At 2:04am Pacific Standard Time, on Wednesday, December 27th, 2017, the world lost an amazing martial artist, a fantastic role model, and a great man who impacted more lives than I can count. Richard Michael Poage was my Sensei, but he was also my friend, and the older brother I never had. He was truly the embodiment of “sensei,” which translates to “one who came before,” not only in that he was older than me, and my teacher, but in that he would actually show his students the path to get to where he was. Richard wasn’t one to rest on his laurels, or settle for “good enough.” He was always training and practicing, trying to improve even has he taught his students to do the same. Even when he was teaching, he couldn’t resist jumping in to practice the drill he just demonstrated, or hit the bags, or get thrown around, or spar with his students. He always said that he never wanted to be the kind of instructor who considered themselves “too good” to get in there and mix it up with their students, and he thought that led to instructors developing a false sense of superiority. Richard would often tell me how important it was for him to train and spar with his students, and people from other schools/styles, so he could keep himself sharp.
Without him, I hate to think how long I would have struggled to learn what I have under his guidance. I came to his dojo in 2010 having spent 2 years training in Illinois, and 2 more years training and studying on my own after moving to Arizona, and wanting to evolve my karate into something new. He had just tested three of his students for their Shodan (1st Degree Black Belt) ranks, and they were just bowing out. When he finished with the class, he bowed off the mat and sat down to talk to me about what I was looking for in a dojo. It was clear that he was just as excited about karate as I was, and our perspectives on it lined up very well. My first class with him was a brown/black belt class focused on Nakazato Shugoro Sensei’s yakusoku kumite drills. It was the first time I had done any partner work in karate for two years, so my reactions and coordination were terrible, but he was very supportive and helpful the whole time. That class was a little disheartening, since I felt like I had gotten so rusty, but it also re-lit the fire in me to improve, and I threw myself back into training with renewed vigor. All of the things I had read about and seen in videos in my 2 years of self-training and research began to make even more sense, and I began to develop the ability to actually do those things, thanks to him. Every compliment I have ever received on my karate isn’t really a compliment for me, but for him, and I will forever be in his debt.
When he was hospitalized, it was a shock to everyone–you don’t expect a 32 year old martial arts instructor who never goes to the doctor to suddenly fall prey to a brain tumor. His biggest vice was caffeine, and he drank more of it (usually coffee and Monster) than he did water, a lot of the time, so when he complained of headaches, that’s what everyone (including him) chalked it up to. It was a complete shock to all of us. We set up a GoFundMe to raise money to help cover some of his medical costs, and were blown away by the amount of love and support we received from the martial arts community. Unfortunately, now that he has passed, his family will still have bills to pay for his care and final arrangements, so we are keeping the fundraiser going. If you are able to donate, please visit and share the GoFundMe page (LINK).