AN INTERVIEW WITH
MASTER LISA MCGEE
AUGUST / 2011
My name is Franklin Puello and welcome to Martialforce.com Online Martial Arts Magazine. I started studying and training in The Martial Arts in early 1974. It was a time when sharing and training in various Dojoís was a common occurrence, because Senseiís were always conscious of the limitations of training. The teaching and development of confidence and discipline in students, as well as teachings of courtesy, public speaking, and poise are built-in lessons in The Martial Arts to supplement and complement the teaching of kicking and punching.
I have taken the opportunity to reach out to an old training friend and a recognizable name in the Martial Arts community to share some Martial Arts philosophical issues and insights. This is a person that is living proof of the disciplined mind and strong character that are developed through the art of Karate. I have the pleasure to introduce to you, Master Lisa Mcgee.
Interview by Franklin Puello
Martialforce.com: What is your Full Name? Where were you born, originally from and where did you grow up?
LISA MCGEE: My full name is Lisa Robinson-McGee and I was born and raised in Harlem, New York. I grew up in Harlem & am a true ďHarlemiteĒ.
Martialforce.com: What is your current occupation?
LISA MCGEE: I presently work for NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation, as a Coordinating Manager. I am a Grants Analyst, responsible for the fiscal oversight of the facilityís grant funded programs.
Martialforce.com: When was your first introduction to the Martial Arts? What Style of Karate, and Who was/ were your instructor/s?
LISA MCGEE: I was introduced to Goju karate sometime between 1976 to 1978.I was a teenage girl playing in the streets and ventured up to the Hansborough Recreation Center in Harlem with a friend to watch her fatherís karate class. I was immediately hooked and that friend was Grand Master Sam McGeeís daughter. I studied Goju Karate with Grand Master Sam McGee and he is, and has been, my only instructor.
Martialforce.com: Can you tell our readers what a typical day of training was like back when you started your Journey forward and your Black Belt promotion; and later when you were competing in Karate Shiai and or Tournaments?
LISA MCGEE: For me a typical day of training was intensive kicking and punching drills, all before class was called to line. Once class was in session we did a series of Warm up exercises before, and after class Cool down exercises. Push ups, sit ups, leg raises, jumping jacks, sitting in horse stances for long periods of time to build up leg muscles, more punching & kicking exercises and drills, group katas, individual katas, shadow boxing, sparing, etc. were some of the sequences all students had to endure to build a solid foundation for the more advanced techniques to be learned. No one class was the same and when there were tournaments we would practice on perfecting our Kata and fighting techniques, in addition to going through the tournament process, primary Kata practice, Secondary Kata practice, favorite Kumite combinations, etc.
Martialforce.com: Did you ever enter the Martial Arts competition Arena, Why, When and who did you fight? What was tournament competition like when you were first introduced?
LISA MCGEE: I have been fighting in Martial Arts competition since 1978. Tournament competition was part of our training and it provided us with the opportunity to showcase our skills. My first tournament was at a school on Grand Street in lower Manhattan. I was a 100 pound soaking wet white belt and was scared to death. Grand Master Sam McGee only took 4 students and I was the only female. I remember my stomach feeling so queasy I thought I was going to throw up. When the competition began I was so nervous and scared I felt faint. When I did my Kata, in my mind it was perfect. I got second place and I remember I was not happy about it at all. Then it was Kumite time and I was still angry about the Kata. I just wanted to fight then and really wasnít concerned until I started to line up with the other competitors. Thatís when that sinking feeling came back and I remember thinking to myself ďI got to fight her?Ē The amount of female competitors was more than I could handle but I managed to reach the finals. We were on the stage for the finals and I had to fight a young Lauren Bayne who is a great female Martial Artist. Iíll never forget it, she had this mean face on and I didnít know whether to fight or run. Of course Grand Master Sam McGee gave me the pep talk of life and although I lost the fight I understood the game. It was a learning experience that Iíll never forget and although I was still mad that I got second place kumite, it was a learning experience and made me train even harder.
Martialforce.com: I was a witness to some of your Karate competitions years ago can you tell our readers who were some of the noted Martial Artists you had to compete against?
