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JC Burris, Ju-Dan Isshin-Ryu Karate Do




Name: James C.  Burris, Jr.


Martial arts experience: 45 years, Started Isshin-Ryu in 1965


Instructor:  Grand Master Harold Long


Teaching experience: Over 40 years


Ranks: Ju-Dan, Isshin-Ryu Karate-Do


Training background:  Isshin-Ryu Karate


Notable Awards:

  • Induction into the Isshinryu Hall of Fame

  • Instructor of the Year

  • Spirit of Isshinryu Award

  • Inducted into the World Head of Family Sokeship Council


 Educational Background:  University of Tennessee BS

 1967, University of Tennessee MS 1972, NOVA

 Southeastern University Ed.D 1992



Professional History: English teacher, baseball coach 14

 years, educational administration 30 years, presently

 Principal of Armuchee High School in Rome, GA


Family History:

  • Spouse---Carol Powers Burris

  • Children---Andy Burris, Lindy Burris, Casey Idol, Heidi Ables








(Grand Master JC Burris)


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 Maryville, TN. 


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.  Burris. 


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.


JC 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.



(International Isshin-Ryu Karate Association-


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 valued treasure. 


The 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




 Grand Master JC Burris can be contacted at the following email address:

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