Texas Karate History
After Jhoon Rhee moved from Texas to Washington D.C. Allen Steen and Pat
Burleson would become the focus of Texas karate. While Rhee was the one who planted
the seed for karate in Texas, Steen was the tree that grew from it. Even after Master Rhee
moved, Steen and Burleson provided him with top quality Texan black belts that enabled
Rhee to build his empire.
Allen Steen attended one of Rhee's demonstrations in the fall of 1959.
"He (Rhee) side kicked one of the support beams in the gymnasium and cracked the
veneer on it all the way to the top - some 20 or 30 feet", remembers Steen. Having
done some boxing, this karate looked like something Steen wanted to try. 90 percent of the
attendees that day signed up for the $5 a semester classes.
Mr. Rhee was a third-degree black belt when he arrived in the U.S. and in Korea first
and second degree black belts were not allowed to teach. Rhee had little experience in
teaching, but had a lot of experience in military life having been a captain in the Korean
Army, so he ran his class like a military boot camp. "He was a strict
disciplinarian," stated Steen,"On every exercise you wanted to quit, but Rhee
would always get you to gut out one more push-up or sit-up. We spent over two months in
basic stances before we did anything else. As a result, I was a white belt for nine
During that time finances were tight for Steen and he didn't have money do much of
anything except go to his classes and karate. He worked out everyday and built himself up
from 6 foot 2, 150 pounds to 200 pounds of solid muscle. His competitiveness grew from
karate and would later help him in business. After he earned his brown belt, Steen began
to give private lessons when ever he returned home to Dallas. After he graduated from
college, he moved back to Dallas and opened his first karate school, The Jhoon Rhee
Institute of Karate, in June of 1962 close to Southern Methodist University. Shortly after
that he returned to Mr. Rhee and pasted a grueling three hour exam to earn his black belt.
Of the original 184 students in Rhee's class, only 6 reached this level of proficiency.
Steen would carry on his teachers tough tradition and added additional tasks of his own
to his test. He also separated from Rhee and named his school the "Texas Karate
Institute". The Korean system of karate along with the tough nature of Texans
resulted in what was known as "Blood-N- Guts Karate". Thus Steen developed a
reputation for excessive training methods and now admits he was too rough on his students
in those days.
In 1963 he held his first tournament that was to become the prestigious United States
Karate Championships. He called it the Texas Karate Championships that year and, as was
the custom then, he entered his tournament and won first place. His tournament was one of
the first open format where all styles were welcomed. Over the years Steen's tournament
would grow to rival Ed Parker International Karate Champions in Long Beach as the largest
karate tournament in the U.S. In 1964 his tournament attracted 133 contestants from 32
schools and drew 2,100 spectators. In a classic match for 1st place in the black belt
division, Steen battled Keith See into multiple overtimes before losing and settling for
2nd place. Mike Stone swept the brown belt division. By 1973 Steen's tournament had grown
to the second largest in the U.S. That year 1,047 competed and were watched by 8,000
spectators. A visionary, Steen was the first promoter to have a women's division and team
In the 1960's Steen established himself as one of the premier fighters in early
American karate history. He went on to win 30 major titles with his ferocity in the ring
that was matched be his athletic talent. He defeated both Chuck Norris and Joe Louis on
his way to winning the Grand Championship in 1966 at Ed Parker's prestigious Long Beach
International Tournament. That same year he was a member of the victorious U.S. National
Karate Team competing in Hawaii. Also in 1966 Black Belt Magazine rated him one of
the top ten fighters in the U.S. Steen's favorite fighting technique was the skip up side
kick and he would knock his opponents out of the ring with it. In 1967 he retired from
Steen took bits and pieces of other fighting arts and molded them into a uniquely
American martial arts system. It was at this time that many decided to call this style
"American Karate" or "American Tae Kwon Do". At the height of his
empire he ran 9 Texas Karate Institutes and had interest in 20 others schools in the
southwest and in Europe. He produced some of the finest black belts in the U.S. who
started schools throughout the country or were hired away by Jhoon Rhee to run his karate
schools. They include super fighters Pat Burleson, Skipper Mullins, Mike Anderson, Fred
Wren, and Roy Kurban. They were a fighting Texas dynasty. Other Steen black belts include
Keith Yates, D.P. Hill, Richard
Jenkins, Royce Young, James Toney, Mickey Fisher, Larry Caster, Art Heller,
Candy Simpson, his brother Mike Steen and many more. Steen's students above produced
another generation of accomplished martial artists that includes Walt Bone, James Butin,
George Buckner, Phyllis Evetts, Jim Harkins, Demetrius Havanas, Harold Gross, Larry
Ritchie, Chuck Loven, Ray McCallum, Jim & Jenice Miller, George Minshew, Rick Vaughn,
Jeff Smith, and Pat & John Worley.
In 1967 Steen created the Southwest Karate Black Belt Association. The Association grew
so large and so national that it no longer was really a Southwest?
association, but an American association. So in 1972 the name was changed to the American
Karate Black Belt Association. It became one of the largest and most dynamic martial arts
associations in the world with over 10,000 members. He attempted to unite all the karate
organizations in the country with the blessing of Robert Trias and the USKA, but was
unsuccessful due mainly to the egos involved.