LISA MCGEE: I have competed against many great women in my day, and the most memorable fighters were Divine Asia Earth, Sheila High, Doris & Linda Mendez, Dawn Tribett, Kim McCorey, Ace from Master Cooperís Dojo, and Lauren Bayne. These women were some of the hardest fighting woman in Martial Arts and those who I didnít mention must forgive me. As for Kata competitors there was Betty Fernandez, Kathy Baxter, Sheila High and Cynthia Rothrock. These women were tops in katas and when I finally was able to defeat them it was like winning the lottery. It was such a great accomplishment for me that I knew I was one of the best.
Martialforce.com: As I mentioned, I am a living witness and can attest to the List of aforementioned Great competition mentioned and without expressing Surprise or Amazement, I would like to make that point to our readers. Could you tell us about the toughest competitor facing you during that time and what made them tough?
LISA MCGEE: For me at that time I would have to say it was Divine Asia and Doris & Linda Mendez they were my toughest competitors in fighting. These women werenít intimidated by me at all and didnít fall for my mind games. They wanted it just as bad as I did and I knew when I fought them I had to have my ďAĒ game. As for Kata it was Sheila High, Kathy Baxter and Betty Fernandez. These women were rated as some of the top female Kata competitors in our region. As a young black belt, Betty Fernandez and Kathy Baxter used to beat me on a consistent basis. It wasnít until I learned which Kata to do against them that I finally began winning against them.
Martialforce.com: "Kata is the Essence of Karate. It contains Many Secrets", this phrase has become a Cliche. Do you believe the practice of Kata is useful and important?
LISA MCGEE: I definitely do believe Kata is important because the Kata is Kumite. All of the techniques that you learn as a white belt up until Black Belt are incorporated in the Kata. For me the kata is like a dance and it sort of lulls you to sleep and then BAM it snaps you out of it with a kick or punch. To watch and appreciate a Kata performed well is the ultimate. Most of todayís practitioners donít understand that if you master the kata you will master the fight so they donít put much effort into katas. You are a complete Martial Artist, in my opinion, when you put the same effort into the kata that you do the kumite. That doesnít mean that you are judged on how well you place in a tournament, by no means do I mean that, but what I do mean is that if you put your heart into the Kata then I know you will put your heart into the Kumite.
Martialforce.com: What is your Most Favorite Kata and what makes it so Special?
LISA MCGEE: My favorite Kataís were Sanseiru and Sepai. I liked to watch my side kick in Sanseiru and hear the pop from my Gi on each kick. With Sepai, I like the crisp and precise movements and strikes. In Sepai the overall flow of the Kata is just wonderful to watch, it is an Elegant Kata. I used to practice it on the sidelines before the competition began and watch the reaction from the crowd and competitors. If I noticed a change in the competitorsí demeanor, I knew mentally they were already defeated.
Martialforce.com: Are you presently training others in the Art Karate? When did you start, what is your teaching style or methodology?
LISA MCGEE: Presently I am not training any students outside of my family. When we do train, I keep it the same way as I got it without taking it too easy on them. Times however have changed so we cannot do the same things today that we did when we were coming up.
Martialforce.com: What do you teach those who want to learn Survival Skills?
LISA MCGEE: Those who want to learn Survival Skills, I stress to them that this is not to be taken lightly and just show them the basic techniques to disarm and disable your assailant so that you can get away from the situation and get help. It is not a situation where I want them to attempt to physically engage this individual but it is about disabling, escape and get help, this way you live to fight another day.
Martialforce.com: What is your view of the present Evolution of the Martial Arts and Tournament Competition of the present and compare to the past?
