Sadly, Grandmaster Joe Onopa, Black Belt 10th Degree, Kwon Bop Do (Tae Kwon Do) passed away very recently (just under the age of 70); he was the great, great grandson of the famous Apache Indian Geronimo and he will be sadly missed by many. I first met Grandmaster Onopa in 1994 in the USA and then when met again when he came to Australia with a group of American athletes for a big martial arts tournament in Sydney. He was a delightful man and a great martial artist (he was fast and he could kick your head standing right behind him). We got on extremely well and I met up again with him in the US, in Detroit, the following year. I was with one of my senior Black Belts at the time and was picked up by Grandmaster Joe in a stretch limo from the Airport!
I remember going to the gym to push weights and he freaked me out when he was bench pressing 450lbs at the age of 55. I will never forget the time he was showing me some of his stuff in his living room. He jumped and did a 360 degree turning axe kick but landed badly spraining his ankle. The next day he took us to a museum in Detroit on a motorised scooter. This was the best museum I had ever been to and that was really nice of him to do that with his ankle in plaster. This was one of many times being together, not only in the USA, but the Gold Coast and Sydney.
Grandmaster Joe got me to teach some of his classes and I remember he would not start a minute earlier or finish a minute later. Apparently, this is how the yanks do it, he said. In fact, I was given a 60 second warning to the hour before the end of the lesson. One day, I walked 5 minutes before the start of the next class was told I was late! I told him that I still had another 5 minutes but he said that I told him I would be there 15 minutes earlier. This is something I always talk about. I remember at a formal dinner he surprised me with a 7th Degree Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do. He told me this was his appreciation of our friendship and my dedication in the martial arts and in recognition of my ability at that level in his organisation. I was reluctant to accept but, nevertheless, I was not going to argue with the White Tiger. That certificate is framed and displayed in my office which will always serve as a reminder of him.
Grandmaster Joe was given the name, the White Tiger by me because he had the heart and strength of a tiger. It all started when he first came to Australia and wanted to go to the zoo because he had a fascination with the white tiger. The name, White Tiger, suited him because it was a rare animal just like there were not many ‘Onopas’ around.
It was only a few weeks ago I called him and he was so happy to hear from me. We talked about the good old times and he was planning to come to Australia next year to visit his schools and would get together with our families for dinner. Sadly, that was not to be. I am glad I did call him because it was a long time between phone calls. RIP.