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"An Interview with Master Phil Koeppel"
(This interview was done both electronically and by several phone conversations.)
Q1. - Mr. Koeppel, can you give us some background about yourself?
A1. - "I am 70 years of age, born August 23rd, 1938 in Peoria, IL. I have been married to my wife Karen for 17 years and I have (from a previous marriage), five children (four daughters and a son). My oldest child is 51 years old and the youngest is 34. I was employed and retired with 20 years (December 2005) from the State of Illinois as Executive III, Senior Public Service Administrator, Dept. of Central Management Services, Bureau of Support Services, Division of Vehicles. I have served on the Board of Directors of several service organizations, in Peoria, i. e.; Kiwanis, Jay Cee’s, & Rotary. I was elected to public office on two different occasions. I have worked construction, was in the trucking industry, and was a General Manager of a private security agency that had a guard and alarm service. I have operated a Karate dojo since 1960. I received an honorary discharge from the U. S. Navy in 1960 after serving for four years. At one time in the 1970’s, I had 14 dojos in three different states, Illinois, Ohio and N. Carolina. I was a Regional Director for the United States Karate Association for 21 years. I formed the United States Karate do Kai in 1984. The USKK currently has 150 dojo’s plus. These dojo’s are in the U. S, Ireland, Great Britain, and Romania."
Q2. - Your martial arts journey started while you were serving in the U.S. Navy, can you tell us a little about your time in the service? Also, what was your first exposure to the martial arts, who was your first formal instructor, and what style did he teach? Also, what was the training like at that dojo?
A2. - "I was a CTO in the U.S. Navy. My first duty station was, U.S. Naval Communications Facility, Kami Seya, Japan. Kami Seya is located right outside of Yokohama, Japan. I was 18 years old and a CTO on my watch section was going to “karate lessons” in Yokohama. I went with him to class one night and started the next day. This was the Wado Ryu dojo of Kawaguchi Yoshio Sensei located on 4 ½ St. in Yokohama. Sensei Kawaguchi also taught occasionally at Friars Gym in downtown Yokohama. The training at Kawaguchi Sensei’s dojo was very basic, blocks, kicks, strikes, etc. If I can remember right, I was sparring within the first month of training (not to good but sparring none the less). The classes I attended were small, under 10 people with only a couple being Americans. We did lot’s of stretching and one on one waza. The thing that stands out in my mind yet today was the speed of his young Yudansha, they were super-quick!"
Q3. - Did you know and train in the same dojo as Wado-Ryu pioneer Sensei Cecil Patterson?
A3. - "No, I never trained with Patterson Sensei in Japan. We had different Sensei’s.
I met Cecil in the mid 1960’s when we were both regional directors for Mr. Trias’s USKA. I got to know him well at that time. We were in Japan around the same time. He was at Iwakuni Naval Air Station, Iwakuni, Japan, I was in Yokohama. Both his Sensei, Sakura and mine, Kawaguchi, were seniors with Ohtsuka Hanshi. Mr. Patterson stayed with the Wado Ryu system for his entire life. He was the real American authority on Wado Ryu. I studied Wado Ryu for a relatively short period of time. I was with Kawaguchi Sensei for a little under a year. I had met Richard Kim Sensei at Friars Gym in Yokohama and started training with him."
Q4. - What do you feel is the main difference between Wado-Ryu and some of the other Japanese Karate systems such as Shotokan, Shito-Ryu and Kyokushin?
A4. - "I am no authority on Wado Ryu. My studies in that style system were my introduction to karate. I have found out since, (the last 15 years) that Hanashiro Chomo Sensei had an influence on some of the 1st generation Wado students i.e.; Suzuki Sensei who make note of Hanashio’s influence of their Nihanshi/Tekki kata. It is my thought that Funakoshi and Mabuni’s karate was the backbone of Shotokan, Shito-Ryu, & Wado. Kyokushin – Oyama worked the kata of Funakoshi but was highly influenced by Yamaguchi and Nichu So.
His training and teachings leaned towards Goju Ryu."
Q5. - Early in your martial arts career, you had the opportunity to train with the legendary Richard Kim. Can you tell us a little about how this came to be, was this before the release of his now famous book, “The Weaponless Warriors”, and how was Sensei Kim’s teaching style different from some of your other Japanese instructors?
A5. - "It was my good fortune to stumble upon and have the chance to work out in Sensei Richard Kim’s classes. Friars Gym in Yokohama was an athletic workout Field House built for the American Serviceman right in downtown Yokohama. For that time 1957 it was considered a huge facility. The weight room/ring area was offset from the main gym.
It was probably 2000 to 3000 sq. ft. I had been with Kawaguchi Sensei between 6 months and a year. There I was with a group of guys from the base, we were low on money and long on time (something every sailor faces). We were going to play a pickup basketball game at Friars Gym. I happened to wander into the weight room. They had a heavy bag in there that I had worked before when I was there. Sensei Kim and two other karate in gi’s were in the ring area working kata and waza. I hung around until they were finishing up and talked with Sensei. I told him I was working out with Kawaguchi Sensei at his dojo. There was another sailor stationed with me at Kami Seya who would train with Sensei Kim, his name was Jim Mackey. Jim was from Gary, Indiana and was a power lifter.
To make a long story short, I found someone who worked karate and who could speak excellent English, so I asked him if I could start to train with him, he said yes.
This was in 1957 and I believe it was long before he wrote and published the “Weaponless Warrior”. I continued to train with Sensei Kim until I was transferred to Hawaii in 1958. Jim Mackey and I worked out together on the base when we could not get into Friars Gym to train with sensei. We were on 4 section watches and couldn’t connect all the time when Sensei Kim was working out.
Sensei Kim was not a big man by some standards. The one thing that I will never forget when I met him the first time. We were talking. Just casual conversation. There is this Olympic bar with 45lb weights on each end on the floor. While he was talking to me, looking me right in the eye, he picked the 135lbs up, cleared it to his chest and proceeded to military press the weight 5 times. With the weight fully extended above his head, he just kept talking to me. No shake’s or quiver’s. Brought the weight to his chest and set it on the floor. He never lost a breath. He could not have weighted over 160 lbs. himself. I will never forget that moment for as long as I live! My god, what internal strength!
He did it to impress me. He impressed me!
His work outs were more informal than Sensei Kawaguchi. Worked a lot of waza off strikes and kicks. His favorite kata was Bassai Dai. I did not know it at the time but his Sensei at this time was Kinjo Hiroshi Sensei."
Q6. - You trained at a dojo in post World War II Japan, how were you received and what if anything stood out in your mind that is different today? You also served in post-war Hawaii, what was that experience like?
A6. - "Remember, I was 18 years old when I reported to my first duty station in Japan.
It was 10 years after the surrender. In a lot of ways the Japanese were still recovering from the war. Everything was dirt cheap, transportation, food, beverages, they were just starting to rebuild. When I went back for the first time in 1976 the place did not look like it was the same country. I don’t even want to talk about 1995 & 1997 the last time I was in Tokyo. The people at that time were wonderful. I suppose they still are but the economics have changed Japan just as they have changed the U.S. The cars, taxi’s, trucks in 1956 were primitive compared to what we had in the States. You could get around anywhere, even Tokyo with ease. It’s just like N. Y. City, Los Angeles, Phoenix if not worse today. Hawaii was beautiful. I was stationed in Wahiawa, a small town. It was a great time in my life. I was on Hawaii on the day it became a state. The then village of Wahiawa holds many pleasant memories. Some of the guys I was stationed with have been back. They say it has changed also. Everything changes with time. "
Q7. - Tell us about your training in Kajukenbo, your teacher the famous Adriano Emporado, and also about the Niko Budo forms that you developed and still practice.
