Mr. Larry Ritchie's Martial Arts Autobiography

"I began training in Tae Kwon Do, at J. Pat Burleson’s KOREAN WAYS martial arts school in January, 1965. At that time, the KOREAN WAYS school was located in the World Health Studios, on East Belknap, in Ft. Worth, Texas. Next door, in the same building, was an "after hours" club, called the EASTSIDE CLUB. This club was well known around Ft. Worth as a very rough place. It provided an interesting backdrop and an exciting atmosphere for a karate school. I saw my first practical application of martial arts in the parking lot of this club. If I am to tell the whole truth, or most of it anyway, some of those "demonstrations" actually took place inside the club. Of course, no one from our karate school was ever involved. (Let me know if you believe that.)

At the time I joined KOREAN WAYS, most of the classes at the Belknap location were taught by Mr. Ronnie Moffett, one of Mr. Burleson’s Black Belts. Mr. Moffett was a fine instructor, and a demanding taskmaster. To this day, I am still very much aware of the influence Mr. Moffett had in the foundation on which my martial arts skills are built. I will never forget him.

Left - Mr. Chuck Loven    Top - Mr. Ritchie shows a take down move at Tarrant Jr. College with Mr. Burleson's demo team in the late 60's

  About the time I made blue belt, the classes were taken over by Mr. Chuck Loven. Mr. Loven was (and probably still is !) one tough black belt. His classes were brutal. He and Mr. Burleson had many things in common, but one thing stood out above all the others. They were extremely tough men, and they thought everyone was like that. Some of us were not!! But, never-the-less, we were pulled along as if we were as tough as they. I don’t think Mr. Burleson or any of his black belts were intentionally cruel to us. I do think that they were clueless as to what a bunch of near-sissies they were trying to turn into Texas Black Belts. I think any review of U.S. Karate history will show that they did a pretty damn good job.

I remember well, one evening when Mr. Loven gave me a particularly bad thumping. As Mr. Gary Hestilow was helping me off the floor, Mr. Loven shouted down to me, "I may never make you into my best brown belt, but by God I’ll make you the meanest s.o.b. (he didn’t abbreviate) in town!" I have heard it said that he kept his word. I know he sure tried.

When I tested for blue belt, the exam board was headed by Tae Kwon Do Grand Master Hong Hi Choi, with Master Jhoon Rhee, Mr. Allen Steen, Mr. Pat Burleson, Mr. Skipper Mullins, and Mr. Mike Steen among those present. How’s that for horsepower?  No pressure there!  After the test, Grand Master Choi remarked, "Texans fight harder when playing than Koreans do when they are mad at each other." From what I’ve seen, I’d say he’s right.

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Mr. Ritchie fighting in tournaments

I made brown belt January 28, 1968. Pat and John Worley were also among those who tested that day. Soon after I received my brown belt, Mr. Hestilow mentioned that Mr. Burleson was looking for someone to run a new karate school he wanted to open. I asked Mr. Hestilow what he thought Mr. Burleson would charge someone to do that. To my surprise, he said it didn’'t cost anything! In fact, he said Mr. Burleson was willing to pay someone to work there. It would be sort of like a job. I remember thinking, "get paid to play karate? That ain’t work; that’'s money for nothing." "Sign me up!" I said. The band Dire Straits later wrote a song about that. Of course, we never had any chicks. (Let me know if you believe that.)

Mr. Burleson has a grand sense of humor. For my very first karate school, he scouted Ft. Worth long and hard to find the perfect place for me. A place where there were plenty of drunks to play with. Somewhere that would have a lot of entertainment, like regularly occurring gunfights in the street right outside the front door. Somewhere with friendly motorcycle gangs to practice karate moves with. Get the picture? Well, he found just the place. It was on south Hemphill St. I started to become ill when he showed me the place. But, he said not to fear - -- - all I had to do was stay alive for only one year and I could have a new karate school anywhere I wanted. No problem.

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                Mr. J. Pat Burleson

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Mr. Ritchie's first school in south Fort Worth, TX, 1968

Things worked out pretty well. We had some great students at that school. Some of them sure could fight, even before they started taking karate. When my year was up, I sold that school to one of Mr. Burleson’s black belts, and moved to the other side of town. Way on the other side of town! My next school was in Hurst, Texas, across the street from the Bell Helicopter plant where I used to work.

I was soon helping Mr. Burleson run several of his karate schools. I think he had five schools then. He was spending some time in California, hanging out with Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Joe Lewis, and Bob Wall. I looked after things when he was gone. I was also a member of the demonstration team, which represented our schools by performing at many functions around Ft. Worth. I was attending Tarrant County Jr. College in the mornings, working at the karate schools in the afternoons and evenings, and going to karate tournaments on weekends. Like the man said, "This ain’t work; this is money for nothing." Life was good.

