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Master Carol Burris / Isshin-Ryu Karate-Do


Master Carol Burris


         Occupation: Elementary School Counselor


·     Began Training August, 1976


·     Tournament competitor 1976-1984.  Placed 1st 2nd in every tournament event winning over 200 + trophies.  Some of those events include the IIKA National, Battle of Atlanta, Battle of Nashville, UKS Championships, and numerous tournaments throughout the Southern states.


(Carol Burris)


·     Promoted to rank of Black Belt by Master Harold Long and Master J.C. Burris 1978


·     First Female to receive Red and White Belt Rank – 6th Degree Black belt 1994


·     First Female to go before IIKA Board of Directors for Roku-dan rank testing


·     First Female elected to a major karate board of directors – Elected to I.I.K.A. Board of Directors 1989


·     One of First two Females Inducted into Isshinryu Hall of Fame 1998


·     Recipient International Isshinryu Hall of Fame Instructor of the Year Award


·     Received 7th Dan rank 1998


·     Inducted in the World Head of Family Sokeship Council International Marital Arts Hall of Fame – Female Pioneer 1996


·     Traveled extensively throughout the Southern States competing and serving as ambassador for females in the martial arts.


·     Founder and organizer “Ladies of Isshinryu” – After presenting my idea to the IIKA Board of Directors I was encouraged to pursue planning the events.  This year we had our annual workout in January, 2007 in Athens, Tennessee, hosted by Stephanie Huskey.  Check the IIKA website for the date and location of our next Ladies of Isshinryu meeting.


·     Co-owner Burris Martial Arts Center – 25 years


·     Adjunct Faculty member Tennessee Wesleyan College and Cleveland State Community College teaching Beginning karate, Advanced karate, and Ladies Self-Defense classes.


·     Carol Burris was promoted to Hachi-Dan in 2010.



(Ladies of Isshinryu Workout)


            Martial arts experience: I started training in 1976 in the basement of my sensei’s house.  I was scared for anyone to see me doing those extremely odd moves because I felt like I had no control of my body.  I remember so vividly how odd my ankles felt as Sensei would repeatedly adjust my stance.  My parents had always instilled in me that I was to act like the lady I wanted to be, and in the beginning of my martial arts training that was far from what I thought I was doing.  Kicking and punching repeatedly…and at times a little squeak would come from my mouth.  Then the day came, my Sensei told me I was going to the YMCA to workout with the class.  I was scared to death but…… that was the beginning of a life changing experience for me.  The dojo had no air, no heat, and had a dirty concrete floor.  It smelled absolutely horrible when you first entered the room, but I quickly found out that the smell would subside as I began to look forward to the dojo atmosphere.


            Teaching experience:  I have had the pleasure of instructing hundreds of students throughout my karate life. As co-owner of the Burris Martial Arts Center for 25 years I had the privilege of teaching adults of the dojo, but the most rewarding experience for me personally was having the responsibility of developing our children’s program.  During the era of my “children’s classes,” marketing karate had not taken the forefront as it now has.  Our children’s classes were always in demand; most of the time we had to have the “waiting list” for many children wanting to start our classes.  Taking summer off for the students of the class, physically and financially, was the norm.


            My philosophy for teaching children has always been to treat the child as the person he/she is becoming,  all the while understanding they are developing their attitudes, their own personalities, and the possible love for Isshinryu Karate. 


            Having served as adjunct faculty member at Cleveland State Community College in the 70’s and early 80’s, I taught the beginning karate classes as well as regular ladies self-defense classes in Bradley and McMinn County.  I served on the Tennessee Wesleyan College adjunct faculty staff as the Isshinryu Karate Instructor.  Proudly, I watched the classes grow from small in numbers to demands for additional slots. I’ve always been able for some reason to get individuals excited about their karate.  I am proud today of students who started with me as children and are now serving as Sensei for their own students.   



            Ranks: .In 1978 Master Harold Long and Master J.C. Burris promoted me to the rank of Black Belt.  This occurred at Mr. Allen Wheeler’s dojo in Powell, Tennessee.  My Sensei J.C. Burris had arranged for Mr. Long to tie the same black belt on me that he had tied on Sensei Burris in the 60’s.  


            Training background:   I started karate in 1976.  My Sensei is Master J.C. Burris.  

