Bob Babich, Mas Oyama, and the Kang Duk Won

Behind the Scenes at the Kang Duk Won

This post concerning Mas Oyama, Don Buck, and other early pioneers in American Karate, was actually written by Master Instructor BJ. I didn’t know some of this, and there is no way I can compete with the original words presented here. I suggest you do a little googling of the names involved to pad out what you’re about to read. It is well worth it. The original post appeared on

The Story of the Kang Duk Won in America

Sifu Al, you probably know this already but when teenage Don Buck started training with Duke Moore in 1946 fresh out of the US Navy where Don was the US Navy Pacific Fleet 137lb Champion and also wrestled and studied Combat Judo & Defendu.

duke moore, don buck,mas oyama, kang duk won,karate,kenpo

From the Hawaiian Karate Museum, John D. Pell collection. John Pell, Don Buck, Mas Oyama, Gosei Yamaguchi.

By the Mid-50s Don Buck was a Body Building champion and San Francisco Cop in addition to being a black belt in Moore’s Judo & JJ.   Buck & Moore started studying Shorinji Ryu Karate with one of Duke’s teachers, Richard Kim.  One of Kim’s Korean student’s came to the US to work as a Pro Wrestler.  Of course I’m talking about Mas Oyama.

BTW, Mas Oyama’s Karate and Masahiko- Gracie JJ Defeater- Kimura Judo workout partners in the Early 1950’s were Tak Kubota and Taiji Kase!  In fact the gnarled hand on one of Mas Oyama’s early books- ghost written by Don Draeger- was actually Kubota’s.

After WWII Kimura worked as a Pro Wrestler in Europe and N&S America.  He hooked Mas Oyama up with some wrestling promoters here in the US and Mexico so Oyama could make some money.

Mas Oyama set his US base up in San Francisco where he could continue his training with his Sensei Richard Kim.  While not wrestling Oyama lived with Kim’s JJ student Duke Moore and taught/worked out with Duke Moore and Don Buck everyday he was in San Francisco for 4-6 hour workouts.

After a little over a year Mas went back to Japan and promoted both Duke Moore and Don Buck to their Shodan ranks.  Buck opened his own Dojo in 1957 where he only taught Kyokushin Karate making his Dojo the first Oyama Style Karate Dojo to open in the US.  ***Please note that Bobby Lowe has the distinction of opening the first Kyokushin dojo OUTSIDE of Japan.***

mas oyama,norman rha,kang duk won karate

Mas Oyama showing impeccable breaking technique.

When Don Buck opened his Dojo doors in 1957 one of his first students, and Black Belts, was one Robert Babich. A year of two later Richard Kim had a skinny Korean Black belt fresh off the boat from Korea show up at his San Francisco Dojo.  As Kim was about to leave for Japan so he sent the young Korean to his student’s, Duke Moore, Budokan dojo where Moore promptly sent the Korean to Don Buck.

The young Korean didn’t speak much English but Don Buck told him to go change into his Dogi.  When the Korean returned Buck noticed a patch with a fist on the Korean’s uniform.  Don Buck asked what the patch said and young Korean replied something like, “Kang Duk Won Kwon Bup Kong Soo Do.”

After sparring and defeating Buck’s students he squared off with Buck himself.  Buck knocked the Korean down a few times but the Korean kept getting up and he finally knocked the much bigger and stronger Buck across the dojo floor and down.  Buck got back up smiling and told the Korean, “Your hired! What is your name?”  The young Kang Duk Won fighter said, “Norman Rha” and bowed slightly to Buck!

Buck was opening a couple of new Dojo locations and he hired Rha (Rha Jong-nam) and assigned Robert Babich to assist Rha with running the new Dojo.

However, the soft whip-like Tong Bei style punching and much deeper Chaun Fa stances of Rha’s Kang Duk Won Kong Soo Do were so much different than Oyama’s power punching that sometime after Babich earned his Shodan from Don Buck it was decided that Babich should open just his own dojo with Rha so as not to create differences of style with the Kyokushin students.  So they left Don Buck’s American Kyokushin Dojo’s to open their own KDW school.

As Rha was a poor Medical School student he and Babich shared an apartment with the agreement that Rha would teach Babich KDW in return for help learning English.  It should be noted that anytime in the 60’s and early 70’s Babich promoted students to Black Belt the Tracy Brother’s would try to hire the new KDW black belts to run one of their Tracy Brother’s Chinese Kenpo Schools.

