Biography - JC Burris
by Sensei Scott Shamblin
One of the highest virtues in
the martial arts is that of the combination of the warrior and the
scholar. This idea is espoused in every thing from the teachings of
such classics as Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, and Musashi,
Miyamoto’s A Book of Five Rings, to the opening and closing
salutation of most traditional Chinese and Japanese kata. It is
this philosophical idea of balance that we, as martial artists,
should constantly try to ascribe to. However, very few of us
actually ever achieve it.
J.C. Burris is one such
individual who has found this balance. As a long time educator as
well as an outstanding martial artist, he is a rare combination of
the very essence of the warrior/scholar idea.
In 1964, as a student at the
University of Tennessee, Mr. Burris’s first love was baseball. However, as a result of a pitching injury to his elbow at the age of
twelve, he became what is known as a “sore arm pitcher”. After
successfully pitching for one year at UT, and experiencing elbow
pain following every game, he realized that it was time to find
another sport. He began playing golf, soft ball and also coaching
Little League to stay active, but baseball had consumed his life up
to that point, and he missed it.
That is when his roommate
tried to talk him into taking karate lessons. He was hesitant at
first, but agreed to go and watch his friend workout. What he saw
made an impression on the nineteen year old, and about a month
later, one weekend when his roommate was gone, he signed up for
classes with Harold Long in Knoxville, TN.
J.C. Burris began his study of
Isshin-Ryu Karate in 1965 at the Harold Long School of Karate in
downtown Knoxville. The now famous dojo at the corner of Gay and 5th
Avenue was a breeding ground for some of the most talented and
respected karate-ka in the southeast United States. Talented
individuals such as Cas Cox, Maurice Msarsa, Allen Wheeler, Tommy
True, Glen Webb, and so many others, were students there; all under
the guidance and direction of Mr. Harold Long.
The dojo itself was located
upstairs, and had a main floor and kumite area where the windows
were covered with bamboo sticks so that no one would fall out onto
the street. Mr. Long’s dojo was open Monday through Friday from
12:00 noon until 9:00 at night, and on Saturday from 9:00 to 12:00
noon. The curriculum consisted of Chart I and II, 10 reps to each
side, at the beginning of each workout. Then kata practice. Any
new parts to kata were practiced 20 times before it was added to the
rest of the kata. Kumite was the main focus. The students there
were fighters. “Armor” (protective equipment – as Mr. Long called
it), short of a groin cup, was not allowed. Heavy contact knife
defense and street techniques were also regular training at the
Harold Long School of Karate. It was into this environment that
J.C. Burris fell in love with Isshin-Ryu Karate, and began his
life-long commitment to his art, and to his teacher.
(Grand Master Harold
Long / Cas Cox / JC Burris)
While still a student at
the University of Tennessee, he also worked part time for Mayfield
Dairy Farms in the Maryville, TN area. It was at this time that he
was befriended by a small group of young men who, knowing he held a
black belt in karate, expressed a strong interest in the art. One
day in July, one of the men named Lewis Simerly (who later on became
Mr. Burris’s first black belt) came to watch J.C. workout at Mr. Long’s dojo and see karate first hand. While there he spoke with
Mr. Long about the possibility of having someone come to Maryville
to teach. Mr. Burris’s name came up as a possibility,
and Lewis offered to find a building to house a dojo. Although
J.C. felt that he wasn’t quite ready for such a
responsibility, in August of 1967 he opened his first dojo in
Mr. Burris taught for years in
Maryville after graduating from UT, and continued to train at Mr. Long’s dojo on off-nights. In 1968 Mr. Burris relocated back to his
home in McMinn County and began teaching English and coaching
baseball at the now defunct Calhoun High School. In 1972 he assumed
the same duties at the McMinn County High School in Athens, TN. As
a baseball coach he had a very successful ten year career.
During the meantime he had also finished a Master’s Degree in School
Administration. He soon began teaching karate at the Athens
YMCA, while also continuing to make the sixty-plus mile trip to
Maryville to teach there as well.
