Update on How to Start Your Own Martial Arts Style

The action has been heating up in the comments section, where I have been getting a new comment almost every two months! I’ve already had several people comment on Albert Geraldi, generally agreeing with what I said and just filling in details while making it clear that Geraldi-sensei and Taika Oyata are still on good terms. Also some more detail on my inferences on George Dillman, also generally agreeing with me that his credentials may be less than accurate.

Just recently though, got a lengthy comment from Sharon Hayakawa, who is a close friend of both Taika Oyata and Sentaku-sensei. She censures me a bit and points out that alot of what I commented about Sentaku-sensei is also less than accurate. Well, most of what I said was inference and assumption anyway, since the solid facts I was basing them on were 1) Sentaku-sensei was the chief instructor at the honbu dojo for Ryu-te for several years, in addition to being the only person other that Taika himself that could teach the Shin-shu-ho. 2.) Sentaku-sensei is no longer affiliated with Ryu-te and has founded his own style called Ten Shin Ichi Ryu 天心一流.

Basically, it seems that Sentaku-sensei worked very hard for Taika for a very long time, and that his work was a little more thankless than he might have liked. Well, I guess you can’t blame someone for that. No matter how much you may enjoy the job itself, receiving little thanks/recognition/compensation could make the funnest job in the world next to drudgery. I suppose I should listen more to Jim Logue in his comment on my earlier post:

I”m not putting down any of these people, they were all talented and gifted and did much to help the organization grow. The falling out is always a two way street and I’m not going to get into any details about that. That’s a matter between each person.

Sharon also points out that my obsession with the overuse of the title “Doshu” 道主 is undeserved, since it simply means ‘founder’ in Japanese. This may just be my pet peeve then, but I feel that the martial arts culture suffers from an overuse of pretentious titles. Reading the bio page on Shintaku-sensei’s page, it still sounds overly pretentious to me, with the phrasing of Doshu this and Doshu that in 3rd person. I also feel the same about martial artists who always add titles like Shihan 師範, Kyoshi 教師, Hanshi (範師 or 範士, depending) , Master, Grand Master, or (not the most pretentious but the most annoying in my opinion) Professor after thier names.

Professor‘ always cracks me up, probably because I always imagine the following dialogue taking place:

    Normal Person: So, you are a professor?
    ‘Professor’: Yes, yes I am.
    Normal Person: A professor of what?
    ‘Professor’: Um, butt-kickology.

Maybe it’s just because of the inundation of people like “Grand Master Bill Dixon of Dixon’s Rebel Karate” and such that has given me a jaundiced view of such titles. Shouldn’t just a simple -Sensei be sufficient for any martial artist, or at least in Japanese martial arts? Granted that many of these titles are specifically bestowed titles by reputable martial arts organizations, but even as such I think I still prefer a simple “Sensei”. What titles would work for non-Japanese martial arts? Please tell me your opinion on this issue, I can always use more comments.

If you have a few minutes, check out some of the hits on a google search for martial arts Grand Masters. (Warning: the links may contain mullets)

Also, I’m a little disappointed that I haven’t gotten any comments from one of George Dillman’s students. That would be cool.

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24 Responses to Update on How to Start Your Own Martial Arts Style

  1. Hi,
    Sharon Hayakawa Sensei, is a close friend of mine. Shintaku-Hanshi is one of my teachers.
    You mentioned somthing about the use of Doshu in 3rd person. Actually it is not. Doshu Shintaku does not use the internet really, and his website was not designed by him, nor it is upkept by him. Generally speaking he wouls have to have made the site for it to be used in the 3rd person.
    Doshu can be translated to mean “Keeper of the Way”. It does not insinuate Grandmaster, or any of that non-sense. Doshu Shintaku is the Keeper of the Way of Ten Shin Ichi Ryu.
    Whilst I may not belong to the Ryu Te Renmei, I have great respect for people like Jim Louge-Tashi, and Steve Stark-Kyoshi. They are good men, and good martial artist, and I value any comment left here.
    Yours in the arts,
    –Joshua Paszkiewicz

  2. admin says:

    You are right about the meaning of Doshu, Josh. For a founder of a style it is an appropriate term. There certainly are an abundance of terms for ‘founder’ in Japanese, a quick search through a dictionary will give you dozens of terms, and there are many that are MUCH more pretentions than ‘doshu’.

    I suppose that my dislike of all these titles in martial arts is just a pet-peeve of mine. I may be a bit reactionary, but I still feel that for Japanese martial arts, ‘sensei’ should be sufficient for just about anybody.