LISA MCGEE: Well to be honest with you I am sometimes disappointed in how Martial Arts has become so commercialized and that some people are only interested in the money and not the Art. I receive flyers in the mail from various schools promising all kinds of nonsense for a fee when in reality it is a high priced babysitting service for kids and a social event for adults. These students are undisciplined; they have no respect for their Instructors or the Art. For me we need to get back to how we were trained. Instill in these students discipline and respect for the Arts, themselves and others. As for tournament competition, it saddens me when I see gymnastics being judged instead of Martial Arts. I have a real problem when I come to tournaments and see competitors in the ďLittle RichardĒ Gi flipping in the air with their glitter poles, itís horrible. The Kumite is more like tag, youíre it and when these competitors donít get a favorable call, they are up in your face like they want a piece of you. It is totally out of control at times and I really donít like to be around it. When we competed, there was no flipping through the air with the glitter poles and music playing. You had your uniform and a Bo staff and if you flipped it resembled more of a technique than an Olympic event. There was no arguing with the judges for any reason or youíd be out. There was no appeal; there was no meeting to discuss anything unless the judges wanted it. Their call was it, and you had to live with it and try again next time. There was no tag in Kumite, we fought. If you got hurt and couldnít continue you lost. Blood was always a disqualification unless you wanted to continue, then it was your choice. Safety equipment was surgical tape across your knuckles and feet. Occasionally we wore shin guards and mouthpieces but that was optional, we really fought back then. I know times change and we have to step aside for the next generation but when you see things happening that shouldnít we as Masters of Martial Arts need to step in and say something. Thatís not to say that all of todayís tournament competition is not enjoyable. There are still young practitioners who compete in the same manner as we did. They are respectful of the Art and others and when I see this it brings joy to my heart because I remember when I was out there dealing with the same trials and tribulations. These practitioners are students of great instructors and it shows and they also acknowledge Masters of the past, which is also commendable.
Martialforce.com: I have known you for many years and watched you perform, Can you tell us about your relationship with some of the Grand Masters of the Past and Present? Training with any of them?
LISA MCGEE: I have maintained some great relationships with most of the Masters of the past and present. The most important relationship that I have is with my Sensei Grand Master Sam McGee. He was not only my instructor but he was a father figure to me and I was always concerned about what I did in and out of school. I never wanted to embarrass or make he upset with me so I never got in trouble. He had a positive influence on what I did in my life so I always wanted to do my best. I had a great relationship also with the late Grand Master Major Leon Wallace. He would see me in the street and want to show me some techniques and at tournaments we would just sit down before the fight and discuss what techniques I was going to do. He was really a gentle and compassionate man. The late Grand Master Fred Hamilton. I remember as a young black belt when I would fight his girls he would give me a tough time but when it was over he would wink at me and smile. He would give me hugs and I knew behind that tough exterior he was a great person.I was fortunate to come up around some real great Martial Artist Masters who were dedicated to the Arts and it showed. There were many like Errol Bennett, Abdul Mutakibir (SWAM), George Crayton, Kareem Lilí KA Allah, Derrick Williams, Mychal ďLookupĒ Sledge, and others. However I have never trained with anyone other Grand Master Sam McGee.
Martialforce.com: Do you feel that Martial Arts played an important role with who you are today?
LISA MCGEE: Oh absolutely, it has played a major role in who I am today. It influenced my decisions and instilled in me the discipline that was necessary to make the right choices in life. As a Martial Artist I felt that I was held to a higher standard than others and because of that I stayed out of trouble as a teenager and young adult. Because of my involvement in Martial Arts, I married my Dojo brother Master Dwayne McGee. Weíve been married 23 years this May and our relationship started in the dojo when we were teenagers. We were both mindful of our roles in the Dojo and now we have 4 wonderful children who have been in the dojo since they were infants. They grew up in the dojo around Goju and they conduct themselves in the same manner we do, respectful and disciplined.
Martialforce.com: What have you gained from your practice of Martial Arts? How have the Martial Arts training help you achieve Goals?
LISA MCGEE: I have gained confidence in my abilities through Martial Arts. When I started training, I always wanted to be the best at everything. I am highly competitive and hate to lose. For me, my training has afforded me the opportunity to compete at such a high level against some of the best competitors of my generation and succeed. It is only through my dedication to the Martial Arts and my Grand Masterís teachings that I was able to be one of the best all around female competitors of my era, and achieve higher goals outside the arts becoming a productive member of society.
GRAND MASTER SAM MCGEE
Martialforce.com: Do you believe The Martial Arts training would be beneficial for any youngster or adult?