(J.C. Burris / Angi Uezu
/ Harold Long -
This picture was taken
in Knoxville, TN -1967 at Master Harold Long's dojo)
Teaching and practicing
Isshin-Ryu had become a passion for the young karate instructor. During that time period he was training and teaching constantly. For many years Mr. Burris never turned down a request for a
demonstration or a class. At one time he was teaching at both the
Athens and Mayville dojo; operating a class at Cleveland State
Community College, teaching the football teams in two different
neighboring counties AND teaching the Athens City Police
Department. On top of this, Mr. Burris still regularly found time
to travel back up to Knoxville to train with Mr. Long, and compete
in karate tournaments.
For the first ten to twelve
years of his karate experience, tournaments were the main focus of
his training. Noted as a tough competitor, Mr. Burris
racked up an impressive list of wins at a time when karate
tournaments were few and far between, and competing meant traveling.
An outstanding competitor in
both kata and kumite, J.C. Burris won numerous trophies in
competition. Some of his wins included the “Tennessee State
Championships,” in 1969 and the “Tarheel U.S.K.A Championship,” in
1970. J.C. placed 1st, 2nd, or 3rd
in the Tarheel tournament for four consecutive years. During the
middle and late 60s, he competed in practically every tournament the
Harold Long School of Karate attended. Then, in the late 60s
and early 70s he took his own students to competitions under the
auspices of the Harold Long School of Karate.
(JC Burris / Steve
Armstrong / Scott Shamblin)
The first tournament that Mr. Burris sponsored was in 1971. It was a small event hosted at the
Athens YMCA dojo. Schools from Cleveland, Knoxville, Maryville,
Athens, Johnson City, and Harriman, TN gathered together to
compete. There was no entry fee. This was a warm up for the first
Southeast Isshin-Ryu Karate Championship which began the following
year. The name was later changed to the Athens Karate Games, and
for several years was the third largest karate tournament in the
southeast, behind the Battle of Atlanta and the Battle of Nashville. The tournament has been on-going since that time, with 2010 marking
its 39th year.
Mr. Burris stated that during
his early years his own training and competitive nature dictated the
type of students that he trained. His students were much like him:
they were young, athletic and competitive. Both teacher and
students began to rack up an impressive list of wins, but as a
teacher he had not yet learned to deal with younger and older
students who did not share the same outlook on karate training as
did he. As his need for competition began to diminish, the true
educator in him began to emerge. It was this emergence that would
define his legacy, from that time forward, as both a teacher and a
leader in the martial arts.
Eventually, as family and
career obligations began to demand more time, Mr. Burris began
trying to stream-line. Turning the reigns of the Maryville dojo
over to his top student Lewis Simerly, Mr. Burris began to
concentrate on effective teaching methods, both in karate and in the
public school system as well. He continued a whirlwind of
training, teaching, coaching, organizational and administration
work, tournament promotion and building a family.
Early on Mr. Long began to
recognize the leadership abilities of J. C. Burris. Around 1975,
after a reorganization of the International Isshin-Ryu Karate
Association, Mr. Long noted the success of the Burris dojos, both in
membership and in competition, and asked that J.C. assist with the
operations of the organization. Mr. Burris agreed, and began to
spend more time on the roads back and forth to Knoxville to be with
Mr. Long. Mr. Long named him to be his “executive secretary.” It
was to be a role that he would fill for the next several years, as
well as that of president of the IIKA.
On August 5, 1978, Mr. Burris
married Carol Powers. In 1980, after teaching Isshin-Ryu for many
years at the YMCA, J.C. and Carol realized their dream of opening
their own commercial dojo in Athens. The first Athens Isshin-Ryu
Karate School was located at 118 North White Street. Over the years
the location and the name changed to the Burris Martial Arts
Center. During their teaching years in Athens, the Burris’s
produced many excellent instructors and students.
Presently J.C. Burris is the
chairman of the board of directors of the IIKA. The chairmanship
was passed on to him along with a 9th Dan ranking by
Harold Long in February, 1988. At that time Mr. Long announced his
pending retirement and that Mr. Burris was to assume his role of
leadership in Isshin-Ryu. In a ceremony at the Athens dojo
during class, Mr. Long tied his original red belt on Mr.
On June 21, 1992, while still
principal of the McMinn County High School, Mr. Burris received his
Ed. D in educational leadership from Nova University in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. His dissertation was the result of an experimental
field research study designed to improve the self-esteem, grades,
attendance and disciplinary referrals of students at risk of
dropping out of school.
