Born October 1, 1909 - Died June 7, 1981

by Burl Estes

This article is entitled "Uncle Bud," and not "Professor Estes" as he was known to anyone reading this, because I am his nephew, Burl Estes, and that is how I knew him. Tenth Degree Black Belt Francis Merlin Estes was, and always will be, simply Uncle Bud to me.

Uncle Bud was very formal and insisted on following protocol in judo classes or seminars. You did not carry on conversations with your neighbor, wander around or take breaks whenever you wished. He usually wrote, "Speak very softly in class and listen very carefully." You listened, learned and spoke only when asked to. Although I've attended his classes in Chico, California, this formal man is not the one I remember.

In fact, Uncle Bud was a very outgoing man with a great sense of humor. If a student was having difficulties in class, all he or she had to do was pick up the telephone and Uncle Bud was more than willing to help them on a relaxed, informal basis. His interest was in promoting judo and the American Judo Jujitsu Federation.

Working full time as a bookkeeper for a well drilling and pump company in Chico, financial profits from judo were probably the last thing on his mind. The only time I recall hearing him discuss finances was when trying to determine what to charge for the GIs that grandma made on an ancient sewing machine at her home. He wore them, Auntie Luke wore them and his students wore them.

To understand Uncle Bud's dedication to judo and the formal way he ran his classes, some information about his background is necessary. To put it quite simply, it was largely formless and shapeless. Anyone living that lifestyle today would be considered to be far below the poverty line and semi-homeless.

To start, my Grandfather and Uncle Bud's father, James Estes, was born in Indianapolis in 1873. To say he was less than a dynamic person would be an understatement. Throughout his entire life he never had a job where he couldn't see the end of it (i.e. working 30 years for a company for a pension, doing the same thing day after day, was an alien and horrible concept for him). In some way, he was a forerunner of the modern day hippies. In his latter years (he died in 1974 at age 101), he depended upon Uncle Bud and his brothers for support. After Grandma Estes went into a rest home and died, Grandpa Estes lived with Uncle Ivan, dad and Uncle Bud. He had no other means of support.

As a historical footnote, my great-grandfather was Francis Marion Estes (born 1833) who was Uncle Bud's namesake. On August 8, 1862, Francis and his brother James (born 1841) enlisted into Company D of the Indiana 79th Volunteer Infantry Regiment on August 8, 1862. James was discharged in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 25, 1863. Francis was mustered out on June 7, 1865, in Nashville, Tennessee, as a sergeant.

My great-grandmother had seven children spread out over a number of years. Dad said that she never saw all seven of them together at the same time and Uncle Bud and dad had aunts and uncles they never met in their lifetimes.

Grandpa Estes left home when he was 15 or 16 (1890 or 1891), with very little formal education, and moved to Salt Lake City where his oldest brother Tom was reportedly the sheriff. I'm checking this out with the Mormon Church who has excellent genealogical records. There he became a teamster (i.e. a man driving a team of horses pulling a wagon full of supplies) and reportedly hauled supplies used in building the Mormon Temple and other buildings in Salt Lake City.

In 1894, Grandpa Estes moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he homesteaded a ranch and acted as a guide for hunters. One story he told when I was a kid involved hunting. Since most of his stories were tall tales (i.e. in one he was trapped in a box canyon and killed by the Indians), this one sounds halfway believable because I learned very early how much he detested hard work. He said he and a hunting party were on one side of a deep valley when they spotted an elk several hundred yards away on the other side. Kidding the hunters, he told them to shoot it as it was such an easy shot. Before telescopic sights were in wide use, it was nearly an impossible shot.

The hunters told Grandpa Estes to take the shot. He did, aimed at the very top of the tree the elk was standing under and pulled the trigger. To his amazement, seconds later the elk fell over dead. The hunters were ecstatic. Not Grandpa Estes. They had to climb down one side of the valley, up the other, dress and quarter the elk, and then repeat the trip back carrying hundreds of pounds of elk meat, the skin and horns. The hunters told Grandpa Estes he was the greatest hunter in the world. He told me he'd never worked so hard in his life.

