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‘Skipper’ Ingham (1930-2022): Godfather of Bermuda martial arts

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“Skipper” Ingham (File photograph)

A martial arts master whose name was synonymous with karate in Bermuda founded the island’s first dojo in 1970.

Frederick Ingham, known widely as Osensei Skipper, or “Skipper”, was considered the godfather of Bermuda karate.

According to his wife Kristina, one of several trained as instructors by Mr Ingham, he died in hospital on Wednesday night.

She called him “a wonderful husband and partner to me for 52 years”.

Never one for retirement, Mr Ingham continued competing rigorously into his late 80s.

“If I feel strong enough to do it, I’m going to do it,” he told The Royal Gazette in 2017 ahead of another tournament. “Age isn’t going to keep me back.”

Frederick “Skipper” Ingham and his wife, Kristina (Photograph by Tamell Simons)

Mr Ingham estimated he had taught karate to at least 1,000 people since becoming an instructor in 1967.

Many of his students achieved black belt status.

His wife wrote: “He was a gifted teacher, but always remained a student, travelling many times to Okinawa in the 90s to train with Miyazato Eeichi and Hichiya Yoshio.

“His practice continued until about five years ago, when health problems curtailed this and another art he loved, playing the flute.”

Mr Ingham’s early childhood included several years at the Sunshine League Children’s Home, and Ms Ingham said he worked a colourful variety of jobs as a teenager, including as a cook at the Harmony Hall Hotel.

She said his “first stowaway attempt” failed – but he succeeded in 1947, aged 17, in reaching New York on a one-way ticket.

The teacher: Frederick “Skipper” Ingham (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

He joined the US military in 1950, then the US Coast Guard to ship out as a merchant seaman.

Mr Ingham recalled: “The first port from the US was Yokohama, Japan.

“That is where I first saw the marital arts. When I saw it I said, I’ve got to try that some day.

“What appealed to me was that it was deadly. If I was going to defend myself, I wanted things to be over in a couple of seconds.

“Obviously it works. I’m still alive aren’t I?”

Returning to New York in 1961, he signed up for karate lessons – eventually opening the Midtown Dojo, with his future wife among students.

Frederick “Skipper” Ingham (File photograph)

Ms Ingham, originally from Connecticut, told the Gazette in 1993: “I think it was his karate that I found so interesting to begin with. I was really impressed with his skills.

“I was a dancer at the time, more into modern dance. I guess the two are sort of related, and we're both very health-oriented.”

Minister pays tribute

Senator Owen Darrell, the Minister of Youth, Culture and Sport, today paid tribute to Mr Ingham.

He said: “I extend my heartfelt condolences to Skipper’s family, loved ones and friends. Skipper Ingham was a martial arts legend in Bermuda.

“Over the years, he became one of the most revered and respected martial artists in Bermuda. He was determined to grow the sport in Bermuda and opened a karate school, where he trained the next generation of martial artists.

“Skipper’s passing is a great loss for Bermuda. He was an inspiration and a mentor to many, and we will be forever grateful for his contributions to Bermuda’s community and sports history.”

Ms Ingham said her husband’s passion for karate was honed in Manila in the Philippines and Osaka, Japan.

His principal sensei or teacher in New York was the American master Peter Urban.

Returning home to Bermuda in 1970, he established the Bermuda Karate Institute.

His awards and accolades included induction in 2007 into Bermuda’s Sports Hall of Fame – an emotional occasion for Mr Ingham.

He was devoted to building talent in Bermuda and supporting Bermudian martial artists to represent the island overseas.

An uncompromising and sometimes strict teacher, Mr Ingham believed deeply in the peaceful core ethos of karate.

In a 2000 interview he said: “Martial arts is the best discipline tool on this earth.

“It shows you the way of life, to respect others, but firstly respect yourself so you are able to respect others. That's the most important part of martial arts.

“The reason we learn to fight is so that we don't have to fight. We become diplomats in the art of negotiation, to avoid violence.

“But by the same token, a person has the right to defend themselves – that's another aspect of the martial arts.

“Thirdly, it's the health aspect, health meaning more than physical activity. It also means developing character so that you can understand and respect the rest of the people on this planet.”

The couple had two children, Shomeiko and Zenji, and Ms Ingham said he was also “loving father to Ricardo Gomez”.

• Frederick Innis Wood Ingham, martial arts master, was born on February 18, 1930. He died on November 9, 2022, aged 92.

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Published November 12, 2022 at 7:50 am (Updated November 12, 2022 at 7:50 am)

‘Skipper’ Ingham (1930-2022): Godfather of Bermuda martial arts

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