I remember my first tournament as a white belt.  Lewis Simerly walked by me when I was standing around the ring waiting to begin competition.  He grabbed my hands because I was shaking terrible….only he let go of my hands quickly because both had sweat dripping from them…..sweat from fear.  I won first place in kata (I ran Seisan kata) at that tournament and then….. I was hooked.  Training every day, 6-7 days a week, we would train in Athens on Mon/Thurs, Cleveland on Tues, drive to Knoxville to work out with Mr. Long or Mr. Wheeler on Wednesdays, Friday was easy because I would run through kata lightly, if preparing for Saturday competitions.  If I weren’t competing that weekend we would drive to Maryville or Knoxville to workout.  Sundays were spent reviewing how I could improve.   Most every weekend we traveled somewhere in the Southern States for competition.  During this era flying places was not affordable for me.  We drove everywhere we went during my decade of competition. 


            As a white belt the thing I dreaded most was the kiai.  It just wasn’t something I was comfortable doing yet. I wanted so desperately to do things right and I knew my kiai was far from right….it sounded like a mouse squeaking.  I would drive back and forth to work, windows rolled up, no air conditioning in my car, practicing my kiai. I had to get over the fear of others thinking I was not lady like.


            The Battle of Atlanta 1977 as green belt was another experience……… I lined up and all around the ring 3 DEEP were competitors.  I had never seen anything like it …….my Sensei was off in the distance with Joe Corley.  I remember to this day feeling so overwhelmed with the moment.  I sat forever (ALL DAY) waiting to compete.  I won first place in kata and we had to take the trophy apart because it would not fit in my Mustang.  At that time 6 foot trophies were unheard of and I had the first.  I was so excited and started feeling a sense of accomplishment. 


            The Battle of Nashville with Roy Hinkle was always a favorite.  I won so many first place trophies attending this tournament in Kata and Kumite but never weapons.  The first time I ran Urashi Bo….I forgot the last part of the kata and had to keep working so that I could end up facing the judges… I placed third.


            The IIKA Nationals were a favorite and I placed first in Kata and Kumite at this event repeatedly in the 70’s and early 80’s. I remember the excitement when returning for the finals....the final events were held in the evening hours.  Tournaments lasted FOREVER it seemed…all day and up until later in the evening.  Sensei and I were one of the first to move from having “the finals” in the evening.  Our society was changing directions and our karate tournaments needed to as well.  Everyone was thrilled when we began having the “black belt finals” in the afternoon!


            I won over 200 trophies and my husband was always commenting on the dust collectors, so since I couldn’t keep the dust off I got rid of the problem………     I gave trophies away, threw some away, but kept the ones that meant so much to me personally.


            The Athens, TN tournament was always fun.  My mother came one time… watch me…. I was fighting Nancy Toby…. Mother came to ring because I was hitting someone and ….. she was hitting me.  I will never forget the look on her face between matches  when she said….. I can’t believe you are doing this.  My mom was a true Southern belle…. secretly though, she was delighted that I, her little Southern Belle, was learning to defend myself.  I lost that fight to Nancy Toby but I gained even more that day from my mother.  Her approval was as important to me as my training.  Mom died in 1980.


            Ben Kiker’s tournaments were on the list of competitions.  Bob Hill was at one tournament and made the comment that I did the best Isshinryu kata he had ever seen.  I was thrilled!!!! Mr. Wheeler asked Mr. Burris repeatedly what style had I trained in before Isshinryu, and he continued to say Isshinryu Kata just doesn’t look that good.  What a compliment!  It seems that the hard work was paying off.


            Mr. Wheeler’s tournaments were fun, but one particular tournament I didn’t enter.  We had been to Maryville on Friday night before the tournament…….I was going to do like everyone else in the dojo…even though I hadn’t been training like the students at the Maryville Dojo….. they began warm-ups……I will never forget Bruce Guillaume looking at me saying you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to….I was about to find out why he made that very kind gesture….…I did 200 pushups and 200 crunches that night…just like most everyone else in the class…….  Needles to say, I didn’t compete that weekend…..heck I could barely breathe……..but I didn’t tell anyone else except my Sensei how much pain I was in……..after all, I was the female setting the example.  It took me one week of shallow breathing, very little upper body movement, and a lot of self talk to recover from “the Maryville workout.”


            I became known throughout the tournament circuit as the black belt lady with “that punch” when fighting and “those piercing eyes” when performing kata.  This was a time when women didn’t stay in martial arts.  The tournament circuit consisted of traveling here in the South.  To get on a plane and fly somewhere was out of the question.  But there was a lot to be accomplished in the South, and I took it upon myself to make a difference.  Quickly, I was expected by the ranking men of Isshinryu to lead the way for the females in our region.


            Because I was the southern Isshinryu lady, Master Harold Long was extremely demanding.  Many weekends were spent doing the things that Mr. Long felt needed to be done to forward Isshinryu Karate.  I worked hard in martial arts training and I can only speculate that he recognized that in me.  I know for sure that he did not cut me any slack when teaching self defense moves.  To this day I still have “the place” on my shin caused by Master Long’s forceful leg blocks.  My neck would be bruised and sore from the attacks to the throat area.  But I was determined to do like the men in martial arts.  I would not let anyone “out do” me in the dojo.  I remember telling myself at times, if they hit you hard …hit them back harder….. and harder….until they stop.  It worked most of the time.