In any event, at some point in time Grandpa Estes married Olive Nathan and Uncle Bud was born in Jackson Hole in 1909, Uncle Ivan was born there in 1912 (the year the Titanic sunk) and dad (also Burl Estes) was born there in 1915. A sister Patricia (i.e. Auntie Pat) was born some years later, but I don't recall when or where.

In 1918 the family moved to Miles City, Montana, where Grandpa Estes had a brother who had a ranch. Uncle Bud would have been 9 years old then and dad would have been 3 years old. They stayed and worked there until 1920 when the family moved again to Sheridan, Wyoming.

While life in rural America was pretty primitive and rough in the early part of this century, Sheridan was probably a pivotal point in the forces that shaped Uncle Bud and his outlook on life. Grandpa Estes intended to work in Sheridan for "a while," but the family was snowed in and they spent the winter there in a tent. Dad, just 6 years old, recalls going to school in a horse drawn wagon until he and his brothers came home with frostbite. Uncle Bud was then 11 years old and that was the end of school for the year for him and his brothers (Auntie Pat was too young to be in school) and they spent their time lying around in a tent trying not to freeze to death.

If you think your Sensei is too formal and rigid and classes are sometimes dull, can you imagine what it must have been like for 11 year old Uncle Bud to lie on a cot in a freezing tent during winter in Wyoming with no television, radio or record player? He, dad, Uncle Ivan and the others just huddled under blankets day after day trying to avoid freezing to death. Uncle Bud has never mentioned this time in his life to me, but I suspect that that is one of the reasons he loved the Hawaiian Islands so much and made numerous trips there.

If you can recall from working out with Uncle Bud or having seen photographs of him, you'll notice he usually wore black socks while everyone else is barefoot. He was not trying to be formal. He had cold feet, probably a carryover from the winter in Sheridan.

When the snows melted the family moved to Sydney, Montana, where Grandpa Estes used his team of horses to pull a dirt moving scoop for a contractor, another part time job.

In 1922 the family moved to Grand Prairie, Canada, where Grandpa Estes worked at odd jobs. Every morning in school the students would stand and sing "God Save the Queen." However, Uncle Bud, Uncle Ivan and dad would sing the American version of the song, "America." Needless to say, the Canadian students did not find this especially amusing and dad reported that there were frequent fights in the schoolyard with the elder Uncle Bud trying to protect his two younger brothers.

The year 1923 turned out to be another pivotal experience for Uncle Bud. In that year the family traveled to Los Angeles by train and discovered that jobs were scarce.

In 1924 they started "following the fruit." In other words, they became migrant workers, traveling up and down the Central Valley of California picking apricots, peaches, prunes, grapes, cotton and whatever crops were available. Their source of transportation was a well used Model T Ford, not a large vehicle by anyone's standards.

Can anyone imagine what it must have been like for a family of six to travel up and down the state, living in tents and picking crops carrying all their worldly possessions in a Model T Ford? I've picked crops when I was a kid (we moved to Santa Rosa in 1954), but that was for pocket change and every night I went back to a secure home. It was also hard work. Uncle Bud was 15 then and it must have been devastating to him. Dad was six years younger, but still recalls the hardships. The family constantly moved and Uncle Bud and his brothers just as often changed schools. They had no permanent, long time friends and everyone worked to support the family. It was a transient existence and it is no wonder that Uncle Bud dropped out of school when he was 15 years old. Until that time he had been a good student and had been getting good grades, but the constant moves were just too much.

The family had a report card from Sheridan in which Uncle Bud was described as being an "excellent student." However, the odds were against him and when he discovered he was three to four years older than the other students in his class, most of whom had stable homes, he gave up.

Incidently, my father did go on to graduate from high school. By the time he did so he was 20 years old, had gone to 17 different schools and was working part time at night as a janitor. My grandparents told him he was lazy and that he should have been working full time to support them. Grandpa Estes was not much of a father figure for Uncle Bud and the others and is little wonder he took to judo the way he did. It gave structure to his life.