  3. Josh Paszkiewicz says:

    That is understandable…I often actually dislike the use of alot of titles and the like …IMHO what matters is what a person can or cannot do on the mat. I have trained with Doshu many times, and I know his skill level, I know how he “knows” his Bu Do philosophy, and otherwise…he does things I have not seen other people do. I use his title because well, its his title, and what he chooses to use, I have alot of respect for him, and thus I have no problem. He is a sincere and kind man, with not hint of an over-inflated ego.
    I have been involved in Korean Martial Arts for 13 years, and if you want to see an over use of titles go see some of those folks its not a pretty situation.
    Now, it would turn into a “pet-peeve” if one the person did not have skill anywhere near the suggested level, and/or two has an attitude/ego and is disrespectful… any combination thereof might warrant some shall we say “American titles” from myself ;-)
    Take care,

  4. blain "red" gerhart says:

    your a punk b*** that doesnt know what the f*** your talking about. if you earn the title “like bill dixon did” you should be able to use it.

  5. admin says:

    First of all, such language is unacceptable on this site, so I have taken the liberty to edit it. As for the lack of punctuation, I left it as is.

    Second, calling yourself ‘Grand Master’ is pretentious, no matter whether you’re Bruce Lee, Morihei Ueshiba, Seiyu Oyata, or just some punk that ordered a black belt from Century Martial Arts and calls themselves ‘Grand Master’.

    ‘Grand Master Bill Dixon of Dixon’s Rebel Karate’ isn’t just a name I pulled out of my hat, he at least was (perhaps still is) a martial artist practicing in Tulsa, OK (he had a website a few years ago, but it no longer exists and I haven’t been able to find it on the wayback machine). My encounter with him was in the fall of 1994 when I went to Tulsa to attend a seminar/demonstration put on by Taika Seiyu Oyata of Ryu-Te.

    Taika Oyata was demonstrating some of his knockout techniques for which he is famous, when a member of the audience interrupted the demonstration. He had a long mullet with glasses, and was wearing a tank top with a dixie flag that said “Dixon’s Rebel Karate”. He introduced himself as Bill Dixon, a karate practitioner in Tulsa.

    To keep it short, he said that he didn’t believe that Oyata’s knockout techniques were real, and he brought one of his students for Oyata to demonstrate on to prove the technique’s authenticity. To Oyata’s credit he kept his cool, but instead said that Dixon himself could come down and he would demonstrate the technique on him.

    So when Bill Dixon was ready, Oyata hit him on the neck with his fingers, and Dixon summarily dropped like a sack of potatoes. Oyata then revived him, helped him up, and demonstrated it again. And again. In all he demonstrated his knockout technique on Mr. Dixon 5 or 6 times, from different openings and positions. When he was done, Mr. Dixon slowly got up, thanked Taika Oyata for the demonstration, and returned to his seat, remaining silent for the rest of the seminar.

    So to return to the subject of this post, I think names like ‘Grand Master Bill Dixon of Dixon’s Rebel Karate’ is prime example of pretentious yet silly-sounding martial artist titles. Names like ‘rebel karate’ with the dixie flag on it sound horribly redneck (Bill Dixon may have a Harvard MBA for all I know, but that doesn’t change the fact that it still sounds redneck and ignorant), plus Mr. Dixon’s behavior and appearance at the seminar were pretty unforgettable.

  6. Tahlequah says:


    In 1985 Bill had a falling out with D.W. Kang in Tulsa and like so many schools have done, broke away from the Federation and thus became Rebel Karate.

    All his student stuck by Bill in this “rebellion” and the name at the time seemed fitting.

    It was a small satellite TKD school rebelling against the larger giant TKD school that kept its BB’s on a leash. The name “Rebel” and the “Rebel” flag were symbolic in that nature only.

  7. admin says:

    Thanks for the clarification. Still, I think my previous comment is accurate. No matter what the reason may be for the name, the dixie flag with a name like “Dixon’s Rebel Karate” at least sounds horribly redneck.

  8. Buddy says:

    Hi. I was surfing around and found this blog about styles and titles. I take an Okinawan style of karate (I actually lived in Okinawa when I started and have continued since), either way… the title of sensei is appropriate to anyone who is a teacher, regardless of rank, as you have stated. You have to remember, though, that sensei can refer to anyone who is teaching anything, regardless of karate or under water basket weaving. Saying that, so are most of the other titles. You have to remember that some of the American literal translations are not always accurate. Hanshi does not necessarily mean Grand Master, though it is usually given to someone with such position within an organization. It’s meaning is probably more like “teacher of teachers”. In Okinawa (not sure of Japan), when you are ranked, like most schools, you receive a certificate of rank. You also can receive a certificate of title. Certificate of titles are more highly regarded than a certificate of rank. Usually, the first title certificate you would receive is usually for the title of Renshi. All it means is instructor, same as calling someone Sensei. Shihan is another title that you can receive. Either way, I guess you can akin it to college… you can already be a teacher for a scholl, but you are trying to get your doctorate, which in turn doesn’t change the fact that you’re a teacher, but you will receive the title of Doctor once you receive the diploma. Hope that makes sense. Take care.

