He was born in Washington, D.C. and grew up in Northeast, N.E. He was educated in the DC public school system and was in the first graduating class of Spingarn High School in 1954. Spingarn is the home of NBA Hall of Fame basketball players Elgin Baylor and Dave Bing. The only public school in America with two NBA Hall of Fame players.
As the history of the martial arts over the last half century is recorded and documented, the name of Furman Marshall has attained iconic status. A former Marine and Action Hall of Famer, Supreme Grand Master Furman Marshall is a 10th degree black belt, who along with Fulbright Scholar Phil Cunningham, founded Simba DoJang in 1963. A student of legendary Ki Whang Kim and Soo Wong Lee, Furman has either personally promoted or sanctioned over 1,000 black belts in 20 Simba affiliated schools.
Prior to his retirement from the ring at the youthful age of 65, he was a fierce competitor with the likes of Joe Lewis, television action actor Chuck Norris and Joe Hayes. Furman stood only 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 168 pounds, he won hundreds of trophies and his mentees have amassed thousand of tournament wins. In 1977, Black Belt Magazine published an article proclaiming “Simba DoJang of Washington, DC is the winningest Karate Studio in the World.” His students have competed in Afghanistan, Canada, Russia and Spain.
It is hard to believe that Simba began in the basement in an area riddled with crime, you name the crime and it was found in this community in Southeast( S.E.), D.C.. Furman is credited with not only saving countless youth from drugs, violence, death and jail, but he transformed entire communities. He empowered neighborhoods. Prior to 1980 over 5,000 students had trained in Simba along with 30 black belts.
Furman’s business model was unique. It was “not for profit” meaning it was free to all. Kids who wished to participate in tournaments were sponsored by the group, who pooled their resources. Tournament winnings were reinvested so others could participate in future events. He made sure that Simba’s primary mission was to serve underprivileged students in the inner-city.
Furman, recalled in a story written in Black Belt Magazine, “I teach in the ghetto where I prefer to stay because of the need to help young boys and girls stay out of trouble.” For the next 45 years under Furman’s leadership, Simba‘s schools would start in no-less than 10 inner-city recreation centers. The centers were located in the most crime ridden areas of the Nation’s Capital. The crimes of rape, murder, muggings and robbery were a part of the landscape. Simba was not left unscathed, on several occasions Simba was challenged by the hoodlums and thugs of The Hood to co-exist in the same space. Intimidation and attempts at disrupting classes occurred. Furman bravely alone ‘invited the intruders to meet with him ‘Outside.’ What occurred afterwards is the substance of ‘Urban Legends.’ It is safe to say, no one interfered with Furman’s mission to teach the under-served again.
As Furman Marshall fought his way around the world to become a legendary martial arts icon, he gained that iconic status by meeting and beating other Black Belts along the highways and byways of the World. On one occasion he would encounter movie and television action actor, Chuck Norris. The two would meet in the finals of one tournament with Furman coming away as the victor.
Chuck Norris in action , appearing with the legendary Bruce Lee in the movie “Way of the Dragon”as a Black Belt karate instructor in the movie ‘Enter the Dragon’ and as a Texas Ranger in the long running television series of the same name.
I met Furman on a northeast (N.E.) D.C. playground where he was already a “Playground Legend.” On the weekends, I would leave my housing project in N.E. and walk several miles to historical Kelley Miller playground. This is the playground where future NBA Hall of Fame players, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain, met in a showdown, when they were student/athletes at Idaho and Kansas respectively. On any given weekend, you could shoot hoops with some of the best players in the city and Furman and legendary martial arts’ icon, John Womble, were among them.
My hero and legendary black belt martial arts warrior and a brother in the struggle, John Womble. Kelly Miller alumni and black belts Furman Marshall, and Bobby Lee, all followed in his footsteps.
Furman and I would join forces as adults, when we became youth advocates through the D.C. Parks and Recreation Department. We returned to our roots, the D.C. playgrounds, which were used as our vehicles to enhance the growth of inner-city children through the martial arts and the games of sports—I followed his lead.
