Still Mind Martial Arts Masters Series (#3) Profile and Interview with Hanshi Richard Bernard
We are honored to bring you the next installment of our Still Mind Martial Arts Masters Series (#3) Hanshi Richard Bernard: Tournament Kata Champion. Hanshi (Chief Grand Master Instructor) Richard Bernard is a Judan (10th Degree Black Belt) in both Goju-Ryu and Shorin-Ryu. His Goju-Ryu teacher is Hanshi Ron Martin and his teacher is Hanshi Chuck Merriman. Hanshi Bernard also studied Goju-Ryu under Shihan Roger Wehrhahn and Shorin-Ryu under Hanshi Sali Azem. He has been training for 53 years, since 1968 and holds the additional titles of Kaicho (President) and Soke (Founder) of ShidokanUSA/Shidokan International.
Hanshi Bernard has won scores of tournaments with his specialties in karate and kobudo kata. He has graciously agreed to share some of his tournament experiences with us in the following video interview.
Video Interview with Hanshi Richard Bernard – Tournament Kata Champion
Attention to detail forces you to basically break down every movement into its finest terms. When you’re performing kata there’s a natural tendency, everyone has it, particularly under stressful conditions, either in demonstrations, testing or tournaments, deep down you want out before you’re in. It’s just natural, the stress and the pressure of the event kind of gets to you. So this forces you to slow everything down, not to the extent you lose fluidity, but you’re able to slow things down, demonstrate all the details, the finest points of each technique. And that in turn led to our students’ huge success in tournaments.– Hanshi Richard Bernard, Still Mind Martial Arts Masters Series Interview
Hanshi Richard Bernard’s Illustrious Tournament Career
Hanshi Bernard has competed in 137 tournaments to date. After a few tournaments in his early years he began competing in earnest on November 8, 2014. Since then he has competed in every tournament on three different circuits (Ippone, Twin State and SMART), as well as a number of other independent events.
In 2015 Hanshi Bernard was named the Twin State Competitor of the Year. In 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 he was named the International Karate Kobudo Federation Competitor of the Year, numerous Year End Divisional Point Championships and State Championships.
Hanshi has won and placed in so many karate tournaments that he has amassed an incredible collection of tournament “trinkets” as he calls them.
Hanshi Bernard Tournament Competition
Hanshi has graciously allowed us to post one of his current tournament kata videos that he is submitting to an online video tournament. When the Wuhan Coronavirus hit and everything was shut down for COVID lockdowns, many tournaments went online only and had the competitors submit videos.
His careful attention to detail is on full display in this powerful kata performance video. Enjoy!
Below are a couple of rare photos from one of Hanshi’s earlier sparring competitions at Jeff Wood’s tournament, which he mentioned in the video interview. He was 35 at the time.
Whistlekick Martial Arts Radio Interview
– Hanshi Richard Bernard
Episode #64 – March 6, 2016
How has your martial arts training helped you in your life?
Part of my past life included that I was a police officer in the town of Bedford, New Hampshire, and I basically was working part-time, but I was putting in so many hours part-time, they asked me if I would like to come on full-time and get the benefits of that. At the time, I was 42 years old, so it meant I’d have to go to the police academy for, at the time it was a 10-week academy.
So 42 years old, everyone else up there is gonna be 20-25, for the most part. They sent up another 42-year old from Bedford, a former Marine, which I have the highest respect for. I asked him. I said, “Are you getting ready for this academy?” He said, “Nah, I went to Parris Island. I’ll be able to deal with it, no problem.” I said, “Yeah, but that was like 20 years ago.”
So he went up, and he washed out the first day.
So now I’m going up to the next academy and it’s in alphabetical order. So last name, Bernard, I’m near the front of the line. We don’t have any uniforms on or anything at this point so they basically said, “Who are you and where are you from?” I said “I’m Richard Bernard from Bedford, New Hampshire.” They said, “Bedford, New Hampshire, what are they recruiting from the senior citizen home out there?” I saw the Lieutenant and the Sergeants. They were taking a pool, on what time that first day I would wash out. They were passing dollars amongst each other. When I saw that, I said, “Okay, that’s just what I need. Throw a little gas on my fire.” So the Lieutenant said, “What do you think about that, Bernard?” I said, “I don’t think you should take that bet, sir.”
So, the Academy proceeded and I was number one ranking, every week. It ended up, I came out of there with a number one ranking.
But the 6th week was my shining time. We’re in class and other departments were sending some regulars there to attend these particular classes. So there are the police chiefs, there were state police, there were fish and game, there were deputy sheriffs, and then this classroom of probably 46 remaining recruits. And the Lieutenant, he was a black belt in Taekwondo and he was kind of encouraging us to continue our physical training after we graduate. Like in his case, he took martial arts.
