Stanley Morgan was a self-described weakling looking for an easy way to toughen up his image when he discovered Kendo, also known as Japanese fencing.
"I was living in Los Angeles. I was 36 years old. And I was what you would call a wimp," Morgan said in a 1996 Arizona Daily Star article. "I wanted to know why life was not working for me.
"I went to a tournament featuring different sorts of martial arts. I saw Kendo and thought, 'That looks easy.' Of course, it wasn't."
Nevertheless, Morgan stuck with it and eventually shared his knowledge with the students in his Tucson Kendo classes, which he taught until he was sidelined by a series of heart attacks and strokes eight years ago.
More recently the bald, bespectacled, retired lithographer moved to Colorado to be closer to family. Morgan died April 26 of a traumatic brain injury after a fall. He was 84.
Morgan's early passion for Kendo led him to teach the martial art and travel to international tournaments to compete. Yet, by the time he moved to Tucson in 1993, Morgan had parted ways with the sword and taken up the art of Japanese drumming known as taiko. He was still living in California in 1976 when he formed his Japanese percussion ensemble, MoGan Daiko. It wasn't until 1996 that he resumed teaching Kendo at the urging of new friends he'd made in Tucson.
Mari Kaneta knew Morgan as a teacher of both Kendo and taiko. She choreographs traditional Japanese dances. She and Morgan teamed her dance troupe and his percussion ensemble for performances locally, nationally and internationally during the late 1990s. One of her sons took Kendo lessons from Morgan.
"As far as Kendo and taiko, he was trying to teach us more spiritual aspects of the art," Kaneta said.
At Morgan's request after his stroke, Kaneta took over his taiko group and blended it with her dance troupe. It is now called Suzuyuki-Kai MoGan Daiko. The group still uses the wine-barrel drums Morgan made. He was well-known nationally among taiko devotees for his craftsmanship.
"He loved to teach Kendo and he loved to teach taiko, the drumming," said Tucson attorney Paul Gattone, who began taking Kendo lessons from Morgan in 1996.
"If you had the right attitude and wanted to learn, he'd give you all the knowledge he had."
Gattone was so impressed with the sensei's energy and spirit - what Morgan called his ki - that the student eventually became the teacher. Gattone took over teaching classes after Morgan's 2002 stroke.
"We had a relationship that went beyond the teaching of martial arts," Gattone said. "I loved him like a father. He really had an impact on my life, changed my life."
Hanging on the wall of Gattone's dojo is a picture of Morgan taken in the late 1960s or early '70s.
"It's crazy. He looks like he could take on the world," Gattone said. "He was well past his prime and probably 40 years my senior, but, man, it frightened me to fight against him."
It was through teaching that Morgan built his inner strength.
"I hope my students learn spirituality through the hardship of the training," Morgan said in 1996. "Teaching, I find, is one of the greatest ways to improve the self."
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