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Texas Karate History

Great Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee: 
Father of American Tae Kwon Do

In 1956 Jhoon Rhee came to the U.S. to study at San Marcos Southwest Texas State College and as a member of the Korean Army Officer Training Program. He was called back to Korea to complete a year of remaining active duty before returning in late 1957. Rhee returned to the U.S. entered engineering school in 1958.   In 1959 he transferred to the University of Texas in Austin, Texas and needed a source of income to continue his education.  He began teaching a non-credited karate (the name tae kwon do was not known at the time) class in 1959.  To attract students he gave a demonstration where he would jumped into the air and brake 3 boards 8 feet high with a kick.  This greatly impressed the audiences,  especially when you consider Mr. Rhee is 5 feet 4" tall!.

184 students signed up for Rhee's first class. Of those students, only six made it to black belt. One of those six was Allen R. Steen, who is credited as being Mr. Rhee's first American black belt.  In 1962 Rhee moved to Washington D.C. to build a karate empire as Steen would do the same in Texas.

Grand Master Rhee went on to open many schools across the US and overseas (65 in Russia).  He has taught many congressman, senators and celebrates martial arts.   On Capital Hill he created karate tournaments between Republicans and Democrats.  Rhee is credited for inviting the padded safety gear karate fighters wear when they spar to reduce injuries.  He also started musical forms, the  "martial arts ballet" - synchronized taekwondo performed to music.

In 1976 Rhee was named the Martial Arts Man Of the Century by the Washington D.C. Touchdown Club in 1976.  His Jhoon Rhee Foundation teaches the "Joy of Discipline" program to public school children.  Many have witnessed Rhee's demonstration where he does 100 push-ups in 60 seconds.  Pretty impressive for a 68 years young man!  In 1999 Black Belt Magazine named Grand Master Rhee as one of the 10 most influential martial arts of the century.

After Jhoon Rhee moved from Texas to Washington D.C. Allen Steen and Pat Burleson would become the focus of Texas karate. While Rhee was the one who planted the seed for karate in Texas, Steen was the tree that grew from it. Even after Master Rhee moved, Steen and Burleson provided him with top quality Texan black belts that enabled Rhee to build his empire.


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Allen Steen:

Allen Steen attended one of Rhee's demonstrations in the fall of 1959. "He (Rhee) side kicked one of the support beams in the gymnasium and cracked the veneer on it all the way to the top - some 20 or 30 feet", remembers Steen. Having done some boxing, this karate looked like something Steen wanted to try. 90 percent of the attendees that day signed up for the $5 a semester classes.

Mr. Rhee was a third-degree black belt when he arrived in the U.S. and in Korea first and second degree black belts were not allowed to teach. Rhee had little experience in teaching, but had a lot of experience in military life having been a captain in the Korean Army, so he ran his class like a military boot camp. "He was a strict disciplinarian," stated Steen,"On every exercise you wanted to quit, but Rhee would always get you to gut out one more push-up or sit-up. We spent over two months in basic stances before we did anything else. As a result, I was a white belt for nine months."

During that time finances were tight for Steen and he didn't have money do much of anything except go to his classes and karate. He worked out everyday and built himself up from 6 foot 2, 150 pounds to 200 pounds of solid muscle. His competitiveness grew from karate and would later help him in business. After he earned his brown belt, Steen began to give private lessons when ever he returned home to Dallas. After he graduated from college, he moved back to Dallas and opened his first karate school, The Jhoon Rhee Institute of Karate, in June of 1962 close to Southern Methodist University. Shortly after that he returned to Mr. Rhee and pasted a grueling three hour exam to earn his black belt. Of the original 184 students in Rhee's class, only 6 reached this level of proficiency.

Steen would carry on his teachers tough tradition and added additional tasks of his own to his test. He also separated from Rhee and named his school the "Texas Karate Institute". The Korean system of karate along with the tough nature of Texans resulted in what was known as "Blood-N- Guts Karate". Thus Steen developed a reputation for excessive training methods and now admits he was too rough on his students in those days.

