airborne Division stationed at Fort Campbell , Kentucky .
After being discharged from the service, Baker began training in the arts of Judo and Ju-Jitsu in 1956 under Instructor Bruce who was a 3rd Degree Blackbelt in the St. Louis , MO area. Training under Instructor Bruce continued for approximately two years until Instructor Bruce left the St. Louis area. Instructor Felton Marr, a 2nd Degree Blackbelt then began training the class in place of Instructor Bruce.
Nearly one year later, Baker first met Karate Sensei Robert (Bob) Huggins who was a 3rd Degree Blackbelt in Karate. Sensei Huggins had a small class of three U.S. Airmen from Scott Air Force Base that he had been instructing at the Ringside Gym where Baker was training in Judo. Watching these karate training sessions was the first time Baker had ever witnessed the strange moves and executions of karate. After watching the practitioners train for several weeks, Baker began to understand and value the graceful moves, techniques, and effectiveness in the art of Karate and wanted to become a student of Karate.
Baker approached Sensei Huggins and asked to join his group. Sensei Huggins was reluctant to take Baker into the group stating his Karate students had already been training several months and felt they were too advanced for a new student to join the group. Baker appealed to Sensei Huggins to reconsider the request and advised that he (Baker) had three years of Judo and Ju-Jitsu training. Baker further expressed that Sensei Huggins could just teach him the basics and let him practice them on his own without taking any time away from the already established class. Baker then went on to say that he would rise to the performance level of the other students if Sensei Huggins would check the execution of Baker’s techniques during the class breaks. Under those conditions, Sensei Huggins accepted Baker to this class. This was the start of Grandmaster Baker’s Karate training.
After roughly six months of training, Baker developed into Sensei Higgins’ best student and continued training under Sensei Huggins for approximately three years. Sensei Huggins subsequently moved to Chicago , Illinois at which time Baker became Sensei Baker, and started a Karate school bearing the name of the Japanese translation for Rose Blossom.
This name was a carryover or extension of the Judo club name that was formed and organized by Baker after acquiring Sensei Bruce as his instructor. That name was given to Baker by Master Marayuma.
Master Marayuma, a 4th Degree Blackbelt in Judo, owned and operated a Far East Gift Shop at 18th and Chestnut in St. Louis , MO. Master Marayuma also was a supplier of martial arts uniforms and equipment.
In Baker’s classes, new students were introduced to Karate through referrals from the current Karate students as advertisement of Karate classes in that area was non-existent.
Stanford McNeal had left the Marine Corps in 1963, and was interested in studying Karate. McNeal was introduced to Gene Gordon who was a student of Master Baker. Gordon invited McNeal to meet Baker at their next training session. McNeal began his Karate training under Master Baker and continued until he obtained his first degree Blackbelt.
In 1966, Stanford McNeal moved to Las Vegas , Nevada and opened a school under the banner of the Japanese Rose Blossom. It is noteworthy to state that when McNeal moved out west, he mispronounced the Japanese translation for Rose Blossom calling it “Sakura” (which accurately defines the Japanese translation for Cherry Blossom). Upon learning the error in pronunciation, McNeal contacted Grandmaster Baker and advised him of the error. Due to having adopted the Rose Blossom and feeling that it truly depicted the members of their style, the name “Sakura” was not used, however the actual Rose Blossom itself remained.
The Rose seems to sound somewhat delicate to be associated with the Martial Arts. It is historically noteworthy for the former students of “Sakura” to know the full meaning behind the birth name and its appropriateness. The Rose Blossom symbolizes to love the rose for its beauty or hate it for its thorns. The strong, graceful moves of Karate are truly beautiful when executed properly, and the devastating and injurious impact of its execution against a foe inflicts relentless pain as does a thorn. Anyone who ever handled a rose understands that it must be handled gently. In admiring the beauty of a rose, you must always be mindful of its thorns. Several years later, Grandmaster Donald Baker approved McNeal to change the name from Sakura to “Kifaru” (Swahili for Black Rhinoceros).
Grandmaster Baker has been teaching and/or directly associated with the elevation of teaching and refinement of Karate since 1962. Grandmaster Baker was somewhat a pioneer in St. Louis , MO Karate. When he began his Karate training under Sensei Bob Huggins, a Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, there were no other known publicized or established Karate schools in St. Louis . There was however on Judo school located in University City which was operated by Bob Kirk. Without any existing Karate schools, there naturally existed no hierarchy or federation.
Some years later, two of Bob Kirk’s students, Bob Yarnell and Sam Brock, opened Karate schools in South St. Louis , MO. The three of them Kirk, Yarnell, and Brock, held inner school competitions thereby establishing the first local Karate Federation.
As Karate gained popularity and proved to be a profitable business, more and more schools were started in St. Louis and throughout the surrounding regional area and the country at large. The Karate Federation in St. Louis , MO then ceased to be of just local influence and grew to regional prominence and ultimately national affiliations.
Grandmaster Baker did not approve of what he believed was the uprising of the commercialization of the Martial Art of Karate, rather than the sincere perfection of the art, and therefore did not associate with the schools mentioned above. Nevertheless, he did permit his students to visit these schools and compare and test their skills.
Grandmaster Baker’s school throughout his teaching tenure remained a private school, unaffiliated with any organized Karate Federation. He does however, strongly support the teaching and training of Master McNeal and the affiliated schools of Kifaru.