Recently I was fortunate to be allowed to sit on the Black Belt panel for a major moment in martial arts history. I witnessed the promotion of Grand Master Worley and GM Carnahan to martial arts highest rank – 10th Degree Black Belt!
Who Is Eligible for 10th Degree?
The 10th Degree is only awarded to those martial artists who have given a lifetime to the furtherance of the martial arts and have demonstrated a lifetime of significant achievement. They have poured into their students and martial arts system the life lessons of honor, respect, courage and instilled in others the indomitable spirit of the Black Belt. “It is a humbling burden that can only be born by the most deserving, the most strong, ardent and caring of humans.”(SJ) There are probably only a dozen or so true 10th Degrees in the U.S. and I was sitting in the presence of 3 of them!
Most of you have probably heard me talk about how Grand Master Jhoon Rhee became the “Father of American Tae Kwon Do” because he was the first person to bring Tae Kwon Do to the United States in 1956. (Read more about Master Rhee) Then, in 1959, some of Mr. Rhee’s first Black Belts, J. Pat Burleson and Allen Steen open the first commercial martial arts school in Texas which was also one of the original martial arts schools founded in America. History records Mr. Burleson as America’s first karate pioneer and “Father of All Karate Champions” because he won the first U.S. Karate Championships in 1964, held in Chicago, IL. He also has the distinction of holding the highest American Tae Kwon Do ranking under Master Jhoon Rhee. In addition to teaching the martial arts, Mr. Burleson later became a movie and stunt actor with regular appearances on the television show “Walker, Texas Ranger” with Chuck Norris. He currently travels the world as a speaker and trainer. (Learn more about Master Burleson)
Mr. Worley and Mr. Carnahan were some of Master Burleson’s first students who went on to train and work under Master Rhee in Washington D.C. They went on to found the National Karate Schools which is one of the largest and finest martial arts organizations in the nation with schools in Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin. They also founded the Diamond Nationals which is the largest and most prestigious karate tournament in North America. No other single martial arts school in America has produced as many world rated competitors as the National Karate Schools. Our founders list of accomplishments are too numerous to recount here, but you can click here to read more about Grand Masters Worly and Carnahan.
Thankful for the Pioneers
Over the years karate became more popular and mainstream and has now become one of the fastest growing sports in the world. We owe a special thank you and much respect to the martial arts pioneers who have paved the way for us. Without the dedication and passion of martial arts legends and pioneers like Jhoon Rhee, J. Pat Burleson, John Worley and Larry Carnahan, Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris we may not be doing martial arts in America today. Martial arts might have been one of those obscure foreign sports like “cricket”.
The Big Moment
Then the students came forward for the big moment in front of the Black Belt panel and a large crowd. Just as they were about to perform the tradition of Instructor tying the new belt on his students, they did something I have never seen before. They all got down on their knees as a demonstration of humility and respect and performed the belt tying and ended with a deep traditional Japanese bow on the ground. Then they stood and Grand Master Burleson grabbed the wrist of Mr. Worley and Mr. Carnahan and raised them in the air like you would a prize fighter who had just won the big match. He announced their names with a loud voice and added the title “Tenth Degree Black Belts!” The crowd roared, thousands of pictures were taken and the lifetime achievement of two great men was cemented in martial arts history.
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