Discussion thread for Claude Harley Reagan. If you would like to add a comment, click the Post Reply button
Discussion thread for Claude Harley Reagan. If you would like to add a comment, click the Post Reply button
I was a student of Claude Harley Reagan's in 1974 in Pasadena, California, at his Dojo on N. Lake Avenue. I read this article with a mixture of sorrow, amusement, shame, and revulsion.
I am now a fat, gray-haired 57 year old curmudgeon with no more illusions about his own mortality. But in 1974, I was young and vigorous, and in pretty good shape. I thought it would be cool to learn a martial art, and based on the recommendation of an acquaintance who was also a student of Reagan's, I wandered into his Dojo one day and signed up. As I recall, the price at the time was about $25.00/month, which seemed like a lot of money to me. But, given everyone's enthusiasm in the class, it also seemed like a good price.
From the beginning, two things were evident to me: 1) Harley Reagan (he didn't use his first name of "Claude") was an actual badass; and 2) he thought very highly of himself. His various belts and degrees may be fraudulent, but it was undeniable that the man could fight. I have no idea how he would stack up today against a modern martial artist, but he did have talent as a fighter. He also was a man who, even by my own libertine standards at the time, lived a "sexually excessive" lifestyle. I recall that he was married — to a very pleasant woman who also claimed to be Cherokee, and who made really good fry bread — but he also invited a young woman who was a student of his into his marriage, which became a three way relationship. My sense of it at the time was that his real wife was not happy with that arrangement.
The style of Karate Reagan was teaching at the time was Chito-ryu, which he claimed to have studied under the Grand Master in Japan, whose name escapes me now. He also taught Jiu-Jitsu and Judo. He did make all the referenced claims in the above article, about being on the Olympic Judo team, teaching hand-to-hand combat in the Marine Corps, serving four tours in Vietnam, etc., etc., although, I don't recall him ever mentioning the Air Force at that time. He did claim to be some kind of Indian Shaman.
I had forgotten about his claim of having fallen from a burning helicopter, but the above article reminded me of it, and he did make that claim. The article does not mention one detail which Reagan did tell us, and that was the manner of his wounding which ended his fourth tour and sent him to the hospital.
He said that he had been involved in an extensive firefight, and that he had just carried several wounded comrades to the dustoff chopper which was evacuating everybody from the LZ. He said that, as he was turning to get on the chopper himself, a mortar round detonated nearby and a fragment blew off the top of his skull after which he pitched face down into the mud. He claimed to have had an out-of-body experience in which he rose into the air, saw two marines lift his body into the chopper, and watched the chopper fly away "without" him. He said that he thought, "hey, you can't leave without me," and then his spirit re-entered his body as the chopper was flying away.
The other embellishment to the tale that I remember is that Reagan claimed that when he finally woke from his coma, a male orderly or nurse was shaking his shoulder trying to get him to wake up, and that when he came too, he beat the snot out of the poor soul in his confusion.
I can provide additional details to anyone who cares to PM me.
As to my own martial arts path, it was spotty. After studying under Reagan for a while, I could no longer afford to keep going. My next foray into Karate was as a freshman at UTEP, 2 years later (I didn't start college until I was 24). I think I earned a green belt, and I'm not absolutely certain, but I think it was in Shotokan. Then, another couple of years later, I was awarded a brown belt by my instructor in Shorenji-Kempo in a small ad-hoc Dojo in New York City, made up entirely (except for me) of Japanese students attending NYU. My teacher had a 2nd degree black belt.
Other than a brief foray into American Kenpo under Larry Tatum just a few years ago, I never went any further than that, and over the years, life has been hard on my body. I am no longer capable of that kind of activity, and have various titanium spinal implants and other long term injuries. So my Karate is weak, but thanks to Texas CHL law, my .45 ACP is strong. I don't try and pretend to be anything I'm not, a lesson that Claude Harley Reagan apparently never learned.
Thank you for posting annoyed man!
A belated thanks for the welcome. I had actually forgotten that I posted this. I sometimes still wonder what the guy is up to. The weird thing is that, despite the man's being a total fraud, I don't really bear him any ill will. For one thing, my experience with him was 37 years ago. Time has a way of taking the rough edges off of things.
Like I mentioned in my opening post, the fraudulence of the man's various belts and other claims notwithstanding, he actually could fight. One night during class, he and one of his "black belt" students (I put that in quotes because he was not apparently authorized to award black belts, or any other kind of belts for that matter) responded to the robbery of a store across the street from the dojo. They intercepted the thief as he was running out of the store with the burglar alarm going bonkers and cold-cocked him, put him down, and held him until the police arrived.