A7. - "In 1958 when I reported to US Navy #85, NAVCOMSTA – Wahiawa, I had no idea what was available as far as continuing my karate training. Two other sailors, James Toone and George Whitley who were stationed at Navy 85 had been taking karate at Emperado’s club in Wahiawa. They cornered me after I was on base for about a week and took me to the washroom. Both of them stood there and wanted to know what I knew. They had heard I had studied karate in Japan. I did a few things and the following week Jim Toone took me to the workout at the Wahiawa YMCA. This is where the “Chief” had his club. I was accepted as a member and yes, this is what Sensei Emperado was called, Chief!
The workouts were brutal. Not much kata. A form that resembled Nihanshi, and parts of Bassai. Most of the workouts were blocks, punches and kicks and what the Chief referred to as “tricks”, what we would call waza.
One on one off the line. Not to much control at all to the body. Once in awhile you would catch one in the head but mostly body shots, take downs, fighting out of a push from behind come out of a roll and work tricks and combinations. I enjoyed working out in Hawaii with the Chief. He was only there 3 or 4 times a month. He had other clubs on the island. The people who did most of the teaching were, Tony Ramos, Vern Tokomoto and Jerry Martin, all local boys. When you joined the dojo, you purchased a white judo gi. You then went to the local cleaners and got it dyed black. I still have my gi top and patches from 1958 that I received when I started in his dojo. "
Q8. - Did you ever get to meet the other four founders of KAJUKENBO Peter Choo, Frank Ordonez, Joe Holck, or Clarence Chang? If so, what were they like? Also, while stationed in Hawaii, had you heard of Kyokushin’s Shihan Bobby Lowe?
A8. - "No, I never met any of the other founders of KAJUKENBO. When I was getting ready to leave Hawaii for discharge I had dinner with Mr. Emperado. I asked him about Bobby Lowe. He said, “yeah, he is ok, he can give it out but can’t take it”! The Chief’s words, not mine (they must not have been getting along to well at that time)."
Q9. - You trained under Professor Adriano Emporado and were good friends with American Kenpo founder Ed Parker. Both of these men trained under Professor William Chow. What were the major differences you observed between these two men’s style of Kenpo?
A9. - "I do not know what William Chow’s people looked like or how they trained. I can say that I have never seen a dojo like the one that Emperado Sensei operated; it was an experience, a good one!
Ed Parker was a great guy! He and Sensei Trias had known each other for years. I met Ed at the World Tournament in 1963 in Chicago. I ran across him on several occasions over the years. Every time he would see me it would be, “Yea, Koeppel, from Chicago” I kept telling him it was Peoria, he never could get it right. He was a wonderful person to be around."
Q10. - When and where did you open your first dojo and what was taught?
A10. - "When I was discharged from the Navy I returned to my home in Peoria, IL.
In late 1959 I started teaching karate in Douglas Grose’s Judo dojo. Doug Grose was a career police officer who worked with my father. I knew Doug since I was in my early teens. I continued to teach Kajukenbo until I made contact with Sensei Robert A. Trias, which was in early 1960. It was during this period of time that I developed the (5) Neko Buto’s, (cat forms). These were based on Emperado’s “tricks”. I taught and worked these for about 3 or 4 years until I started to integrate Sensei Trias’s Kata. At this time sensei graded his system as Shorei Ryu."
Q11. - You spent decades training with Mr. Robert Trias the acknowledged “Father of Karate in America” and also with the United States Karate Association (USKA). When and how did you first hear of Mr. Trias and when did the USKA come into existence? How would you characterize your relationship with Mr. Trias?
A11. - "I spent 22 years with Sensei. I of course joined the USKA as soon as he accepted me as a student. This was early in 1960. When I getting ready to leave Hawaii for discharge back into civilian life I asked Mr. Emperado if he knew of anyone I could train with when I got back in the States. His answer was: There was a group that worked out at the Chinatown YMCA in San Francisco and some one in Phoenix, AZ. Both of these distances in 1960 were a LONG way for a young guy with a newly started family and wife to get to for training. Other than the people I mentioned above, De Merse, Fastbender, Gruzanski and a local guy in Peoria named Tony Warren who had a minimal amount of training with Chitose Sensei in Southern Japan there were not to many options. One of my original students, cir:1960, brought in a “Popular Mechanics” magazine and it had an article in it about Mr. Trias. When I found out that he was from Arizona I immediately related to what Mr. Emperado had discussed with me in Hawaii. Through phone conversations, 16mm film, students of mine traveling and working out in Phoenix and coming back with kata and waza, I was graded and accepted into the USKA as a student of Robert A. Trias, Sensei.
I believe the USKA was founded on almost a club basis in 1957 or 1958. I know when I was accepted as a member my enrollment number was #86. It was kind of dormant between its inception in the middle 50’s until 1960.
Mr. Trias was not only my teacher, he became almost like a second father to me. He gave me the opportunity to grow as a karate as karate and the USKA exploded through the 60’s, 70’s & the 80’s.
Even when I left the USKA in 1982 for personal reasons, my loyalty never left the person who taught and nurtured my karate do for over 22 years. I still to this day, hold him in the highest regard as a person, a mentor and a friend. I learned so much from him, not only regarding karate but just on living my life. The man was a genius in the way he interacted with people. I have never quite met anyone like him. He was right for his time. I loved him like a father.
I was the 1st Shichidan he ever promoted. He promoted others later on to this grade but as far as I know and as far as I am concerned he never graded anyone above the rank of Shichidan. (No matter what stories we all have heard since his death) PERIOD !"
(Robert Trias and Phillip Koeppel - Chicago, IL - 1st World Championships, 1963)
Q12. - How did the Shuri-ryu style taught by Mr. Trias differ from your previous training?
A12. - "In reality it did not differ at all. When Sensei started developing the USKA his style was Shorei-Goju. In the mid 1960’s the Goju portion of the name was dropped. Sensei came out with his “Shorei Ryu “ Instructional manual and the system was called , Shorei Ryu.
This went on for about 6 or 7 years. A lot of people who had received low dan rank from R. A. Trias were upgrading themselves. A lot of people who came out of the woodwork were calling their style, Shorei Ryu. In order to get a hold on what he was doing, Sensei established a set of standards in Kata and Waza . Some of the kata in the Shorei system were dropped. The “Ippons, Kihons and Taezu Naru Waza were established. Chief Instructors with Black Pine Tree patch with a Sun Burst. Black Belt qualified karate who were Yudansha could wear the black pine patch and they had the White pine patch for kyu students who were tested and awarded these honors. Sensei backed up these actions when he published his “Pinnacle Of Karate, Okinawan Methods Of Shuri Ryu.
(NOTE - a detail description of the SHURI-RYU patch can be found at the bottom of this article)
By developing the Shuri Ryu System, sensei could distance himself from some mistakes where rank was awarded. He (as he should), controlled the Chief Instructors and Yudansha who wore or wanted to attain “certified status” in Shuri Ryu. This practice is carried on yet today with some of the people who had carried on in his system (Roberta Trias/Kelly, John Pachivas, Bob Bowles, etc).
In essence, Shuri Ryu and its development was a tool that Mr. Trias needed to control a style system. The Kata and Waza were almost the same as the old Shorei/Goju and Shorei Ryu Systems.
It was a brilliant move to have a strong, controlled style of Karate."
(John Pachivas and Phillip Koeppel - St. Louis, 1974)
Q13. - I’ve read that there is also a Shuri-ryu Ju-Jitsu, what can you tell me about this system?
