MF 312 : William Christopher Ford on moving forward from student to sensei (part 1 of 3)
Updated: Jun 16
Sensei William Christopher Ford (“The Karate Kid Part III”) joins us for a three-part miniseries to talk about his career in film and in martial arts. Today, William shares his journey with the martial arts. More at www.bemovingforward.com.
From Southern California to the Outback and back again
When I first spoke with William Christopher Ford (“Dennis” from “The Karate Kid Part III“), I had flashbacks to when I saw him on the big screen in 1989, co-starring in the second sequel to “The Karate Kid.” There’s an air of mystery to his character and I imagine a full story that has yet to be explored. The same can be said of the actor behind the character.
William was born Christopher Paul Ford, an only child of a Japanese mother and a father from Oregon. In our first conversation, I learned that William is a southern California native. He was born in Long Beach and later moved to Gardena, then Torrance. While he spent much of his life in California, he spent a few years in Australia after his father was transferred there for a work project.
A journey in martial arts: from Caine in “Kung Fu” to a Hawaiian sensei
Growing up, William was a fan of the series “Kung Fu.” It was his once a week excuse to stay up late during school nights. This was William’s first exposure to an onscreen character who used martial arts as a superpower; embodying childhood ideals of self-protection and giving a bully his comeuppance.
Later, William visited a Japanese cultural theme park in Orange County. There, he saw a martial arts demonstration, featuring Fumio Demora who would go on to be one of the inspirations for the “Mr. Miyagi” character in “The Karate Kid” and would perform the martial arts stunts for the late Pat Morita in the role.
William was mesmerized and so when a third-grade classmate started taking Karate classes and encouraged William to join him, it was an easy sell. William’s mom also liked the idea of her son gaining better coordination and overcoming his shyness.
William’s first meeting with “Sensei Glenn” was memorable for its innocence and awkwardness. As he was still heavily influenced by the “Kung Fu” show, William did his best imitation of the “Caine” character, right down to the formal poetic tones.
However, Sensei Glenn, a Hawaiian native, was as far from Keye Luke’s “Master Po” as imaginable.
As William shares, his first training was also a far cry from a scene in “Kung Fu” as he forgot to fasten several ties, resulting in his gi flying open before he did.
For William, this inauspicious beginning would mark a turbulent early path learning the martial arts. His first instructor was often absent and had a harsh training style, bordering on abusive. William candidly reflects how this made him feel disempowered and even bullied to the point that he nearly quit.
Fortunately, William’s later experience proved much more harmonious when he learned from Sensei Glenn’s brother, Richard.
In sharp contrast, Richard pushed his students without sacrificing compassion. William also credits his mom for pushing him to continue on and not give up.
A student becomes a sensei
William’s martial arts education included several Okinawan styles of Karate and kickboxing.
At age 12, William had achieved a brown belt but was getting a bit bored. This all changed when his sensei invited him and several other students to see a screening of “Game of Death,” featuring the late Bruce Lee.
This gave William a second wind and as we’ll explore in the next episode, sparked another bug, an acting one.
William also began teaching, substituting for his sensei, whenever he had a scheduling conflict. He discovered he was great with kids and this would lead him on his next journey towards becoming a sensei. Throughout the years, William has taught many classes, inspiring young minds with the confidence and discipline to do more with their lives. He has indeed come a long way from the kid who watched “Kung Fu.”
2020: the teacher learns from his students
We close the episode by talking about the challenges of adapting to the current pandemic. As William shares, teaching via Zoom required becoming a student again as he learned from his pupils who are now masters of attending Zoom classes, the ins and outs of the technology.
As you listen to William, you can see how all of his years as a student, sensei, and actor have prepared him to adapt to these uncertain times. It’s as inspirational as it is encouraging to see someone who is constantly moving forward.
Inspirational thought for the day
“When I get students who contact me after many many years and they say ‘You know what, your lessons stay with me and they changed my life for the positive’ and I see these kids who are now in good jobs or being very successful or doing something in service to the community, I just feel like okay, then I’ve done a good thing and that just makes me feel so good. Me being able to give people tools that they can empower themselves with, it makes it all worth it to me.”
Catch Sensei William Ford’s show “52 Masters”
Connect with William
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