The Tracy’s only hired the BEST fighters, both as teachers and Association School Coaches (Joe Lewis & Al Dacascos for example),  as school challenges were common and they didn’t want to loose their schools students, $$$, to another challenging school.  Babich’s KDW academy in San Jose, CA had a reputation of turning out some of the toughest fighters on the West Coast.

It is interesting to note, at least for me,  that Babich didn’t include Sanchin or Tensho in his Kwon Bop Karate that he taught in the 1970’s and 80’s until he closed down his San Jose Dojo.  Why I don’t know???


Thanks, BJ, for this wonderful bit of writing.

The reason Bob didn’t include Sanchin and Tensho, in my opinion, is that there are two styles of Karate, one fixed and one fluid, or Shorin and Shorei. Bob was not a large man, he was thin and whiplike, and the heavier sanchin style stances didn’t suit him, perhaps even worked against the fluid motions he was developing through the Kang Duk Won.

If you want to find out what the truth behind the Kang Duk Won, check out the first Karate form and applications, and the bonus material on historical uses of Karate.

This has been a page about Don Buck, Mas Oyama, and the early beginnings of the Kang Duk Won Karate.

13 thoughts on “Bob Babich, Mas Oyama, and the Kang Duk Won

  1. Frederick Buck

    This a good article but a few of the facts are not all correct, such as the way Norman Rah met Don Buck and Richard Kim being Mas Oyama’s Sensei. Yes Norman Rah was a student of Don Buck and Don said he was one of the best Kickers he had seen.But he never knocked him down, he did help assist with the classes. But Norman Rah did train under Don Buck and did go to another Dojo later on. Sosai Mas Oyama, according to all records in 1948 Richard Kim met Mas Oyama and Yamaguchi in Kokohama but did not teach Mas Oyama. Also this information is from someone who was with Don Buck during that time period.

    1. aganzul Post author

      hi Paul! Your father was a wonderful person. I used to work out with him all the time. He took over the school when Bob retired, and Ron Maletti ran it after him. Is your father still around? I note the use of the past tense in your other communication. And, did you learn from him? Al Case
      BTW this blog is fine for commenting, but there is another website I use for KangDukWon comments, it is called Talk to you over there?

      1. Johnny Vasquez

        I am an old friend of Ron Maletti and have been trying to locate him with no luck. Do you know where Ron is? I am trying to get his email, phone number, or address.

      2. Paul Lozano Jr

        No I haven’t seen him in many years but I’ll ask another one of my Dad’s students if he’s heard anything. Do you know of anybody in my area or your area that is teaching the style still?

  2. Johnny Vasquez

    I had heard that there was a dojo which was teaching KangDukWon in the San Jose area however, do not remember his name nor the location of the dojo. If and when I met up with the person who mentioned it to me I will get the name and location and email it to you. Where do you live? Your name sounds familiar to me, don’t know your age you maybe to young for me to have known you. Did you go to Lincoln High school in San Jose?

  3. Johnny Vasquez

    Hello again,

    My name is Pat Vasquez, I was actually the one who wrote you the emails. My husband, Johnny Vasquez, has been trying to locate Ron for sometime now when when I happened to stumble on this site I thought I would write an email for him. I noticed that you are Paul Jr, perhaps it was your father that my husband knew. Johnny, was one of Bob Babich’s top black belts, back in the day.

    1. Paul Lozano Jr

      Yes I did go to Lincoln High School in San Jose but I do believe you are referring to my father Paul senior. He passed away in December 2011. I never got to ask my Dad this but did Bob ever teach anybody how to use their finger to punch through bored?

      1. aganzul Post author

        Hi Paul, I asked Bob specifically about the advanced ‘tricks.’ He had one advice: do the forms. Past that, he said he had no special training. Mainly, he was a VERY intense person, and that intensity, coupled with doing the forms, did the trick.
        Have a great work out!

    2. aganzul Post author

      Hi Pat, I heard that Ron passed, but have not been able to find any specifics on this. Hopefully somebody will see this and let us know.

  4. Johnny Vasquez

    Thank you for your reply. I do hope that someone who knew Ron will be able to let us know that he is still alive and well. What about Bob Bob Babich, do you or anyone else know how he is doing?

  5. aganzul Post author

    Bob passed a few years ago. I hadn’t seen him in a few years, but students of one of my students had visited him and were quite impressed. I don’t have any details concerning his death, except that i believe it was a simple passing. He was living in his house on top of the Santa Cruz mountains. Perhaps you can check death records and find out more. if you do, please post for the rest of us.
    Have a great work out!


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