A13. - "I have no idea what Shuri-ryu Ju-jitsu is. I have never been exposed to it."
Q14. - Being that you were the first karate dojo in Illinois, how did you attract students to this virtually unknown style of combat, and how were you received by the Judo community?
A14. - "When I started teaching in Peoria in 1960, the population was about 100,000 people. There weren’t more than 20 people at that time, who had ever heard the word “Karate”. I had made contact with Jim Mackey who I worked out with in Japan. He was at this time, a artist with the Chicago Tribune. Jim Mackey no longer worked out in Karate. Jim connected me with Rich De Merse and Jerry Fastbender who had both trained in Japan in the late 50’s. DeMerse was in the Army and Fastbender was in the Air Force. (Jerry Fastbender won the Kata Grand Championship in the 1st World Championships in Chicago in 1963). They both were working out at Bill Turners Judo Club in Gary, Indiana. . Around this time I also met Chuck Gruzanski who was a self-defense instructor with the Chicago Police Department. Chuck was a student of Kyokushinkai and was also adept as a knife thrower. He and Harry McAvoy authored a book on Knife and Axe throwing, and they also co-founded the “Tru Flight Knife Throwers Assn”. Chuck Gruzanski died in his 40’s with cancer. He was part of the 1st Chicago Karate Yudanshakai along with myself and a few of the others from the Chicago land area. By in large most of the Judo clubs and Judoka tolerated us, because at the time we were really in the minority. After all, Judo was established before WWII throughout the major cities in the U.S.
If it were not for our good friends in Judo, we would not have had the early growth that we experienced during the early 1960’s. When we promoted the 1st World Championships in 1963, I had my own Karate dojo in Peoria. In Chicago, Keehan was working out of Gene Wyka’s Judo dojo, and DeMerse and Fastbender were training and teaching out of Turners Judo dojo in Gary. The 1st karate tournament we held in Illinois was a club affair held at Chicago Judo and Karate at 99th & Western in Chicago in 1962, three dojo’s participated, Chicago, Gary and Peoria.
The Judo community treated us well at the time. Most of us started training in Judo and continued doing so for the next few years. If it were not for the Judo community opening up its arms to us in the early 60’s it would have taken us a lot longer to make the progress we did over the next five years. "
Q15. - In 1963, Mr. Trias hosted the first “World Championships” in Chicago, who was the overall tournament champion and could you tell us a little about the competition itself?
A15. - "Yes, Mr. Trias and the USKA were the formal hosts. It was because of Sensei Trias that we drew some of the great names to that 1st Tournament. John Keehan did all of the gut and grunt work on setting up the site and mailing & contacting people. He had a good staff of people who took care of the logistics that day and during the whole weekend.
No one really knew John at the time and Mr. Trias was well known nationwide.
Al Gene Carulia beat Lou Lizotte for the Grand Championship in Kumite. Jerry Fastbender was the Grand Champion in Kata.
It was a wonderful gathering. Sensei Trias , Ed Parker, Mas Tsuroka, Tony Mirakian , Harold Long, George Mattson, Maung Gyi, Harry Smith, Sam Pierson, Jhoon Rhee, Jim Chapman, Gary Alexander. We actually came together for the general good of having a great competition. There were no real problems, we all enjoyed ourselves and I do not believe there will be another event like it.
There have been bigger and more publicized competitions since then, but none with so many of the original pioneers in American Karate that represented so many different systems of karate together at one time. Everyone walked away with positive feeling about being a part of something very special, it was never to be repeated."
USKA - 1st Tournament
Q16. - The USKA in its heyday produced some of the finest karate-ka and fiercest fighters in the United States. Can you tell us about some of them and what in your opinion made them so great?
A16. - "Here we go. . I know I will make someone angry by not mentioning them. Blame it on “Old Age”. I will not even attempt to get into the fighter’s of the late 70’s & the 80’s. I will just talk about before then.
You would have to start with Al Gene Carulia, Raymond Cooper, Glenn Keeney, Victor Moore, Artis Simmons, James McClain, Wally Slokie, Jim Harrison, Robert Yarnall, Parker Shelton, James Hawkes, Bill Wallace, and Jimmy Jones. There were so many more after these people and as I said, I have probably missed a few. I believe all the people who competed back then knew they were kind of in the bulls-eye. American organization of several different style systems. We took great pride in that we represented a “United States” group of karate-ka. Most of the people mentioned above were first or second generation trained by Sensei’s who developed their background in Okinawa or mainland Japan.
We wanted to represent the USKA and trained hard and enjoyed each others company.
It was a great time in our lives that a lot of us relive every time we get together. The ones of us who are left are getting old!"
Q17. - You recently met and spent time with celebrated martial arts author and historian, Robert W. Smith. How was your meeting and can you give us some insight into Mr. Smith?
A17. - "This is my pleasure H. P.
Having the opportunity to meet and visit with Robert W. Smith was one of the highlights in my karate career spanning the past 20 years! This gentleman is the live, walking , talking and writing machine that has spanned the Martial Arts since the middle 1940’s. This 81 year old gentleman is still active with his Chinese disciplines. His outlook on life and the way he lives it is wonderful. He has met and interacted with some of the real legends of martial arts. E. J. Harrison was at the Kodokan in Tokyo in the 1890’s! This is a person that 99. 9% of the world has only been able to read about! Robert Smith was his close associate. Then to turn out the number of books that he did and when he did it. The 1960’s. He was one of the few at that time that gave us, “beginners” some kind of written text to go along with our training. He and his wife Alice are just great to be around and talk about the history of what has transpired since the middle 1940’s to 2007. I considered it an honor to be able to just spend some time with this gentleman. Even at his age his mind is still quick and talking to his students he can still burn you with technique.
Robert W. Smith was born about 50 miles from where I was raised and educated. He attended Spalding Institute, “high school” about 12 years before I did and I found out when this was happening he was living about 5 blocks down the street from my home.
I did not know or realize this until early in 2007 even though I knew and read Robert Smith’s books in the early 1960’s. The world is a small place. Robert W. Smith has always been and still is, Budo."
Q18. - John Keehan the famous “Count Dante” was an early member of the USKA, who trained him and what caused him to split from the USKA and form the “Black Dragon Fighting Society”? Did you know him personally?
A18. - "Let me answer the last question first. I want to also let you know that I will be brief as possible with these answers because John is now dead and cannot dispute or defend himself. That said, yes I knew John quite well. Son of a Chicago Doctor, lived in the Beverly Hills section of Chicago in the 40’s, 50’s & part of the 60’s. I stayed at his fathers home when I was in Chicago several times. I met John in the very early 1960’s.
The 1st time being when he and Doug Dwyer were on there way back to Chicago from Phoenix, AZ they were out there training in Mr. Trias’s dojo. I remember it was in the summer and they were at my Main St. dojo. I believe John was a green or purple belt at the time and Dwyer was a yellow belt. This was one or two years before John hosted the USKA World Championships 1963 in Chicago. Who trained him ? All his kata and waza were from Robert A. Trias. This constituted all of John’s formal training. (No matter what anyone claims).
Personal differences between R. A. Trias & John Keehan caused the split, along with the fact that Keehan did not want to take directions from anyone.
His Black Dragon Fighting Society? I have no idea where that came from."
Q19. - What was your recollection of the incident involving the murder of Sensei Jim Koncevic and the events leading up to it (dojo wars)?
A19. - "I knew Jim Koncevic well. He was a very good judoka along with being a competitive
Karateka. What happened to him was a shame. Keehan started the fight and Jim tried to finish it. He ended up dieing over it. It was a waste of a good person who was loyal to his teacher. John Keehan should have went to jail for that affair.
