Kung fu fighter - Tourism director in karate hall of fame

By Curt Yeomans


In "Gone With the Wind," author Margaret Mitchell wrote about life in Jonesboro and Atlanta during the Civil War and the years that followed. It included depictions of men courting women who wore hoop skirts, confederate soldiers fleeing the Union Army, and, of course, the fictional characters of Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler.

What the book could not tell people, of course, is that anyone who comes to Jonesboro today to follow "The Road to Tara," will find it guarded by a seventh-degree black-belt, karate hall-of-famer named Pat Duncan.

Duncan, the president and chief executive officer of the Clayton County Convention and Visitors Bureau, which oversees "The Road to Tara Museum" in Jonesboro, was inducted into the Battle of Atlanta Officials Hall of Fame last month.

The hall of fame recognizes the leadership karate instructors have given to their students over the years. He is one of more than 250 hall-of-fame inductees, according to the hall of fame's web site.

"A few of my friends and co-workers know that I used to do karate, but now that I'm retired, I just don't talk about it that much," Duncan said. "I don't have a reason to talk about it."

Duncan earned his first-degree black belt in 1967, while serving at Osan Air Force Base in South Korea. During the early years of his involvement in martial arts, he learned five types of karate, including Tae kwon do, Shotokan, Kempo, Shorinryu and American Karate.

After returning to the United States in 1969, he started teaching martial arts to others, beginning a path that he would stay on for nearly 30 years. He taught karate in Pennsylvania and Georgia. His first school was in Reading, Pa.

Most of his time as a teacher was spent in Georgia, however. Duncan opened his first school in this state in 1972, in Sandy Springs, and he gradually opened a handful of others, from metro Atlanta, to Jekyll Island and St. Simons Island. During his 28 years as a teacher, he taught more than 5,000 students, according to a press release from the Battle of Atlanta Officials Hall of Fame.

"I enjoyed the physical exertion and the mental focus involved in the sport," he said. "I started to enjoy sharing that with my students."

In 1973, Duncan won first place in the free-sparring, black-belt, lightweight category of the Yoo Jin Kim Institute of Karate's National Karate Championships. Over a period of 30 years, he gradually moved up through many of the degrees of black belts available in American Karate, but higher degrees was never something he actively sought. "For some people, pursuing higher degrees is a big deal, but I never chased degrees," he said.

The first five degrees of a black belt are earned by undergoing skills tests, but after that, the degrees are earned based on accomplishments and contributions to the sport, Duncan said. He said there are a total of 10 black-belt degrees in American Karate.

He was nominated for the hall of fame by one of his former students, Lynn Scott Gregory, who retired from competition in 2000 as a world champion in American Karate. She is also a member of the hall of fame. She said Duncan taught her "how to fight like a man," and she attributes her success in the sport to his instruction.

"He was very deserving of it," Gregory said. "I received a lot of things over the years ... and I owe it all to him."

Don Merritt, another of Duncan's former students, described him as "someone you could look up to. He was very dynamic, and he had an outgoing personality," Merritt said. "What made him such a good instructor was that he made it fun."

Since 2006, Duncan has overseen Clayton County's convention and visitors bureau, but he said his career in the hospitality industry goes back to 1977, and has included stops in tourism offices in Jekyll Island and DeKalb County.

During the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, he greeted VIPs at the official Olympic hotel, the Marriott Hotel in downtown Atlanta, as a volunteer for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. His identification badge from the Olympics hangs next to his computer desk, surrounded by karate trophies, plaques, certificates, photographs and statues.

Duncan said working as a karate teacher did teach him some of the skills needed to promote places, like Clayton County, to the public. "The promotion part of owning a school means you have to do a lot of advertising to the public, and that comes into play in this business," he said.

Duncan said he retired from the sport in 1997 because he felt he had accomplished virtually everything he could do in the sport, and "it was time to turn it over to my students."

Since going into karate retirement, he said he only dons his uniform if he is asked by his former students to help oversee black-belt tests for their students. He said he hasn't done that in about four years, however.

There was one other time when Duncan put his uniform back on. In 2000, he and some of his former students made "a Pat Duncan original," a how-to, self-defense video for women called "Be Your Own Bodyguard."

It was only distributed to self-defense classes. Duncan said he made the video because, over his years of teaching, he noticed that there were a lot of women who would begin taking karate classes after being in abusive relationships.

"There was just a need for it," he said. "I told women 'You aren't going to necessarily be able to go head-to-head with a guy after watching this video, but you are going to learn how to block punches and kicks.' "

Despite Duncan's past in karate, he said visitors to "The Road to Tara Museum" should not expect to see any martial arts exhibits among the "Gone With the Wind" and "Battle of Jonesborough" memorabilia. "We won't see Scarlett breaking any boards, or bricks, anytime soon," he said.