One evening in the summer of 1972, a prominent law enforcement official from Tarrant County extended to me an invitation to leave the county. " By sun up", as I recall. I explained to Mr. Burleson what had happened, and he made a phone call to Mr. George Minshew in Houston. Mr. Minshew owned BLACK BELT ACADEMY. I had a job waiting for me when I arrived.

Mr. Minshew had two schools under the Black Belt Academy banner, and he wanted to open more. We found a location to our liking, near the intersection of Gessner and Longpoint in Spring Branch. The school grew and quickly became too large for that building. Within one year, we moved to a much larger place on the Katy Freeway. That school remained there for about ten years, and it produced some outstanding students and tournament competitors. Jane Ritchie, Don Mullins, Kevin Scott, Jeff MacRae, Henery Spafford, Chris Klecka and Terry Butler are just a few of the many state and international champions to come from that school. The Houston Hurricanes kickboxing team, of the National Karate League, also trained there.

I worked for Mr. Minshew and his Black Belt Academy schools for 12 years. During that time, BBA grew to seven schools. In the 1970’s and early 1980’s, Black Belt Academy students were the dominant force in Texas karate tournaments, winning local, state, national, and international tournaments by the hundreds. I still feel a lot of pride for the part that my students and I played in making Black Belt Academy the power house it was during those years.

In 1972, while with Black Belt Academy, I started doing bodyguard and special security work for rock and roll bands. At first, a couple of my students and I provided only personal bodyguard services for the star performers of the rock bands. Within a year, I had taken over all personal protection and private security functions for the rock concerts at the Summit, Sam Houston Coliseum, Music Hall, and all U. Of H. facilities. I was licensed by the State of Texas as a Security Services Contractor and held a Texas handgun commission. We continued providing these services until 1980.

Those rock concerts were an unbelievable testing ground for martial arts theories, concepts and techniques. We were constantly dealing with drunks, drugies, and psychos. We were always outnumbered, and usually unloved. Anyone who was not there will have a hard time understanding how dangerous it was. Some of the top black belts in Texas worked with me at these events. Black belts like Mr. Steve Powell from College Station, Mr. Raymond McCallum from Dallas,  Mr. John D. York, Mr. Keith Dundas,  Mr. David Berlad and Ms. Jane Ritchie from Houston, were part of my crew.

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    Mr. Ritchie with Linda McCartney at Wings Concert

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Joe Lewis, Ray McCallum, Larry Ritchie, Carol Long and Bill Wallace at Mr. Ritchie's karate tournament in 80's

In 1985, I, along with my black belt staff, decided to leave the Black Belt Academy organization and go our own way. That was not an easy decision to make. There were a lot of hurt feelings for a long time after that; however, things worked out for the best. We named our new organization "American Black Belt Academy" to show that we were taking a new path yet still retaining a link to our roots.

Since that time, my staff of instructors and I have continued our effort to turn out strong martial artists. We have kept our standards high, while watching others continually lowering theirs. The following is a list of martial artists earned their black belts the old fashion way; they worked for them:"

Left to right to: 

Mike Gilbert, Kevin Lavorgna, Doug Wilson, Carol Long, Larry Ritchie, John Epling, Rick Williams, Sally Morales.

Jane E. Ritchie

Henery Spafford   2nd Dan

Doug Wilson

Mike Gilbert   2nd Dan

Rick Williams

Kevin Lavorgna   2nd Dan

Mathew Burcham   2nd Dan

Nathan Burcham   2nd Dan

Scott Holman III   3rd Dan

Stevie Caruana   2nd Dan

Lisa Worley

Julie Stauffer 2nd Dan

Elizabeth Udeh 3rd Dan

Rosie Udeh  3rd Dan

Junior Black Belts

Blake Perry

Dustin Fargason

Justin Prenk

Nathan Prenk

Tony Torlucci

Stevie Caruana                    

Jeff McRae

Kevin W. Scott

Tracy Spafford

Carol Long   3rd Dan

John Epling   2nd Dan

Sally Morales

Miles McKeller

Drew Scoggin

Jeannie Parker

Doug Walrath 2nd Dan

John W. Darner 2nd Dan

Daniel Smith

Wanda Reves 4th Dan

Amanda Tuscan 2nd Dan


Corey Moore

Jonathan Thomas

Micky Smith

Ryan Snider

Wesley McDaniel 2nd Dan


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