Dojo Wars? That makes good copy.
I went up to Chicago to teach at the Judo & Karate Center at 99th & Western in 1964/19650. Charlie Brown owned and operated the dojo. I went to work for him. Someone had put blasting caps on his plate glass windows a month or so before I started teaching in this location. I taught the karate and Tony Zvirblis was the judo instructor. He became my Judo Sensei and has remained a close friend to this day. Some of the other dojo’s had their window broke out with bricks. Like I said, “Dojo Wars made good copy.
Except for the one stupid incident involving Jim Koncevic there was nothing but some broken glass and words being thrown back and forth. End of Chapter, Verse. Period."
Q20. - Isshinryu practitioner Sensei Jim Chapman was not only an early pioneer of Isshinryu in the Midwest, but was also your close personal friend. What can you tell us about him?
A20. - "This is another case where we lost a good person way to early in life. Jim Chapman Sensei was like strap leather. He was tough and talented. I met Jim in 1963 and formed a friendship that would last until his passing. I remember going up to Aurora and him coming down to Peoria. This was a great time in my life. I was honored that his wife asked me to be a pallbearer at his funeral. You would look at Jim and think, this guy is nothing. A lot of people made the same mistake with his teacher, Don Nagle. Then he, Jim, would proceed to beat the hell out of you. Loved his karate and he had a great love for life. I have read a lot of different history on how Jim passed away. His wife called me the day after his accident. Jim and a friend were pulling a boat behind a car back to Aurora. This was in Northern Indiana. The boat, (a large one) came loose from the hitch and tore the car to pieces. That is how James Chapman died. For several years after he passed away at my Midwest Championships we would hold a team fight between Glenn Keeney’s dojo and mine. We called this event the “Chapman Cup “. We did this until I stopped having the Midwest Karate Championships."
(Robert Yarnall / James McLain / James Kennedy / James Pachivas / Phillip Koeppel / James Chapman /
James Jones, 1968)
Q21. - You survived cancer a few years back and rehabbed yourself for the most part with Karate practice. What in your opinion gave you the most benefit from your training on your road to recovery?
A21. - "I was diagnosed with lymphoma in November of 1997, 11 years ago. I had just returned from the 1997 World Championships in Naha, Okinawa. I was 59 years old and all jacked up after training with Nishihira Sensei. Really hitting it hard. I got up one morning and I thought I had a small hernia. I did not run to the doctor at that time. Around the end of September or the 1st part of October I got into see my M. D. I had a seminar set up out in Palm Springs , CA in about a week and I did not want to miss it. He said to get back into see him around the last part of October. I did because my hernia was getting larger.
After seeing a couple of more referred doctors and an MRI and a biopsy I was diagnosed with a, stage II large cell follicular lymphoma, in my stomach and groin. Treatment, was chemotherapy and radiation. I got a second opinion from the University of Iowa Hospital.
They came up with the same diagnosis and treatment. The interesting thing was what they told me at the U. of Iowa. They said I was a 59 year old man with a 35 to 40 year old mans body. I relate this to training in karate for over 40 years at the time. Through the grace of god and a good oncologist, I went into treatment in early December 1997 and in May of 2008 I was in complete remission. During my treatment I had lots of good advise as to the fact that I had to try to keep my immune system built up as much as possible. Keep the lungs clear and get through the winter months without getting phenomena or infections. I tried to continue to teach my classes at the dojo. Thank god I have great students. I fell in love and married the kata, “Happoren”. This breathing form was my safeguard to keep my lungs strong and fit. A lot of the time I was too tired and worn down by the chemo to do the kata correctly. So I would do it from a seated position. Sit there in my living room looking out both windows at the snow, wrapped up in blankets and a hooded sweatshirt and run Happoren over and over. I would be bathed in sweat. I made an oath to myself that if I died it would not be from weak lungs. God smiled on me and gave me another chance. I try to make the most of it."
Q22. - You were at one time Mr. Robert Trias’s top student, what made you split from him and resign from the USKA after so many years? Also, how was it perceived by the other USKA members?
A22. - "I don’t know if I was sensei’s top student. I was the first student he promoted to 6th and 7th degree black belt. I was his senior Yudansha. The reason for the split?
First time this has ever come out in print. It was over Robert Bowles and Parker Shelton who were both located in Ft. Wayne, IN. The USKA Constitution stated that a person could not open a dojo within 5 miles of and existing dojo. Bowles opened up about a dojo about 1 ½ miles from Shelton. Bob and Parker had always been friends and both of them were making their living with their dojo’s. Parker submitted a complaint to Mr. Trias at USKA headquarters. If Bowles were to be found in violation of this bylaw he could lose his USKA Dojo Certification. Mr. Trias contacted me his Regional Director for the 12 Central States, I contacted Glenn Keeney , who was the Indiana State Representative. I needed Glenn to investigate the complaint and give me a report on the validity of Parker’s complaint. Glenn Keeney drove to Ft. Wayne and verified that Bowles was in violation of the USKK Constitution. Glenn Keeney as the IN State Rep filed a written report to me. I in turn wrote up a report that in essence said the same thing as Keeney. Both reports were submitted to the Director of the USKA, R. A. Trias. Trias Sensei said this matter would be addressed by the Board of Directors at the Grand Nationals that were coming up in Miami Beach, FL within 2 months. Mr. Bowles and Mr. Shelton were both in Miami that June. Both stated their cases. Mr. Bowles had a motion to change the existing rule in the constitution so that his school would not be in violation. Bob Bowles was a original student of Sensei Trias in Phoenix before he moved to Indiana. Mr. Trias stood aside as the Board narrowly pass the amendment. Mr. Trias and the Board of Director ignored the reports of the Indian State Rep, Keeney and Regional Director, Koeppel. Parker Shelton resigned his membership immediately at the meeting. I submitted my resignation within the next 30 days. Glenn Keeney resigned his membership with the next 2 years. It was a sad time for all of us. This happened in 1982. Some things are right, other things were wrong. What Robert Bowles did was wrong. It was then and still is today.
I really didn’t care what any of the other people in the membership thought. I imagine they thought I just turned on my teacher. This is not true. I just could not serve in my position any longer. There were some other issues with people in the organization that had done some unethical things to some of the membership. These were ignored also. I had a hard time with all of these issues.
Robert A. Trias Sensei was my sensei for 22 years. I loved him as a father. I owe him so much. The whole time I was his representative I tried to serve him to the best of my ability. Even up to his death I could call him and one on one we still had the personal relationship that started in 1960. His picture still is the only one on my kamisa in my dojo. There will never be another like him. God bless his soul."
Q23. - Please tell us about the symbol you wear on your gi the double bladed axe and its meaning.
A23. - "Around 1963, I was looking for a dojo patch that my people could wear. If we get into the explanation of the patch and what it stands for we would take up two pages with the copy. Suffice to say the Eightfold Path & Four Noble Truths of the Double Axe in its 4 inch form have been given out to only 39 people over the pass 45 years. They in turn can award the smaller arm sleeve patch to special students that they teach. This is my personal patch and you see it in the center of the USKK patch and it shows up on the Bushido Society patch. It really means more to people who are close and loyal to me then the general karate public."
Q24. - Happoren appears to be one of your favorite katas. Can you give us some background about this kata, its health benefits, etc?
A24. - "I covered quite a bit of this in one of the previous questions, let me just add a few things.
