HOW WE GOT HERE
Our program comes from a few different sources and traditions and as a result is a hybrid "style" of martial arts.
That being said, the truth is all martial arts "styles" are hybrid styles. There is no "true" or "original" or "pure" martial art. All are based on the teachings of prior practitioners, and ALL can be considered hybrid martial arts.
Further, most martial arts are not standardized (like baseball or soccer - notable exceptions might be Judo or Kendo, but even these have variations), and have been taught to different people in different ways for different purposes. In addition, people participate in martial arts for widely varying reasons, which has a great impact on how they are taught and practiced.
We credit each of the teachers noted below for passing their martial arts on to us, roughly as outlined below. Each of these teachers dedicated a major portion of their lives to learning, training and teaching martial arts to others. Besides the information offered below, each teacher had teachers and influences both unknown and forgotten:
Itosu Anko (1831-1915)
Itosu Anko is the man credited with introducing karate into the public school system on Okinawa in 1901. Itosu reportedly studied karate with Nagahama of Naha, Matsumura Sokon (1797-1889), Gusukuma of Tomari and possibly Matsumora Kosaku of Tomari and others. Some say that Itosu "watered down" the karate that he taught to the masses to make it safe for children (and even, perhaps, to hide it from the mainland Japanese) and also that he changed the methods of transmitting karate from methods used to teach trusted individuals or small groups to methods used to teach large groups. Certainly the methods of teaching, training and the focus of the practice changed due to new goals and the new, expanded audience, as is evidenced in the writings of the time. Itosu Anko was one of the teachers of Funakoshi Gichin (below).
Funakoshi Gichin (1868-1957)
Funakoshi Gichin learned karate from Azato Yasutsune (1827-1906), Itosu Anko and others on Okinawa starting in the late 1800s. Azato, like Itosu, was a student of Matsumura Sokon. Funakoshi was one of the first to widely transmit karate from Okinawa to mainland Japan in the early 1900s. Modern forms of karate that trace to Funakoshi include Shotokai, Shotokan, Wado, and many more. Funakoshi pretty much devoted his entire life to karate. It has been suggested that Funakoshi was not a fighter, and did not know or did not pass on "true karate" to his students. Others disagree. I think the tension comes from the shift in focus, initiated by Itosu and promoted by Funakoshi. Not all teachers embraced the changes, and therefore there were different types of "karate" on the scene at the same time (as there are today). Funakoshi was the first karate teacher of Otsuka Hironiri (below).
Kitagawa Akira (? - 1956)
Kitagawa Akira was an Okinawan karate practitioner living in Canada around the time of World War II. It is said that Kitagawa was a student of "Okinawan Te" or Shorin-ryu, but it is unclear who his teachers were. Reportedly, Kitagawa's karate was rough and tumble fighting karate, with his primary methods of training including hitting and kicking trees to toughen the body. Many of the kata attributed to Kitagawa are unique (and maintained by some of the branches of the Shintani Wado Kai) and his focus on fighting seems to survive in the performance of these kata. Kitagawa taught a group of young people, including Shintani Masaru (discussed below) and his brother while they were all detained in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. He reportedly moved back to Japan sometime in the 1950s. Kitagawa was the first karate teacher of Shintani Masaru (below).
Otsuka Hironori (1892-1982)
Otsuka Hironori first learned karate from Funakoshi Gichin in Japan starting in the 1920s. Prior to his study of karate, Otsuka had already mastered the Japanese arts of kenjutsu and jujutsu. After studying with Funakoshi, Otsuka learned karate from other Okinawan teachers in Japan, including Motobu Choki (1870-1944) and Mabuni Kenwa (1889-1952), and reportedly traveled to Okinawa for further research. Otsuka was the founder of one of the "major" styles of karate in Japan, Wado-ryu, which is actually a synthesis of karate and jujutsu. Late in his life, Otsuka Hironori became a mentor to Shintani Masaru (below) and a friend to his family.
Sandy R. Scotch (1928-2011)
Sandy Richard Scotch was a World War II air force veteran who learned judo and karate (reportedly Shotokan) around the time he was in the service. He was born in Erie, PA and performed there as as a child entertainer in the 1930's, and then his family moved to California to further his entertainment career. After the war he integrated judo and karate into the Vic Tanney health studios and was an instructor at the LAPD Academy. In the mid to late 1950s he returned to Erie where he started a Japanese judo and karate class. In 1961 he founded the United States Judo and Karate Academy in Erie, PA. He soon returned to California, however, where he taught dance and martial arts at his own studio using the name Anthony R. Scaccia. Sandy Scotch was the first teacher of Tom Handest (below).
