Although he spent the last ten years of his life in Florida, transplanted Texan Walt Bone, like all great Texas fighters, believed that good karate was two parts sweat and one part blood-n-guts. Training under such Texas karate legends as Allen and Mike Steen, Skipper Mullins and, later with Mike Anderson and Fred Wren in St. Louis, Missouri, Bone emerged as one of the rising stars of tournament competition in the late 1960s and early 70s. Rated as one of the top ten figthers in the U.S. in 1971 and as one of the top ten kata competitors in 1975, Bone received more than his share of trophies and titles. He also had his nose broken 11 times along the way. Montana’s Jim Harrison, a recognized guru of blood-n-guts karate, once set Bone’s freshly broken nose with a pencil so Bone could continue to compete. But it wasn’t his tournament record that earned him this honor in the Instructor’s Hall of Fame. “Walt Bone’s dedication to the martial arts went far beyond his proficiency as a master instructor of a variety of karate systems,” says Mike Anderson. “His concern for his students as human beings was second to none. He was the most considerate, unselfish person I’ve ever know.” Though a strict disciplinarian, whose idea of a fun class was to engage the students in a belt fight (somewhat akin to fighting with nunchaku, but with belts), Bone earned the respect and loyalty from his students not from fear but from example.
His ability to inspire and motivate students culminated in a select group of black belts that strive to carry on the Bone tradition. This group includes WAKO World Champion United States Karate Team members John and Jim Graden of Florida, and Ray McCallum of Dallas, Texas. “Walt Bone taught me the other half of what I know,” says Ray McCallum. “The Greek” [Demetrius Havanas] taught me fighting and “The Bone” taught me form. He is the only person I’ve ever seen that free-sparred with perfect technique, both in attitude and execution.” His emphasis on respect and truth went far beyond teaching a student how to punch and kick. Whether it was checking a student’s report card (20 slugs in the arm for a bad grade), or teaching someone he knew couldn’t afford to pay, Walt Bone was truly a generous person who believed, ‘What goes around comes around.’ “I couldn’t afford to pay for lessons, so he let me clean the school for tuition,” relates John Graden of St. Petersburg, Bone’s protege and highest ranking black belt. “He was doing stuff like that all the time. A few years later, he did the same thing for my brothers, who are now both black belts.” Today, John Graden has become the highest profile martial arts instructor in the entire Tampa Bay Area. Says the legendary Joe Lewis, “Walt Bone was one of the handful of instructors who always put his student’s growth and understanding ahead of collecting the bills, ahead of his workouts, and ahead of his personal endeavors. Beyond commending him for this type of discipline, I admired him for it. I respect him highly and will always hold his effort and his glory in the highest esteem.” It was this sense of concern and fairness that he brought into the ring with him, not only as a competitor but as a competent referee. Once referred to as the “best referee ever” by World Champion Billye Jackson of Dallas, Texas, Bone always had the fighters’ best interest in mind. Whether it was a world title bout or two beginners in the white belt division, Bone ran a fair ring, no matter who it was. “He despised politics in karate,” relates John Graden. “He really believed in the spirit of budo [brotherhood] that he felt all martial artists should share. I’ve seen him chase down brown belts twice his size and drag them back into the ring to get them to bow out properly and shake hands.” Although he maintained a low profile and never sought publicity for his endeavors. Bone was by no means a wall flower or the strong silent type. He was strong enough, but seldom very silent. Walt Bone liked to have a good time. Always quick with a joke (or good natured Texas harassment) or to tell some wild story, it was his fun-loving attitude and obvious zest for life that stood out the most in all facets of his life–in and out of karate. Walt Bone was killed in a mysterious plane crash in December 1982. His death is still mourned by many.
John Graden, a student of Bone’s published a book about his master’s life: Who killed Walt Bone. It is available thru book stores, online.