One of karate’s greatest modern names looks back on a groundbreaking

INSIDE KUNG-FU: Chuck, it’s been a while since you appeared the magazine. What have you been doing?

CHUCK MERRIMAN: My wife, Lill, and I moved to Phoenix in December 2008. I'll be 77 this coming January and those New England winters were kicking my rear end. I didn't give up teaching, I just gave up having a full-time dojo. I think that almost 40 years of that is enough. I still teach my seminar circuit each year and have recently

added a few more for next year.

IKF: Do you train, and if so, how much?
CM: At this stage of my life my training is less physical and more into research,
trying to gain a greater incite on training methods and how to expand on them. I
still practice kata and basics but at a reasonable speed, not at an all-out

IKF: What attracted you to goju-ryu?
CM: What impressed me the most was the practicality of it and the beauty of the
kata, especially the way sensei Chris DeBaise and sensei Peter Urban performed it. They
brought a vibrant life to it—yin/yang....lethal fighting technique expressed in
an artful manner.

IKF: Peter Urban will go down as one of the most amazing, yet least understood masters of our generation. Tell us about him.
CM: Sensei Urban was, and right up until his passing, definitely a unique
individual. One of a kind. The Chinatown dojo that he built was the epitome of a
hard-training, tough-fighting karate dojo. He was very charismatic as a teacher
and very innovative in his training methods. We were experimenting with safety
equipment in the mid-60s. I believe he was 20 years ahead of time.

IKF: What drew so many greats to him?
CM: There was always drama in everything he did and you never knew what to
expect on any given training night. He would never accept any thing from us but
our best effort and he always treated everyone with respect.

IKF: What did you enjoy most about teaching?
CM: I have always said that knowledge is like money. If you have $100 in your
pocket it is just paper and becomes valuable only when you spend it. Knowledge
is the same; it becomes valuable only when you pass it on. I enjoy watching my
students grow and achieve and know that I had some part in that progress.

IKF: Name your top three traditional competitors?
Domingo Llanos, Jean Frenette and Kevin Thompson from back then and more up
to date, John Fonseca, Alisa Au and George Kotaka to name a few. There are many
young talented competitors now so it’s difficult to narrow it down.

IKF: What made the heyday of the open circuit so great?
CM: I think it was very exciting, because it was fairly new to us especially on
the East Coast. A lot of experimentation and raw development was going on. The
fighting was not very sophisticated, sort of “knock down/drag out.” Also there
was a lot of respect and camaraderie between us all.

IKF: You defied a U.S. State Department order and took a karate team to South Africa during the height of apartheid? Why?
CM: When I was asked to bring teams to South Africa I agreed to do so on the
condition that every one must be welcome to train together, regardless of race
or religion. The Black and colored students (as they were called there) always
asked when were we coming back.

IKF: How much pressure were you under to cancel that trip?
CM: Yes, there was a lot of outside pressure, but it didn't stop me. I knew I
was doing the right thing. In fact, my wife, Lill, and I were put on the
U.N. "blacklist" for going there.

IKF: Were you surprised at the welcome you received from the South Africans?
CM: Not really. That was a time when no one was willing to go there for sports,
entertainment, etc. As you know first hand, I took teams there a number of
times. The karate community as a whole was always happy to have us come to South

IKF: You ran the greatest tournament circuit in history. What made it so great?
CM: The most obvious is the sound financial backing I had from my sponsor. He
gave me all the funds I needed and gave me free rein to use those funds as I saw
fit. The organizational and the managerial skills of my wife, Lill, ensured that
the team and the events were run fairly and smoothly and the talent on the team
was unbelievable. Almost all of them were listed in the top 3 in the ratings
category. Even Jeff Smith came out of retirement to have a shot them.

IKF: Whom did you enjoy see competing?
CM: I really enjoyed watching many of them compete. Most of them added a
unique and personal touch to their competitive attitude.

IKF: Besides provide a living, what has martial arts done for you?
CM: I have always said that karate do is not what I do; karate do is what I am!
Everything that I have and whatever recognition I enjoy is all due to my
Karate training and to the two men that influenced me the most—sensei Chris
DeBaise and sensei Peter Urban.

IKF: Does traditional karate have a place in this MMA-dominated world?
CM: Traditional karate do will always have a solid, substantial
following because it has, as its foundation, a philosophical approach and a
mental and physical discipline that can still be practiced far into the later
years of one’s life. I like to watch MMA fights some time and I think the
fighters train hard and are well conditioned athletes that show great
sportsmanship toward each other. But MMA, kickboxing, full-contact karate, muay
Thai, etc., are sports suited to a select group of people. I think that
traditional karate do has a broader overall appeal.

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Name: Chuck Merriman
Style: Goju-ryu karate
Instructors: Chris DeBaise, Peter Urban
Ranks: Kudan (9th dan) hanshi Okinawan goju-ryu karate do/jundokan, Okinawa; sandan (3rd dan) kodokan judo; and shodan (1st dan) hakkoryu jujutsu.

Appointments: Former head of the AAU National Karate team; former head of the Transworld Oil Karate team; Chief Referee, WUKO World Championships in Tokyo, Japan. Appointed to the first W.U.K.O. Referee’s Council, Tokyo, Japan.
Facts: Once served as a bodyguard for Dianna Ross and Gene Simmons (KISS)