  9. David says:

    Hello my name is David. I am 15 years old and study Ryu Te’ at a local school. I have also studied kung fu for 3 years before this school, but the price had become outragous and my Mom is a single mother and on a tight budget. What I need help in is hard to explain. Kyoshi (my teacher) is an old Okinawan man who is very wise. He is revered in my area for his wisdom and combat skill. I want to be like him. He uses metaphors that are very deep and he is similar to a Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid. He says that this comes in time through practice of the arts, but is there a way to train for this? Please any help would be much appreciated. My email is rpwrestler3@yahoo.com. Please send me responses.

  10. Master Van says:

    i have a new style of martial art that im working on am i supposed to register it somewhere to be accepted or can i start teaching people?

  11. admin says:

    Well, assuming this is a legitimate question and not a dupe or some such, here goes:

    First of all, I would be careful calling your style a new art right off. If you’re to the point where you feel you can open a dojo and teach people professionally, you should have at least 20 years or so experience in regular and intense martial arts training. That would probably mean you are 4th dan or higher if you’ve been practicing the same art the whole time, or maybe 3rd dan or less in more than style.

    I’m going to assume that what you are teaching is a mixture of what martial arts you’ve studied over the past decades, with your personal interpretation on application and usage of what you’ve learned. That’s pretty much what every martial artist does, so that’s fine.

    However if you start right off calling your art some new name that no one has heard of, you are going to have a big problem with credibility. My suggestion would be to keep your affiliation with at least one of your parent styles and first build up your dojo. For example, if my art were Aikido but I had also studied a fair amount of Kung Fu and Tae Kwon Do, I would advertise my dojo as an Aikido Dojo and maintain my affiliation with the Aikido Association. I would then point out in class that I had also had a lot of training in other styles and that I incorporate a lot of that into my Aikido technique. Perhaps on the side I might also teach Tae Kwon Do or Kung Fu classes, but I wouldn’t necessarily maintian a formal affiliation with them (this is because a ‘formal’ relationship to a martial arts style inevitably requires a financial obligation, and I wouldn’t want to be paying dues to multiple organizations).

    After my dojo is well established and I have a regular and loyal crop of students, then I might start thinking about ‘going it alone’. This is generally done for financial reasons, as it allows me to keep more of my monthly profit without having to send a cut back to headquarters.

    Even then though, I don’t know if I would ever really start calling my style something unique and original. Probably the best thing to do would be to advertise yourself as a sub-style; i.e. Gracie Ju-jutsu, Seidokan Aikido, Shotokan Karate, etc. I think the last person that got away with naming their art a completely new style was Ueshiba with Aikido (You might include Bruce Lee with Jeet Kun Do, but I feel he died too early to really establish his martial arts well).

    I also wouldn’t start calling myself Master, Grand Master, or some such because I feel that these are titles that are bestowed upon teachers by either their students or by the martial arts community in general in recognition of their skill and mastery. You might hold a rank of ‘master’ in a reputable style, but that would be about it I think. Otherwise stick with Sensei, Sifu, or just ‘sir’.

  12. Kendal Coats says:

    “I’m going to assume that what you are teaching is a mixture of what martial arts you’ve studied over the past decades, with your personal interpretation on application and usage of what you’ve learned. That’s pretty much what every martial artist does, so that’s fine.”

    I couldn’t disagree more. That is not what every martial artist does. Unless you are truly better than and have trained more than everyone else in your style, you have no business calling what you teach new.

    The world is full of so called Grandmasters who “invented” thier own styles. Then they tell you all of the arts that make up the style or say that their art reconnects to the origional teachings of a style. Its all BS…sorry. Now let me clarify, they may be exellent martial artist or fighters, but they are no grandmaster. Most are collecters of many arts and are masters of none.

    I teach my teachers art, not my art. True, my art is a collection of the things I have learned over 28 years, but it is biased to me, my way of moving, my stregnths and my weaknesses. So I teach my teachers system. His title is backed up by legitimate training with legitimate masters, family history, and real challenges, not a certification recieved from a hall of fame, or an orginazation.