LISA MCGEE: How would Martial Arts training benefit them? Martial Arts training will be beneficial to anybody as long as they are willing to make the sacrifices that are necessary to be successful. If they believe in what their Sensei is teaching then the skyís the limit. Martial Arts training instill discipline. Discipline is the key to succeeding. Let me explain what I mean by discipline. When I was training my Grand Master used to have us on our knuckles in push up position and he would ask the class what is discipline and we would respond in unison ďDiscipline is doing what one does not want to do!Ē and he would make us do 25 more push up on our knuckles and weíd wait for his next command. To the average person, that is torture but to the dedicated Martial Artist, that was discipline because we believe in our Sensei and his teachings. And today it is still in our hearts and souls to be disciplined. Most people donít understand this but when they see children and adults with these positive attitudes from Martial Arts training, they want it but sometimes donít realize that it takes a lot of work and dedication. Anybody willing to do the work will reap the benefits.
Martialforce.com: What are your thoughts on cross training in regards to other styles of Martial Arts?
LISA MCGEE: For me I never really thought it was a good idea because I considered it to be disrespectful. Thatís not to say I never thought about doing it. I have always wanted to learn Judo and felt that I would be great at it, but in order to achieve the level of success I wanted, that would mean I would spend less time in the dojo and that was unacceptable to me. I would never allow myself to be taken away from the one thing that made me who I am today so I really shied away from it. We did however use to have other practitioners from other styles come to the dojo and teach a little when I was younger. It was okay but Goju was and still my first love. Have you trained with Family members, and/ or any family members?
I have trained my children, cousins, mother and other family members. Itís always difficult to do so because they are looking for you to take it easy on them when in reality you must be harder on them because they represent you. In some cases it has worked out well and in others it didnít. It again depends on the individual and their willingness to learn.
Martialforce.com: Who do you feel was your biggest influence in Karate or life in general and why?
LISA MCGEE: My biggest influence in karate would have to be Grand Master Sam McGee. It was important for me as his student to perform at the same level as he did and keep up the Harlem Goju reputation as being one of the best dojos around. As for life it would be my mother, she was a single parent of two kids and it was important to me to make her proud of my accomplishments.
Martialforce.com: Do you think Tradition is important? Having a Martial Arts Legacy? Evolution in Karate?
LISA MCGEE: I most definitely think tradition is important and should be followed. You may say Iím a little over the top but when you stray from tradition itís like you are giving a finger to the past and thatís a real soft spot for me. Some say change is good but I say donít forget where you came from, and who taught you what. Change is good if you incorporate the past and not lose sight of it. Having a Martial Arts legacy is good and I think that as for my legacy, I want to be remembered as a dedicated student of Harlem Goju, a fierce competitor and great human being. I want people to remember me for what I did in the ring and how I conducted myself and accomplishments outside the ring. I would hope that sometime in the future we could have a wall made of marble dedicated to all the great Martial Artists where their names would be etched on for all to see.
Martialforce.com: What do you think about Rank in Martial Arts, and the present pactice of fast and advanced promotions? Do you believe youngsters (12-20 Yrs.) could/ should be holders of Rank above Sandan? Why?
LISA MCGEE: Listen, I donít think there should be an age restriction on rank. However, if an instructor is foolish enough to rush their student through promotions in order to boast that they have the youngest or most black belts then they are doing a disservice to their student and Martial Arts. We all know who they are and to be honest, I donít consider those instructors to be valid Sensei anyway. As for youngsters holding Rank of Sandan or above, it solely depends on the individual. Just because a kid is 12 or 13 doesnít mean he shouldnít be ranked accordingly. If the kid is immature and demonstrates that in class, then by all means donít give him the Rank.
Martialforce.com: What would you say is your greatest achievement? Can you provide an example of an achievent in part attributed to your Martial Arts training?