Another time, when I was a very beginning student, he used me to demonstrate to the class how one could, with training, absorb strikes to the body with little or no pain. He told me to execute a front snap kick into his stomach. I complied, but I was afraid I might actually either A) hurt the guy, or B) that he would instinctively retaliate—hurting me—so I didn't kick him very hard. He showed a little bit of annoyance and brusquely told me to do it again, and to really let him have it. I did, but my aim was off and I kicked him in the nuts. His face went momentarily pale, but otherwise he gave no immediate reaction, and he did not go down. He then told me through clenched teeth that I hit low, and told me to do it again, but do it right this time. I thought that I was about to die because I was afraid of what might happen to me if I missed again. But I didn't miss. I did kick him as hard as I knew how right in the solar plexus, and he "kiai-ed" when I connected, and that was it.
He may have never attained any official rankings, but he had studied something, under somebody, somewhere. I say this because his techniques were legitimate. He may have borrowed from many styles, but he did know some martial arts, and he was very fast and had good control. He was full of bullshit, but he was a fighter. I will give him that. I was later able to use the things that he taught me about technique to good effect when I later took classes from legitimate martial arts instructors. There are two things that I hate in life about as much as anything I can think of, and that is a thief, or a liar. But like I said, time has a way of taking the rough edges off of things. 37 years later, I just think of Harley Reagan as a colorful bullshitter. In the long run, he did me no real harm and he did teach me a few useful things—not the least of which is to be very skeptical of what people tell me when they appear to have had an extraordinary life arc.
Here are three other stories that he told us about himself which are not mentioned in your original story....
Reagan claimed to have known Lee very well. Enter the Dragon was then currently in the movie theaters, and it was a commercial success. Reagan said that he and Lee used to work out together, and that it was during that time that Lee developed Jeet Kune Do. He also described Lee's methods of working out....which I neither recollect much about, nor which I remember as being true or not.
Harley told us stories of his growing up on a farm, but sometimes this farm was located in the Texas panhandle, and sometimes it was located on the Cherokee reservation, presumably in Oklahoma. In one of these stories, he told of fishing in a "traditional" Cherokee method with a group of other Cherokee men, presumably in his late teens/early 20s. He said they had dammed up a creek and were standing in the resulting pool, about chest deep, spearing catfish and tossing them into a skiff they were towing along behind them. (Never mind that catfish tend to not like fast moving water....) Also, they were all naked in that pool (big surprise). Harley said that he felt something keep bumping into his thigh and brushed it away several times without looking to see what it was. When he finally looked, he said it was a water moccasin snake and that he jumped in one leap clean out of the water, landing butt naked in the skiff full of catfish with their poisonous spines. He said that he was stuck by those spines in a number of places and that he swelled up all over and was terribly sick for a while.
Falling off of a barn:
In this story, Harley is a young boy, pre-teen, and he and his brother (the only time I ever recall him mentioning having a sibling) decided to build a "rubber band powered" airplane out of the wood from fruit crates. According to his description, the fuselage was made out of several of these crates, assembled end to end, and nailed together. The "wings" were made out of random boards they had laying around the barn, and power to the propeller was by means of a large "rubber band" made from old bicycle inner tubes. Harley said they got themselves up on the roof of the barn with this contraption with the intention of using the downward slope of the roof to launch their flight, and they climbed onto their contraption and let go. They slid down the roof, and disconcertingly did not take off into the wild blue yonder but instead crashed to the ground some distance below. (There seems to be a reoccurring theme here of Reagan surviving falls from significant heights.) Reagan claimed to have broken either a leg or an arm (I don't remember which it was) in the resulting impact. I don't remember what happened to his brother.
That's pretty much all that I can remember about Harley Reagan. The most valuable lesson I learned from him is that there is a sucker born every day, and for a time, I was one of them. I've rarely been suckered into anything since. The thing of it is, there are con-men, and then there are people who believe their own lies. I think Reagan is probably one of the latter.
One other thing..... It has been my good (or bad, depending on how you look at things) fortune to have either met or known a number of either colorful or notorious/famous people in my lifetime. Harley Reagan is just one of them. I have been and done a lot of things in my life. I've been a college student, ranch hand, surfer, common laborer, gun-builder, musician, motorcycle road-racer, husband and father, journeyman preacher of the Gospel, and a writer, and I have been self-employed for the last 4 years as the owner of a website design business in the greater DFW metroplex. But my passion is writing. I love to write. I don't have that much to write about my own life. I'm just an everyday kind of guy. Therefore, I view it as my good fortune to have known a lot of colorful people because it is grist for the mill, so to speak. I love to tell a story. I prefer them to be true stories, because anybody can tell a lie, but it takes truth to hold someone's attention. We live in an endlessly fascinating world, but sometimes people lose sight of that. So when a guy like Harley Reagan enters your life, it's a gift—not because any of what he said is true, but because my experience of him is true, and it makes for good storytelling. So, for the long-con and short-con artists I've known, I am actually grateful.
Anyway, thanks for letting me ramble on here.
Would you be prepared to have some of your memoirs included in the article about Reagan ?