In many martial arts disciplines, students and instructors begin class with a formal bow in honor of their art and the people who practiced it. Last month, judo practitioners throughout the nation added Coram resident Daniel Bean to their unspoken memorial.
Bean died Nov. 22 at age 76 in Kalispell. Just weeks before, he was showing friends a photo of himself at a Las Vegas judo tournament where he had won a gold medal last summer.
"He was the kind of guy you thought would live forever," said American Karate Academy co-owner Janie Green, a colleague of Bean's. "He exemplified what martial arts was all about. Even at 76, he was still competing. He loved to get out there and throw the guys around."
Bean was born Sept. 22, 1927, in Burien, Wash. He grew up in the Milk River area of Alberta, Canada, and then joined the U.S. Navy in 1940. Over 22fi years, he rose to the rank of chief petty officer. He also learned Kodokan Judo, one of the Japanese fighting arts' most classic styles. He led his ship's judo team, taking it to study and compete at fellow clubs in every port of call.
"He studied at the Kodokan Dojo (school) and he stayed there long enough to really make it a part of him," said martial arts instructor John Paul Noyes of Big Sky Martial Arts in Kalispell. "There are very few people in the world who had the skills and knowledge he had."
Noyes recalled Bean's first visit to his school about eight years ago.
"He was kind of a little guy, not real big," Noyes said. "I thought 'I'll take it easy on this older guy.' Within two seconds he was slamming me and there was no way I was getting out of anything he didn't want me getting out of. I've been doing this stuff for 30 years. But as soon as he got ahold of you, he was completely in control."
After retiring from the Navy in 1967, Bean moved with his wife, Winnie, to Coram. He started a second career at the Columbia Falls Aluminum Co., where he spent another 23 years. In that time, Bean became a 32nd-degree Mason and served as master of the Columbia Falls Masonic Lodge.
"He wouldn't work nights at CFAC because he wanted to teach judo," Winnie Bean said. "He taught two nights a week every month of the year, except for when we took off time in July and August to go camping with the grandkids. He really liked to hunt and fish. To be out with his grandkids was the height of glory for him."
Bean set up a judo club in the Hungry Horse VFW Club and began training area children and adults. Several of those went on to become Junior Olympic contenders, and two, including his granddaughter Heidi Rhodes, got cracks at the U.S. national teams.
"He was one of the original masters in this country," said Whitefish resident Rob Gordon of the American Karate Academy. "He was one of the few Americans with that high rank in judo. And he had a large impact in our region on young judo players in getting them to tournaments.
According to U.S. Judo Association Director Jim Bregman, Bean held a rare Shichidan, or seventh-degree black belt in judo. He was also one of the organization's earliest members, with life-membership No. 163 in a group that has an estimated 50,000 participants. Bregman added that Bean was qualified as a master examiner, senior coach and national referee at tournaments, and also an accomplished examiner in the martial art jujitsu.
"He was a really great instructor, super kind," Noyes said. "He'd take it right up to what your level was and beyond a little bit."