House of the West

Coming to the USA

Of course the martial arts are primarily thought of being born in the Far East and the Asian arts have a rich and varied history as they made their way across Europe and eventually to the new world influencing “western arts” such as Savate, Boxing and Greco-Roman wrestling. But let’s here concentrate on the United States.

In 1946, Robert Trias, a returning American serviceman who had studied Karate in Okinawa is said to have started the first Karate class in the USA in Phoenix, Arizona. In 1956, a South Korean named Jhoon Rhee arrived in Texas and introduced America to the Korean martial arts. He taught a style known as  Tang Soo Do (later to be renamed Taekwondo), but since no one in this country had ever heard of the Korean arts Rhee used the more popular name Karate (this is one reason the Korean arts became known as “Korean Karate” originally.) Native Hawaiian Ed Parker started one of the first “Americanized” systems with his American Kenpo in the 1950s. Peter Urban popularized his American Goju on the East Coast during the same time frame.

Some of the earliest American practitioners exchanged techniques with each other regardless of their “parent” arts so Karate, Taekwondo and even Kung Fu became “Americanized.” Men like Ed Parker, Peter Urban, Robert Trias, Chuck Norris, Allen Steen, Joe Lewis and the other pioneers of American Karate did what the Japanese and Koreans themselves had done only a few years before. They took bits and pieces of different styles and molded them into a uniquely American system of martial art. Americans also took the sporting aspects of Karate to new levels. There are both open and traditional tournaments on practically every weekend somewhere in the USA.

Of course, besides “American Karate” there are literally tens of millions who practice the more traditional Asian systems including Judo, Kung Fu, Jujutsu (both the Japanese and the Brazilian varieties), Aikido, Tai Chi, and Tae Kwon Do. Martial arts schools are almost as ubiquitous as coffee shops in some cities.

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