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The City Journals

Murray man finds his wife – and a refreshed outlook on life – through karate

Jun 10, 2019 11:16AM ● By Carl Fauver

Kris Watson (L) began taking karate lessons from Robert Watson 30 years ago, and married him a few months later. (Photo courtesy Kris Watson)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected]

A self-proclaimed Army brat, who traveled all over the country and world as a youngster, finally found some direction – and, for that matter, his wife and his favorite pastime – through karate.

Earlier this year, that calling took Robert Watson – and fellow Utah karate instructor, W. Todd Stoneking – to Stow, Ohio, where they were inducted into the USA Karate Federation Hall of Fame. It was a first for Stoneking; but a second go-round for Watson.

“I was so grateful to be inducted into the Hall of Fame again, since I was unable to attend the first induction ceremony (in 2015), because I was recovering from hip replacement surgery,” Watson said. “This time I did make it; and it was wonderful to have (fellow instructor) Todd (Stoneking) there too. It was a great honor.”

Watson was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a “Pioneer of USA Karate and a Pioneer of Police Self-Defense Instruction.” On that same evening, Stoneking was inducted as an Official and Administrator. Those are the categories in which Watson was inducted four years ago, along with his work as a coach and referee and for additional contributions to law enforcement training.

Watson’s introduction to karate came, ironically, in the so-called “Summer of Love,” 1967, when he was a junior at an Albuquerque, New Mexico high school.

“I got into a fight at the end of the school year and was called into the assistant principal’s office,” Watson explained. “He threatened to expel me if I didn’t straighten out. He also insisted I become involved in martial arts, to learn discipline. I attended a class where the instructor beat the living daylights out of me, cracking three of my ribs. He was teaching me a lesson for being a smart aleck. After recovering for a couple of weeks, I returned and signed up for classes. That was 52 years ago, and I am still active in karate nearly every day.”

Soon Watson was competing in karate tournaments. By 1972, he earned his black belt. About that time, he also earned a degree from the University of Albuquerque. A job transfer brought him to Murray in 1973, and he’s lived here ever since. 

“I have taught karate to thousands of students,” Watson said. “At one point I was teaching at five different schools. But I never wanted to do it for money. I wanted to teach for the love and joy if it.”

Watson returned to the classroom himself, earning a master’s degree at Brigham Young University in recreation management, in 1984.

Karate also changed Watson’s life dramatically in the summer of 1989 when a new student named Kris arrived.

“I graduated from Taylorsville High School in 1986 and had just finished my junior year up at Idaho State University, when I signed up for karate lessons,” Kris Watson said. “I actually enrolled because I had met a guy in Pocatello who knew karate and I wanted to learn it over the summer, to impress him. Instead, I grew close to Robert… never saw the other guy again…. and Robert and I were married in December 1989.”

Kris is now one of Robert’s instructors for karate classes he has offered at the American International School of Utah (4998 South Galleria Dr.) since 2015.

“All of our instructors are voluntary and we are grateful AISU has provided us with space, at a reduced rental rate,” Watson added.  “That allows us to offer the classes at a low cost. We teach on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.”

With the recent announced closure of AISU, Watson is not yet sure whether his karate classes will continue there. He wants them to, as talks with the building’s owner continue. Information about classes, a possible new location and costs is available at Utahshorinkai.org.

Simply put, Watson recognizes karate transformed his life.

“I was a know-it-all punk back in high school, getting into too much trouble and too many fights,” Robert said. “Karate gave me discipline.”

It also led him to Kris, with whom he now shares two sons and two grandsons.

“I’m so proud of Robert,” Kris said. “And I was excited when the USA Karate Federation again voted him into its Hall of Fame – particularly after he was unable to attend his first induction ceremony.”