The Original “Texas Blood ‘n’ Guts” Karate Hall of Fame
Not another Martial Arts Hall of Fame you might ask? This one is different. Really! You see—many of them are vanity organizations that charge people big bucks to become “inductees.” You can usually tell because each year they “induct” literally dozens of people for obscure honors like “Female Grandmaster of the Year Under 20 Years of Age and Living South of the Mason Dixon Line.” Then they convince one or two legitimate martial arts luminaries to show up in an attempt give their “Hall” some credibility. Worse yet, there are the Halls of Fame where the founder’s first “inductee” is, surprise, THEMSELVES!
You can be sure that the individuals listed here didn’t “buy” their way in and they aren’t here because of a popularity contest vote. No, the individuals in THIS Hall of Fame earned this honor by being there and doing it during the “Blood and Guts” hey-days of “rough and tough” TEXAS KARATE. Some are known karate champions that you’ve probably already heard about. Others are perhaps not so celebrated as tournament winners but you can bet they won’t be listed here unless they paid their dues in the Texas “Blood and Guts” era. Most earned their black belts before 1975 under the original founders of Texas Karate. And most (but not all) are natives of the Lone Star State. Some of them came from other parts of the country to compete in Texas and earned the respect of Allen Steen’s guys.
The High Dan Board of the AKBBA–CSHK made the determination to select these individuals. We could have easily put several of our own board members in this Hall but we have purposely chosen not to. This honor is reserved for those who have influenced Texas Karate (and us) over the past several decades. This list will be in regular construction and we’ll add individuals as we see fit.
JHOON G. RHEE
What better place to start our Hall of Fame than with the man who brought Tae Kwon Do to Texas. It was 1956 when Jhoon Rhee, a young third degree black belt landed in the Lone Star State to introduce the Korean martial arts to American. Widely called the “Father of Tae Kwon Do in America,” he was selected as one of the 200 most famous U.S. immigrants of all time by the National Forum, in conjunction with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, the only Korean-American so honored.
But Mr. Rhee is renown in Texas martial arts circles as the man who originally trained Allen Steen, his first black belt in America. Steen says that Rhee’s no nonsense, and sometimes brutal approach to the arts helped set the stage for “Korean karate,” as it was then called to take the state and the nation by storm.
Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee is also known as the “Father of tae kwon do in Russia,” having traveled extensively in the former Soviet Union countries and establishing over 65 schools in the region.
He is also the originator of the padded sparring gear that helped to popularize tournament competition and which made the martial arts accessible to children in the early 1970s. And Mr. Rhee, a talented musician, was the first to put martial arts forms together with musical scores, creating what he called the “martial ballet.”
His longtime classes in Washington D.C. have afforded him the opportunity to teach and mentor hundreds of politicians (from both sides of the aisle). Presidents of corporations and of countries have honored him. George Bush senior named him one of his “Thousand Points of Light” for his contributions to society. Always an outstanding example of discipline and strength, he was known in his early years for his fantastic demonstrations with Bruce Lee featuring a trademark triple jump side kick. For years he has amazed crowds with his hundred pushups in sixty seconds. Today Grandmaster Rhee travels the world with his message of “truth, beauty and love,” to promote world peace and understanding.
ALLEN R. STEEN
We have covered the contributions of the “Father of Texas ‘Blood and Guts” Karate” in great detail in other places on this website but suffice it to say none of us would be here, at least not in this capacity, if not for the efforts of Allen Steen.
So let’s give you some facts that you might not read elsewhere. Steen was born in 1940 and his upbringing in Dallas would set the stage for his no-nonsense, some might say “harsh,” approach to the martial arts. His coaching abilities and business sense would establish him as one of the forerunners of the business of American karate. He tried, in the early years, to help the other founders establish a national organization but he says that certain egos were too big to allow cooperation. Ultimately he did his own thing in Texas.
Although his list of men and women who made black belt directly under him was relatively small (he didn’t give out promotions easily) his influence extends to hundreds, perhaps thousands, across the state and the nation. After retiring from active teaching in commercial settings he was a successful oil executive and also became a national champion skeet shooter being voted to the All American Team three times.
