Furman Marshall is the founder of the oldest martial arts organization in the world and the founder of the oldest minority ski organization in the world–Black Ski.
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 Furman Marshal was there. 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 Marshall, ‘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.<img
Students from the Philippines wanted to know “When are you bringing Ben’s to the Philippines?”
Students from Bristol, England–next stop Capitol Hill to meet the politicians
When legendary musician Quincy Jones produce and directed the song “We Are the World” for charity in 1985 the guest artist participating were a Who’s Who of the music world. The goal was to raise money for the famine taking place in Ethiopia where little children and their parents were literally starving to death. Quincy send out an SOS to all divas (male and female) and the response was nothing short of amazing. The only requirement for participation, “Check ego at the door.”
When Ben and Virginia Ali open Ben’s Chili Bowl in 1958 the diners were a Who’s Who of entertainers, politicians, sports personalities and everyday people in Black America. They could be found on the U Street corridor aka Black Broadway on any given evening but the weekends were always buzzing.
I remember, I was in middle school when I first heard of “Black Broadway.” On the weekends my mother and her sisters, brothers, cousins and friends from our NE Parkside Housing Project would meet at my house. They would all be dressed up (clean as chittlings) and I would ask “Mommy where are you guys going?” And her response would be ‘We are going downtown to party!’ I was still in the dark because I thought downtown was by the White House located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, but I later discovered that the U Street NW corridor was considered downtown in the black community. In our community there was a bus company called Capitol Transit and on Sundays three would be allowed to ride on a pass to close out the week. Someone in the group would get a pass from their parents so that we could joy ride to what we thought was downtown. To get all of our crew on the bus we would open one of the windows and hand the pass out to three other guys at each stop on the route out of the projects. Sometimes there would be 15 to 20 guys on the ride. The bus driver was not fooled but we never coursed him any problems and he looked the other way. Sometimes he would act like our tour guild pointing out the landmarks.
The Matriarch and hero of the Tyler/Bell family, Amy Tyler Bell aka Grandma Bell and her grand-children. Standing L-R cousin, Carole, brothers HB, Earl, Bobby. Next to Grandma, cousin, Ronnie and cousin Tommy
The Black Broadway crew of NE in photo before heading down to the U Street corridor for a party over here and a party over there. Mommy B standing center in the back with white pearls around her neck.
The bus would take us down in front of the White House which was across the street from Lafayette Square. The driver would make a U turn and bring us back to the projects and that is why I thought was downtown was by the White House. The U Street NW corridor “Black Broadway” was downtown to my mother. There was a ‘Broadway’ in New York City but black folks were never made to feel comfortable there. They were treated like ‘Outsiders.’ The more things change the more they remain the same.
In the 40s and 50s the U Street corridor aka Black Broadway was where the black community let its hair down on the weekends. There you could walk shoulder to shoulder with some of the greatest entertainers, politicians and sports personalities in America. They included, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Dick Gregory, Dinah Washington, Nat King Cole, Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Pigmeat Markam, Redd Foxx, etc.
My brothers and I spend our early years with Grandma Bell. The closest we got to “Black Broadway” was our place of worship, Mount Airy Baptist Church. The church was located in walking distant of the U Street corridor at North Capitol and L Streets, NW, but my brothers, cousins and I were never out of sight of Grandma Bell on Sundays. Our leisure time was spend visiting the sick and shut-in at the housing project Sursum Quarters surrounding the church and on Wednesdays we would sometimes visit Freeman’s Hospital. My community involvement is not by accident.
The Bell/Tyler family settled in Washington, DC in the Early 1800s my Great-Grandfather Alfred Johnson Tyler laid the first brick to build Mount Airy in 1893 and was named Pastor in 1906 and served in that capacity until he went home to be with the Lord in 1936. My Great-Uncle the Rev. Earl Tyler was his successor until he went home to be with the Lord in 1958. The Tyler House a senior citizen complex two blocks north of the church is named after him.
My brother Bobby, Earl and I attended Burville Elementary School together and church would become our home away from home. It was not unusual for us to be in church three to four days a week and all day Sunday. My Great-Uncle the Rev. Earl Tyler could preach like ML King, and sing like Marvin Sapp. Grandma Bell played the organ and directed the choir of heavenly voices that included, my aunts and uncles. Every Sunday was a revival—this was real church. On Sundays if you were 5 minutes late there would be standing room only.
In the 50s my brother Earl and I moved to the housing project with our mother Mattie Bell aka Mommy B and Bobby the oldest stayed with Grandma Bell. In 1955 against all odds I entered Spingarn High School. My middle school Principal, Mr. William B. Stinson had predicted to my mother after one of her frequent visits, he said, “Mrs. Bell you are not going to have to worry about Harold too much longer, I doubt if he lives to get to high school.”
Our father Alfred was a “Dead Beat Dad” in every sense of the word. The Temptations described him to a Tee with with their classic vocal ‘Poppa Was a Rolling Stone.’ My heroes growing up were not black men or black athletes, my heroes were black women, my grandmother, mother and my aunts.
My mother and grandmother’s efforts to keep me and Earl from going to hell in a hurry was to no avail. We continued to act like dam fools outside of the church and our home. Earl had turned to yoke robbery and hitting cash registers on the weekends on the busy H Street corridor in NE (now Capitol Hill). I would join him and his crew on a couple of outings, but it was too much drama for me. I decided to return to carrying groceries on the weekends at the Safeway. In 1957 thanks to one of my neighbors and homies from the projects, Jody Waugh, I discovered Burning Tree Golf Course. He convinced me I would triple my income at the golf course and I did. It was here I met my mentors, Petey Greene and President Richard M. Nixon.