Willem Reeders (1917-1990)
Willem Reeders was a kuntao practitioner from Indonesia who also studied many other martial arts. Reeders was of Dutch and Chinese heritage. He came to the United States in the late 1950s, where he began teaching martial arts in New York and Pennsylvania, and later in New Mexico. A number of people trace their martial arts systems to Reeders. Reeders did not stick to a standard curriculum and taught each of his students differently. It is said that while Reeders knew many martial arts, and many forms (including both kun tao juru, karate kata and forms of tai chi), he was more interested in fighting applications. Willem Reeders was the second teacher of Tom Handest (below).
Shintani Masaru (1927-2000)
Shintani Masaru learned karate first from Kitagawa Akira in a Japanese internment camp in Canada during World War II. Shintani practiced Kitagawa's brand of karate exclusively for 20 years. Shintani reported that Kitagawa's karate training saved Shintani and his brother on more than one occasion from violence against them due to their Japanese heritage. In 1966, Shintani met Ishiguro Takeshi, who taught Shintani the Wado karate curriculum of Otsuka Hironori. Shintani was befriended by Otsuka Hironori after traveling to Japan to participate in and win a series of karate competitions, and was later asked by Otsuka to call his style Wado and act as Otsuka's representative in Canada. Shintani was a talented athlete who played minor league baseball, ice hockey, judo and kendo. He was very talented and charismatic in his karate and taught many kata from both his first and second teacher, and some that he created. There are thousands of students practicing several versions of Shintani's karate in both Canada and the U.S. His style is called Shintani Wado Kai. Shintani was also the inventor of the "Shindo" (stick) self defense method. Shintani was the third teacher of Tom Handest (below).
Tom Handest (born 1940)
Tom Handest started studying martial arts in the late 1950's in Erie PA and Jamestown NY. As noted above, he first learned judo and karate from Sandy Richard Scotch, then studied martial arts with Willem Reeders, and finally learned more karate from Masaru Shintani. As a true martial arts enthusiast and seeker of martial arts knowledge, Tom looked to every available source for information, including seminars, tournaments and publications. Tom Handest intensely practiced what he learned and started passing it along almost immediately in his own class. Tom called his school the Shuto Society School of Karate which was based in Warren PA. He started teaching in the early 1960's and still teaches privately today. Tom Handest was the primary teacher of C.M. Bookwalter (below) and is the current teacher of Dave Salyards (below).
C.M. Bookwalter (1931-1991)
C.M. Bookwalter "Bookie" learned martial arts from Tom Handest starting in the mid-1960's in Warren PA while he was employed on the Kinzua Dam project. According to Lucille (Handest) Irwin, who was married to Tom at the time and played a role in the founding of his school, Bookie was a highly motivated and driven student. Bookie earned his black belt from Tom Handest and then started his own club when he moved from Warren PA back to his hometown of Altoona PA around 1969. His class was first held in Altoona, but was soon relocated to the nearby Hollidaysburg YMCA where it remained for many years. Bookie's "YMCA Karate" became very popular, with hundreds of students studying with him between the late 1960s and early 1990s. He was a lifelong member of the Shuto Society School of Karate. C.M. Bookwalter was the primary teacher of Dave Salyards (below).
David E. Salyards (born 1947)
David E. Salyards learned karate primarily from C.M. Bookwalter starting in the early 1970s. Dave was a young Marine Corps veteran who wanted to stay in shape after he returned to the U.S. from active duty in Vietnam. He had been introduced to karate years before as a boy by his uncle, Rocky Salyards, who had learned karate on Okinawa while serving in the military. Dave was a natural at karate and became very talented as both a practitioner and teacher. Dave also studied with other martial arts teachers mainly through seminars and special trainings that he attended over the years. After Bookie passed, Dave inherited his school and became a direct student of Tom Handest. Today he is the Head of the Shuto Society of Hollidaysburg, PA. Dave Salyards is the primary teacher of Kevin Meisner (below).
Peter Rogers (born 1951)
Peter Rogers started his training at the age of 12 in Tae Kwon Do. By the time he was 14 he was awarded his junior black belt. Peter trained in Tae Kwon Do, Bo-jutsu, Shuri-ryu, Bando, KaJuKempo, Jui-jitsu and American Boxing. He has been a professional martial artist for his entire adult life and is the founder of Koba-Ryu Karate. Peter Rogers teaches both karate and kickboxing/mma. For many years he promoted karate tournaments and trains fighters who compete in both full contact kickboxing and mma. Peter Rogers is a teacher and advisor to Kevin Meisner (below).