    You can learn a lot about a martial arts instructor in the first few moments of a conversation. If they tell you about all of the things that they have discovered, or about their rank ect. then most likely you are with a fraud. If they tell you things like “my teacher always said…” or “my teacher taught me…” then they are more likely to be legit.

    In reality, there is not much origional thought out there. We just pass along the echos of our teachers wisdom.

  13. Matt says:

    I am from Tulsa, OK. At the age of 3 I started learning Judo and Tae Kwon Do from the Yoon family. Several years later I was at after school care when they said they had a Karate class where I met Bill Dixon. I was his student for a decade.

    Now, granted the title is interesting since I haven’t seen him for twenty years, I would not be so quick to use his name. You have not earned a black belt from him and probably don’t know anyone who has so before you try to bash him, show respect. Bill is a very interesting fellow, but he does deserve respect for dedicating his life to martial arts.

    I would also not think it naive to not believe something until you see it. I didn’t believe that Wally Jay was so tough until I saw the 75 year old throw rooms of people and make seasoned black belts cry like babies. And I would never disrespect Wally Jay by telling him he should not have the title “Professor”.

    In closing, titles are like A-Holes, everyone has got one. But a dentist is still a doctor and a meter maid is still a police officer. Bill Dixon’s style is unique and he is a redneck but if you don’t think the style of Rebel Karate or maybe Wally Jay’s small circle theory is not real, I am sure you can come spend some time with Bill, Robby, Jill, Matt, Zach or myself and maybe we could change your mind.

  14. Not Important says:

    Bill Dixon was the real deal. I’ll leave it at that.

  15. Jim says:

    I must agree about the over use of titles in the martial arts. It is common to see people referred to as ” Hanshi Smith or Shihan Jones” these days. First, these titles traditionally are not used in conversation verbally…but, rather in writing…They have little training and understanding of Japanese and Korean customs.

  16. Daniel says:

    I have recently moved to Georgia and Im looking for a Ryu-Te Renmi school. To no avail, I have not found one. Anyone have suggestions. Please feel free to email me: iasbarrone@yahoo.com

  17. admin says:

    I don’t know of any way of finding Ryu-Te dojo’s that aren’t listed on the official site.

  18. Mike says:

    There is an ShinShuHo member outside Atlanta that has studied under Jim Logue. If you contact Mr Logue through his website, he may be able to help. I would e-mail you the address, but I lost it when my e-mail account was deleted.

  19. Jonathan Fenimore says:

    As a lifelong student of Grand Master Dixon and a martial arts enthusiast I believe that I am a credible source for clarification on the subject being argued. I have been a student of Grand Master Dixon beginning from the age of 5 until my recent 27 years of age, his way of teaching and training have benefitted my life more than any other influence to this day. It seems as though people tend to judge so much by the cover of the book and discount any credibility that the subject has fought everyday of their life to achieve. We sometimes judge teachers like we judge presidents, politicians, preachers, and celebrities. We forget that people are by nature, flawed. These flaws act as paths for our lives and oddly as well as ironically shape us into better people. Grand Master Dixon is a highly unorthodox, quirky, eccentric, conflicting teacher. The greatest teachers in history were all labeled as crazy and commonly misunderstood. The true root of most martial arts teaches to have an open perception to all things. Only then can we gain complete understanding of the matter. If you were facing an opponent wouldn’t it be more beneficial to have a full understanding of their style and techniques? Approaching life with this open understanding will allow anyone to overcome any obstacle through education and understanding. This is what Buddhist monks strive for, enlightment or Nirvana as they call it. Christians describe this same exact learning as, “always searching for God”. Grand Master Dixon saw something that he did not believe was effective with Master Oyatas demonstration. He had the gall to be the only one to stand up and test the theory for himself. I can guarantee that he wasn’t the only one that doubted the technique, but he was the only one humble and secure enough to stand up and test the doubt. After he tested the technique he “thanked Taika Oyata for the demonstration, and returned to his seat, remaining silent for the rest of the seminar.” This was a humble display of Grand Master Dixons persona. The greatest people in history have all shared the same trait with Grand Master Dixon. They weren’t afraid to stand up. The symbol that was used for Dixon’s Rebel Karate is highly misunderstood just as the Grand Master was himself. We forget that the actual meaning of the Dixie flag was not based on slavery but in actuality was a symbol used by the Confederate states to oppose Lincoln’s Unification of the states. The Confederate states were willing to stand up against the entire United States army and Rebel against what they didn’t believe in. Here is a great and accurate blog of the flags meaning and its details. http://12angrymen.wordpress.com/2007/05/01/the-true-meaning-of-the-confederate-flag/ Read this and you will have a better understanding of Grand Master Dixon’s choice to use the Dixie flag as the school’s symbol. I am half Vietnamese and half Caucasian and am always proud of that symbol. As a school we did not believe in what the majority of martial arts schools believed, and we were willing to Rebel for what we believed. This philosophy is very similar to the teachings of Bruce Lee and his “style of no style” or Jeet Kune Do as it is more commonly referred to. The philosophy of Jeet Kune Do was to exist outside of parameters and limitations. Grand Master Dixon definately existed outside of the box. I won’t brag and say, “come test my style” but I will say that I am highly confident in my martial arts abilities that have been blessedly taught by Grand Master Dixon. He goes beyond the parameters of teaching and achieves what teachers are supposed to do. I will always be in debt to Grand Master Dixon for giving and teaching me more than anyone else has. It’s funny how ingorance can so quickly narrow the greatest gift a human has, understanding.

