There are some Joneses that it is almost impossible to keep up with. A. Jose Jones is one of them.
Consider, for instance, that he is a Black Belt (fifth degree) karate champion, a gold-medal skin diver, trophy-winning spear fisherman, licensed diving instructor, hang-glider enthusiast, sky diver, underwater photographer and a writer for martial arts magazines.
Consider also that he's a Fulbright Scholar, a Ph.D. in aquatic biology, a scientific researcher and author (of such meaty stuff as "Osmoregulation in the Eurythaline Teleost Mollienesi sphenops"), and a professor of marine biology at the University of the District of Columbia.
All of which is not too bad for an orphan who came of age in Northeast Washington in the 1930s and 1940s, back in the days when the District was much farther South and affirmative action had not been invented.
Jones' early life remains a mystery to the public. Bristling when pressed further, he says "There's no need to know my age, my maritial status, the year I graduated from college or the circumstances concerning the fact that I'm an orphan. I put up with enough as a kid . . . Why run it into the ground?"
His favorite words are "competition" and "perseverance."
As for perseverance, Jones tells of learning to swim. In his youth, few local black kids had access to a swimming pool, much less to swimming instruction.
So he taught himself how to swim. First, he read all the books on swimming he could lay hands on. Then, he set up a bench in his foster parents' kitchen and put a basin of water at one end. He would lay on the bench and, arms flailing the air, practice swimming strokes, dipping his face into the basin to learn to breathe properly.
Jones' interest in education came early and was encouraged by his foster parents. The word was that success could come through education but that he would have to work harder at it than most, so he pursued education with what was to become an enduring characteristic -- enthusiasm.
His usually kinetic face clouds when he talks about his early life in Washington. He does volunteer that when he was a teacher at Wilson High School, "Whenever some problem-laden kid started to cry on my shoulder, I told him my story. And after he heard it, he knew he didn't have anything to tell me."
While he was growing up, Jones was the kid down the block with 100 frogs in a bucket in the backyard and even more pigeons and fish. He was the kid who never missed school because he loved it. In fact, he says his teachers were his idols.
"There was a different atmosphere in the D.C. schools at that time. They were good. The teachers didn't regard teaching as just a job. I enjoyed learning so much that I missed only three days of school in 16 years here," he said.
And it is likely that his onw interest in teaching was rooted in the men and women who taught him.
"People helped me, and I want to pass it along. I'm not interested in making money, but I am interested in passing on what so many good people so graciously gave me," he said.
After graduating from Dunbar High School, Jones was inducted into the Army, became a combat infantryman and collected a Purple Heart in Korea. While he was there, another door opened for him on karate.
"After seeing a 127-pound Korean kicking around a 220-pound GI (Jones is 5 feet 11 inches and weighs 180 pounds), I decided that this was for me," and he began studying the martial arts.
Now he's a Black Belt (fifth degree) in Tae Kwan Do karate, a Black Belt (second degree) in Moo Duk Kwan karate and a head instructor in Tae Kwan Do. Along the way, he was Metropolitan Washington Black Belt Karate Champion (1967), American Heavyweight Black Belt Tae Kwan Do Champion (1971) and was listed in Who's Who in the Martial Arts in 1975.
Jones finished his Army stint in California, where he discovered scuba diving and developed an interest in the sea that shaped not only his academic career but also his recreational interests. An accomplished long-distance swimmer, he was also Middle Atlantic States Skin Diving Champion in 1964 and 1969 and now he holds a diving instructor's license.
Returning to Washington after his discharge, Jones enrolled in D.C. Teachers College (now part of UDC) on the GI bill. He was president of his class, named to three national honor societies and was graduated summa cum laude. Meanwhile, he took the examination for a Fullbright Scholarship and with that in hand went off to the University of Queensland in Australia to pursue biological research on the Great Barrier Reef.
When he came back, he attended Howard University and received more fellowships while earning a master of science degree in aquatic biology, then studied marine invertebrates at Duke University and topped it off with a doctorate at Georgetown University.
And all along the way, he says he has found his greatest fulfillment in teaching others, a career that has included not only karate and diving, but 12 years as a science and biology teacher in D.C.'s secondary schools, as a lab instructor at Georgetown University and as a professor of marine biology at UDC where he has been teaching for the past eight years.
He's no Mr. Chips however. No houndstooth check jacket with leather patches. No pipe. No absent-mindedness. Professor Jones arrives at the Van Ness campus each day heralded by the throaty roar of his red Corvette Sting Ray, which he drives in from his home in Columbia, Maryland, and strides into the classroom resplendent in jumpsuit and boots.
He is an accessible teacher and though his courses are tough, they are popular. Lectures are spiced with cajolery, entertainment, inspirational asides and the multiflavored seasoning of his own electric experiences. Guiding students through the labyrinths of biology, Jones seeks to illuminate not only the science but also its language, reflecting his own college minors in English and Russian.
A typical lecture begins with a word that underlies a biological principle, digresses to examine the history of the word itself, then goes on to the principle in detail -- all accompanied by rapid-fire blackboard cartoons. One class begins:
"Today let's look at hermaphroditism. Hermaphroditism comes from the Greek myth about Hermes, the messenger, and Aphrodite, a goddess of love, who when joined retained the qualities of both sexes.
"In biology, hermaphroditism is when an animal has both male and female sex characteristics. It's not uncommon in invertebrates, but some vertebrates are hermaphroditic, too. Tkae the red grouper, a marine fish.It's a hermaphroditic protogynous species.
"Now what does all this have to do with the red grouper? Well, this fish starts out life as a female and changes to a male by its 12th birthday . . ."
Last year he prepared and copyrighted five series of slides on underwater life, authored "Electric Organs in Fishes" for Underseas Journal and completed work on a book, "The Ecology of Reef Fishes in the Caribbean."
True to form, his passion for teaching extended beyond the boundries of UDC. A qualified diving instructor for 18 years, Jones again used school breaks and vacations to lead groups of scuba divers (many of them UDC students" on forays into the Caribbean.
He organized and trained a female Tae Kwan Do team that has collected a hatful of trophies.
In addition, Jones and three other Black Belts operate four free dojos (karate gyms) to bring discipline and competition to kids 16 and under. One of those kids, 12-year-old Dimitrius "Meatball" Bynum has won 21 trophies in the PeeWee League.
District kids 16 and under may attend Jones' free karate classes, 7-9 p.m., at Assumption Roman Catholic School (Tues. & Fri.) 220 Highview Place SE; Miller Junior High School (Tues. & Thurs.) 49th and Brooks NE; Savoy Elementary School (Mon. & Fri.) 2400 Shannon Place SE; and at the HUD Bldg., (Wed.) 451 7th St. SW.