There were bumps in the road and the challenges were many. We met our share of bullies and thugs along the way who threatened our very existence.
Furman not only defended Simba‘s right to exist in the inner-city, but through this determination, he set an example as a role model for his students and the entire community. He led by example; he neither smoked nor drank, nor used vulgar language (I, myself, got two of the three right); not a disrespectful word was heard by coaches or players on any given Sunday in the NFL, NBA and in Major League Baseball arenas around the country, when Marshal was there, too. Any lack of courtesy or disrespect in his class was off-limits. Low hanging, beltless jeans were never allowed. The brothers who were not in his class and chose the corner to hangout, didn’t get a free pass either, when he met them on their turf (street corners). He would let them know their pants were hanging a little too low, and, that to gain the respect of others, you had to show outwardly, that you have respect for yourself. Furman believed that “Respect begins first with the individual and then, continued in their presence to others!”
In November of 2015, the Simba DoJang Martial Arts World Federation,LLC, the registered oversight organization for Simba Do Jang, honored Harold Bell by naming him to its Executive Advisory Board, making him the first non-black belt civilian so honored.
People have often asked Furman how he came up with the name Simba for his martial arts school? Furman’s response, “simba” means “a lion“. A lion represents strength and staying power.” Simba DJ also challenges minority kids to think outside of the box by trying non-traditional sports. Character building, discipline, and hard work have always been the linchpins of Simba. Fundamental to Simba is respect for all human beings, regardless of differences. It is little wonder that Simba schools are diverse, welcoming all races and creeds. Schools have opened in DC, Maryland, Virginia, New York, Kansas, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Nevada, Alaska and Afghanistan.
Never to rest on his laurels, Furman saw challenges as an opportunity to excel. He was a champion skier and one of the founders of Black Ski, the first black ski club in America; he was a champion drag car driver and motorcycle racer. He was also the founder of the Renegade Racing team, a champion skydiver, a champion tennis player, scuba diver, hand glider, water skier, horse back rider, and all around athlete in football, basketball and baseball.
It was not enough for Furman to expand his own sports horizons, but he wished to widened opportunities for black youth. He does not believe in the word “can’t.” In a 1993 article written in the Washington Post, he said, “I just want to be a living example to minority youngsters to show that they can do anything they want to do; they just have to learn to control their fears. That’s all that prevents them from being karate champions, Olympic skiers, sky divers and anything else they can dream. I have a moral obligation to see that they can be all that they can be.” Truly, Furman is a visionary leader ahead of his time.
To expand minority youth geographic horizons, he organized trips for the kids to go horseback riding, skiing, roller skating, and cycling– far and beyond the streets of the inner-city. In only a year, Black Ski was the largest club of its kind in America with over 700 members. The club sponsored trips to Canada, Vermont, and Colorado, members even skied on the Olympic tracks. For those students who could not afford the trips, Furman would raise funds from numerous doctors and lawyers who had also joined Black Ski.
In 2012, he was honored as “The Ambassador of the Martial Arts.”
When asked what motivated him, his response was, “Just changing the lives of young people to become positive citizens.” Over a 45 year time period, many of these young people have not only become some of the nation’s most respected martial artists, but leading politicians, lawyers, doctors, educators, law enforcement officers, and government officials.
I remember one incident, when I had to turn to my friend Furman and ask for help. I encountered an out-of-town bully from Philadelphia, who refused to pay me the remaining $5,000 for a boxing promotion at the Lincoln Theater several years before. It was all done on a handshake and a security deposit of $1,000.
Evidently, the bully felt, that he didn’t have to pay the remainder $4,000, after I helped him sell out the show. The bully and I rode around D.C. all week-long, leading up to the fight– in his all white stretch limo, shaking hands, and meeting the press. Kamal Ali, the now CEO of Ben’s Chili Bowl, allowed us to use the restaurant’s upstairs office as our meeting and contact point. I hired Furman and Simba as my security. The crowd control provided by Simba was done quietly and efficiently. After the fight that night, the Bully and my friend and college roommate, then D.C. Boxing Commissioner Dr. Arnold McKnight, called me up into the ring. They introduced and thanked me for helping to make the show a success.