Yes, I enjoy working Happoren. I work it at least 3 times every day. I totally believe that breath is the center of all unante training. In June of 1997 right before I went to Okinawa in August, I brought Patrick McCarthy to Peoria for the USKK International Karate Championships. He was living in Brisbane Australia and had not been back in the states for over 10 years. I brought him about a week early and he stayed in my home for the first 4 or 5 days. I respect McCarthy’s knowledge. He has had tremendous exposure to not only with the Okinawan teachers but also with the Chinese. Of course his association with Kinjo Hiroshi Sensei gives him inroads to any Japanese karate history and training methods. After Patrick did our seminar at our championships he followed by going to New York, Canada, Ohio and Florida before he headed back to Australia. It was during this time that I was introduced to the kata Happoren by Patrick McCarthy. I believe the kata Happoren like Sanchin and Tensho are not only wonderful training tools, but they also flush the body and organs with blood and clean the carbon dioxide and toxins out of your system. You build cell tissue and stamina when you perform these kata. They are wonderful for health purpose’s if you do them CORRECTLY ! I believe that breath brings all of the centers together. (physical, intellectual, emotional, instinctive) Richard Kim told the story about the importance of breath and its control and use.
“ The teacher asked his class what was the most important aspect of their training?
He received all kinds of answers. Most of which could be considered valid. He walked up to a student in the front row and grabbed him by the hair. Marched him over to a sink full of water. Shoved his head under water until the bubbles were coming up. He pulled the students head out of the water and shouted , “what is the most important aspect in your training? !! The student sputtered and spit out water and yelled at the top of his lungs.
Breath and its control is the most important aspect of our life. Its needs must be served before the need of food , water, rest or anything else.
Happoren along with the other breathing kata address this issue. "
Q25. - Noted Martial Artist and Historian Mr. Pat McCarthy is said to have been the one who wrote your letter of introduction to Mr. Kosei Nishihara. How did you meet Mr. McCarthy and have you trained together? Also, can you tell us about your training with Nishihara Sensei?
A25. - "Patrick McCarthy was a member of the USKA while he still lived in Canada. In fact he represented Mr. Trias and the USKA for a short period of time before he started his travels to Asia. In 1995 Nagamine Takayoshi Sensei and I were doing a series of seminars in Ireland. When we were there noted author, competitor, and now Director of Kissaki-Kai Karatedo Organization, Vince Morris Sensei took part in some of the seminars. I have since become a personal friend of Morris Sensei, a quite accomplished karate-Jutsu practitioner. He was a personal friend of McCarthy and when Patrick went to the UK he usually ended up spending quite a bit of time with Morris. Vince sent me some of his tapes and a couple of his excellent books. I call him at his home in Nottingham, England to thank him for his gifts. While I was on the phone to him , he told me McCarthy was his house guest at the time and asked me if I wanted to speak to him. I did and he put McCarthy on the line. I had just finished reading McCarthy’s translation of the “Bubishi” and I complemented him on the fine job he did on this work. Patrick mentioned that he was formally with the USKA and that his Shodan diploma had my signature on it along with Mr. Trias’s and it hung on his dojo wall in Brisbane, AU. This started a personal relationship with McCarthy that I addressed in a earlier question, when he came to the USKK Internationals in 2007 as our feature seminar presenter. When Patrick was in Peoria in 2007 he along with his wife wrote letters of introduction both in Japanese and their English translations for Kosei Nishihira and Saikichi Higa – Goju ryu. He had trained with and held both of these Okinawan teachers in very high regard and I appreciated his help with the introductions that he sent for me. He not only gave me copies of both versions of the introductions but sent them to both of these sensei’s with his recommendation. I was well accepted by both of these karate Shihan.
(Phillip Koeppel and Patrick McCarthy - Peoria for the USKK International Karate Championships, 1997)
My training with Nishihira Sensei was not long enough. When I was in Okinawa in 1997 I made several trips out to his dojo in Nishihara Village and work out with sensei. This was in August of 2007. The village karate of Okinawa is quite different than the dojos in Naha, Futema, & Okinawa City. McCarthy told me that I would probably never have a complete gi on when I trained with Sensei Nishihira. He was right. Cotton street pants, gi pants with and without a tee-shirt. The first time I worked with him, he stripped down to (honest to god) polyester dress pants and white tee-shirt and that is the way we worked out for 3 hours. I put on some gi pants with no shirt at all. It was like an oven in his little dojo that was part of his business and living quarters. He was a wonderful man with tremendous talents. He did not care about what any one thought about his karate. He had no ties with the major karate styles or the Okinawan Karate do Remni. Before I left Okinawa I asked Mr. Nishihira if he would accept me as his student. He agreed to be my sensei.
Right after that a lot happened. I was diagnosed with cancer. When I started thinking I would be going back to Okinawa, something always came up to divert my plans.
Over the past couple of years Sensei passed away. I guess it just was not in the cards that we would get back together.
My good friend , Nagamine Takayoshi Sensei, knew I was training with Mr. Nishihira . After I left the island in 2007 , Nagamine took a couple of his students out to meet with Mr. Nishihira. I did not know this at the time it happened. Nagamine sensei later on was doing a seminar in St. Louis, MO in 2001. My wife and I drove down there to have dinner with him in St. Louis. This is when he told me he visited Nishihira sensei. I asked him what he thought about his abilities. He just laughed and said his students were both black & blue from working with Sensei Nishihira. Nagamine then looked at me very seriously and said: ” Phil, Mr. Nishihira works very old karate. You must watch very close with what he does”. I laughed and told Nagamine sensei, “that is why I want to study with him”. Nishihira like Kuda sensei was a complete gentleman and they both represented their Okinawan karate in a most professional manner. It was an honor to be associated with both of these gentlemen."
Q26. - You and Takayoshi Nagamine Sensei were close personal friends, how did that friendship come to be and when was the last time you saw him?
A26. - "Takayoshi Nagamine and I are very good friends. I did not know him when he was teaching in Dayton, OH back in the 1960’s. Knew of him but never got to meet him at that time. Dan Smith, GA. Student of Zempo Shimabuku –Chuba Shorinryu made a very intelligent statement in reference to his teacher, Zempo Shimabuku & Takayoshi Nagamine. Dan said : “ Zempo and Takayoshi’s father’s , Zenryo Shimabuku both had the foresight and knowledge to send their son’s to the U.S. to learn how to speak the language and learn the ways of Americans. ” They both did this and they probably more so than any other sensei’s in Okinawa understand our political, economical, and religious habits. They both spent better than 10 years here and both speak and understand our language and thinking. It was a brilliant move by both of their fathers because they had the foresight to understand that they would have to be dealing with us in the future.
(Takayoshi Nagamine and Phillip Koeppel - Athlone Ireland, 1995)
Nagamine loves America. I believe he would rather live here then in Okinawa. He is committed to spending a designated amount of time in Okinawa. When he was made Kaicho of Matsubayashi Shorinryu after his fathers death, in order to maintain the support of most of the older Yudansha in the Hombu dojo, he needed to agree to certain terms. One of these being that he would spend a specific amount of time in Okinawa every year.
I first met him in 1976 in Naha when I was with Sensei Trias on a 25 day tour of the Far East. We spent 2 weeks in Okinawa and one night after we were guest at Nagamine Shoshin’s dojo, Nagamine Takayoshi , Mr. Trias and I went out to dinner and Takayoshi told Mr. Trias that his father gave his approval for Robert Yarnall & Parker Shelton to be a part of the USKA in the U.S. This was kind of a ground breaking event.
Up to that point if you did not belong and support just the organization in Okinawa they would throw you out of their group.