In the meantime, Mommy B aka Mattie Bell got fed up with her monthly Relief/Welfare check she was receiving. She thought she could do better so she started to put her cooking skills with her specialty fried chicken (put Colonel Sanders to shame), chittlings, home-made potato salad and cakes and pies to good use. She sold dinners on the weekends. On Friday evenings family and friends would be lined up outside of our door sitting on the porch and curve waiting for the dinners. This led her to selling bootleg liquor and having card games (piddy pat and poker). She cut ten cents on every dollar won. She was hitting the number so much, the book maker for our housing project, Mr. Billy Jackson turned over his territory to her and gave her a cut of the book. Mommy B was the projects’ Donald Trump long before Donald Trump and Atlantic City. Somewhere during that era my youngest brother William Sterling aka Billy aka Puddin aka Tyrik was born.
Almost like any success in the black community and especially financial success, envy and jealousy were just a step behind. My mother’s Achilles Heel, was a big heart and she never learned to say, “No” to anyone who needed a helping hand. Suddenly, the cops started to raid our house on the weekends taking my mother out in handcuffs while Earl and I sit on the steps crying. She would stop and kiss us and say, “I will be back in time to take you to church in the morning” and she would. The raids would happen at least one a month. She would move the card games and the bootleg liquor to other locations in the neighborhood. But the cops had a snitch in the community and they would know her every move.
Trying to stay one step ahead of the cops and the snitch, plus three active boys would prove to be a little too much for her. Mommy B had a nervous breakdown in 1957 and was institutionalized at St. Elizabeth’s Mental Hospital. My younger brother was taken in my our next door neighborhood Ms. Winnifred Powell and her sons, Sonny and Gaylord, Earl was shipped off to the reform school for boys. I was homeless and left to fend for myself. I slept in parked cars until Doretha my mother’s cousin found me sleeping in her car one morning. It was around that time I was coming into my own as an impact athlete at Spingarn High School, meaning I could win or lose a game for my team. When the game was on the line I wanted the ball in my hands. This just give me the ball attitude kept me in hot water and sometimes in the doghouse with my teammates and coaches. I cost my baseball teammates a city championship when Coach Leo Hill kicked me off the team for selfish and reckless behavior on the field of play. Basketball coach Rev. William Roundtree gave up on me when I decided to change my role as primary defender to primary shooter and football coach, Dave Brown locked me on the bus at half-time in a game against rival Phelps for selfish and unreasonable behavior. The team won without me, 6-0 on a 63 yard punt return by QB Donald Wills. The only thing that saved me from the mean streets was an apology to my teammates and the coaching staff on the team bus. Coach Brown would take charge of my life from there and the rest is community and sports media history.
1958 Named first team All-High Wide Receiver DC Public Schools (Spingarn High School)
1959 Accepted athletic scholarship to Winston-Salem State University–saved my life.
1965 hired by United Planning Organization (UPO) as a Neighborhood Worker with Petey Greene and H Rap Brown
1968 In the forefront of the riots in the U Street corridor. Married Hattie Thomas and found non-profit Kids In Trouble, Inc
1978 Pioneering radio show Inside Sports picked number one talk show by the Washington Post
1988 Harold Bell Sounds Off Washington Post publish front page story on the lack of equal opportunity for blacks in sports broadcasting
Civil Rights Up Close & Personal:
In college in Winston-Salem, NC (1960) when students from North Carolina A & T staged restaurant sit-ins
In college when 14 year old Emit Till was murdered for whistling at a white woman
In college when Civil Rights advocate Megar Evers was murdered by a shotgun blast in his driveway
In DC and in attendance for the 1963 March on Washington and Rev. King’s, I have a Dream Speech
In DC on September 1963 when 4 little black girls were blown up in their church
In 1965 I was hired by United Planning Organization (UPO) as Neighborhood Worker with Petey Green and H Rap Brown
In 1968 I was on the front lines of the riots on the U Street corridor (Roving Leader DC Recreation Department)
Looking back and at today’s race relations in America it makes one wonder are we regressing?
Quincy Jones was 19 years old when he made an observation as it related to racism in America in 1941. He was traveling with band leader Lionel Hampton to Europe, he said, “It turned me upside down, altering my view of racism in my country.”
‘It gave you some sense of perspective of past, present and future. I took the myopic conflict between black and white in the United States and put it on another level because I saw the turmoil between the Armenians and the Turks, and the Cypriots and the Greeks, and the Swedes and the Danes, and the Koreans and the Japanese. Everybody had these hassles, and you saw it was a basic part of human nature, these conflicts. It opened my soul, it opened my mind.’ What a sad commentary on the human race.
Quincy forgot to throw Native Americans and European Americans into the mix
It has often been said “If you don’t know your history you are bound to repeat it.” AME Church in Charleston, S. C. June 2015 nine died!
Thanks to my heroes, Grandma Bell, Mommy B, Ms. Winnifred Powell, Coach Dave Brown, Coach Clarence ‘Bighouse’ Gaines and last but not least my wife Hattie T, 1965 marks 50 years of working in the U Street corridor with youth gangs and at-risk children. In the end all the glory goes to God.
“Until the lion is able to tell his story, the hunter will always get the glory”