The next morning, I was to meet the Bully at Ben’s to close-out our ‘agreement’—my bad. He was a no-show. He had left town without a trace or a word.
The bully refused to answer my cell phone calls and I eventually tracked him down by his home telephone number in Philadelphia. My friend and NFL legend, Johnny Sample, who had referred him to me, provided the number. I made the call to his home around 6:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. He was surprised and angry to hear my voice on the other end of the line. When I asked him for my money, he went into a rage and called me everything but a child of God and then threatened to kill me. I calmly ask him–” where and went? ” He answered, “I will make it easy on you, I will be in D.C. for a boxing show at the National Guard Armory on Saturday.” My response, “I will see you there.”
My next call was to Furman, and after I explained what had happened, he said, “I got it and you be cool; we will be there.”
We knew his entourage might be packing guns from an encounter with Simba earlier, during a security check at the Lincoln Theater. Simba security had made them produce the licenses for their hardware, before they were allowed into the theater and they were pissed-off about it.
The following Saturday, we arrived at the Armory, to find the bully from Philly had parked his limo on the sidewalk in front of the Armory. I wanted to arm myself, but Furman warned against it and said “My security team is licensed to carry.”
I was really angry, because this was a sign of disrespect and intimidation. But, Furman was cool and said again, “Harold Bell be cool; we got it!”
We got to the entrance to the Armory and guess who was standing front and center, the bully and his entourage, laughing and joking with some fans they had met at the Lincoln Theater outing, I guess. Furman and six Simba security followed me in, with Furman whispering to me, “Be cool; let them make the first move!” It was like Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, the bully and his entourage moved to one side and made a path for our entry.
It seemed like I tried my best to die that evening. I had fliers printed up with the Bully’s and Don King’s photos side by side, calling them both boxing pimps and thieves. The Bully and his entourage had ring side seats; and, without telling Furman, I started passing out the fliers, handing the Bully his personal copy. After the fight was over, we walked back out of the Armory without incident– right by the Bully and his entourage standing by his limo.
I never got the rest of my money, but staring that bully down— was PRICELESS!
Evidently, my friend Johnny Sample got on his case in no uncertain terms. The Bully called Boxing Commissioner Arnold McKnight, who was scared to death as to what might happen to me. The message he gave Dr. McKnight was, “Tell Harold Bell, I am not looking for any trouble.”
The next time I would see the Bully and his entourage was the following year; they were in attendance at a Liala Ali Championship fight in Bowie, Maryland. The fight took place at the Bowie Baysox Baseball stadium. I was walking around ringside, killing time alone, when I spotted him and his entourage in the crowd, but this time, they were sitting back in the crowd and not at ringside. This was strange for a guy who loved being seen in crowded places shaking hands and playing “Mr. Big Shot!” I left the stadium that night looking over my shoulder, but feeling like ‘Mission Accomplished.’
The Grand Master Furman Marshall and Muhammad Ali and the undefeated champion Liala Ali—proving an acorn does not fall too far from the tree.
It is easy to see why Jhoon Ree, the God Father of Tae Kwon Do in America refers to Furman, ‘as a humble and kind man’ I concur.
“Nobody bothers me” Jhoon Ree visits the studios of Inside Sports
Note Worthy: This story was copied from the 2014 edition of The Martial Arts Action Magazine. (author Bob Maloney, J. D.)
Today, the Simba Do Jang legacy, now trademarked registered, is held sacred as an affiliate with the oversight of the larger, trademark registered organization, The Simba Do Jang Taekwondo World Federation, LLC., Grand Masters Marshall & Cunningham with chosen CEO, Master Wesley D. Spires, a Simba Do Jang Master Instructor.