Steen was voted to the Martial Arts History Museum’s Hall of Fame in Los Angeles in 2005 and was inducted into the International Tae Kwon Do Hall of Fame in 2007 along with Jhoon Rhee and Skipper Mullins (other Texas Tae Kwon Doists). He has three grown children.
J. PAT BURLESON
Pat Burleson began his training while in the Navy in 1957 in Japan. Having competed in the Golden Gloves Championships while in high school, he became a boxing champion for the Navy and while stationed in Iwakuni, Japan he started karate. Burleson first studied wado-ryu but also trained in several schools of karate as well as Chinese boxing. Returning to the states to his hometown of Ft. Worth, he worked out with the few ex-servicemen he could find that had also trained in Asia.
He discovered Jhoon Rhee and a class at the Red Bird Armory in Dallas. Rhee introduced Burleson to Steen and the two began a lifelong friendship. In 1963, three months after Rhee promoted Steen to black belt, Steen awarded his first black belt to Burleson. He was one of the pioneers of the “American karate” way of doing things. In fact he says that the birthplaces of American karate were Dallas/Ft. Worth and Chicago. Up until then Japanese and Korean stylists seldom trained together. But Americans soon discovered that there was much to learn by mixing systems. There were no rules in the early days and Burleson says that “anything could happen.” He remembers that he and the other fighters constantly fought with broken bones and bloody lips or noses. He admits that the early champions were probably “too harsh, but today’s karate instructors don’t have to worry about someone saying it doesn’t really work because we proved that it did.”
In 1964, Rhee held the first National Karate Championships in Washington D.C. where Burleson won the black belt division becoming known as the first national black belt champion and was later dubbed the “Grandfather” of American sport karate. In 1965 he won the Texas State Championship and the Southwest Karate Grand Championship. In 1966 he won the Open Championships in Oklahoma City and the U.S. Championships in Dallas. Burleson retired in 1966 due to a serious knee injury he suffered, ironically, while fighting against Steen in a competition.
Burleson went on to become a recognized coach and instructor producing a long list of champions. For years he produced the Texas State Championships and the Tournament of Champions. Mr. Burleson still teaches in the Ft. Worth area and conducts seminars around the nation. He is in the Texas Martial Arts Hall of Fame and is a member of numerous national Halls of Fame. He claims that he has returned full circle in the martial arts to the point where he tries to emphasize the character building aspects of karate. He founded the World Martial Arts Ranking Association.
Began his training under Allen Steen in 1963 at the Red Bird National Guard Armory in Dallas. He says he was from a poor family and worked at a grocery store while attending high school. From his very first tournament (winning the intermediate belt division in 1964 Internationals at Ed Parker’s event in Long Beach, CA) he placed first or second every time he competed. He made black belt in 1966 just after he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He continued to train and compete and taught self-defense to other Marines while on active duty.
Mullins became one of the most famous champions of the 1960s. He worked under Jhoon Rhee while stationed in Quantico. He says that Mr. Rhee would come pick him up at the Marine base and take him back to his school to train. Skipper also worked with Bruce Lee and Mullins attests to his ability saying, “I would have picked Bruce in any street situation.”
He competed against Chuck Norris, Joe Lewis and all of the other famed champions of the 1960s. In one weekend Mullins fought in Dallas on a Friday in New York on a Saturday and Los Angeles on Sunday. He won two of the three and place third in the other. Called the fastest kicker in karate, he was the named number-one fighter in 1966.
In a 1987 Black Belt Magazine survey of tournament champions, Mullins was named as one of the top-five fighters of those early days of “tough and rough” karate competitors. In his autobiography Chuck Norris called him the toughest opponent he ever faced. Mullins trained most of the champions of the Texas Karate Institute including Demetrius Havanas, Ronny and Dennis Cox, Roy Kurban, Jim and Jenice Miller, Keith Yates, and Ray McCallum. Skipper was a Dallas firefighter for 36 years and served both as a paramedic and a captain in the department.
How does a Korean-Oklahoman get into the “Texas karate” Hall of Fame? Well, his close proximity to DFW drew Hwang and his students into such frequent contact with the Texas competitors that he became a part of the family.
