Home Newsflash John VanderLaar Dead at 48

John VanderLaar Dead at 48

by George Mattson
John VanderLaar Dead at 47!
(Submitted by James Gemmell)

John VanderLaarWord of longtime Uechi-ryu practitioner John VandeLaar’s passing has saddened the martial-arts community in Michigan. A Battle Creek resident, VandeLaar, 47, began studying Uechi-ryu in June 1979 under Sensei Bill Keith, and shortly thereafter became a student of Sensei Jim Thompson’s during the transitional period in which Thompson bought the Okinawa Karate Academy in Kalamazoo from Keith. In later years, VandeLaar dabbled in Goju-ryu, Shotokan, Kobudo (under sensei’s Estrada and Nagazato), Kendo and aikido.

At his home in July 2005, John told Jim Gemmell in an interview for a future documentary on Uechi-ryu in Michigan that he was "one of the smaller guys in the (Kalamazoo) dojo" when he began. He said longtime student Doug Wunderly "took me under his wing a little bit and helped me along. I also did a lot of classes with Mark Stewart, a kickboxer, and Don Joyner."

VandeLaar recalled the hard-core traditional training and testing regimen at Thompson’s school in the early 1980s. "For example, for the Sanchin test, you had one person in front of you and one person behind you, and you had a complete test, as far as the strikes, on every thrust."

John was grateful for the great martial-arts heritage in Michigan, in terms of both the high-quality instructors and the competitors in various styles, as well as his students. He said Al Doorlag got him involved in the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) tournament competitions in the late 1980’s, which VandeLaar continued to be involved with up until the time of his death. John was also active in training students for the Junior Olympics, and Project Action, in which he helped raise funds to allow at-risk kids to pay for karate classes.

John ran a small dojo in the basement of his home for several years, and headed a karate program at a local gym.

Thanks to Al Bennett for the picture of John. I’m posting a letter from his student:

Thank you for posting the loss of my teachger and dear friend John on the web site. I would like to make a few small changes if possible? John was 47 years old, he would have been 48 this Christmas, he was a Christmas baby.
Sensei Van De Laare was very dedicated to the continued study of martial artts in his life. John had attained the rank of Shodan in Kendo under Dave Christman, who was also his business partner in the Battle Creek Budokan. John could not continue his Kendo training due to a bad work injury to his elbow.
John was also a Shodan in Kobudo under Sensei Estrada and easily had knowledge of a 2-3 rank a head of him, he just never tested. I belive that Sensei thought that the knowledge was good enough.
Furthermore, John was given his teaching certificate in Akido by the late Fumio Toyoda Shihan of Chicago, IL. This is a very high honor that was given to Sensei Van De Laare due to his profecencny in this art. I was told that this honor was usually reserved for Yondan and above.
When I first met Sensei Van De Laare I was amazed at his skills, how effortlessly he moved, yet with such power. In my 18 years involved in the martial arts Sensei was one of the most well rounded karateka that I have known. He was a very high level in Uechi-Ryu Karate, Kobudo, Akido, Kendo and had working knowledge of many other systems including Judo, Kali and Kickboxing. Sensei had amazing kata and could have easily one many more tournaments if had choose to still compete and not focus more on his students who have won first place medals at the international, national, regional, state and local levels in kata, weapons and sparring compettions. The last time I remeber Sensei competing was in the 1992 Ohio AAU State Tournamanet where I belive he swept gold in kata, weapons and sparring.
Thank you very much for posting the information reguarding Sensei’s passing. information reguarding memorial services can be found at the following link:
For those who didi not know sensei he was an open and honest man who was never shy of letting you know what he was thinking. He made many freinds over the years and was either the best man or stood up at least three students weddings that I can think of off of the top of my head. I will greatly miss my teacher and close friend until we can train again.
Kevin Kellems

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