Read below as Sensei Hardy describes how he began his martial arts training.
I began my martial arts training in 1962 at the Pine Bluff Boys Club with
Sensei Virgil Howard. Sensei Howard was a 3rd degree black belt in Taiho-Jutsu,
and held various black-belt ranks in Karate and Judo. He had taught and trained
during World War II and was also studying under Dr. Tomiki Hikoochi, a Japanese
doctor who was living in Little Rock, Arkansas, along with another Japanese
doctor, Dr. Tomasui.
Reason for my beginning in the martial arts:
My father died when I was 7 years old, and my second home became the Pine Bluff, Arkansas Boys Club where I trained with Sensei Howard. My mother was a Practical Nurse and had to work double shifts for most of her life after my father died. While most of my friends pursued football, basketball, etc., my interests focused on the "fighting" arts, so I pretty much lived at the Boys Club during my youth. I had always been small for my age and I guess I had the typical "small for his age" syndrome, and didn't want "sand kicked in my face" by the bullies. Luckily for me, some forty years later, I haven't had "sand kicked in my face" yet!
I studied Taiho-Jutsu under Sensei Howard and Dr. Hikoochi from 1963-1967 and achieved the rank of Shodan in 1967. After one year as a Shodan, Sensei Howard promoted me to Nidan in Taiho-Jutsu. Dr. Hikoochi and Dr. Tomasui returned to their homeland sometime in the late sixties and I'm not sure what ever became of them. Sensei Howard never shared with me their background or the reason for their sudden departure from the United States.
I later learned from "reliable" sources and Sensei Howard reluctantly confirmed that they were here as part of a "protection" program sponsored by our government for Japanese doctors who had "cooperated" with our government during World War II. I have since learned in greater detail of the activities some of these Japanese doctors participated in on Chinese Prisoners of War. I can only hope these two doctors were not part of those "experiments"!
During the mid sixties, I also boxed at the local Boys Club and studied Shotokan Karate under Mr. Howard who was also a black belt in Shotokan Karate. During that time, we also had several martial artists from the army base (Pine Bluff Arsenal) training with us. Most were brown belts or below (During this period, there were very few black belts in Arkansas.) You could count them on one hand, and you wanted nothing to do with them if you did find one.
After I graduated from high school in 1967, I moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to attend the University of Arkansas, where I also began teaching Taiho-Jutsu, and my own blend of karate, later to become the "Taiho-Ryu" system of karate and jujutsu. I also began training with several martial artists in the area. During the mid to late sixties, black belts were few and far between and there were only a handful of authentic black belts practicing in Arkansas. Very few people were interested in the arts during this period in Arkansas, and competent martial art instructors were hard to find. Most of us found other "martial artists" by word of mouth. Master Jerry Barbar (Shuri-Te) taught in Hot Springs, Arkansas. There were a few Korean martial arts instructors -- Larry Adams (Tae-Kwon-Do) in Forrest City, Arkansas, Fred Van Ackeren in Little Rock, later to become the headquarters for the ATA ( American Taekwondo Association), and Frank Pope (Tang Soo Do) in Eldorado, Arkansas. John Clayton (Goju-Ryu) was teaching in Ft. Smith, Arkansas under the Lou Angel organization, and in the Fayetteville area were Wayne Davis and "Sarge" West. Sensei Davis and Sensei West both had extensive backgrounds in Japanese karate, jujutsu, and judo. Looking back, both Senseis Davis and West were 2 of the most proficient martial artists I had the pleasure to train with. I remember two brown belts, Steve Gage and Frank Stanford, both Shotokan brown belts, as being some of the best I had ever seen. I'm not sure what ever happened to either of these fine martial artists; both were outstanding.
By 1968, my karate/jujutsu class had grown to about 20-30 students, and I chartered the first University of Arkansas Karate Club. Some of my first students were Dr. Robert Neralich, who was the first student to be promoted to black Belt in the "Taiho-Ryu" System, Gaston "AL" Fernandez, 2nd black belt in the "Taiho-Ryu"system, Nathan Gregory, Larry Boccarossa, L.B. Wilson, Paul Davidson, Alan Graham, Jim Cisne, Jerry Canada, Dr. John Locke (deceased), and U.S. Special Agent Johnny Bishop to name just a few. I have forgotten many of the students' names, but I have never forgotten the the training during those years. The training was harsh and rigorous, and as I look back, it was just a miracle no one was seriously injured or killed in our training. Sadly, I continued to train in that method until many years later when I finally matured in the arts.
Our karate team competed throughout the South and Midwest, and our team won many Regional and National titles. Those were the days before "safety" equipment, and the only "pads" you wore were white medical tape on your knuckles so you wouldn't cut them open on your opponent's teeth! Tournaments in Oklahoma and Texas were some of the bloodiest anywhere. If you fought in a tournament in the sixties in Oklahoma or Texas, you always came back limping and bruised, and you were the "winners"!
