- Associated Press - Saturday, October 11, 2014

WINONA, Minn. (AP) - Brice Wilkinson lives the life of an “impeccable warrior.”

Most know the 80-year-old Wilkinson, with his snow-white beard and purple bandanna seemingly perpetually tied around his head, from his days as a sports announcer at Winona State University. Others recall him as a beloved professor and intellectual. Others yet have come to call Brice a master of tai chi, the ancient martial art.

In one capacity or another, Wilkinson has served the Winona community for nearly 50 years, the Winona Daily News reported (https://bit.ly/1rGEXA0 ). Beneath his eccentric exterior is a man who’s experienced both life’s greatest triumphs and its cruelest tragedies.

Wilkinson is a Colorado native, though he spent a large part of his childhood in Maine. When his parents divorced, he was sent to live with his grandma back in Colorado to finish out high school. When he was 15 he developed a talent for wrestling, a sport that helped instill in him important values.

“Wrestling got me started and taught me about controlled violence with the highest philosophy of discipline and respect,” he said.

After high school, Wilkinson joined the Air Force. He was stationed in Japan as a Morse code radio operator, where he graduated with proficiency. It was there that he discovered Judo - a Japanese martial art that literally translates to “the gentle way,” relying on giving way to the force of your opponent. There was something about the aggression and intensity of the sport - how it pushes you to the limit mentally, how it is violent and yet not lethal - that appealed to him.

“I always loved controlled violence,” Wilkinson said. “I like to have rules that prevent people from getting injured. You can’t play it with weapons flashing all around.”

After two years in Japan, Wilkinson returned to the U.S. and wrestled at the University of Colorado. He earned both his bachelors and master’s degrees in speech and law. He coached judo at the university and eventually earned his eighth-degree black belt - one of the highest rankings one can achieve in the sport.

Wilkinson then went on to teach communications courses at a number of universities around the country, eventually accepting a teaching position at WSU in 1971.

Around the same time, he married his first wife, Shirley, and had four children with her: Brice IV, Ted, Angela and Roy.

In 1994 Wilkinson experienced every parent’s worst nightmare.

Brice IV was only 34 years old when he was murdered. The ex-marine was living in Boulder, Colo., at the time and was invited upstairs for a beer one night by a couple of guys in his housing complex. There was a heated argument over a girlfriend, and after some fighting one of the men put a knife through Brice’s heart. The men dragged him down the stairwell and left him there. The killer was caught and sent to prison.

“I sunk to my knees - I lost all my strength,” Wilkinson said, recalling the moment he received the news. “You don’t ever get over the death of someone close like that.”

He suffered for years - “How could someone do something like that?” he thought - but stayed committed to meditation and martial arts.

Today, Wilkinson has come to accept his son’s death, though it doesn’t mean the pain has left. To this day, he still has a picture Brice IV drew of him and letters he had written to him hanging on the wall of his bedroom.

“We all have circles of life,” he said. “His was just a little bit shorter than the rest of ours.”

Wilkinson also fought difficult battle for more than 30 years: alcoholism.

“I thought I could quit anytime I wanted, but I realized I couldn’t stop drinking - I had no control,” he said.

Like many alcoholics, he denied he had a problem, and it caused a rift in his relationship with Shirley, leading to divorce after 19 years of marriage.

“I am not proud of it,” he said. “It is one of the saddest things in my background. It was not a good example to set for my kids.”

In 1980, Wilkinson got sober and has been ever since.

Wilkinson started a first dinner theater in Winona in the 1970s. He also established an intertribal powwow after becoming interested in Native American philosophies. He first presented at the Minnesota Indian Education Association about 30 years ago, and still presents today.

He was also a trademark sports announcer at WSU, one who “brought a lot of excitement to Winona athletics and was an integral part of the program,” said former WSU athletic director Larry Holstad.

“(Brice) was always very candid and into the game,” he said. “I remember he would come up with nicknames for each player that he was announcing.”

Though Wilkinson stopped announcing at WSU in 2012, he still announces high-school sporting events at Cotter and other schools in the area.

Wilkinson met his second wife, Bahieh, when she came over from the Middle East to study at WSU. He was teaching at the time, and she was a 36-year-old nontraditional student. It was a “love at first sight sort of thing,” Brice recalled.

For Bahieh, also a judo black belt, her initial encounters with Wilkinson were “more about energy connection, a meeting of the mind,” she said.

The two were married in 1979, and have been together since.

“He is a poet, a joker and everything in between - with the sharpest mind,” Bahieh said. “Every day is a memorable moment together.”

The two discovered tai chi together. Wilkinson had been looking for a noncontact martial art after dislocating his elbow doing judo. Tai chi appealed to him, because of its heavy emphasis on meditation.

Since, Wilkinson has called himself a kind of tai chi evangelist, and does whatever he can to promote the sport.

“It is the most important activity that anyone can do to encourage good health, happiness, peace and prosperity, and to become a better person in every way,” he said.

Tai chi is performed in complete relaxation and uses mental focus, balance and energy to move in powerful, fluid motions. It is “moving meditation that transforms you to an altered state of conscience,” Wilkinson said.

“It has taught me to yield and overcome, taught me to be disciplined,” he said. “Tai chi is a dance of life and a dance of death.”

Wilkinson has been retired from teaching at WSU since 1998, but stays busy with Tai chi. He teaches classes at WSU on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at noon in the Integrated Wellness Center and is the adviser of the university’s tai chi club. He also teaches on Saturday mornings in Wabasha Hall. The classes are open to the public, and all are welcome to learn how to “enjoy life effortlessly,” Wilkinson said.

In his spare time, Wilkinson has another hobby: He’s a fervent Texas Hold ‘Em player. He makes sure to practice for an hour each day, and plays every Friday and Sunday in the area.

For now, Wilkinson is at a point in his life where he is “happy continuously, enjoying life at the peak of happiness.”

While Wilkinson understands he and other humans are just a “small piece in comparison to the universe,” he continues to make his mark in Winona in big ways.

“I’m going to keep going until I drop to the floor,” he said, adding:

“Actually, I will have to be pushed to the floor because my balance will be so good.”


Information from: Winona Daily News, https://www.winonadailynews.com



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