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Meet Grand Master Paul Calligan and some of the area’s top martial arts experts

Grand Master Paul Calligan (Frank Couch/The Birmingham Times)

By Nathan Turner

For The Birmingham Times

Grand Master Paul Calligan (Frank Couch/The Birmingham Times)

Birmingham is home to a number of respected martial arts experts, but few are as decorated or proficient as Grand Master Paul Calligan, of the Forestdale area. He holds a 10th-degree black belt in the Daikidokwando style of karate and has trained countless masters.

His Ensley-based Calligan’s Karate System is a compilation of the martial arts styles he has mastered over the past six decades, such as Taekwondo, Shokotan, Yoshukai, Shinjimasu (Goju) Daikidokwando, and Aikido. Karate classes blend breathing and meditation techniques that promote energy balance in the body, along with instructions in herbal use. His motto: “Energy flows where attention goes.”

“We teach a little meditation as we go,” said Calligan. “Our younger students do better in school with their grades and are able to improve their concentration and memory.”

Calligan, a native of Opelousas, La., launched his first karate club at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa in 1964. He was the first person to open a karate school in Birmingham more than 30 years ago. And he has taught at Birmingham high schools, including George Washington Carver and P.D. Jackson-Olin. His son Phillip also teaches karate in the U.S. Marine Corps in Virginia.

A retiree from the Harbison-Walker Refractory in Hueytown, where he worked for nearly 40 years, Calligan not only teaches at Calligan’s Karate System in Ensley, but also classes as well on Wednesdays at the Branch Heights Community Center in Eutaw.

You can contact Grand Master Calligan at 205-798-1726.

Here are some other top instructors in the Birmingham metro area:

Name: Wilson Wren

Age: 66

Rank: Seventh-degree black belt

School: Calligan’s Karate System

Address: 1816 Avenue E Ensley, Birmingham, AL 35218

Contact Info: 205-541-1865

Type of Martial Arts: Japanese style; Taekwondo; Goju-Ryu; Shotokan; Aikido (“We’ve studied different martial arts, including Isshin-Ryu. We don’t stay with just a certain style.”)

Been in Martial Arts Since: 1968; received his first black belt in the 1980s (“I can’t move as fast as I used to. It’s good for the body, and it’s good to know you can defend yourself.”)

Favorite Quote: “If martial arts was easy, everybody would be a grand master.”

Advice: “You don’t become a bully because you’ve been studying martial arts. If we find out that a student is in there to try to be a bully, we put them out of class. We’re not teaching for you to hurt someone. The only way you use it is for self-defense.”


Name: Anthony Paulding

Age: 64

Rank: Ninth-degree black belt

School: Ensley Recreation Center

Address: 2800 Avenue K Ensley, Birmingham, AL 35218

Contact Info: 205-786-1512

Type of Martial Arts: Japanese style

Been in Martial Arts Since: 1969.

Favorite Quote: “Not to conquer [others] but to conquer the weakness within one’s self.”

Advice: “Self-defense is mind over matter. Sometimes if you get in a problem, if it’s not bad, you can walk away from it.”


Name: David Grayson

Age: 58

Rank: Eighth-degree black belt

School: New Breed Life Arts Educational Association, Alabama Division

Address: 401 Rev. Abraham Woods Jr. Blvd., Birmingham, AL 35204

Contact Info: 205-873-5018

Type of Martial Arts: Shotokan (traditional Japanese); Kushinda-Ryu

Been in Martial Arts Since: 1975; originally from Harlem, N.Y., and trained under Grand Master Kushinda Lamarr Thornton

Favorite Quote: “Pass your limitations. The only limitations we have are the ones we put on ourselves.”

Advice: “Do the right thing. Stay with positive influences. Stay away from negative. Respect others and yourselves. Show common courtesy to all. Never give up.”


Name: John McGhee

Age: 56

Rank: Sixth-degree black belt

School: Urban Attic

Address: 7621 First Ave. N Birmingham, AL 35206

Contact Info: 205-529-8956

Type of Martial Arts: Japanese style

Been in Martial Arts Since: 1975

Favorite Quote: “When you come into karate, practice hard and stay focused. … A lot of good things come from karate, but you have to stay focused.”

Times staff writer Ariel Worthy contributed to this post.