Ray is the Publisher Emeritus for Appen Media and the Herald newspapers.

Along time ago - it feels like a hundred years - when I was in college, I took karate classes. The style - Cuong Nhu was a relatively new style - a mix of other styles both “hard” and “soft” and the founder, O’Sensei Ngo Dong, lived and taught in Gainesville, Florida where he was a PhD student of Entomology. After returning to Vietnam in 1973, he became president of a community college and local organizer. Towards the end of the war in the early 70’s the Viet Cong had his family under house arrest. They fled Vietnam and were one of “the boat people” who left Vietnam in a small boat to escape.

After immigrating to the United States, Sensei Dong continued teaching his style of martial arts which has spread across the United States and in other parts of the world. My sister Allyson took up the style when she went to UF and, unlike me, she continued her training until this day and is now one of the highest-ranking women in the style. She still teaches and tests the black belts around the country and has been my conduit to keeping touch with my karate friends from way back then.

One thing that I will never forget about Cuong Nhu was meeting the founder. O’Sensei Dong was a not a large man and probably never weighed more than 160 pounds, if that. He held elite black belt rankings in multiple styles - Wing Chun, Vovinam, Shotokan, and Judo. Later in life, he took up distance running and completed 23 marathons, 8 ultra-marathons (of 50 miles), and 14 100 mile ultras. That is, this man was not like you or me; he was more like some superhero from Marvel, but in real life. He feared no man. When he began declining from early onset Alzheimer’s Disease, his son Quynh took over the leadership of Cuong Nhu.

Grandmaster Quynh Ngo

Left to right; Grandmaster Quynh Ngo, Master Terri Giamartino, Master Allyson Appen.

I only met his son Quynh a couple times. Like his father, Quynh was not a big guy. Think of someone a cross between Bruce Lee, Mohammad Ali, and Roger Federer - lightening fast, fearless, intense, and intimidating —someone who walks into the room and takes all the air from it. And you know, Ali used to brag that he could turn out the lights and get into bed under the blankets before the lights went out. Of course, that was an exaggeration because no one could be that fast. Except Quynh. In less than the blink of an eye he could be behind an opponent or to the side or planting a kick at head level or higher before the other guy even saw him move. He was that good, that strong, that fast. I feel safe in saying that he was probably the most fit human I have ever seen or met.

So, on with the story.

Yesterday, my sister called me. “Quynh is dead,” she said.

He was 57 years old and left behind a wife, three children and a stepson, many professional colleagues, neighbors, a world-wide school of martial arts with thousands of students, and his father’s mission. Dead at 57 just made no sense when I heard the news. No way.

Afterall, he was too strong, too fit, and too special for anything like a virus called Covid-19 to catch up with him, much less kill him in less than a few weeks. He died like so many others, struggling for each breath. Imagine that for yourself. Yes, even the mighty Quynh (pronounced “Quin”) was a weakling compared to this insidious virus and, yes, his number did come up, didn’t it?

I can forgive him for leaving us at such a young age. But I cannot forgive him for completely missing what this whole thing is about and that it wasn’t all about him — in fact it had almost nothing to do with him.

Getting vaccinated is all about everyone else - Quynh’s family, his children who may have been infected or their school mates or their teachers who may have infected or ultimately killed. I can’t forgive him for possibly infecting the people he worked with in the office, or the clerk he talked to at the grocery store, or the next-door neighbor’s kid who came over to speak with him. I can’t forgive him for possibly infecting and killing the waitress at the restaurant he dined in or his neighbor’s mother who he greeted.

Why did this amazing, talented, disciplined, intelligent man think that vaccinations have anything at all to do with just him? How is that possible?

It’s not all about you. It is about respect for everyone around you - for humanity.

And, it’s not about your “rights.” In relative terms, you don’t have this right.

It’s not about who you vote for or who you are. It’s about the fact that you don’t have the right to potentially infect and kill other people because you think you have the right not to get vaccinated. You don’t have that right, sorry.

I am so sorry. We all are. Maybe Quynh’s legacy will be that his death at 57 will inspire some of the almost 40% who are not vaccinated, to wake up and go do the right thing — and get vaccinated.

Rest in peace Grandmaster Quynh.