Walk softly…and carry a big 3rd degree black belt.
That works for 26-year-old Navajo Karate expert Alfred Duchaussee, currently a psychology student at the University of New Mexico.
His mother, Rose, noticed him kicking at everything --- at 1½ years old. By the time the Albuquerque native was 3 years old, mom had convinced a Karate instructor to bend the minimum age restriction and begin teaching him the art of Tae Kwon Do to correctly channel his efforts.
At age twelve, he joined his current dojo, New Mexico Shotokan Karate, and under the watchful eye of Sensei (teacher) Randy Sanders, he mastered the traditional Japanese style that merges martial arts with the science of human movement.
The dojo turned out to be a place where Duchaussee could challenge himself to be the best he could be and in the process, to remove himself from the demons that influence and destroy so many American Indian youth.
“The dojo is a safe haven where we inspire students to build life skills to overcome adversity and achieve personal success,” says Sanders, his teacher, mentor, and friend.
And while success didn’t come overnight and there were bumps along the road --- depression, alcohol and a myriad of other adolescent problems revolving around identity, acceptance and self-validation --- Duchaussee persevered.
Physically and mentally he challenged himself to improve focus, self-discipline and overall physical conditioning. In striving to be his best, he gained invaluable insights about life and in the process amassed a wall full of accolades: he won England’s Karate World Cup; took the Funakoshi Shotokan Karate International World Championship in his weight class nine times; he was the first American Indian ever to win a World Cup Golf Medal in Dominican Republic competition, and won one of the largest Karate tournaments in the United States last year, the prestigious Ozawa Cup Tournament in Las Vegas.
Duchaussee, who trained at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado, is also recognized by the Native American Sports Council, as one of the Top Ten Native American athletes of the present day. That small and exclusive group includes Joe Hipp (Blackfeet), the first Native American to challenge for the world heavyweight boxing championship; Notah Begay (Navajo/Pueblo), PGA’s first native American pro golfer; Seattle Mariners pitcher Bobby Madritsch (Lakota), and pro baseball player Kyle Lohse (Nomlaki Nation).
In his own quiet way and without fanfare, Duchaussee accomplished all his successes without endorsements or corporate sponsorships. With only support and assistance of family, friends, and his school throwing coins in the hat, he travels and competes with the best in the world, makes his mark and then returns quietly to New Mexico.
“Alfred brings strength, courage, discipline, and honor to all he does. He is a living example of finding one’s passion and making the commitment to becoming the best in that field,” says Raymond Perales (Southern Arapaho), himself a 40-year veteran Karate instructor.
Although not Duchaussee’s personal instructor, Perales has observed him train and was notably impressed. “For him, Karate has become a lifestyle that transcends the physical act of competing and gives him the mental strength to meet life head on. He found a path that forged his spirit, calmed his soul, and ultimately allowed him to stand proud and strong in the face of adversity…and he will be defined by those accomplishments.”
It wasn’t a straight path to the top and perhaps the setbacks helped him learn the lessons of failing. “He’s a relentless competitor because, in his words; ‘Competition shows me my strengths and weaknesses. Losing is another lesson that reveals my faults, not with technique, but with mental attitude. Losing shows me I need to keep on training to grow as a person’.”
The training and learning continue, both in the college classroom and the Karate studio. “Right now, college and karate are the two main things in my life,” he says. “Barring injuries, I’ll continue to compete, perhaps even trying to take things to an even higher professional level.”
Even though the Karate champion is still a young man himself, Perales already finds him a great role model for even younger people, mentoring younger students in his dojo. In addition to his disciplined martial arts lifestyle, he has studied ballet for over a decade and has given back to his community by serving as a mentor to other dance students.
“Getting male mentors is tough,” he says while noting that he himself has been involved with First Nation mentoring programs revolving around sports to keep kids active and provide them a positive direction in life.
“He has an easygoing, quiet, nurturing manner and a lot of patience with young people and they’re immediately taken by him,” says Perales. “I believe Native youth need good models to look up to and this quiet and unassuming young man fits the bill perfectly. He’s a great representative of his school, his family, his tribe, and his community and his ancestors must look down on him --- and smile.”