Steen brought professionalism to karate schools as his were first class. His
innovations in the dojo include wall to wall mats in the workout areas, saunas, and
glassed in offices. Steen became disillusioned with the business of karate as unqualified
$400.00 karate schools began to pop on every corner. "A guy would go out and paint
the word "karate" on the side of a building with water colors and open a
dojo", he said with disgust. "What's the use of opening one for $400,000?"
Some of his top black belts broke away from him to open their own schools. This he took
personally but later realized that their emulation was a compliment.
In 1976, after many years of successful karate school chain ownership and operation,
and successful tournament promotion, Allen Steen started to look to other business
avenues, and went into the oil business. He began to divest his vast holdings in the
karate schools and tournaments to various students and friends. Over the years he has
given private lessons to small groups of students. The Texas Martial Arts Hall of Fame
named Steen "The Father of Texas" when he was enshrined. A member of the Who's
Who in the Martial Arts, Allen Steen positive contributions to the art of karate continue
to be felt.
In April 2000 Allen Steen held the biggest karate reunion every in the U.S. His
"Allen Steen Event
Millennium Karate 2000" was attended by many of the greatest martial
artistes in American. The competitive fire still burns in Grand Master Steen,
as he is a top rated world class competitive shotgun shooter.
J. Pat Burleson :
The first black belt Allen Steen ever issued was to J. Pat Burleson. Together
they would team up to dominate Texas karate as Steen's territory was the Dallas area and
Burleson's was Fort Worth. Mr. Burleson began his martial arts training while in the Navy
in 1957 in Japan. Having boxed as a youngster and competed in the Golden Gloves
Championships while in high school, he became a boxing champion for the Navy. While
stationed in Iwakuni, Japan, his curiosity in the fighting styles of the Orient lead him
to begin studying different fighting techniques. Mr. Burleson first studied wado-ryu
(meaning way of harmony) style of karate. While in Asia he trained in several different
schools of karate and Chinese boxing. Returning to the states to his hometown of Ft.
Worth, Texas, Mr. Burleson worked out with the few ex-servicemen he could find that
trained in Asia.
He had already earned his red belt in Korean tang soo do when he met Allen Steen who
was a brown belt under Jhoon Rhee. Mr. Steen introduced Burleson to Mr. Rhee and he traded
in his red belt for one of Rhee's brown belts as he joined Rhee's system. In 1963, three
months after Rhee promoted Steen to black belt, he awarded his first black belt to
In 1964 Master Rhee held the first U.S. National Karate Championships in Washington
D.C. which Mr. Burleson won and became known as the 1st American Karate Champion. As he
was the first genuine star of the sport Burleson was also known as the Grandfather of
tournament karate. Mr. Burleson was rightfully feared on the karate tournament circuit and
won many more national titles. 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.
Mr. Burleson retired in 1966 from the tournament circuit due to a serious knee injury
he suffered, ironically, while fighting against Mr. Steen in a tournament. During the
match Mr. Burleson blew out his knee but refused to bow out, insisting he would finish the
match. As the match was restarted Burleson had to stand on his one good leg. Steen showed
no mercy as he flew across the ring and nailed him with his trade mark side kick that
knocked Burleson out of the ring. That is the only way either of these warriors would have
had it. In the early days of karate, Texas was known as the home of "Blood and Guts
karate", and was the toughest place to train and compete. Partly due to the rough
nature of Texans and partly due to the rough nature of Steen and Burleson, they developed
painfully long and hard belt exams and hard tournaments. It was not uncommon in those days
for a cowboy to walk into the dojo and call out the instructor to a fight. Mr. Burleson
made sure each of these doubters became converted to the validity of karate when they
regained consciousness. Burleson and Steen made sure their black belts would be able to
continue proving that their martial arts worked.
Mr. Burleson created the "belt-goal" karate system in 1964 that is used in
the American Karate System. Before his system most schools had only white, brown and black
belt ranking. The introduction of color belts in his system has resulted in the increase
of the number of karate students and increased retention.
As a sensei, Mr. Burleson has produced accomplished martial artists that include James
Butin, Phyllis Evetts, Chuck Loven, Larry Ritchie, Ron Moffett, Steve Stavroff, George
Minshew, Billy Watson, and Pam Watson. As a promoter he produced the Texas State
Championships and the Tournament of Champions. He recently promoted the Legends Tournament
in Ft. Worth and is a highly regarded referee. His acquaintances in the martial arts are a
virtual who's who that include the late Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Joe Lewis, Bob Wall, Jim
Harrison and many more.
A member of the Who's Who in the Martial Arts, and a recipient of two Karate
Hall of Fame awards. In the late 1970's Mr. Burleson moved from Texas but returned to his
roots in the late 1980's. Mr. Burleson still teaches karate at his school in Ft. Worth. He
conducts self defense seminars and special classes that in the past have ranged from
working with airline stewardesses to law enforcement personnel. Mr. Burleson is also a
highly sought out keynote speaker. In 1997 he was elected into the Texas Martial Arts Hall
of Fame. Grand Master Burleson makes regular appearances on Chuck Norris's
television show, "Walker Texas Ranger"
It is easy to estimate that more than half the current karate schools in Texas can
trace their roots back to Mr. Steen and Mr. Burleson.