Around the summer of 94/95 I decided to jump into some martial arts classes and ended up meeting and became as close as brothers to my friend, Michael James DuCett. He was born in South Korea and adopted by an American family at 6 years old and without knowing what was going on, flown over to start a new life in the United States. His birthday is today, December 28th and if he were still physically here, he would have been 38 this year.
He and his sister Natalie were both Korean born and adopted by Steven and Linda DuCett. Steve was a military man and also a Minister and from the outside, always seemed strict but, you could tell that they had a great relationship and he was very proud of his children. Linda was always jovial and a very supportive mother. She home schooled both Michael and Natalie and was always equally proud of them both. You could see it daily as she would dropped them off to class and most days, spend 2-3 hours there waiting for them to finish.
Michael was already a Black belt in Tae Kwon Do when I meet him and was a great athlete. While I was 6 years older than Michael, we hit it of pretty quick and Michael generally acted much older than his physical age. What he lacked in corresponding age to me, he clearly made up for in his athletic ability and proved to be the mark that I physically would measure my self against.
He was dedicated to perfecting his martial arts skills and his techniques were razor sharp. His uniform would snap as he would preform his movements but when we would spar or were throwing each other around during Hapkido, he was as fluid as the ocean. (Side note, first time I saw the ocean was with Michael.) From the beginning of white belt through my eventual black belts, he was always the guy on the other side staring back at me and making sure I was doing was my best.
The amazing thing was that he did all of this with compassion and love for his fellow practitioners. He taught the kids with lighthearted discipline and wasn’t afraid to hug one of the kids should someone get hurt. He had hopes of eventually opening his own martial arts school and I know that he would have continued to change peoples lives and give the best of himself.
For the better part of 7+ years, I spent 3 hours a day, 3-5 days a week training with him. During those hours we trained, learned, bleed, and pushed ourselves to that next level. During tournaments we would watch each other fight and shout encouragement and advice from the sidelines. It’s worth mentioning that I rarely lost because no one I faced was ever as formidable as Michael.
Towards the end of the 90’s, I had a lot on my plate and eventually quit going to the classes and wrapped myself in work and life outside martial arts. I lost touch with everyone that I trained with, including Michael and his family. Then one evening in October of 2001 I received a phone call from Cindy, one of my former instructors, and with as much clarity as this moment that I am writing, she let me know that Michael had died in a car accident in Jasper, Indiana.
In the Memorial service pamphlet that I still read from time to time, Michael’s father wrote, “On his last day with us, Michael got up at 5:00 am, for private Bible study and prayer. At breakfast he led Linda and Natalie in a devotion and prayer since Steve was out of town. The three of them went out for exercise at the county fairground.”
At the service that the DuCett family held in Cedar Rapids, Michael’s mom Linda had told me that Michael would often be watching a martial arts movie and during the fight scenes Michael would say to her, that reminds me of Jeremy and I back in Cedar Rapids. I felt the pangs of guilt and sadness that I hadn’t continued that friendship and that we had lost contact. My only consolation was that he had fond memories of our friendship and what more can I ask of a friend.
I’m grateful for having known Michael and besides some aches that I still carry from training with him, I carry the memory of a truly beautiful soul. The G Shock I wear is a continual reminder of him, as he constantly wore one, and naming my son James is also a small nod to his middle name.
I sometimes forget Michael passed on but then a watch, a movie, or any number of things will recall him back to my memory and he is again as present as ever. One of my favorite poems about Death is by Henry Scott-Holland and is called Death is Nothing at All, and I’ve put a piece of it below. It’s how I choose to manage the loss of those that have moved on and how I choose to carry on without them here.
Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened.
Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you,
and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Happy Birthday my friend. You are gone but never forgotten.