The date is unclear, but at some point during the Model T days while they were teenagers, probably 1925, Uncle Bud and Uncle Ivan went jack rabbit hunting. I've heard at least three versions of what happened, but Uncle Bud took a shotgun blast in his right forearm that almost shattered the bones. He had a lengthy hospitalization (six to eight months), but recovered. If you examine photos of him, you will note he always had a piece of wood held in place on his forearm with an ace bandage. It was needed to support his injured arm.

Dad recalls grandpa and a family friend examining the Model T and discovering that the canvas top and back of the car were riddled with shot, indicating that Uncle Bud had been in the car when the gun went off. Whatever happened, Uncle Bud ended up in the hospital for six to eight months.

Uncle Bud also suffered from respiratory problems that were also probably attributable to the family life style. For as long as I can remember, he carried a nasal inhaler in his shirt pocket and frequently used it. Neither of his medical problems seemed to affect him while engaged in judo.

In 1929 Uncle Bud enrolled in the Salvation Army Training School in San Francisco. He was then 20 years old and I suspect his enrollment was as much a desire to seek security and is was to escape the wandering family existence.

In 1931 or 1932 (probably the former date) Uncle Bud was sent to the Hawaiian Islands (they were still a territory then) to serve with the Salvation Army. Uncle Bud was stationed at the Ewa Plantation, a boy's home, and reportedly did an excellent job working with the youngsters. A year or two after he arrived he married Arlene Hartman and they had two children, Kimo and little Arlene. They divorced in 1935 or 36 for reasons unknown to me (I wasn't born until 1944), and his former wife's new husband adopted both Kimo and Arlene.

Kimo graduated from Stanford University at an unknown date and lives in Mountain View, California, while Arlene lives in Sacramento, California. All I remember of them is that in the 1950s Kimo gave my cousin Lynn and me rides around Chico on his motor scooter. Kimo was very nice to Lynn and me in spite of some reported bitterness about the divorce. However, Kimo did visit Uncle Bud in Chico and seemed to be on friendly terms with him.

Uncle Bud left the Salvation Army in 1935 or 1936 and went to work for a Curley Friedman, a local tile contractor who, as dad recalls, served on the Islands with the Navy and remained there when his enlistment was up. He was married with teenage children and had been in the Islands for 15 to 20 years before dad arrived there in 1938 and went to work for him also.

According to dad, Curley Friedman introduced Uncle Bud to judo. A black belt instructor himself, he introduced Uncle Bud to Henry Okazaki and they started working out at Okazaki's dojo. Uncle Bud also met Rick Rickerts and studied with him at the Army- Navy Club. Rickerts was a yeoman in the Coast Guard at the time.

In 1931, when the family moved to Chico, California, there was a revolt, of sorts, and Uncle Ivan, dad and Auntie Pat refused to continue the former family lifestyle. Grandpa and Grandma Estes bought a house, paid for by my dad and his brothers, and the family finally settled down. Grandpa Estes got a job he really enjoyed, being a night watchman. He could sleep for hours while supposedly guarding his employer's premises.

Around 1935, Uncle Bud saved a swimmer who became trapped on a reef offshore. Dad does not recall the details, the newspaper clipping Uncle Bud sent to the family is long since gone, but Uncle Bud was a strong swimmer, swam out to the reef and pulled the swimmer to safety. Uncle Bud was given a citation for the rescue and hospitalized several days for injuries suffered crawling over the reef.

In 1938, after graduating from high school, dad sailed to Hawaii on the Matson liner "Lurline" to join Uncle Bud and also started working out with Okazaki. When I talked to dad recently (October 1998) and asked him about Okazaki's dojo, his reply was: "What's that?" He'd never heard the word "dojo" until I asked him about it. He also did not know that the workout outfits were called GIs. He simply told me that they went to Okazaki's place and worked out in "jufo" outfits on woven cocoa mats.