Jack Hwang began his study of the Korean martial arts as a child in 1941. His fervor for training was fed by his uncle, Soun Gyu Hwang, head of the Pusan Police Force. His uncle required no less than constant and intensive practice. In 1945 Hwang began to train at the Yun Moo Kwan School in Pusan. Times were rough in Korea. “It was impossible to go out on the street without getting into a fight. Everyone wanted to prove something,” says Hwang. From 1950 through 1955, Hwang utilized his skills in the Army of the Republic of South Korea, where through his distinguished service he achieved the rank of Captain.
Immigrating to the United States in 1957, Jack Hwang sought a new life from his war-torn native land, hoping to leave fighting behind him. He had a great love for martial arts, but he had seen and experienced enough fighting for many lifetimes. Having graduated from Pusan University with a law degree he enrolled at Wisconsin State College where he attained a bachelors in criminology. He continued his education at Sam Houston College in Huntsville, Texas where he earned his masters in criminology. He became a U.S. Citizen in 1968.
Hwang hoped to initially become a school teacher in the U.S., but his English was not good enough and he returned to the martial arts to make a living. He did try American tournaments for a couple of years but was usually disqualified for excessive contact—tough in the days of accepted contact in competition. The reflexes honed in times of actual war were hard to change. So Hwang began to promote his own tournaments and the All American Open Karate Championships in Oklahoma became one of the few recognized major events in the 1970s. Many a Texas fighter earned crowns at his tournament.
Jack Hwang is truly an American karate pioneer. He says, “American karate is a style all its own, which is a wonderful thing for the art. Times change and karate should change with them. Just because someone did something 2,000 years ago doesn’t mean it must continue the same way today.”
Dubbed by Black Belt Magazine as the “King Kong of Karate,” Ed Daniel stood 6’6″ and weighted in at 275 pounds, one of the largest (and oldest) competitors on the tournament circuit during the 1960s and ’70s. He began his road to success when he won the white belt division at the 1964 United States Karate Championships in Dallas. Because of his toughness and size, “Big Ed,” as he was known, was placed in the brown belt division almost from the start. So a year later he was still wearing a white belt but he won the brown belt division at the U.S.
As a black belt Daniel bested many of the top competitors of the day. All of the fighters of the times gave Daniel a healthy dose of respect for his abilities in the ring. But Daniel was also respected for his teaching skills. Many of his students became champions in their own right including Harry Leggett and Tim Vought, just to name a couple.
Born in Waco, Daniel moved to Dallas at a young age and graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in 1951. He entered the U.S. Army and served in the military police at Camp Gordon, GA. Later he was assigned to a maximum-security military prison in Arizona. Upon returning to civilian life Daniel worked as a Special Police Officer for the Dallas Police Department where he served for 16 years. During his late teens and early twenties Daniel trained as a professional wrestler in the days when wrestling was still a rough and hard fought life. The strength he gained as a weight lifter at “Doug’s Gym,” the famed old boxing club in downtown Dallas, served him well. It was there that “Big Ed” met Johnny Nash in 1964.
While serving in the navy in Okinawa, Nash had earned his black belt in Shorin Ryu Karate from Eizo Shimabuku, Sensei, who was himself designated as head of that system by its founder Chotoku Kyan. Nash was perhaps the first karate instructor in Dallas. Daniel eventually became head instructor for Nash and operated his own Dallas School of Karate downtown until its closing in the late 1970s. Steen’s students would often train with Daniel at his tiny dojo.
Daniel has served as a bouncer, body-guard to the rich and famous, and has trained many martial arts champions. Truly one of the people responsible for the evolution of karate in Texas, Mr. Daniel holds the rank of 10th degree black belt and is a member of the Texas Martial Arts Hall of Fame.
Born in 1936, Harrison was a major force in the early competitive environments of both judo and karate in the U.S. He began his karate training in shorin-ryu under St. Louis karate pioneer Bob Yarnall under whom he earned his black belt. A former AAU Judo champion, Harrison won numerous karate titles including Allen Steen’s U.S. Karate Championships in Dallas (three times). At the first ever full-contact fights, also in Dallas, he won a hard fought match against Victor Moore. Harrison had to be stitched up, on stage, without anesthetic, between rounds. He went on to win with a knockout. You can see why his reputation among Texas karateka was legendary.
