On James Cook’s 68th birthday, he learned he’d been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Initially, “I threw a pity party,” he says. “Then I thought, ‘What in God’s name am I doing? I’ve been a fighter my whole damn life.’”
His doctor advised surgery, but after seeing local television ads featuring Olympic ice skater and cancer survivor Scott Hamilton—the “little ice skating guy,” as James calls him—he finally had a reason to pay attention.
“For 72 hours straight I was on my computer,” he says. That research led him to start making phone calls—to other cancer centers, cancer patients and the Provision Center for Proton Therapy. Proton therapy, he learned, would nearly eliminate the common side effects of surgery for prostate cancer such as impotence and incontinence. It would offer a better fighting chance for quality of life after the cancer was gone.
“I called up, cancelled my surgery and said, ‘Later, dude,’” James says.
He has had no regrets. The Provision experience was positive, the staff was wonderful, and he says he felt good throughout the treatment.
James started out as a “little, scrawny” kid with glasses, growing up in the “rough part” of Cleveland, Ohio. James says his status as a target for bullies drew him into martial arts, which he discovered one day at the local community center. His teacher didn’t show up for the magic class he and his brother were taking, and James wandered into a room with “lots of guys in white pajamas and colored belts.”
The experience was transformational. James soaked up all the local instruction he could find as a child. When he landed as a soldier on the border with Korea during the Vietnam War, his training began in earnest, starting with the Korean Army based just across the river border where he was stationed. Following the war, he re-enlisted and returned to Korea to study with a variety of Tae Kwon Do and Kung Fu masters. He spent a total of five years in the country.
The Korean fighters were initially hesitant to accept him into their ranks, James said in an interview for the book, “Korean Kung Fu: The Chinese Connection.” But they quickly recognized his previous training and skill, and “just accepted me with open arms,” he says.
His connections in the Korean martial arts world led to appearances as the first black man in Korean cinema, with roles in two fighting movies, “Wind from the East” and “The Last Five Fingers.”
He returned to a storied career in the martial arts upon his return to the U.S. He won the U.S. Karate Association Grand Nationals in 1977 and was listed as one of 10 “Top Male Karateka in the United States” that same year. He won the World International middleweight championship in 1979. He is an inductee into the International Karate & Kickboxing Hall of Fame in Cleveland. He is the subject of several book chapters and has been featured widely in martial arts publications. As a Master Instructor, he has coached several top names in the field of martial arts.
Additionally, James served in the Army as a military police investigator and hand-to-hand combat instructor, leaving in 2008 as, he says, the last Vietnam veteran from Knoxville, Tenn., to retire from military service.
While James James is famous in fighting circles, Jimmy Logston made his reputation as a musician. James, whose grandfather taught him to play guitar, started writing songs at age 10. He has worked with The Dazz Band, The Impressions, Lee Greenwood, Johnny Paycheck, Ray Stevens and others. He was signed as a recording artist by Otis Blackwell—noted songwriter for Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Peggy Lee. The stint ended, however, when Blackwell died unexpectedly in 2002. In 2000, James released an album, “Reunion of Life,” dedicated to his time in Vietnam.
“Because of my background in martial arts, I got tired of people approaching me while I was on stage performing,” he says. “At the time I was dating a girl name Debbie Logston. I took her last name for stage use.”
Still, he wasn’t able to shed his identity as a fighter.
“The first night I performed with that name,” James says, “a guy walked up and said, ‘You look just like a guy I know named James James.’”
Lately, James has been living a quiet life in Knoxville, only recently taking up fighting again in the senior ranks and launching a new career making custom guitars. Then came his cancer diagnosis.
“I made a promise that I’d live until I was 120,” he says. “And I’m going to live up to that promise.”
Spoken like the scrawny little kid from Cleveland who grew up to be a fighter.