In Memoriam: Sensei Theo Theloesen (1946 – 2012)
I was a teenager when I met Sensei Theo Theloesen in the very early nineties. I had been an arduous student of karate-do for quite some years, training at several of the Shotokan clubs in my town, and was looking for answers as to the functional application of kata, that remained a mystery to me.
I stepped into Theo’s dojo at the Heidebloemstraat, where it is still situated today, and realized I had met the man that sat in a little make-shift-office in front of me before. It was at the night club me and my friends hanged out over the weekend. For us 14, 15 year olds, a good weekend meant we got inside the club, a bad one meant we got refused entry. Those ”bad” weekends turned out to teach me a lot, witnessing first handed the many occasions that, what later became my Muai Thai instructor, sharpened his skills as a doorman at the very same club Theo had been hitting the decks since times that were beyond me.
The rumor also went round that Theo’s best friend, the late Shihan of Okinawa Goju Ryu Karate-do, who was responsible for popularizing Goju Ryu in Netherlands and beyond in those early days, Mr Harry de Spa, was spotted at the club at times too, and judging by the stories that passed among us students, he wasn’t there solely to practice his social skills.
Theo taught Shaolin Kempo and Okinawa Kobujutsu in those days and particularly the kobudo classes attracted pretty much all karate instructors the town had at that time, regardless stylistic affiliation. Here I became friendly with some of the local police officers training kobudo too, who sometimes suddenly appeared from silent police cars when the central square lost its calm during the latter hours in the weekend. After control was regained these ”colleagues” would spot me and my friends on the corner of the square and come up to me in an apologetic tone explaining that usually such drastic measures were not required, but unfortunately sometimes they were. I can’t help but look back at those days with some sort of pride.
I started training with Theo, doing the weekly evening sessions and spending several evenings at him garden dojo with my fellow students, discussing the practical and philosophical aspects of the arts, while watching documentaries, interviews and what else had gotten Theo’s attention.
It was at these, often long, evenings I met Shihan Harry de Spa , who made an impression on me that never left me, and indirectly lead me to take up Okinawa Goju Ryu a few years later while moving to Amsterdam.
But it was also Hanshi Patrick McCarthy’s work that I was introduced to by Theo, who gave me a ”copy” of McCarthy Sensei’s book ”Classical Kata of Okinawan Karate”.
Theo was invited by his teacher, Dschero Khan, to accompany him to Taiwan while I was training at the dojo. I was unaware of it at the time but understand now this was to witness a life and death match Dschero was challenged to, and had accepted. Theo came back with the kata Huang Chen Kuen, a beautiful form combining basic karate concepts with Chinese softer elements to it. It was the experience in Taiwan Dschero reminded us of, that had lead Theo to abandon any interest in grades and titles, which he typically did not show off with. Seeing Theo in a worn down Kempo shirt until the very last moment indeed illustrates that Theo at heart understood that styles are merely interpretations of the universal fist methods, or Chuan fa, as developed originally in China.
On what must have been one of the last occasions I met Theo before he became ill, I had a conversation that would echo in my mind later. We were driving in his car and Theo inquired with me about my opinion on the TCM aspect of kata, having studied Chinese medicine, and I shared some of my ideas and convictions I had with him before stating that in my opinion the TCM aspect in traditional karate is as functional as today’s modern application of bunkai-jutsu.
Theo looked at me somewhat baffled and considered it the quote of the month that he had to write down, but, so he added after somewhat of a pause, whether one appreciates the ancient medical side of the arts or not, in modern times one gets to become 95 anyway.
I had the opportunity to visit the Netherlands last year, summer 2012, and I didn’t hesitate to meet up with one of Theo’s senior students in the hope he would accompany me to visit Theo. This was in the first week of August. It was only while waiting for a call from Theo’s wife, to get the green light to come for a visit, that I found out that due to the brain tumor in his head Theo wasn’t Theo anymore, and hadn’t been for a while.
Yet when we arrived at the house something, perhaps the ‘novelty’ of me not having been around, had gotten Theo to sit up straight as ever. I was sat down next to him on a chair, and after a few attempt Theo and I had a wonderful 30 minute conversation, where he inquired about my club in London and he told me about the book he was writing.
A little over a week later while still in the Netherlands, the inevitable news of Theo’s passing reached me. I had the somewhat uneasy-settling-honor to have been the last to have had a good conversation with him.
Theo was laid to rest next to his buddy, Shihan de Spa, and I expect the funeral speeches to have raised the hairs of all who attended. I know mine were.
Theo Theloesen (1946-2012)