In 1963 he held his first tournament that was to become the prestigious United States Karate Championships. He called it the Texas Karate Championships that year and, as was the custom then, he entered his tournament and won first place. His tournament was one of the first open format where all styles were welcomed. Over the years Steen's tournament would grow to rival Ed Parker International Karate Champions in Long Beach as the largest karate tournament in the U.S. In 1964 his tournament attracted 133 contestants from 32 schools and drew 2,100 spectators. In a classic match for 1st place in the black belt division, Steen battled Keith See into multiple overtimes before losing and settling for 2nd place. Mike Stone swept the brown belt division. By 1973 Steen's tournament had grown to the second largest in the U.S. That year 1,047 competed and were watched by 8,000 spectators. A visionary, Steen was the first promoter to have a women's division and team competitions.

In the 1960's Steen established himself as one of the premier fighters in early American karate history. He went on to win 30 major titles with his ferocity in the ring that was matched be his athletic talent. He defeated both Chuck Norris and Joe Louis on his way to winning the Grand Championship in 1966 at Ed Parker's prestigious Long Beach International Tournament. That same year he was a member of the victorious U.S. National Karate Team competing in Hawaii. Also in 1966 Black Belt Magazine rated him one of the top ten fighters in the U.S. Steen's favorite fighting technique was the skip up side kick and he would knock his opponents out of the ring with it. In 1967 he retired from competition.

Steen took bits and pieces of other fighting arts and molded them into a uniquely American martial arts system. It was at this time that many decided to call this style "American Karate" or "American Tae Kwon Do". At the height of his empire he ran 9 Texas Karate Institutes and had interest in 20 others schools in the southwest and in Europe. He produced some of the finest black belts in the U.S. who started schools throughout the country or were hired away by Jhoon Rhee to run his karate schools. They include super fighters Pat Burleson, Skipper Mullins, Mike Anderson, Fred Wren, and Roy Kurban. They were a fighting Texas dynasty. Other Steen black belts include Keith Yates, D.P. Hill, Richard Jenkins, Royce Young, James Toney, Mickey Fisher, Larry Caster, Art Heller, Candy Simpson, his brother Mike Steen and many more. Steen's students above produced another generation of accomplished martial artists that includes Walt Bone, James Butin, George Buckner, Phyllis Evetts, Jim Harkins, Demetrius Havanas, Harold Gross, Larry Ritchie, Chuck Loven, Ray McCallum, Jim & Jenice Miller, George Minshew, Rick Vaughn, Jeff Smith, and Pat & John Worley.

In 1967 Steen created the Southwest Karate Black Belt Association. The Association grew so large and so national that it no longer was really a “Southwest”? association, but an American association. So in 1972 the name was changed to the American Karate Black Belt Association. It became one of the largest and most dynamic martial arts associations in the world with over 10,000 members. He attempted to unite all the karate organizations in the country with the blessing of Robert Trias and the USKA, but was unsuccessful due mainly to the egos involved.

Steen brought professionalism to karate schools as his were first class. His innovations in the dojo include wall to wall mats in the workout areas, saunas, and glassed in offices. Steen became disillusioned with the business of karate as unqualified $400.00 karate schools began to pop on every corner. "A guy would go out and paint the word "karate" on the side of a building with water colors and open a dojo", he said with disgust. "What's the use of opening one for $400,000?" Some of his top black belts broke away from him to open their own schools. This he took personally but later realized that their emulation was a compliment.

In 1976, after many years of successful karate school chain ownership and operation, and successful tournament promotion, Allen Steen started to look to other business avenues, and went into the oil business. He began to divest his vast holdings in the karate schools and tournaments to various students and friends. Over the years he has given private lessons to small groups of students. The Texas Martial Arts Hall of Fame named Steen "The Father of Texas" when he was enshrined. A member of the Who's Who in the Martial Arts, Allen Steen positive contributions to the art of karate continue to be felt.

In April 2000 Allen Steen held the biggest karate reunion every in the U.S.  His "Allen Steen Event Millennium Karate 2000" was attended by many of the greatest  martial artistes in American.   The competitive fire still burns in Grand Master Steen, as he is a top rated world class competitive shotgun shooter.


