The Last Bugeisha

Portrait of Angel Lemus

by Peter Hobart

With due respect to Robert Fulghum, almost everything I know, I learned as a bartender: 
     • Welcome everyone through the door, but be ready to show it to them again if need be. 
     • Treat a pauper like a princess, and a princess like a pauper. 
     • There isn’t much that men (and women) of good faith can’t solve over a beer. 
     • Clean as you go, and if someone drops a glass, clean that up for them as well. 
     • Be nice. Be nice. Be nice (until it’s time to not be nice—this one courtesy of Roadhouse).
And the list goes on…

Bartenders the world over will tell you that in this profession, you generally encounter two types of regulars: Those who want to tell you what they know, and those who want to ask you what you know. As a barkeep, I generally preferred dealing with clients of the former type, since they were usually easier to handle. In friends and colleagues, however, different metrics apply.

Angel Lemus was decidedly of the latter type. Despite his own seniority as a martial artist, in the time I was honored to work with Angel, he was always interested to learn what other people knew, and what their journey was like. In fact, in his final years, he dedicated himself fully to this idea by regularly publishing an excellent martial arts journal called Bugeisha, which always sought to expand the bounds of knowledge in this realm. Despite its core focus being traditional Japanese and Okinawan arts, it regularly featured articles on such diverse subjects as Chinese kung fu (a relatively recent passion of Angel’s), modern edged weapons, newly-established fighting systems, and even the laws of self-defense.

Talking with Angel sometimes reminded me of dealing with skilled intelligence officers: I would start out with a question about him, but within a few minutes, find that he had deftly steered the conversation back to my life without me even realizing it! With his untimely passing, then, and without his humble redirections, here are some words exclusively about this amazing man:

• • • • •

By the time he left this world, Angel Lemus had been training in the martial arts for half a century. In that time, he earned senior rankings in judo, aikido, jujitsu, tai chi chuan, and various karate systems. At the time of his passing, Angel was a sixth dan in Kojoryu Karate Kobudo and an eighth dan in Shorinji-Ryu Zentokukai Tode, and had helped to introduced these arts to a generation of students in a variety of countries. Despite his vast wealth of existing experience, Angel was always open to learning new things, and when we last spoke, he was bursting with excitement over some of his recent discoveries in the art of Won Hop Loong Chuan. Scores of students the world over, and the literary landscape in this field, are much poorer for his passing.

Angel led a fascinating life, moving to Venezuela with his family in 1977 (where he completed high school); working in graphic design in a variety of fields and forums; and tearing up the East Coast tournament circuit in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Everywhere his travels took him, Angel sought out the best instructors he could find. In fact, he cited willingness to travel as one of the key components in securing a well-rounded education.

Martial training aside, Angel was genuinely an old-world gentleman. To know him was to love him. He expressed a deep interest in people and things around him. He explored a wide variety of the arts and sciences that the world has to offer. And he left the planet—particularly our corner of it—a much better place than he found it.

• • • • •

There is a principle in my current line of work known as Locard’s theorem, which states, in essence, that everyone who enters a crime scene will leave something behind and take something away. I have found this to be true of human encounters as well. A piece of every friend remains with me after parting. With Angel, I think it will be his open-mindedness. From this day forward, every time I close my mouth and open my mind to someone else’s point-of-view, it will be in honor of his inquisitive spirit. And in that spirit, let’s let Angel have the last word (from a recent interview):

“Any last words you would like to leave us with?”

Angel: “I leave you with this proverb, it is something beautiful that represents the spirit and culture of the Okinawan people:”

Ichariba chode: “Though we meet but once, even by chance, we are friends for life.”