Kevin Meisner (born 1965)
Kevin Meisner started his training at the age of 14 in 1979 under C.M. Bookwalter and Dave Salyards at the Hollidaysburg PA YMCA. In 1984 Kevin started his first class at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. on the roof of Mitchell Hall with three students. He has trained and taught consistently ever since (see below for a bit more).
Christine (Cunha) Meisner (born 1971)
Christine (Cunha) Meisner started her training in 1992 under Kevin Meisner in Arlington, Virginia. When Christine and Kevin moved back to Connecticut in 1997, Christine started assisting with the teaching, eventually offering karate and self defense classes of her own.
IMPORTANT, HARD-WON KNOWLEDGE: While it is important to remember and respect the martial arts teachers of the past, it is a mistake to idolize or disparage any one of them for their ideas or what they did with their art in response to their times. It is better to observe with interest than to judge. Also, it is important to understand that it is not only about who has taught you, but also about how diligently you have practiced yourself. In fact, the latter is more important than the former.
by Kevin Meisner
Some thoughts after more than 40 years of martial arts:
For some of us, martial arts becomes a lifelong pursuit. I’ve done a fair amount of seeking. I’ve studied the karate I learned from C.M. Bookwalter, Dave Salyards, Tom Handest (and some of their senior students including Ginny Bowman, John Franks, Doug Hoover, Joe Keller, Larry Sutt Sr., Bill Melton, Steve Winterstein, Rowdy and Glen Kagerreis, and others). I’ve learned some Isshin-Ryu (Angi Uezu), Uechi-Ryu (George Mattson and Jim Maloney), American Kickboxing (Peter Rogers), Reeders Kuntao (Joe Gionti), Kosho Shorei Ryu (Bruce Juchnik, Dave LoPriore and Frank Smith), Tai Chi (Kung-Fu school in Northern Virginia), Okinawan weapons, adrenalized stress conditioning (Impact Model Mugging), grappling, use of firearms (LFI-1 Massad Ayoob), practical self defense (Marc MacYoung), Chanbara (Dana Abbott and Tim Vandenover), Dagorhir, and more. I’ve done 1000s of hours of reading and also thanks to the internet watched 100s of hours of video of many different martial arts styles and forms.
All of this activity was sparked by various incidents in my youth where I felt weak and unable to handle a verbal or physical confrontation. Having eventually made peace with that part of me, the quest for me now is just an activity that keeps me in reasonable shape/health and not bored. I’ve run and I’ve lifted weights and had various calisthenic routines, all of which come and go and return. The thing that has remained are certain kata that I like to practice (my kata have changed over time with practice and research) mostly for exercise and body movement, and generating power (hulk smash), and also, teaching. I have always, from the very beginning, shared what I practice with other people. I literally started doing that immediately upon learning, even before I earned a white belt.
So, all of that is me. We each have our own individual reasons for practicing and learning. The trick is to figure out what it is that you like, find it, do it. That may change over time, all depends on you. It does not matter what anyone else thinks about what you do. That is the reason I remain independent, and teach my students to become independent.
And now, a special story written for me by Robert Hunt, an early student of Tom Handest. Enjoy!
Warren Pennsylvania 1967
By Robert Hunt
The forest lay still save for the light breeze that ruffled the orange autumn leaves and dried the sweat on our foreheads. We knelt in an organized row beneath shafts of fading afternoon sun with our eyes closed, our backs erect and our hands on our thighs and did nothing more than exist for a few moments of eternity in the midst of a quiet Maple grove somewhere in the Allegheny Mountains of Northwestern Pennsylvania, a short drive from the tiny city of Warren. Tom Handest - Sensei Handest - knelt in front of us, his long, red beard flitting gently in the breeze.
We had just concluded a run. I don’t remember exactly to where or how far, but I remember the moment well, or possibly the many such moments from those days, all whipped up in a brain jumble and deposited in my consciousness as one clear, bright image. It doesn’t really matter which. The fact that it emerges now so vividly as I search my memory for thoughts of Warren is testament enough to the impact it made on my life, an impact that filters through my awareness even today, almost forty years later.
I studied in Tom Handest’s dojo from 1967 to 1971 and I still remember details of his words and specific nights in class when I made breakthroughs in technique or understanding. Like the rest of my life, that time is a multidimensional mélange of good and bad feelings, positive and negative experiences that form the fabric of whatever I have come to be. I prefer to remember the good ones. It makes my memories more pleasant.
Warren, Pennsylvania is a tree-shaded town nestled in the bosom of the Allegheny Mountains at the confluence of the Conewango and Allegheny rivers, just south of a dam called Kinzua, a dam about which Buffy Saint Marie used to warble in songs about gone buffalo amid the days of protests against anything white Europeans ever accomplished anywhere. The year 1967 and Warren were remote enough in time and place to be protected from the excesses of the Sixties, so the town exuded a feeling that harkened back to a less restless age. It still may.