Then he said, “Does anyone else take martial arts?” No one wants to answer. So he says, “Honor code violation,” meaning if you do not answer truthfully, they will bounce you, and I already saw a couple booted. So three of us put up our hand. The first guy said, “I’m a green belt in Kempo.” He said, “Well alright, keep it up, keep training.” And then another guy, he said, “What are you?” He said “I’m a brown belt in Taekwondo.” So he said, “Oh, okay.” And he looks up and, the lighting is a little bit dim up at the back of the room, so he kinda squints and he said, “Hey, grandpa what are you?” At the time, I said, “I’m a Godan in Karate-do.” He says, “What? Speak English.” I said, “I’m a 5th degree black belt in Japanese Karate.”
At that point, he stopped teaching, he turned, and he bowed to me. Ahh, I get emotional when I talk about this. He apologized for not knowing. He said, “I should have known, I apologize sir.” And from that point out, I cruised through that academy. It was obvious to him who had training and he missed it. He said, “Oh, I should have known!” You know, 42 years old, finishing the first of the pack, what makes this guy tick?
And that was my day in the sun, right there.
They’re looking for the weak links, should there be any, cause they don’t want to put these guys out on the street and endanger themselves as well as their fellow officers and the general public. So by me finishing first every week – I finished first academically. At the end of the Academy I got an award and the town of Bedford gave me an award.
It started out, they did a lot of running and a lot of push-ups. I actually set a record up there for push-ups. And the running… I start at the back of the pack but then they were moving me up to the front with couple of recruits that just got out of the Marines. They’re in phenomenal shape. So, I’m in the front of the pack on the run. So I’d already proven myself and so, they knew that I had what it took to be an officer. So they kind of zeroed in on a few of the others that were questionable yet.
So basically, I had nothing left to prove at that point, I just continued to do what I had been doing, and as I said, I finished first academically. That was my goal when I went in. I just didn’t want to get through the academy. On weekends, when I came home, a lot of the guys maybe partied a little bit. I studied all weekend, all weekend-long. I studied for the test that was gonna be coming on Monday morning. I maintained my number one ranking for all 10 weeks. I’m not sure that was ever done before, up to that point. I just don’t know but… I was on a mission.
Karate has taught me to set your goals, set the bar high, and give it your best shot.
That I did.– Hanshi Richard Bernard as related in WhistleKick podcast
Do you have any martial arts books you recommend?
I read a book recently. It’s actually written by a Uechi stylist, that’s a competitor. He has a Uechi school, a couple of towns over, his name is Buzz Durkin. He runs the school consistently, 350-400 students. Tuition’s about $225 a month. He’s got the highest retention rate, I think in the world. No one quits his school – no one. So he wrote a book. You can sit down and read it in one sitting, it’s called The Martial Arts School Owner’s Guide to Teaching, Business and Life.
I’ve read it twice so far and I’m gonna read it again. I bought a copy for the seven schools within Shidokan. I bought a copy for each of the owners and I said, there’s something to be learned by reading this simple book this gentleman has. He teaches Uechi Karate, traditional school. There are only 8 kata in the whole system. They don’t do any extra, no upgrade, there’s no black belt clubs or anything like this. There’s just traditional Karate training, as simple as simple can get and no one quits that school. And he got the best retention so… I read it twice, like I said, and in fact I shared it with some of the people on the circuit recently. We were talking about the business piece of martial arts and then I said, “Hey, I just read a book; you gotta get it.” So this last tournament, a couple of them said, “Hey, we read that book and we passed it on to some of our students.” I never read anything more than once, but I’ve been sitting down to start this for the third time.
What do you do to develop relationships with the students, to hold onto them and the next generation, and the next generation. What do you do? You gotta be more than just the training. He relates that in his book, a gold nugget of information. I always knew he had the retention. I just didn’t quite know how he achieved it. And he was very forthcoming in the book, this is how I did it, and great, great information.– Hanshi Richard Bernard as related in WhistleKick podcast
What are your goals over the next several years?
Yeah. My organization, Shidokan USA [since 1996]. Right now there are seven schools. I’m looking to recruit more schools into that organization. We’ve got a Taekwondo school, we’ve got Shorin-ryu schools, we have Goju schools, so style is almost irrelevant. … Basically, I accredit curriculums, I license schools, I instruct the licensure certification, rank certification, and business development, is basically what Shidokan does.
What I did, I’ve been a member of quite a few organizations over the years when Mr. Martin was on his sabbatical. I had joined a number of different organizations and so when it came to the creation of Shidokan, which I created with my Shorin Ryu instructor from Laconia, New Hampshire. I wrote down okay, I’ve been a member of all these organizations, what are the bad points? What do I not want? Where do we not want to go? And what were the good points? So we kinda listed both of those. The bad points were as long as my leg and the good points were too few. So we developed an organization that invested interest in schools, not so much on the financial end, but if the school’s more successful, the organization becomes more successful.