Before his father died Takayoshi spent a lot of time with his sponsor in New York, Nick Racanelli. I got to know Nick pretty well. Takayoshi and I started to interact and he has been our feature seminar presenter at the USKK Internationals on 3 occasions. When his father came to the U.S. in 1995 I went out to New York as a representative of the USKK. When I went to the pre-worlds in Naha in 1995, Takayoshi was a tremendous host and helped me get around while I was there. I probably saw him everyday. If not in the dojo or the tournament we would be out to dinner every evening with different people from different dojo’s and karate styles.
As I stated above we traveled to Europe in 1995 and did seminars on the continent.
He has given me many great insights as far as application of karate technique. He has been a good friend over the years and I support his efforts in karatedo. His father was considered a brilliant karateka. He knew his son was going to take over his karate system some day. He introduced his son to many of the great karate and Chinese Martial Artiest all over the world. He did this to fortify his son. Nagamine Takayoshi knows a lot more about chanfa and ti and di than people give him credit for and he can be thankful his father had the foresight to make this possible.
I last saw him in Cincinnati, OH in the fall of 2006, when we did a seminar together. I talked to him on the phone when he was back in the U.S. in November of 2007.
He is a good friend and I hope he lives a long healthy life. "
(Takayoshi Nagamine / Shoshin Nagamine / Phillip Koeppel - World Championships in Naha in, 1999)
Q27. - Kuda Sensei, can you tell us a little about him?
A27. - "Koda Yuichi Sensei, the consummate Karate Sensei. He was a pure gentleman to the core. I guess he is my real role model. So many teachers talk about being ego-less.
They have such big ego’s that they can’t carry them around with them. They just drag them behind. Kuda sensei had a great exposure with many of the old teachers in Okinawa. He was a student with Nakamura Sensei, (Okinawan Kempo) and reached at least the level of Godan with him. I asked Kuda sensei how he met and started training with Soken Hohan sensei . He told me Kise Sensei introduced him and he then started training in earnest with Hohan Soken Hanshi. Kuda Sensei was knowledgeable and proficient both in empty hand and weapons. He lived his Karate-do. He probably won’t go down in karate history as one of the, “greats” but he was one great teacher. Not only on the deck but in the way he lived his life. A complete and total gentleman, who really likes everyone. He stayed in my home when he visited my dojo in the U.S. It had been years since I last saw him and went up to a seminar in the Quad –City area around 1998. The first words out of his mouth were, “ How is Nicki” (my youngest daughter)? He was a good man and in my eyes and in my mind a great Karate-ka. I still work and teach one of his, “Ni Sei Di” forms that he personally developed for training. "
(Peoria Dojo Grandmaster Yuichi Kuda and Phillip Koeppel - 1988)
Q28. - You once told me a story about an incident that happened in Japan were Mr. Trias was challenged about the validity of his ninth dan. Can you please repeat that story and Mr. Trias’s reply?
A28. - "Yes. I was with Sensei Trias in 1976 when he made his 1st trip to Okinawa. This was a 23 day trip that went to Tokyo, Seoul, Manila, and Taiwan. We ended the trip up in Okinawa and stayed for about 2 weeks. This is when Sensei met all of the karate style heads one on one for the first time. Sensei’s Uechi, Nagamine, Nagazato, Miyahira, Miyazato, Yagi, Odo. We traveled under a letter of introduction from Konishi, Yosuhiro Hanshi who we spent some time with in Tokyo on the first leg of this trip. Konishi Sensei was highly respected by all of the Okinawan Sensei’s. We did not realize it at the time, (Aug 1976) but Konishi Sensei had called ahead and we were surprised when we were met at the airport in Naha by Uechi Kani Sensei. The question you asked did not happen on this trip. It was a later trip, late 70’s early 80’s. Mr. Trias had a small dinner at one of the hotels. He invited several leading Sensei’s to attend. The banquet was well attended.
Somewhere into the festivities one of the well respected Hanshi’s stood and ask, quite directly? Where Sensei Trias got off claiming the rank of 9th Dan ? Terry Maccarrone from New York – Matsubayashi ryu is the one who related this story to me. I was not present but have since checked and this is accurate account. Terry told me, “ I was very proud of the way Mr. Trias handled this sticky question”.
Mr. Trias in a gentlemanly manner stood up and looked the (we will keep him unnamed) Okinawan sensei right in the eye and stated, “ I have Yosuhiro Konishi’s signature on my certificate, who signed yours? “ Once all this was translated everyone sat down and had a good time. When Terry related this story to me we both agreed that it was a time of pride for American Karate-ka."
(Phillip Koeppel / Yoshiro Konishi / Robert Trias - Japan, 1976)
Q29. - The United States Karate-Do Kai (USKK) which was founded in 1981 by you and your long term friends and students, has a reputation for being very selective towards granting membership. Can you give our readers an idea of what the criteria for membership is, and what you feel sets the USKK apart from the other martial arts organizations?
A29. - "The United States Karate Do Kai (USKK) was founded in 1984. One of my senior students at that time, David G. Suzuki who was one of my 1st personal contacts with R. A. Trias Sensei in the early 1960’s and myself created and founded the USKK. David Suzuki was the 1st President of the USKK. It was developed with the intention of continuing long friendships that were developed over the years in the USKA with people who were no longer active members of that karate federation. These primarily being; Glenn R. Keeney, Robert Yarnall and Parker Shelton. These people along with my own dojo system constituted the first twenty dojo to make up the United States Karate do Kai.
We are selective towards people who we welcome into our group. I want to take my time when I explain this concept. Our criteria for our membership is simple. We still try to emulate our traditional Okinawan/ Japanese teachings and Ryuha' s. We are not rank driven. We are knowledge seeking, with the hope that we develop a better understanding of where our root teachings will lead us. We do not discriminate against anyone it is just that what drives most karate ka is not what drives this organization. Point : - Nagamine Shoshin, Uechi Kani. Both in their 80’s and early 90’s, 9th dan, Kudan. How can we have American 10th Dan's running around in their 50’s & 60’s? Everyone promoting everyone else! Wonderful! This isn’t what it’s all about. What it is about is developing oneself to become as efficient and strong as possible using this discipline of karate-do.
Are these people wrong or incorrect? No, it’s just not what we do or what we are interested in doing. I realize my thinking is a minority opinion and a lot of my friends do not agree with me. This is the stand that I have taken with the USKK. Money and rank mean absolutely nothing as far as the function of this federation are concerned. We want to be financially sound so that we can continue to operate and have a base for our membership. It really makes no difference to me how large or small the USKK is.
This works about the same way for my dojo. I do not have contracts for my students. I don’t really care how many students I have. The students who do study with me are very close, almost like immediate family. We are all studying together to continue to improve and evolve. I do not subside or make my living from the USKK or my Dojo. They both serve a purpose in a martial way. The people who are members of the USKK and my dojo hold a very special place in my life. I hope this answers your question."
(NOTE - a detail description of the Double Axe patch can be found at the bottom of this article)
Q30. - The USKK which has branch affiliates throughout the world is developing quite a following in Europe. During your first visit to Europe, what did you notice to be the biggest difference in the way they practice their Karate from the way we in the United States practice ours?
A30. - "March 17, 1994 Athlone , Ireland was the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the USKK and my personal life. 14 members of the USKK spent 2 weeks in Ireland. This started not only a karate organizational but personal friendship that are still strong today. When Mr. Beaumont and his group started with us they really reminded me of our situation in the U.S. in 1963 when we started our journey, being part of karate history over the next 40 years. They have never looked back. There is no difference in the way they train. Like everyone else in the western hemisphere the main thing driving all of Europe was – WUKO, and the competitive (sport) aspect of karate. Our group from Ireland, England, and Romania all have from the beginning, looked into the deeper aspects of the study of karate do. This is reflected both in there participation here in the U.S. and their ability to bring traditional/classical karate sensei’s to Europe, from all over the world."