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Grand Master J. Pat Burleson
:
Father and Founder of American Karate

The first black belt Allen Steen ever issued was to J. Pat Burleson. Together they would team up to dominate Texas karate as Steen's territory was the Dallas area and Burleson's was Fort Worth. Mr. Burleson began his martial arts training while in the Navy in 1957 in Japan. Having boxed as a youngster and competed in the Golden Gloves Championships while in high school, he became a boxing champion for the Navy. While stationed in Iwakuni, Japan, his curiosity in the fighting styles of the Orient lead him to begin studying different fighting techniques. Mr. Burleson first studied wado-ryu (meaning way of harmony) style of karate. While in Asia he trained in several different schools of karate and Chinese boxing. Returning to the states to his hometown of Ft. Worth, Texas, Mr. Burleson worked out with the few ex-servicemen he could find that trained in Asia.

He had already earned his red belt in Korean tang soo do when he met Allen Steen who was a brown belt under Jhoon Rhee. Mr. Steen introduced Burleson to Mr. Rhee and he traded in his red belt for one of Rhee's brown belts as he joined Rhee's system. In 1963, three months after Rhee promoted Steen to black belt, he awarded his first black belt to Burleson.

In 1964 Master Rhee held the first U.S. National Karate Championships in Washington D.C. which Mr. Burleson won and became known as the 1st American Karate Champion. As he was the first genuine star of the sport Burleson was also known as the Grandfather of tournament karate. Mr. Burleson was rightfully feared on the karate tournament circuit and won many more national titles. In 1965 he won the Texas State Championship and the Southwest Karate Grand Championship. In 1966 he won the Open Championships in Oklahoma City and the U.S. Championships in Dallas.

Mr. Burleson retired in 1966 from the tournament circuit due to a serious knee injury he suffered, ironically, while fighting against Mr. Steen in a tournament. During the match Mr. Burleson blew out his knee but refused to bow out, insisting he would finish the match. As the match was restarted Burleson had to stand on his one good leg. Steen showed no mercy as he flew across the ring and nailed him with his trade mark side kick that knocked Burleson out of the ring. That is the only way either of these warriors would have had it. In the early days of karate, Texas was known as the home of "Blood and Guts karate", and was the toughest place to train and compete. Partly due to the rough nature of Texans and partly due to the rough nature of Steen and Burleson, they developed painfully long and hard belt exams and hard tournaments. It was not uncommon in those days for a cowboy to walk into the dojo and call out the instructor to a fight. Mr. Burleson made sure each of these doubters became converted to the validity of karate when they regained consciousness. Burleson and Steen made sure their black belts would be able to continue proving that their martial arts worked.

Mr. Burleson created the "belt-goal" karate system in 1964 that is used in the American Karate System. Before his system most schools had only white, brown and black belt ranking. The introduction of color belts in his system has resulted in the increase of the number of karate students and increased retention.

As a sensei, Mr. Burleson has produced accomplished martial artists that include James Butin, Phyllis Evetts, Chuck Loven, Larry Ritchie, Ron Moffett, Steve Stavroff, George Minshew, Billy Watson, and Pam Watson. As a promoter he produced the Texas State Championships and the Tournament of Champions. He recently promoted the Legends Tournament in Ft. Worth and is a highly regarded referee. His acquaintances in the martial arts are a virtual who's who that include the late Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Joe Lewis, Bob Wall, Jim Harrison and many more.

A member of the Who's Who in the Martial Arts, and a recipient of two Karate Hall of Fame awards. In the late 1970's Mr. Burleson moved from Texas but returned to his roots in the late 1980's. Mr. Burleson still teaches karate at his school in Ft. Worth. He conducts self defense seminars and special classes that in the past have ranged from working with airline stewardesses to law enforcement personnel. Mr. Burleson is also a highly sought out keynote speaker. In 1997 he was elected into the Texas Martial Arts Hall of Fame.  Grand Master Burleson makes regular appearances on Chuck Norris's television show, "Walker Texas Ranger"

It is easy to estimate that more than half the current karate schools in Texas can trace their roots back to Mr. Steen and Mr. Burleson.

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