Jim Harrison was known for both hitting hard and taking hard hits. Perhaps the most feared of Harrison’s skills was his judo techniques. There were no rules against throws or takedowns in those days and the karate fighters who had often not learned how to fall feared a Jim Harrison who frequently dumped them onto the mat (or, more usually, the concrete) in the middle of a match. He was also noted for impressive and dangerous breaking feats, including chopping and shattering a bottle full of gasoline with a lit wick that would erupt into a ball of flame. Perhaps his most legendary feat of toughness was when, as a police officer, he was ambushed by an ex-con who came out of a bathroom stall and fired point blank at Harrison. Harrison managed to subdue his attacker before passing out from his wounds.
Harrison holds many honors including being elected as a member of the elite USKA Trias International Society. He has been named to several Halls of Fame and listed as a top fighter in many publications. His students have included not only many karate champions but members of the U.S. special forces. Semi-retired, he continues to teach his own system, Bushidoakn, in Montana.
FRED “Whirlwind” WREN
Fred Wren earned his “whirlwind” nickname because he was unstoppable in the ring. Equally skillful with kicks and punches Wren would come at you until the referees pulled him off. An early black belt of Allen Steen, Wren took over the East Dallas location of Steen’s Texas Karate Institute and dubbed it “The House of Wren.” Those words were actually painted on the crossbars of the heavy bag frame at the back of the dojo, a not too subtle warning to all who entered whose “house” it was.
Wren traveled the country in those days taking the Texas brand of karate with him. He won most of the major titles in those days with one of the most famous being his last second defeat of Jim Harrison for the 1968 U.S. Karate Championships with a defensive side kick as Harrison made a desperation charge. Wren would later settle in St Louis where he ran a successful school and martial arts supply business for many years.
Roy Kurban began his martial arts training in 1965 under Allen Steen and Skipper Mullins; earning his black belt under Skipper Mullins. His competitive career began in 1966 and continued until 1977, during which time he won over a hundred titles in national and international competitions. Kurban came out of retirement several times so he could win titles in the decades of the 1960s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, and 2000s.
Kurban ranked in the top-ten fighters in the U.S. for 5 consecutive years, and among the top-ten in the world for two years. Official Karate Magazine named him as their “Man of the Decade” in their 1980 Legion of Honor. Karate Illustrated Magazine chose him as the Outstanding Tournament Referee in 1980. In 1981, Black Belt Magazine inducted him into their Hall of Fame as the “Man of the Year.”
While in the U.S. Army and stationed in Korea, Kurban trained with Park Hee Deok and Park Won Chic whom he later sponsored as an immigrant to the U.S. Kurban has trained with Master Park for decades now.
Kurban has served as an instructor for the U.S. Army, the National Guard, the Great Southwest Police Academy, and for U.S. Treasury and FBI agents. He also established an ongoing accredited karate course for the University of Texas at Arlington P.E. department. He has served as the Rules Commissioner for the Karate International Council of Kick Boxing (KICK) and serves as a referee for international kick boxing and Olympic Taekwondo tournaments.
Kurban has had a tenure as a law enforcement officer, Justice of the Peace, and County Judge. He founded the American Black Belt Academy in Arlington Texas in 1973 where he trained many national and world rated fighters.
It is our policy to NOT put members of our High-Dan Board in our Hall of Fame but Mr. Kurban was inducted into our Hall before he was voted onto our Board.
DEMETRIUS “GREEK” HAVANAS
Born in Dallas in 1950, the late Demetrius Havanas got his nickname the “Greek” from his days of high school football. Because of his family background, “Greek” became the name everyone on the team called him. He began his karate training in 1968 under Jerry Wiseman, one of Allen Steen’s instructors at the Oak Cliff Texas Karate Institute.