LISA MCGEE: My greatest achievement in The Martial Arts is attaining my Black Belt. For me it was a long and hard journey especially when for so many years in the dojo, I was the only female student. It gave me a sense of accomplishment and I remember smiling for weeks about it. I was walking around class like I was hot stuff. Another of my greatest achievements was marrying my husband, Master Dwayne McGee. Like I said I we started dating in the dojo and because of our relationship, we were able to push each other harder. We encouraged each other and made each other better. It was like always having someone in your corner pulling for you to succeed. At tournaments we would be in each otherís corner and that was important when you consider the amount of pressure you are under. The crowd, the noise, and the spotlight can be a bit stressful but when there is someone there in your corner all the time, it makes for an easier time. As for my kids, just watching them grow up in the dojo like I did was the ultimate achievement for me. To literally have a village raise my kids was an extraordinary thing that most people only dream about. My family was raised in the dojo and that is a once in a lifetime experience.
Martialforce.com: What are your long or Short-term Goals in Martial Arts?
LISA MCGEE: My goals in Martial Arts period are to see it continue on into the unforeseeable future. I am planning on starting a dojo in the Pocono Mountains sometime in the near future and give back what was given to me. Once I achieve that then I can hand the reigns over to my children and they will continue the family tradition.
Martialforce.com: Are you involved with any Martial Arts Association? Can you give us some details?
LISA MCGEE: I am a member of the Harlem Goju Association. The Harlem Goju Association is a non-profit organization created by Grand Master Sam McGee, which was designed to acknowledge the outstanding achievements of great past and present Martial Artists, Community Leaders and everyday people as nominated by members of the various Harlem Goju Association Dojo. The Association also provides college scholarships to high school seniors who are students of these dojos each year at their Annual Scholarship Fund Raiser. This Association is dear to me because it has helped out a lot of students of our schools and is another way for us to help others.
Martialforce.com: Whatís the difference if any in competing in Open tournaments in the Past and Present?
LISA MCGEE: In past open tournaments there was no gymnastics and competitors really fought and disrespect was not tolerated. Present open tournament there is gymnastics and fights are more like playing tag. Some competitors are very disrespectful and act like spoiled brats when they lose or a call doesnít go their way. Would you or Do you advocate for Martial Arts students to participate/ support Open Tournaments/ Competitions? As far as Iím concerned a tournament is a tournament whether it is Open or not. Open tournaments just provide an arena for all competitors of different backgrounds to participate. In my opinion you are exposed to more Martial Arts in an open tournament, it can be an eye opening experience. As for tournaments for specific styles and/or organizations, it can be more restrictive. For example, I fought in Henry Choís Tae Kwan Do tournament back in the 80s and always felt that each time we came back there was a different rule implemented just for Goju, but that never deterred us from going. It was a pro-Tae Kwon Do tournament and they didnít like getting grabbed, swept off their feet and stomped. They didnít like backhands to the side of their heads and hated being punched. It wasnít what some of the competitors were used. So each year the rules changed but as a Martial Artist you have to adapt to change and move on. You have to be able to master your craft and be confident enough to put it on display for everybody to see. ďWhether itís an open tournament or not. Show me what youíre working with.Ē
Martialforce.com: Do you continue to train and teach? Where are you Dojo?
LISA MCGEE: I just work out with my family. My husband and I are in the process of opening a dojo in the Pocono Mountains so as soon as we find a suitable location, we will begin teaching again. Itís a big commitment and you have to be willing to sacrifice a lot of personal time for the dojo.
Martialforce.com: What would you share with Parents or Kids who want to be involved with the Martial Arts? Would you advocate young children to attend classes in Martial Arts?
LISA MCGEE: I would stress to parents that the Dojo is not a babysitting service so please donít bring your child here if you are looking to leave him/her for two or three hours. As for taking on young students, it really depends on the child. If a child is attentive and is exhibiting a desire to learn, then I will give him/her a shot. If that child is moving all around and canít follow simple directions then I would tell them to wait at least another year or more. I would even suggest they take them someplace else where I know they are not concerned about parents dropping their kids off.
Martialforce.com: We at Martialforce.com Online Magazine express deep appreciation to Master Lisa Mcgee for sharing with us her Martial Arts training and insights. I can say that even though I know you for over 30 years, asking these questions and listening and reading the replies makes me realize that there is much more to learn about a person, if only we take more and more time to share. Domo Arigato, Sensei Mcgee.