Shihan James Alec Mackenzie
06/16/1961 to 02/21/2008
On February 21, 2008, The Koshin-ha Chito-ryu Karate Association lost one of its most senior members. James Alec Mackenzie, Shihan, was many things to many people. A son, brother, boss, co-worker, attorney at law, karate student, karate teacher, and certainly many others I have not mentioned, but most of all he was our friend.
He was a true gentleman, humorous, sharp witted, kind and extremely trustworthy. He was the type of person anyone would have been proud to have as a friend. He always had a smile, and anyone who knew him would certainly remember his contagious laugh. There is no doubt he enjoyed life and he brought joy to many other people’s lives, something many people would consider the greatest of human gifts.
Anyone who knew Shihan Mackenzie knew how humble a man he truly was. He would never have boasted about his own knowledge and skill, but I can personally vouch for how knowledgeable and skillful he was in something that he loved very much: Karate. Shihan Mackenzie was truly a Clark Kent. When he changed into his Gi, this mild-mannered person possessed speed and power far beyond what most people would have considered him capable. Although over the years I have heard many people comment on how mean or tough someone was in Karate, I never heard that about Shihan Mackenzie. Most people greatly underestimated him, and it usually cost them when they engaged with him on the training deck.
I met Shihan Mackenzie back in the early 1980’s. At that time, he was practicing Chito-ryu Karate in Louisville, Kentucky, under Sensei Danny Francis. By this time, he had already practiced Wado-ryu Karate and other martial arts, but within a few short years, he was training with my teacher in Frankfort, Kentucky.
By the time I met Shihan Mackenzie, he was already a brown belt in Wado-ryu Karate. With no complaints and no ego at all, he put on a white belt and began training with us. At that time I was already in the black belt ranks and so from that time forward, I was constantly and continually involved in his training. While some people come into a class with natural abilities, Shihan Mackenzie did not, and he worked extremely hard for everything he accomplished. I remember our teacher, George Van Horne, Hanshi, stating many times how impressed he was at how Alec was constantly continuing to improve. Shortly before Van Horne, Hanshi, died, I remember him commenting to me how impressed he was that Alec had stayed all of these years and how exceptional Alec had become. While some students would come to class when they felt like it or only show up once a week, Shihan Mackenzie was there virtually every time the doors were open and even came to me for extra training. I spent more time training one on one with him than I did with any other student I have ever had, with the exception of my sons. Shihan Mackenzie also made it a priority to continue his martial arts education by traveling many times with me (more often than any other student) to assist me in teaching, or to train by my side with other senior martial artists.
As Shihan Mackenzie advanced, he became an exceptional teacher in his own right. He constantly and consistently gave of his own training time to assist other students, and even when he had a heart attack several years ago, it only slowed him down for a short period of time. I remember both Sensei Scott Dunn and myself reminding him to take it easy, and he would quickly comment, “I’m fine.” Over the years Shihan Mackenzie far exceeded any expectations my teacher or I ever had for him. Alec became my most senior student, finally reaching the level of Roku-dan (6th Degree Black Belt) in Chito-ryu Karate, an accomplishment that few people ever reach.
If I had to say one thing to describe Shihan Mackenzie’s life, I would have to say he was a shining example of perseverance. No matter how hard the training got, he kept going and never complained. Although he suffered several health problems from his childhood onward and some would say the odds were stacked against him, I would say he took what he had and built on it. In his short life of 46 years, he impressed many people with his numerous accomplishments.
It seems that at times like these, no matter what we say about a person such as Shihan Mackenzie, it is never enough. Words can’t convey how special this man truly was, not only to me, but to many other people as well. Although we have all lost a great friend, our lives have all been richer for having had the opportunity to share time with this special person, and I know Shihan Mackenzie would have felt the same way about the time he spent with us.
James L. Davenport, Hanshi, Kentucky Budo-kan, Frankfort, KY.