As a brown belt Greek racked up over a hundred and twenty five victories without a loss. His most memorable brown belt fight was against an undefeated brown belt student of Chuck Norris and Mike Stone by the name of Bob Burbridge. Havanas earned his black belt from Steen in 1971 and became one of the most winning point champions of the day. He won Pat Burlesons’s Texas State six years in a row and Steen’s U.S. Championships three years in a row. But he soon became even more famous as one of the earliest kick-boxing champs. Coached by Texans Larry Caster and Skipper Mullins, Greek set out to make a name for himself in this brand new fighting sport. A very muscular five-foot-five, Greek had an explosive fighting style that consistently enabled him to dominate taller opponents.
In 1975 he won the PKA U.S. Welterweight Championship. He amassed a record of 39-4 with 24 knockouts, and the Star System ranked him number-one world welterweight contender in 1980-81. Havanas seldom lost. One of his few losses was to the famed Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, and that fight by only one point. Greek was also known as an outstanding coach training such champions as Billye Jackson, Ray McCallum, Troy Dorsey, Cliff Thomas and Ismael Robles.
But then tragedy struck. In July of 1981, while in route to Atlantic City, Greek was killed in a single engine airplane crash in Tennessee. His memorial service in Dallas was a who’s who of the martial arts in Texas and beyond. In his memory the “Golden Greek” award is annually given by the Amatuer Organization of Karate in Texas and so his influence continues to be felt across the state and the nation.
Butin started his training in 1965 under Pat Burleson in Fort Worth earning a black belt in 1968. As a brown belt and black belt he won 45 titles in practically every major tournament in a five-state area. He won the silver medal in Seoul, Korea in the first World Tae Kwon Do Championships in 1973. He represented the US by fighting again in Europe on the undefeated American team in 1974. This team included Joe Lewis, Bill Wallace, Jeff Smith, Howard Jackson and Butin. He took Bill Wallace into overtime twice for championship bouts but never defeated him. Butin was rated as the number two Light Heavy Weight kick-boxer in the world by PKA from 1974 to 1978.
He was inducted in to the Martial Arts Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio in 1991 and again into the NBL Martial Arts Hall of Fame in 1997. He is a 1972 graduate from North Texas University with a Bachelors of Science in Physical Education. After moving to Oklahoma Butin became the founder and director of the Oklahoma Karate Association from 1985 to 1988 and then was the CEO of the Oklahoma Sport Karate Association from 1991 to 1996. He is the Oklahoma state director of the Youth Enrichment Skills program, which works with children to build self-confidence and good character traits through the martial arts.
One of 12 children, Linda Denley was born in Houston. A natural athlete, she participated and excelled in many sports as a teenager. She began martial arts in 1973 in Tang Soo Do with Robert Torres in order to enhance her performance in other sports. Within two years she had earned black belt and was winning tournaments. While still in high school, Denley qualified for the Olympics in five track and field events, but was declared ineligible due to her professional winnings on the karate circuit. In 1979 she gave up an offer to play semi-pro basketball for the Houston Angels because of her burgeoning karate career.
Known across the nation as the “Texas Terror,” Denley’s aggressive, hard-hitting style made her the most feared competitor in the woman’s divisions (and for many men, if truth be told). She was rated number-one from 1973 to 1996. At one point she went nine years without losing a match. Denley won the Battle of Atlanta 11 times, The Diamond Nationals three times, The U.S. Open nine times, The Long Beach Internationals four times and the U.S. Capital Classic nine times. Denley was “Competitor of the year” by several Hall of Fame organizations including Mars Hall of Fame (1988), NASKA Hall of Fame (1994) and the Diamond National Hall of Fame (1989). She was the first female to be inducted into the Black Belt Magazine Hall of Fame (1980) and was the PKL and Kick Illustrated “Competitor of the Year” in 1982.
She runs her own school, the Texas Black Belt Academy in Houston. Denley gives seminars around the country and promotes her annual Space City Open Karate Championships in Houston. Each year her alma mater, Jefferson Davis High School, has a Linda Denley Day in honor of her achievements.
It is our policy to NOT put members of our High-Dan Board in our Hall of Fame but Mr. Kurban and Ms. Denley were inducted into our Hall before they was voted onto our Board.