Some of the organizations that I’m part of were making crazy demands. Let’s say I was a Goju stylist but then I joined a Shorin-ryu organization because I started studying Shorin-ryu as well and it’s my full-time profession. One of their requirements was okay we’re gonna come in and everyone puts on a white belt, starts fresh. You want me to go to a couple of hundred parents and tell them that their children who have been with me, you know, 6, 8, 10 years are no longer a 6th degree junior black belt and they’re gonna go back to white belt? Is that what you’re saying? Yeah, that’s it. I said, “There’s not gonna be a school. We could be a member of your organization but there’s not gonna be a school here shortly.” That just doesn’t make sense. So certain things like that. Demands that were absolutely insane on the business side. And none of these people were making their living doing professional martial arts, as far as in the trenches of the dojo.
So that’s how Shidokan came to be. And right now, we’ve got seven member schools. We’re always looking to recruit new schools.
Basically, if someone doesn’t have a teacher. If they have no future access to rank. If they’re interested in teaching licensure, basically we will license you through The International Organization of all Japan Karate-do Federation. I received an international licensure through them [in 1994], so that opened up the door for me to now be able to issue the same credentials through Shidokan. And for someone else, for whatever reason, if you don’t have a teacher. Now if you had a teacher and say “Well, I didn’t get promoted. So I left,” Shidokan is not interested in you. That’s an invalid reason. I’ve been there myself… No, no. Your teacher is your karate, martial arts dad. You just don’t walk out on your dad. You sit down at the table, hash out your differences, and you need to trust your teacher. Unless they’re giving you some absolutely, concrete reason not to, and those are few and far between from what I’ve seen out there. Yeah, someone whose teacher passed on or their teacher retired or they moved and have no further connection, they’d be a fine candidate for Shidokan.– Hanshi Richard Bernard as related in WhistleKick podcast
Black Belt Magazine Feature Article – Richard Bernard – Japanese GOJU vs. Okinawan GOJU
Black Belt Magazine – July, 1984
Japanese GOJU vs. Okinawan GOJU is an excellent article with photos, both by Joseph-David Carrabis. A few excerpts about some of the differences between the two versions of Goju-ryu are shared below and the full article may be seen in the PDF.
Richard Bernard is indeed unique. Although he teaches traditional Japanese Goju-ryu, he is quite familiar with Okinawan Goju as well. There are distinct differences between the two, he insists.
But first, what is traditional Japanese Goju-ryu? “I relate it to the system as it has been passed down since its founding by Chojun Miyagi,” Bernard says. “He was born in 1888 and died in 1953. The actual system of Goju-ryu was founded in the late 20’s. It’s a relatively new system. Sensei Miyagi was of Okinawan ancestry. He traveled to Japan where Gogen Yamaguchi became his principal disciple.”
“It was around 1936 that Yamaguchi innovated jiyu kumite (freestyle sparring), which led to sport karate,” Bernard adds. “The various techniques that we practice in the Japanese version are adaptable to jiyu kumite as well as combat.”
According to Bernard, the advantage to traditional Goju-ryu is its emphasis on not only the physical, but also the mental and spiritual aspects of karate. “These are, in fact, more important than the physical aspects,” he claims.– Joseph-David Carrabis, Black Belt Magazine
Richard Bernard Demonstrates Goju’s Furi Uchi (Whipping Strike)
Japanese Goju is a very close cousin to the Okinawan form. But differences appear throughout the system, most of which have to do with the placement and height of each style’s kicks.
Japanese Goju utilizes primarily higher kickig techniques than the Okinawan form. One example is the mae-geri, which is performed with the ball of the foot and not the heel.
Like most infighting systems, there is little emphasis on leg techniques. “There are few kicks in our kata,” Bernard notes, “but with the institution of jiyu kumite, the Japanese version of Goju-ryu has incorporated yoko-geri, sokotu-geri, ushiro and mawashi-geri.– Joseph-David Carrabis, Black Belt Magazine
Richard Bernard Demonstrates Self-defense Moves from Sanseiru Kata
There are three different types of postures, according to Bernard, in Goju-ryu: ceremonial, which include bowing; functional, used during orientation and fighting; and classical, which include stances and blocks. The last group of postures is not high on the list of students’ favorite activities. The Japanese kata accentuate the exercise aspects and the classical postures, whereas the Okinawans emphasize the functional postures.
The functional postures are more combat oriented. The differences can best be seen in the stances shiko-dachi and kiba-dachi. Shiko dachi is a very low horse stance used for training, the thighs parallel to the floor. “Shiko-dachi is utilized in all of our kata,” Bernard says. “You can feel the quadricep muscles burning the minute you hit the stance. In sparring, we resort to the kiba-dachi, which is the elevated stance. It’s much more mobile.”– Joseph-David Carrabis, Black Belt Magazine
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-Renshi Mike Scaramozzino