I arrived there on a rainy July afternoon to teach high school Spanish in an even more rural area outside of town where school virtually emptied out on the first day of hunting season. I knew Al Bean slightly from college and, when we ended up teaching together in that same school, he invited me to Tom Handest’s dojo where Al already had received his yellow belt.
It was a humble place to say the least - one small room that had once been some kind of a store with a few divisions set up in the back for changing clothes. Tom burned incense during class and the leftover odor hung lightly in the air. The floor was covered with gray carpet and the walls were sparse. A makiwara sat in one corner waiting to be attacked. Dust covered the shelves in the front of the room. A makeshift throwing mat filled a corner of the room.
The ambience didn’t amount to much, but the spirit did. In Okinawa, where karate originated, teachers held classes in surroundings just as humble as these, if not more so. At least our dojo had a floor. In Okinawa they often had nothing more than hard packed dirt in someone’s back yard. But it isn’t the dojo that makes the martial artist, it’s the spirit that resides within both, and Tom’s dojo had its share.
We were never more than a half dozen or so permanent students at any given time. Many a night it was only Lucie Handest, Al, Bill Sorvelli and I. Tony Parisi, sixty-something and already retired from work, showed up from time to time and Bob Graham joined the class while still a high school student after I was there a year or so. Others came and went. Among them, I remember “Booky” Bookwalter who stayed with Tom, a guy named Sandy who already had a brown belt when I started but never stayed long enough to go further, Ken Bakewell, Jeff Pray, and a scattering of people who started during the time I was there but didn’t stay with it. There were probably others, but 40 years is a long time for a faulty memory.
Lucie was Tom’s wife, half Seneca and strong and hard in those days. She was always laughing. She taught me my first kata in that dojo. I had begun studying karate haphazardly three or four years before from a fraternity brother in college in nearby Edinboro, but this was my first real dojo and my first serious kata.
We practiced hard. We ran to get in shape and it seems like we repeated basic punches and kicks endlessly. Tom didn’t have a deep knowledge of karate. In those days very few people anywhere did, let alone in some lost corner of the Pennsylvania backwoods, but what he lacked in knowledge he made up for in sweat, and I formed an understanding in that dojo that would stick with me for the rest of my life. The art of karate has to be ground in by endless practice until it permeates the body right down to the very soul that dwells within. It’s only from within that one comes to realize truth. I have been in lots of dojo since, all over the United States, in Japan and across the globe, and I have only found a few that practice as hard as we did or with the same reverence for the art. Most of the karate politicians I have met who buy rank from one organization or another and claim high position because of it, never seem to realize that it isn’t the number of kata that we know, nor the number of dues paying students we have, nor the rank we bought, but how hard we sweat that leads us toward mastery.
We attended a few tournaments, mostly in Canada, tournaments populated by an often motley array of travelers more or less on the same spiritual trek as we. We broke boards and concrete slabs, ran the streets and the woods, traveled to Toronto to wander through its modest “Chinatown” in search of things exotic, attacked the waiting makiwara, threw each other on the makeshift mat, paddled the Allegheny river in canoes, ran (sometimes walked) 26 mile marathons through Pennsylvania’s humid Julys, fashioned bo’s and tonfa’s from whatever material we could scrounge up, tried to walk across the high and scary Kinzua railroad bridge, eventually joined up with Masaru Shintani, who had just aligned with the Japanese Wado-Kai in his own search for a teacher, and we jostled our emotions through endless relationships in our quest for the path of karate. In the end it was all great fun. I remember once running gi clad and barefoot through downtown Warren on an icy Christmas Eve, shoppers watching us slosh through the snow and muck with much deserved expressions of disbelief. It was kooky, I know, but it was just one more test of the spirit.
I left Warren in 1973 for a new life in Arizona. I have never seen Tom Handest since. I have gone on to study four styles of Okinawan based karate from some of the best known instructors in the popular consciousness and I have learned most of the Okinawan kata that exist, but the foundation that I absorbed in Warren in Sensei Handest’s dojo fills my spirit and my own dojo to this day and set the tone for everything karate that has followed. Any bad experiences in that dojo in the Allegheny Mountains of Northwestern Pennsylvania have been long forgotten, at least by me.
Tom recommended a book to me one time. It was titled “Karate is a Thing of the Spirit”. It was a fictional novel that wasn’t really very good, but the name spoke volumes. Karate can be much more than simply a fighting art. In fact it can be whatever we make of it, and it truly is a thing of the spirit. More than anything else, I learned that in Sensei Handest’s humble dojo.