            Because of my abilities with the typewriter…..remember this is the 70’s…… Mr. Long and Mr. Burris thought it was best for me to type all of the IIKA newsletters.  That was an experience.  We meet after the final product was complete to “stuff” envelopes for mailing.   After years of typing the quarterly newsletter, I was able to talk Mr. Long and Mr. Burris into taking the info to a print shop.  They really liked the idea and agreed the newsletter certainly had the professional look we trying to accomplish.   Many weekends were spent in Knoxville with Mr. Long doing things to push Isshinryu forward.


            Training with Glen Webb was always a delight.  He was frightening at first because he just looked at me with piercing eyes…never saying a word…. It was like I had to prove myself.  I’ll never forget Barcoots tourney in S.C….. Glenn was there, he and Sensei were watching me run kata.  After the event Mr. Webb walked over to me and asked what are you doing with your head what is your interpretation? “It doesn’t move. Keep it straight ahead and move only your eyes,” he stressed.


            Master Wheeler always had such excellent self-defense techniques when he taught class.  One regret I have is that I didn’t take the advice of my Sensei JC Burris….after each workout with Master Wheeler he suggested that I start a notebook of self-defense techniques.  I didn’t, much to my regret, because at that time I thought….geezz, I’ll never forget these….. well, no further explanation is needed if you are in my age bracket.


            My Sensei, Master JC Burris, has been the most influential force in my karate.  He is tough with expectations but encouraging when a student is trying to meet those expectations. He provides insight to all aspects of our style and at the same time instills the desire in individuals to learn more about our art.  


            I retired from competition in the mid 80’s.  My children were older and actually started training with me in the children’s class.  I felt it was time to concentrate on giving to my students rather than for me to continue performing competitively.  That is when the true enjoyment started.  Watching my students and my children, Lindy and Andy, progress through the ranks was so rewarding.  Having a “Black belt” family is just another example of what my karate has done for me personally.  The experiences we shared as a family traveling to events is something that I will cherish forever.


            My role in the martial arts changed considerably after retiring from competition.  I knew that I was expected to teach others our style and I became driven to produce an excitement in every student I instructed. Years passed and my level of involvement grew and then the time came for a “female” to be recognized as a master….to wear the red and white belt. For years, there was discussion about the subject of “females” moving to this rank.  I was informed that I was to be tested for the rank of 6th degree black belt.  The testing would be done by a group of men, the IIKA Board of Directors, and if I met the requirements they would promote me.  The test was held in Nashville, TN.  I have never been through such an experience.  I was totally exhausted after the testing that lasted for hours.  Performing empty hand kata, weapons, bunkai, and discussing history of our style were areas covered.  I remember so vividly that the moment I would finish answering a question another person would ask me something else.  Performing kata …oh my…… slow motion, then I was to run the kata with interpretation.  When the day was over I was exhausted. But I knew without a doubt I had performed well for myself and for the women of Isshinryu Karate.  I was promoted. Mr. Long was excited when he congratulated me, and I was proud when, with the same tone he had used when he promoted me to black belt, he said, “It’s long overdue.” 


            As I think of my years in karate it is amazing how the decades have brought such change.  From starting the IIKA newsletters on a typewriter to having web pages.  The mystique of karate has since been replaced with the commercialism for many dojos. But even with change, a natural occurrence, my advice to women interested in this art is to train hard, set demanding expectations for yourself, and most importantly, never doubt your ability to reach your goals.


            The decades of training and teaching others have developed in me a strong appreciation of Isshinryu as a way of life.


            The Athens Karate Games (Isshin-ryu karate tournament) last 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.


            Carol Burris organized "Ladies of Isshin-ryu" in the early 90s as an IIKA group. It has now grown to involve the ladies of Isshin-ryu attending the Isshin-ryu Hall of Fame each year. For the past three years, the Isshin-ryu Hall of Fame has featured the "Ladies" group as one of the seminar groups on the afternoon of the awards banquet. The Ladies of Isshin-ryu Seminar will again be featured this year at the IHOF, which is returning to Gatlinburg, TN, this year.


            Carol continues her work as an IIKA board member, where she serves on the IIKA Nationals committee. For many years, her priority goal has been to promote the work of Isshin-ryu ladies and to help them to understand the role they can play in the local dojos as well as on the national scene. She presently teaches a beginners class, and she periodically teaches ladies self-defense classes.



(Isshin-Ryu Hall Of Fame - 2005)


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