In 1970 I hosted the first regional karate tournament ever held in Arkansas. Many prominent martial arts in the Midwest attended that tournament and assisted in the event. Bob Yarnall from St. Louis, Walt Bone and Mike Anderson from Oklahoma at the time, Bill Gardo, Isshin-Ryu Master from Jackson, Mississippi, and Master Jerry Barbar from Arkansas all made the event a great success and it became an annual tournament for over 18 years and became known as the "Taiho-Ryu Friendship" tournament open to all styles of karate. It was held in Pine Bluff, Arkansas for the next 18 years, and became one of the largest Karate tournaments hosted in the South and Midwest during the mid seventies. The 1975 "Official Karate" Magazine rated our "Taiho-Ryu" tournament as one of the biggest and best run in the Southern United States.
I trained with Sensei Davis and Sensei West during my four years at the University of Arkansas (1967-1971) and also taught my own blend of jujutsu and karate during this period. It was around 1969 or 1970 I became acquainted with Professor Rodney Sacharnoski of the Juko-Ryu system of jujutsu and kenpo. He was teaching in Alexandria, Louisiana, and I began a 5-6 year association with Professor Sacharnoski. I was appointed the Mid West Director for the JJBBFA (Jujutsu Black Belt Federation of America) in 1970, and served in that capacity for several years. My years in the JJBBFA allowed me to meet and train with many talented martial artists. Since that time, Dr. Sacharnoski has gone on to become quite famous, and recently appeared on "Ripley's Believe It or Not" demonstrating his famous "Ki" power. I had the privilege of training with Professor Sacharnoski, Professor Larry Hilton, Professor Frank De Felice, Professor Don Wrobel, and many others. Those were important years in my still formative years in the arts and were invaluable in the development of the "Taiho-Ryu" system of martial arts. Professor Sacharnoski for some reason took a liking to me, and helped tremendously in the development of my own system of martial arts. In 1975, Professor Sacharnoski sponsored my "Taiho-Ryu" system to be recognized worldwide, and I was promoted to 5th Degree black belt.
In 1971, after graduating from the University of Arkansas, I returned to Pine Bluff where I opened the Pine Bluff Academy of Self Defense, and began teaching martial arts full time. It was during this time, I had the fortune to meet and train with Sensei Earnest "Mike" Mika, one of the nicest and most genuine individuals I have ever known. At the age of 22, I needed the guidance of a "Sensei Mika", and I know the Lord put him in Pine Bluff just for me. He was a true "Master" in many ways, and looking back, I realize he was the "father" to me that I had never had. He taught me so many things about the martial arts and about life, and did his best to guide me in the direction of what a True martial arts student should be . He emphasized the finer aspects of the arts: discipline, respect, honor, and humility, and later in my martial arts career, I finally realized what he was trying to teach me. The martial arts should make you a better person, not necessarily a better fighter. I was fortunate to share my system of martial arts with Sensei Mika, and all three of his sons during this period. "Little" Mike, who would later become a National Judo Champion, and even later become a member of the elite "CAT" (Combat Action Team) of the Secret Service was a joy to work with. Pat Mika, the Middle of the 3 boys was just as talented and also became a National judo champion in his weight division. Tim Mika, the youngest was just as talented and tough as his older brothers. He had to be to survive! I learned much about "life" and "family" from the Mikas. Sensei Mika took me in as one of his own, and I will never be able to repay him for the knowledge and direction he gave me in life.
I have continued to teach martial arts and have now been teaching and studying the arts for some 38 years. I have had the privilege of teaching many "Champions" who were not only champions in Karate, but also in life. As I state at the end of my book on personal protection, DEFENSIVE LIVING, I have learned far more from my students than I have ever taught them!
"Defensive Living" was published in 1992 and has been very successful. It is currently used in many universities as a text and is used by several martial arts organizations to complement self-defense programs.
The Taiho-Ryu ranking system is based on military "Grades of Service", with minimum time required in each rank, similar to officer promotions in the military. The Taiho-Ryu system requires a minimum of four years of training to reach black belt, with a minimum age of 16. We have no Jr. black belts.
For a 1st degree black belt, there is a minimum of one year of training before testing for 2nd degree black belt. For a 2nd degree black belt, there is a two year minimum before testing for 3rd degree black belt, three year of additional training before testing for 4th degree black belt, four year of additional training before testing for 5th degree black belt, etc. This results in the minimum age to ever make 10th Dan in Taiho-Ryu at 65 years of age! The last formal black belt written and physical test is 5th degree, which denotes "Master" degree in Taiho-Ryu. After that, if the instructor remains active in the Art and continues to exemplify the characteristics of Taiho-Ryu (Discipline, Honor, Humility, Respect) automatic progression to the higher ranks is awarded. Time in grade from 5th to 6th is five years, 6th to 7th is six years, 7th to 8th is seven years, so, as you can see, it takes an automatic eighteen years from 5th to 8th degree black belt in our system! As we all know, Master and Doctorate degrees in formal college programs don't necessarily mean one is an "expert". I hope everyone knows earning a "Masters" rank in the martial arts doesn't make one an "expert".