Q31. - What do you feel is the greatest difference between Okinawan Karate and Japanese Karate?
A31. - "Upon the acceptance into the Dai Nippon Butokukai in the mid 30’s was when the real division between Okinawan village karate and mainland (as we know it today) Japanese karate was established. This was further reinforced with the All Japan Championships in the mid 1950’s, where the main thrust in training was on winning the kumite and kata competition. The training for a rule bound contest is different than what Motobu, Yabu, Itose and later on Shimabuko, Nagamine and many other village karate Sensei’s continued to teach in Okinawa. The theme being body conditioning, kata and its applications. The aspects of breathing and it benefits for not only building strength but the health aspects involved in its constant use.
It’s a two-edged sword. If it were not for the JKA and there taking their karate out to the world. (which they did) There is a good chance that none of us would be around today.
Both have their place. It’s up to the individual karate-ka to determine which way he wants to go."
Q32. - Out of all the books written by Mr. Trias, which is your favorite and why?
A32. - "You know, I have all of Sensei’s books, I even have the old version of “ The Hand Is My Sword” – Karate – Robert A. Trias. - Published , 1959 by Sandmar House.
My favorite is not even his best book! “Karate is My Life”, ADVANCED BLACK BELT INSTRUCTIONAL MANUAL, Hardback Copyright 1963 by Robert A. Trias – Trias International Institute of Karate – 101 W. McDowell Road, Phoenix , Arizona.
I read this book today, some 45 years later and cringe! But you know, at the time it was great. There was nothing else out there! The most important thing was that Sensei gave this book to me! It was the first one I received from him, that’s why it’s my favorite. Sensei did a lot better with “The Pinnacle of Karate” & “Karate do – The Supreme Way” later on. I have all of his books including some that no one else has copies of. "
Q33. - Have you written a book or reference manual on your Karate training and or experiences? If not, do you have any plans on writing a book?
A33. - "No, I have not written a book (you can probably tell why because of the length of time it has taken for to just do this interview with you, my apologies). I have tons of notes and have just finally decided on the topic. I have written for some magazines over the years (short articles and interviews, etc. ) and I have put out a series of 6 DVD’s that I have managed to distribute worldwide. But to answer your question, yes, I plan on writing a book."
Q34. - Are there any books that you recommend to your students and are they rank specific?
A34. - "Not rank specific and not in any particular order, I recommend;
A Road Anyone Can Walk – KI – William Reed
Tales of Okinawa’s Great Masters – Shoshin Nagamine
The Bible of Karate - Bubishi – Patrick McCarthy
Okinawan Karate – Mark Bishop
Unante- The Secrets of Karate – John Sells
Uechiryu Karate Do – George E. Mattson
My Journey With The Grandmaster – Major Bill Hayes
Karate-Do History and Philosophy – Takao Nakaya
Living The Martial Way – Forrest E. Morgan
Martial Musings – Robert W. Smith
Budo Secrets – John Stevens
The Laws of Spirit – Dan Millman
The Craft of the Warrior – Robert L. Spencer
The Fourth Way – P D. Ouspensky
Transformation – J. G. Bennett
to name a few……"
Q35. - Did you ever get to meet Bruce Tegner?
A35. - "No sir, I never had the privilege. "
Q36. - Over the years you’ve met, trained with, and knew personally some of Isshinryu’s earliest practitioners. Can you tell us what your opinion of Isshinryu Karate was in the early years, and has that opinion changed? If so, how has that opinion changed?
A36. - "It was my pleasure and privilege to meet and know; James Chapman, Harold Long, Don Nagle, Harry Smith, Don Bohan, Lou Lizotte, Steve Armstrong and Sherman Harrill. I probably have missed several people but chalk that up to “old age”. All of the above were just tough as leather hard core karate-ka. They all trained good students who carried the torch for Isshinryu for years. I have loss track of several of them. As stated earlier, Jim Chapman and I became close friends in the 60’s before his untimely death. Harold Long was one of the 1st of the 1st generation Isshinryu people who I had the opportunity to work out with. This was in 1963 in Chicago before the 63’ World Championships. I got to know Steve Armstrong well because he really came to a lot of USKA Tournaments through the 1970’s. Lost track of Harry Smith after we met in Chicago and later up in Toronto in 1963. Back in the 1960’s the people who represented Isshinryu karate were absolutely some of the best kumite people in the country. They trained just like they did in Shimabuku Sensei’s dojo. My opinion can’t really mean much because except for the people from the Midwest and South, I never did a whole lot with anyone on the Eastern Seaboard over the next 20 years. We were down in the Carolina’s and Florida but not up in the New York area except for some of the Shorin-ryu functions."
Q37. - A few years ago, the Isshinryu community lost in my opinion its greatest ambassador, Sensei Sherman Harrill. You were friends with Harrill Sensei and trained with him a number of times. Can you tell us what you learned from him and what did you feel was his greatest attribute?
A37. - "You know, one of the greatest regrets in my life was that I did not get to meet Harrill Sensei earlier in my life. I think we both appreciated the fact that we were both getting a little long in the tooth and gray together. Really, for not living any farther apart from each other, ( Illinois/Iowa) and knowing about each other for years it amazing that we never crossed paths with each other much earlier. We often talked about this when we did get together. I agree with you Chief, he was something special. He took great pride in the fact that he over a period of time had discovered a lot of things that other karate-ka will never have as long as they live. When we talked about this, he would just look at me and grin.
The man had absolute hammers for hands and understood how to sit down on any technique that he applied. What did I learn from him? Different aspects on how to work my hands and how to sit down while punching. Through my observations, I admired how he lived his life like a modern day warrior. He was a very special person and a wonderful karate-ka."
( John Hutchcroft / Phillip Koeppel / Sherman Harrell, Peoria IL, 2001)
Q38. - You’ve had students that have been with you for decades, what do you attribute their longevity and loyalty to? Do you have a designated successor and if so can you tell us a little about him/her?
A38. - "I have been fortunate and blessed to have some of my people with me for years. Probably 20 – 30 people with over 30 years in karate, and a few of them with right at 40 years. To me, this is unreal! I don’t know why they put up with me! They are the reason I go to the dojo and put my gi on and train, even when my body is sometimes screaming at me to give it some rest. What the hay, you only live once, right? Designated successor? Yes in my mind. Whoever it is, will need the support and loyalty that I have received. It will have to be a civil and common agreement to support that person, we will see."
Q39. - The USKK has a special group internal to the organization known as the Bushido Society; can you tell us a little about it?
A39. - "When we reincorporated in the middle 1990’s I initiated the “USKK Bushido Society”. This was an extension of Mr. Trias’s “Trias International Society”. We had about a dozen of the original Trias International Society members in the USKK at the time. We used the same guide lines and rules that Mr. Trias established with his group. Members are accepted to this Society by the existing membership. People who wear the patch are considered to be the. “most spirited” competitors in the federation. Parker Shelton was the 1st President of T. I. S. , and the 1st President of the Bushido Society. John Hutchcroft succeeded him for about 4 terms. Presently, H Eugene Talbott is the Society President.
The United States Karate Alliance (USKA) David Jordan and James Hawkes out of Louisiana and N. Mexico have the same type of group with their “Hall of Fame”.
Members from all 3 groups – Mr. Trias’s – Trias International – USKK’s – Bushido Society & U.S. Karate Alliance – Hall of Fame interact. The old Trias International is no longer active, and the Hall of Fame and Bushido Society were extended in his honor. Members from either organization attend each other meetings and vote for new members in each of the federations that are nominated for acceptance."