In 1993 Mr. Long and Mr. Don
Nagle united to announce their retirements in Elkton, Maryland. In
an elaborate signing ceremony, they jointly named Mr. Burris of the
Harold Long lineage, Toby Cooling and Joel Buchholtz of the Don
Nagle lineage, to cooperate with one another in leading these
organizations. Mr. Cooling and Mr. Buchholtz were promoted to 9th
Dan at that ceremony.
In 1997, about a year before
his death, Mr. Long hand wrote a certificate designating Mr. Burris
as 10th Dan. He gave it to J.C.’s wife Carol to keep
until after his death. Fearing that there would be those who would
claim that it was not authentic, she asked Mr. Long to write to
someone he trusted telling him of this Ju-Dan designation. Mr.
Long agreed that it was a good idea, and he wrote a letter to Mr.
Tommy True confirming his designation.
Again, just before his death
in 1998, Mr. Long re-affirmed his appointment with yet another rank
certificate for Ju-Dan dated September 23, 1998.
Today Mr. Burris continues on
as chairman of the board of directors of the IIKA, but after over
twenty years of handling the daily operations of running the
organization, has turned those operations over to Mr. Tommy True, 9th
Dan, who functions as president.
Mr. Burris’s role as chairman
is clear and well defined. His leadership focus is to ensure that
the association continues to perpetuate the art of Isshin-Ryu, as
established by Grand Master Harold Long, in its traditional form. In a time when Isshin-Ryu Karate is being redefined by some, it has
become imperative to him as the ranking leader, that the IIKA should
not lose focus on the heart of Isshin-Ryu, which is primarily the
study and the training of the kata.
He also serves as chairman of
the board of directors of the Isshin-Ryu Hall of Fame (IHOF). Mr. Burris has said that he believes that the IHOF is the single best
attempt ever made to unite Isshinryu Karate. Beginning in 1979 as
an IIKA activity, now the IHOF belongs to all of Isshinryu. Being a
part of the Hall of Fame from its inception, Mr. Burris is very
proud of what it has been able to achieve.
The Athens Karate Games
completed 40 years of competitive Isshin-ryu last March. JC
and Carol Burris have partnered to produce the premier Isshin-ryu
tournament in the south.
Burris is currently instructing Kobudo classes to San-Dans and above
for the purpose of eventual Kobudo instructor certification.
The IIKA has assigned Scott Shamblin the responsibility of working
out details for the program and dates for the seminars.
San-dans and above are eligible for certification upon completing
the series of seminars and "initial certifications" for each kata.
Four kata seminars have been completed at this date- Tokomeni no
kun, Kusanku sai, Tuifa, and Urashie no kun. The fifth
training will take place in April of this year. Sensei
Shamblin presents kata history from his research at each gathering.
Karate Association- www.iika.com)
In 2008, Mr. Burris published
his first book, The Last Lesson (The Go-kui of Isshin-Ryu). This book was written specifically for his students. It is a
practical guide to advanced training for black belts, a look at the
future for beginners, and a Master’s guide to the concepts of
Go-kui. It also chronicled Mr. Burris’s early years, as well as
dealt with his philosophy on teaching and practicing Isshin-Ryu.
For those who have had the honor of training with him, it is a
Last Lesson (The Go-kui of Isshin-Ryu)
Over the years Mr. Burris has
accomplished much and has received many honors and awards for his
efforts. While the list is indeed long and distinguished,
these are not the things that he is most proud of. (Or, for
that matter, he will even speak of in conversation.) One
cannot talk to J.C. Burris for any length of time without
knowing exactly where his heart is.
It is with his family, his
students, and his devotion to preserving Isshin-Ryu Karate. Without
question, his wife Carol and his children are his first priority in
life. Teaching is his philosophy and his way of life. When he
teaches, students learn. He attributes his success to a simple
formula – teach the basics. He has often said that nothing in
karate is more honorable than training and teaching. All other
activities in karate are only secondary. His pride has always
been in his student’s achievements. In regards to preserving the
legacy handed down to him by Grand Master Harold Long, he is
unwavering. Where others have strayed far from the path, J.C.
Burris continues to stay the course.
The following poem was
written By Grand Master JC Burris in 1975
Master JC Burris can be contacted at the following email address: