Vero Beach Karate Association
Family Oriented Self-Defense and Life-Skills Centers • Established 1971 • Enriching Lives for 50 Years!
Tribute to Grand Master, Mr. Willis
Founder and Inspiration Behind VBKA
April 1, 1942 - November 20, 2020
Since 1975 until 2015, Mr. Willis always continued his “education” in the Martial Arts. He acquired his 3rd Degree Black Belt in Sosushin Ryu Jiu Jitsu, 6th Degree Black Belt in Mizu Ryu Jiu Jitsu, 4th Degree Black Belt in Judo through the WWMAA, 1st Degree Black Belt in Chul do Kwon Tae Kwon Do, formal training in Aikido, and Tai Chi training in the whole Yang Style form (108 movements). He then went on to earn his 7th, 8th, and 9th Degree Black Belt in Sanuces Ryu Jiu Jitsu in the early 2000s with the STS Martial Arts Alliance. On November 17, 2019, he was honored at the annual Scholarship Banquet by Grand Master Soke Hassan Kalek with the rank of 10th Degree Black Belt in Sanuces Ryu Jiu Jitsu and the title of Grand Master for his lifetime achievement in martial arts and the development of the martial arts program at the Vero Beach Karate Association.
The Vero Beach Karate Association (VBKA) was his passion. He decided early on that attention should be given to developing people beyond martial arts and fitness and placed great emphasis on personal development and character building. Self Defense, Fitness, and Personal Development are the three elements that make up the core ideology of VBKA, and Mr. Willis has striven for excellence in all three areas for the past 50 years.
William Michael Willis of Vero Beach passed into eternity at 2:40 p.m. on Friday, November 20, 2020 at the Treasure Coast Hospice House. He was born April 1, 1942 in Rockaway Beach, N.Y. Surviving are his wife Michelle Willis and his three children, Cynthia Turner, Christopher Willis, and Catherine DeSchouwer, as well as eight grandchildren, Louis, Elizabeth, and Morgan DeSchouwer, Caleigh, Colin, and Cadie Willis, Krystal Ellig, and Kristopher Thorpe. Also surviving are one sister, Nancy Scott and her children Terry and Ryan Scott of Ft. Lauderdale.
In 1965, Mr. Willis received a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Florida’s College of Arts and Sciences. He then began a career in the insurance field, and later moved to Vero Beach. He established Atlantic Claims, an insurance claims business, and began raising his family. He was a devoted husband and father who enjoyed reading, physical fitness, and vacationing with his family. He loved teaching and mentoring his three children and during that season of life, wrote The Children’s Question Book. Later, he was very active in the same way with his grandchildren, loving and nurturing them as an ever-present support in all of their activities and achievements.
In 1970, he began martial arts training in Yoshukai Karate, and when the Treasure Coast instructor moved, he took over the class of 12 students. In 1971, he established the Vero Beach Karate Association, and after five years of training, he earned his 3rd Degree Black Belt in the Yoshukai system.
Through his carefully developed enrichment programs, including ballroom dancing, etiquette, and community service, students can not only receive Black Belts in Karate, Jiu Jitsu, Judo, and Weapons, but also develop into confident, well-rounded, well-mannered people.
Charitable fund-raising events, demonstration team performances, and seasonal camps are just a few well-known VBKA enrichment activities. Mr. Willis believed that demonstration team performances for schools, retirement facilities, clubs, churches, and various fundraising events throughout the county adds depth and meaning to a student’s understanding of community service. During annual Kick-A-Thons, students raised $250,000.00 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and another $50,000 with an ongoing commitment to the American Cancer Society.
As part of personal development, Mr. Willis established the semi-annual one, two, and three mile “Fun Runs” and a semi-annual 15-mile “Bike Ride” to help promote cardiovascular fitness. He also developed a Discipline Workshop and Advanced Student Workshop to help students run safe, controlled classes, encourage them to pursue higher education, and provide them with an understanding of business and finances.
With a high value on academics, Mr. Willis started a College Scholarship Program, securing a not for profit 501(c)3 status for his United States Karate and Jiu-Jitsu Scholarship Fund. He has awarded Black Belt Seniors over $300,000 in college scholarships. He has also given $18,800 in Student Excellence Awards, recognizing students on a quarterly basis who maintain honor roll grades and demonstrate involvement in other worthwhile activities, such as scouting, community service, art, music, religious activities, and other sports. Throughout the year, VBKA recognizes A-B Honor Roll students by presenting patches for Academic Achievement.
Mr. Willis took pride in mentoring youth and helping them become well-rounded, confident young adults. He was a highly-respected, positive role model who, for five decades, impacted the lives of so many in our community. “Mr. Willis,” not “Master” was all he wanted to be called, but to the VBKA organization he founded and created, he was so much more. He will be greatly missed by his family, the VBKA organization, and so many in our community.
Memorial contributions may still be made to the U.S.K.J.A. College Scholarship Fund. Contributions can be sent to 1946 Wilbur Avenue, Vero Beach, FL 32960.