To dad, it was not "Master Okazaki," "Professor Estes," and "Professor Rickerts." As far as dad was concerned, they were Okazaki, Bud and Rick. Unlike Uncle Bud, Okazaki was formal both in and out of the dojo. Dad describes him as a man with a head shaped like an artillery shell and a personality to match. Dad has a great sense of humor and it is to Okazaki's great credit that he was able to put up with him.

On March 9, 1939, Uncle Bud earned a Black Belt in Judo and can be seen standing in a formal photo with dad, Rick Rickerts and Okazaki.

Contrary to what was printed in his obituary, dad does not recall Uncle Bud ever practicing judo in Los Angeles prior to going to the Hawaiian Islands. Dad said they wintered in Los Angeles when there were no crops to be picked and that he and Uncle Bud went to the Brookline School and Humphries School. The rest of the time they were moving around.

Dad also said there was someone who worked out with them who was known as "Applehead." Dad said he was a Black Belt who was a machinist's mate in the Navy who worked on airplane engines. Dad said he was very, very good and probably didn't realize his own strength, the strongest man dad has ever known. A throw from him and dad said that you felt as though you were about a half-inch into the concrete under the cocoa mats they worked out on. Dad is 83 years old now and much slower than when I was a kid, but he was the strongest man I've ever known. Does anyone know who "Applehead" was and if he ever became involved with AJJF?

In 1939 dad and Uncle Bud returned to the mainland. Uncle Bud returned to Chico and opened a dojo on the front lawn of the house he was renting and started teaching judo there. Uncle Bud and dad traveled around to local schools putting on judo demonstrations to get young people interested in the sport. They were the only two who knew judo at the time. Dad continued working out and eventually reached Brown Belt rank before marrying, working full time and going to college. It was the end of his judo career.

Around 1948 Uncle Bud married Auntie Luke (i.e. Professor Lucile Estes). They were a couple born for each other. Making a number of trips to the Hawaiian Islands (I still have a wooden ukulele they brought back for me) they revisited the place where Uncle Bud was probably the happiest in his life.

My parents and I lived in Santa Rosa, but made frequent trips to Chico to visit my parents and Uncle Bud and Auntie Luke. When I was younger my parents would leave me in Chico for several weeks each summer so they could get away by themselves. During those times Uncle Bud and Auntie Luke ferried me and my cousins around as my grandparents did not own a car.

In 1959 Uncle Bud and three others founded the American Judo and Jujitsu Federation, an organization that is still going strong today. At a banquet in Oakland that year he granted an "honorary" black belt to dad in appreciation for his assistance during the early years. From there both Uncle Bud and AJJF went on from strength to strength.

Uncle Bud died doing what he loved to do. On June 7, 1981, he collapsed and died while giving a judo demonstration in Corning, New York. He was 71 years old. His body was returned to Chico and was buried with an honor guard of his students and black belts. Uncle Ivan and Sensei Lamar Fisher assisted in the funeral services. After he died Auntie Luke lost heart, gave up and died a year later from breast cancer. It was commonly said in the family that she just couldn't face life without him.

I miss Uncle Bud and Auntie Luke and fondly remember them driving me around Chico in the cramped back seat of their Nash Metropolitan, the canoe they kept in their garage for camping trips, the workouts in their dojo, Uncle Bud's sense of humor, and Auntie Luke's seemingly permanent smile. I've never known anyone to smile so much and be so happy when they were together. They took me and my cousins to swimming holes, movies and on picnics. In addition to the Nash Metropolitan, they also owned a Willy’s carry all, the forerunner of the modern day sports utility vehicle, they used for camping trips. I recall them heading out with their camping gear in the back and the canoe tied down on the roof.

They may be Tenth Degree Black Belts and Professors in Judo to the rest of the world, but they'll always be Uncle Bud and Auntie Luke to me.

Reprinted with permission from Burl Estes.

This page maintained by George Arrington.

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