Don Jacob’s empire

Professor Don Jacobs builds an international karate empire with his indigenous martial arts system, Don Jitsu Ryu

Professor Don Jacob demonstrates techniques from his Don Jitsu-Ryu system. Photograph courtesy Don JacobProfessor Don Jacob demonstrates techniques from his Don Jitsu-Ryu system. Photograph courtesy Don Jacob

It was founded in 1970 under a breadfruit tree on Westbury Lane in Belmont, on the eastern side of Port of Spain.

“We used to call it Hell Yard. We got some galvanise, covered it over, and called it a dojo. We paid TT$6 a month for the space,” Don Jacob recalls. He was only 15 years old then, and charged students TT$1.50 to learn his martial arts fighting system, which he called Don Jitsu-Ryu. Until he acquired this headquarters, Jacob had traversed Trinidad on a Chopper bicycle which he bought for TT$25, teaching his techniques and gradually realising that he could actually earn a living by doing what he loved.

Today, Professor Don Jacob’s school is called the Purple Dragon International School of Martial Arts, and is preparing for its 40th anniversary in 2010. A movie is in the works, a glossy Purple Dragon magazine is already in circulation, and students are sharpening their skills for the Karate World Tournament which the school will host in Trinidad and Tobago. There are plans for a permanent home for Purple Dragon’s World Headquarters, and for a martial arts museum.

There are twenty branches of Purple Dragon in Trinidad and Tobago now, with more across the Caribbean (in Antigua, Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia, the Cayman Islands, and Tortola), and more in the United States, Canada, Ireland, Australia and England. But Trinidad is still the school’s headquarters.

In 1977, Don Jacob was the first Trinidadian to perform at Madison Square Garden, at the Oriental World of Self-Defense. In 1981, he was inducted by Ju-Jitsu America into the Black Belt Hall of Fame, and in 1986 was the first and only Trinidadian to be mentioned in Al Weiss’s book, The Official History of Karate in America – The Golden Ages 1968-1986.

As a child growing up in the depressed area of Laventille in Trinidad, Jacob had sought refuge in karate as a way of defending himself against bullies. He studied judo with Sensei Clyde Thomas, and after earning his black belt, travelled to the United States to study Ju-Jitsu under the late Grandmaster Moses Powell, and traditional styles with Master Tusui Yoshitaka.

Since then, Don Jitsu-Ryu has evolved from a fighting style into a lifestyle. Jacob’s students range from preschoolers to professionals: he teaches them not only how to fight, but how to live a successful life, based on knowledge, self-confidence and self-esteem.