As a forty year veteran of Law Enforcement, who actively worked street gangs for the vast majority of his career, I have a unique perspective of "Why Kids are attracted to Gangs?" They are attracted to gangs because of fear, or they seek family or protection, or they see how quickly money is made. That is the Law Enforcement version.
But I also have a personal perspective, because as a youth growing up in Chicago, Illinois in the late 1950's into the middle 1960's I was part of the problem. I grew up on the Southside of Chicago in neighborhoods, where you either learned how to fight every day, or join the gangs. I was part of a gang called the DelVikings, because they were from my neighborhood and they were my friends.
But as I grew older, I saw my friends get into continuous trouble, go to jail, or become a homicide statistic. My father taught me how to box at the age of six, but when I went to my grandparents' home in Los Angeles, California for summer vacation in 1953, I became enamored with Judo. My grandparents lived in a Japanese-American neighborhood in 1953-54, and the next door neighbor, Mr. Kobiyashi taught Judo in his backyard. I took lessons from Mr. Kobiyashi every summer, until I was eleven years old, and talked my father into taking Judo lessons from Sensei Masato Tamura in downtown Chicago.But inthe summer of 1963 my life turned completely around.
I was mowing the grass in front of our home, when three members of a gang known as the Blackstone Rangers walked up the street. I knew all three of them, but one in particular named James began to challenge me. My mother happened to be in the front yard, and as I attempted to walk away from them, James pulled out a knife and came towards me.
All I could think of was blocking his thrust towards me, and all the Judo techniques I had learned kicked in and I threw him to the ground. But I went one step further, and tried to stab James with his own knife, but I missed and didn't realize James was unconscious after throwing him on the concrete.
Later that day I met two people, who changed my life forever, Jackie Thomas and Charles Inge. Both men were Chicago Police Officers, who in the course of interviewing me about the incident with James, noticed some trophies on the living room mantle, and said "You do Judo?" From that moment I was challenged to join the Hyde Park YMCA Judo Club. I learned a lot from Sensei's Kobiyashi and Tamura, but Sensei's Thomas and Inge taught me so much more. I learned discipline and the will to win. I learned that if I lost a match to learn from it and continue to become better. I learned how to channel my anger based on my training and skills in Judo because I was confident in myself. This did not mean that I took my abilities for granted, but Judo made me much more aware of, "Who I Am!"
Judo and martial arts have changed dramatically since I began sixty-one years ago. I became a police officer primarily due to the respect I had for Jackie Thomas and Charles Inge, and I learned to give back like they gave to me. I have challenged numerous young men and women who were in street gangs to better themselves through Judo and other martial arts, and several I have coached left the gang life, and lead a very productive and meaningful life.
By: Tony Avendorph
President, Tony Avendorph Associates, LLC