YAKIMA -- His brain tells him he's 73 years old. But his body tells him he's a young man in his prime. Until that changes, Morris Mack said he has no plans to retire from the Yakima School of Karate, a business he founded 50 years ago.
"My body doesn't know I'm old," he joked. "I've worked (and trained) from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. almost every day for the past 40 years. Man is designed to work. When people work, they are healthy."
Mack, a married father of seven adult children, didn't learn karate until 1956, when he attended a martial arts tournament in California. From there, he was hooked.
"I thought, 'I'd be so wonderful at that,' " said Mack about karate. "I'm so fast, faster than greased lightning."
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Up until then, Mack knew judo, a sport characterized by throwing techniques, specialized pins and control holds. But although he competed in hundreds of tournaments as a youth, Mack never won any of them.
That changed when he learned karate. He and his instructor, who lived in Oakland, Calif., took turns traveling between California and Mack's home in Richland. After five years, Mack earned his black belt and had placed at numerous tournaments. He also moved to Yakima, where he simultaneously managed a grocery store called Sigman's Big Apple and opened his own karate studio on Seventh Avenue.
He began with eight customers, most of whom were impressed by his ability to run a few steps along a matted wall at the YMCA, Mack said. From there, he built a loyal following by offering tutoring assistance and affordable prices. He charges students $65 a month and offers family discounts. For the money, students receive two hours of class training a week.
Over the years, Mack said he has taught several thousand students the art of karate, many of them through courses at Yakima Valley Community College. Today, he and his 23 instructors teach about 400 people, who range in age from 4 to 84. Two of his teachers are his own children, and his wife of 36 years manages the business.
"I became famous in this area," said Mack, noting that his success was bolstered by his students' accomplishments. "This isn't work, this is play."
As for why he still is in business after five decades, Mack has a few theories. He opened when there was no competition, he lured customers with public karate demonstrations and he had help from friends like Chuck Norris, a famous actor and martial arts instructor who visited him occasionally. He met Norris through a mutual friend in the early 1970s.
But to keep the momentum going, Mack established a scholarship fund, awarding graduating seniors with black belts a $1,000 scholarship to further their education. He also plays hard-to-get by limiting student enrollment to three times a year -- a tactic that attracts customers in droves, he said.
Still, achieving his goals took a healthy dose of discipline, patience and hard work, Mack said. As proof of that, he waited 18 years after opening his studio to quit the grocery business, an industry he hated because of the long hours it required when he would rather be doing something more productive, he said. But quitting wasn't an option because the money was good and he had seven children to support.
"As you put more effort into something, the reward is greater," Mack said.
With the exception of teaching several years in Gleed in the early 1970s, Mack has operated his business in Yakima near his existing, three-room studio at 13 N. Seventh Ave. He has been at that site for 18 years.
Today, in addition to teaching karate, Mack travels to other schools throughout the West to lend his expertise and award students new rankings, symbolized by different belt colors.
He enjoys spending time with his 12 grandchildren and one great-grandchild, and he vacations in such places as Redding, Calif., and the Cayman Islands -- where he continues to stick to his training regimen, he said.