Thomas M. White

November 15, 1942 – May 30, 2012


Thomas M. White was born on November 15, 1942 in Hampton, Virginia to the late William and Lillian White. He was a football standout at Phoenix High School and immediately following his graduation in June 1961 he joined the United States Marine Corps. During his six years of service in the military, Thomas had occasion to travel to Okinawa, Japan where he studied and earned his Black Belt in Karate. His love for the martial arts would later animate his life’s work. While on active duty in 1963, Thomas married his high school sweetheart, Elizabeth Montgomery, and they later relocated to Southern California where they bought a home and started a family. Their union produced three children.

Thomas worked for nearly 30 years to improve the lives of at-risk and underprivileged youth in communities of Long Beach, Los Angeles, and Oakland. Thomas served as the first Gang Prevention Coordinator for the City of Long Beach and the first Director of its citywide Youth Council. The community newspaper archives in Long Beach are filled with stories about Thomas’s gang prevention efforts. A 1992 story in the Los Angeles Times quotes Thomas extensively about the problem of gang violence in Long Beach.

The gang prevention and intervention strategies Thomas implemented in the community were heavily influenced by his deep training in the martial arts. Having studied Karate and Tibetan Yoga under influential teachers in the southern and northern California over more than twenty years, Thomas founded SanDoKai Martial Arts and Cultural Center in Long Beach in 1990. SanDoKai is a fusion method with roots traced back to the Shaolin Monastery. After two decades in existence, Thomas’s SanDoKai Martial Arts and Cultural Center remains a vibrant center for the study of martial arts and an asset to the Long Beach community, and hundreds of students have passed through its doors.

Thomas authored several books and articles, including “Three Golden Pearls on a String”, “Heart of the Way”, ”Love Songs from a Stranger”, and “Okinawan Masters, A Martial Artist Journal”. He taught countless students the self-awareness and spiritual understanding at the core of his Karate philosophy. Through his writings, teaching, and actions, Thomas generously shared his abundant joy and insight with those around him. Even as he battled illness, he continued along his journey and, in January 2012, Thomas earned his 10th degree Black Belt, the highest such attainment in Karate.
Thomas is survived by his sons Omar White and Ischmael White, his daughter and son-in-law Lisa and Roger Fairfax, his grandchildren Fatima, Regina, and Nadia, his sisters Gladys Billups of Hampton, Virginia and Catherine Hardy of Clinton, Maryland, his brother and sister-in-law Howard and Donna White of Lake Oswego, Oregon, and a host of nieces, nephews, students, and dear friends.