Q40. - Have you ever trained with Dr. Roberta Trias-Kelley (Daughter of Hanshi Robert Trias)?
A40. - "Who is Roberta Trias Kelley ???? (joke)
Yes , I know Roberta.
Met her the 1st time at the 1963 World Championships in Chicago. ( She was 17 years old). Over the next 21 years of going to countless tournaments, seminars, staying and working out in his dojo in Phoenix for weeks at a time, and traveling all over the world with Robert Trias Sensei, I probably saw Roberta in a gi once or twice.
When I use to ask about her, Sensei would say that she was selling gi’s for him.
I think she took about a 30 year sabbatical away from the dojo. I now see she is a 9th or 10th dan. Wow, where did she get that (at about 62 years of age)? She is selling some of Sensei’s personal things like his Trias International Patch on eBay. I was not around when Mr. Trias died. I do know that she received little or no support from anyone in her efforts to continue to run the United States Karate Association. Nuff said. ."
Q41. - Who were some of the people that you came up the ranks with?
A41. - "I recently ran across a USKA Constitution. It does not have a print date. I believe it came out in 1965/66. It gives the structure of the USKA at that time , with it members with their positions and ranks. Draw your own conclusions.
Director – R. A. Trias – Phoenix AZ
Reg Rep – Harold Long – 7th dan Knoxville, TN
Rep – Phillip Koeppel 6th dan Peoria, IL
State Rep – Peter George Urban -5th dan New York , NY.
State Rep – Cecil Patterson 5th dan Nashville, TN
State Rep – Gary Alexander, 5th dan Union , NJ
State Rep – Charles Gruzanski, 4th Chicago, IL
State Rep - Richard DeMerse 4th dan Hammond, IN
State Rep - James Coffman 4th dan Washington, DC
State Rep – Robert Sasaki 3rd dan Mankato, MN
State Rep – Ralph Linquist 3rd dan New Cumberland, PA
State Rep – Robert Moore 3rd dan Huntsville, TX
State Rep – James McLain 3rd dan Grand Rapids, MI
Rep Robert Salmon 3rd dan Natal . S. Africa
State Rep - John Pachivas 3rd dan Miami Beach, FL
State Rep – Norman Barkoot 3rd dan Columbia, SC
Rep – James Kennedy 3rd dan Ft. Wayne, IN
State Rep – David Whie head 2nd dan East Hartford, CT
State Rep – John Saviano 2nd dan Warren, RI
State Rep – James Hawkes 2nd dan Albuquerque, NM
State Rep – Phillip Perales 2nd dan , Costa Mesa , CA
State Rep – Jack Frizzell 2nd dan Salt Lick, KY
State Rep – Robert Parkes 2nd dan Jackson, MS
State Rep – James Miller 2nd dan Yuma, AZ
State Rep – Harry Acklin 2nd dan Lakewood, OH
State Rep – Frank Goody Sr. 3rd dan Denver, CO
State Rep – Hulon Willis 2nd dan Petersburg, VI
State Rep – Thomas Pisut 2nd dan Winston Salem, NC
State Rep – Roy Oshiro 2nd dan Springfield, WI
State Rep – Richard Yennie 1st dan Kansas City, MO
State Rep – William Kramer 1st dan Auburn, AL
State Rep – George A. Dillman 1st dan Hyattsville, MD
Rep – Dirk W. Mosig 1st dan Cordoba, Argentina
Rep – Bernabe Paragas 1st dan Philippines
Executive Secretary at that time was:
Roberta Jane Trias 2nd dan – Phoenix , AZ
Robert Hill 5th dan Legal Advisor
Hulon L. Willis 2nd dan Public Relations Chairman
Tsutomu Ohshima – Los Angeles, CA – Chairman Technique and Research Board
These were some of the people in the 1960’s who were at one time part of the USKA with Sensei Trias.
Nice pictures of all of them …"
Q42. - Of all the fighters you’ve observed over the years, which five fighters impressed you the most and why?
A42. - "There were so many……. so many good ones.
Wallace, Keeney, Lewis, Nagle, Smith, Fisher, Steen, Moon, Cofield, LaPuppet. Stone, Marchini, Hayes, Norris, Simmons, Sanders, Mullins.
I have named about 15 and there are 25 more and I would still be missing people.
All of the above had fighting spirit and a will to win.
There is no way I can answer this question and give it credence.
It’s like who was the best boxer, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano or Cassias Clay? So many different eras."
(Mike Stone / Phillip Koeppel / Chuck Norris - 1971)
Q43. - What is the biggest change you have seen in sport karate over the years?
A43. - "The biggest change I have seen ( I could be wrong) is that people today do not compete as much as they use to. I remember in the 70’s, that our dojo would make 2 tournaments a weekend! A person in the late 60’s & early 70’s would compete in over 30 tournaments a year! I am not saying that’s a good thing, it just happened. You could make one or two a weekend and a lot of people did.
That to me is the biggest difference that I’ve seen. Another change worth mentioning is that the competitors safety is looked after much more closely then we did in the past. "
Q44. - You’ve trained under many instructors in many different styles of karate. During that time, you also trained extensively in Kobudo. Who would you consider to be your five greatest influences while developing your Kobudo curriculum?
A44. - "My Kobudo is not the mainline kata of Matayoshi or Akamine Sensei’s, it is Hohan Soken influenced.
Kuda Sensei probably had as much influence as anyone with me.
Oda Sensei with some of his bo forms.
I probably only run about five or six Bo, two or three Sai, two or three Kama, and two Tonfa forms.
I use to work a lot of kobudo but have really scaled it back. In my dojo two of my senior Yudansha who were my Kobudo students teach all of the kobudo now.
I am completely consumed with working empty hand and trying to progress with it.
I will stick my nose in some of the kobudo classes just so that I don’t forget some of the forms.
Poor answer, but the truth."
Q45. - Of all the Okinawan weapons you’ve trained with, which is your favorite and why?
A45. - "Without a doubt the Kama, I love working with the bladed weapon.
I have one Rokushaku Kama form I work with my 6ft Bo/Kama; it’s called “Kobo”.
I also work Toyama Nonichu No Kama and Kuda’s Kama Sho."
Q46. - Mr. Koeppel, you have been involved in learning and teaching karate-do for six decades. If you could re-live and/or change any one decade, or change your course of study in any one decade, which one would it be and why?
A46. - "Boy, what a question. I will answer it in two ways.
I wish in 1956, I would have received a duty station in Okinawa, instead of Kami Seya , Japan. Of course if that happened , I never would have met Kawaguchi or Kim Sensei , would I ?
I wish I could have been with my teacher , Robert A. Trias Sensei when he died. I found about it 2 or 3 days after it happened.
I wish I would have trained harder when I had the opportunity through the 60’s, 70’s & 80’s.
I should have gone back to Okinawa during this time period when a lot of people were alive who are gone now.
I would not change a damn thing! I am one of the luckiest people in the world.
I could not have planned my life any better. I have had the opportunity to meet and interact with so many solid karate-ka and most of it was pure luck.
I was at the right place at the right time! God must have been smiling on me!!!!"
Q47. - Mr. Koeppel, thank you for taking the time to partake in this interview, do you have a parting message for our readers?
A47. - "I just want to apologize again for taking so long to get this done.
The past 51 years have flown by. Honest to god, it seems like yesterday that I was in that small dojo in Yokohama. To quote a couple of friends and my teacher, “Practice karate with a Open Mind and a Pure Heart”(Kimo Wall Sensei), “The only way you can improve yourself in your discipline is by working out on the deck” (John Roseberry Sensei), and “Live every day like it is the last day of your Life” (Robert Trias Hanshi). Very good advice!"