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Martial arts expert, bail agent Bill Klase, 54, dies

Published April 21, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - In Vietnam, where Bill Klase sharpened his skills in the martial arts, he was called "Young Tiger."

Returning home, he acquired other names: life saver, parachutist, trainer of police - and bail agent who knew how to get his man.

When Mr. Klase, a martial arts grand master, began developing his own American Karate System, which modernized some of the traditional techniques, he called it the "Way of the Tiger."

Mr. Klase, 54, who opened the first commercial karate school in Pinellas County in 1969, died Saturday (April 17, 2004) at Bay Pines VA Medical Center of liver disease, said a sister, Katrina Ray. He was awaiting a liver transplant, she said.

Speaking Tuesday of another facet of his career, bail bondsman Kevin McClory said, "He did skip tracing, finding people, taking people back to court that didn't want to go. Some of them were high risk.

"There was a guy out in Arizona who refused to be taken alive," McClory recalled of one case involving Mr. Klase. "He was taken alive and is in the Florida State Prison."

A founder and director of the Police Tactics Instructors of America, Mr. Klase taught his karate system to police officers and sheriff's deputies, McClory said.

"Karate and martial arts are real good," McClory said, "but they have to be adapted to street situations. People are on drugs and with different types of weapons. They present unique problems."

R. William "Bill" Klase was born in New Haven, Conn., and got training in the martial arts early. His father, William, a police officer, began teaching him judo when he was about 5, according to a biography from American Tactical Karate in Apache Junction, Ariz.

He moved here in 1958 from Springfield, Mass., and started boxing about age 10 and studying judo at the St. Petersburg YMCA. Enlisting in the Army in 1966, he worked with Korean-style karate at Fort Jackson in South Carolina.

During a tour in Vietnam, he trained with the Korean Army's White Horse Division and received a black belt in TaeKwonDo.

Back from Vietnam with a Purple Heart medal, he opened a karate school at Madeira Beach and later operated it near St. Petersburg High School and under the name American Executive Karate Center on 49th Street N.

He was a founder of the Bronze Dragons, a skydiving exhibition team that demonstrated aerial formations to entertain gatherings of military veterans and for charities.

The skydiving name was borrowed from the Vietnam Service Medal, which is bronze-colored and features a dragon flying through a cluster of palm trees, Mr. Klase once explained.

The team held its first exhibition July 4, 1993, during a veterans gathering at the Pasco County fairgrounds. Mr. Klase took up the sport in 1992 and had made 1,468 jumps.

In 1991, he received a Certificate of Merit for Life Saving from the Suncoast Tampa Bay Chapter of the American Red Cross. He was honored for helping to save an infant boy with a high fever who went into convulsions and stopped breathing.

He was a National Rifle Association trainer and had coached the St. Petersburg High School karate team. He was a member of the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame Sokeship Council, U.S. Karate Association, Civil Air Patrol, U.S. Parachute Association, Florida Sheriffs Association, Police Athletic Association and Vietnam Veterans Association.

Survivors include his wife, Mindy; two daughters, Krystyn Agness, Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Heather Bishop, Greenville, S.C.; a son, William, St. Petersburg; three brothers, Robert, Largo, and Dean and Don, both of St. Petersburg; three sisters, Bunny Klase, Katrina Ray and Cherrie Cetnik, all of St. Petersburg; and five grandchildren.

Friends may call from 6 to 8 p.m. today and from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Osgood-Cloud Funeral Home, 4691 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park. A service will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Thirtieth Avenue Baptist Church, 3241 30th Ave. N, which he attended.

[Last modified April 21, 2004, 01:05:42]

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