  20. admin says:

    Well, I am totally not going to get into the ‘was the civil war really about slavery or state’s rights’ argument vis-a-vis the ‘true’ meaning of the Dixie flag. I know what southern apologists think it means, and I know what everyone else in the entire world thinks it means, but trying to have a rational discussion about it with someone who doesn’t agree with you feels like trying to talk about Zionism with an Isreali and a Palestinian: their opposing opinions and points of view are so indoctrinated into them that it’s impossible for either of them to see it from the other’s point of view.

    I certainly fall into this category myself: for me the southern states and as such the Confederacy and all its symbols have always been foremost a symbol and expression of slavery, repression, and racism against blacks. I don’t think there is much of anything that anyone could say that could change my mind on the subject, and I don’t think I’m too far off in assuming that most people (not including southern apologists) feel the same way, though some certainly feel more strongly about it than others. So I’ll just have to leave it at us disagreeing. (And to think that I grew up in Oklahoma… to be fair though, Bartlesville has much more of a midwest culture than the rest of the Bible belt.)

    To return to the core subject though, thanks for telling a little more about Bill Dixon. I only met him that once, and it isn’t fair to judge everything about the man based on that one encounter. You certainly know Bill Dixon a million times better than I do, and he almost certainly is a decent and amiable person (as is pretty much anyone once you take the time to get to know them) so I will take your word for it.

    However I still stand by my original statement: I think that anyone calling themselves ‘Grand Master’ sounds pretentious, no matter who they are or how skilled they are. This might be an irrational pet peeve on my part (some of the other commenters certainly think so), but I think any instructor should be content with being called ‘instructor’, ‘teacher’, or some other language loan-word equivalent (i.e. ‘sensei’, ‘sifu’, etc.).

  21. aperson says:

    Some of the comments reminded me of…


    “Break the wrist, walk away”

  22. Fightergirrl says:

    Interesting blog posts and comments. I discovered your blog after running into Rebel Karate on YouTube. Not knowing about him or his school, you must admit he seems likable from his videos. As to whether or not he’s a redneck, is that so important?

    BTW, I trained under WTF Grandmaster KJ Lee who never called himself a grandmaster. I also practiced in Korea on 2 different visits. Between that and my association with comBATON [has to be played to truly understand the training value] I think I understand both viewpoints.

  23. admin says:

    Bill Dixon has some videos on YouTube?

    < ... goes and does a YouTube search ... >

    Wow, I had no idea those videos existed. Thanks for the comment. Back when I first posted this I did an extensive internet search for anything related to Bill Dixon, but pretty much came up empty. By going to the YouTube channel for the person that posted those videos, it looks like it might be the real deal. I’m actually glad to see he’s back (maybe he never left though, I don’t know) with a presence on the internet.

    As for you censuring me on the redneck aspect, I suppose you’re right, it doesn’t (and certainly shouldn’t) matter. I guess that’s a personal prejudice of mine, growing up in rural Oklahoma but not really wanting to be part of rural Oklahoma.

  24. Doug Greene says:

    I was a student of Bill Dixon’s for 3 years. After spending 6 years in TKD, he opened my eyes to a more broader scope of the martial arts. He may have not been given the title of grandmaster but he has defiantly earned it in my books. I came out of the same TKD school he did, and can empthasize with his rebel attitude toward the norm found in most classical atributes of the martial arts. Students should be allowed to question their masters, just like he did with Sensei Oyata. I questioned my teachers and many times paid for asking by being disciplined for it. How is a student supposed to grow as a martial artist if he cannot ask what it necessary to grow. I ask you to cut Mr. Dixon some slack. He is one of the greatest teachers i have ever met, even though his methods and title may not be of the norm.

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