Still Mind Martial Arts Masters Series (#2) Profile and Interview with Hanshi-sei Ron Martin
Hanshi-sei Ron Martin is a world renowned international kumite champion from the golden age of karate and kumite. He was the captain of the first US Karate Team under coach Chuck Merriman.
Hanshi-sei Martin won two National Canadian Championships, two Central American Championships, two South American Championships, the East Coast Championship, he’s won every single State Championship, the New England Grand Championship, and numerous other tournaments. He won innumerable kumite matches during his illustrious 12 year tournament fighting career and only lost a few dozen matches. He was one of the toughest and fiercest fighters of his day. So fierce in fact that many opponents simply chose to forfeit their matches rather than face him on the mat.
We are honored to have Hanshi-sei Ron Martin in our up-line dojo lineage. It is always a very special treat when he visits our dojo and shares some of his expert advice with our fellow karateka. We are also honored and thankful that Hanshi-sei Martin took the time to share some of his kumite fighting stories with our blog readers today. We hope you enjoy reading this blog post as much as we enjoyed putting it together!
Hanshi-sei Martin is also in the process of putting some of his vast experience down in writing that he will share with us in an upcoming series of blog posts about his expert fighting secrets. STAY TUNED!
Oriental Fighting Arts Magazine Featured Ron Martin in 1975 OFA’s Fighters Forum Article
During the tournament where Ron won his first of two National Canadian Championships, Oriental Fighting Arts magazine featured Ron Martin in their OFA’s Fighters Forum article. Because this was while Ron was still competing, he didn’t want to share his top secrets at the time so he wouldn’t give his opponents an advantage. The writer also wasn’t a martial artist so some of the details in the article were inadvertently mixed up. Nonetheless it’s a great article. The photos capture some of the fierceness of Ron Martin’s fighting intensity and show that he certainly exhibited the “eye of the tiger!” Here’s an excerpt along with some of the photos as well as the entire article in PDF form.
During his eight years of tournament competition, Martin has established himself as one of the real experts on tournament strategy and tactics — on methods of overcoming a stronger or faster fighter by simply outsmarting him. And on this subject he is eloquent. “I’m not the fastest fighter or the strongest fighter.” Martin says of his position in tournament karate. “On many occasions, the people that I’ve beaten . . . I think sometimes they were better than I am.”
“There are people who are much faster, there are people who are much stronger. But they leave a lot of things to chance. They forget the strategy part. And in tournament competition . . . tournament competition is like a game of tag. And that’s what it boils down to. ”
“You have to understand the referees. You have to understand the rules. You have to totally understand your opponent. And you have to understand yourself. You have to know your strengths and you have to know your weaknesses. You must take advantage of your opponent’s weaknesses and stay away from his strengths.”
“And if you can do that you turn the match into being your fight. And strategy is the most important part of the technique. You can have a good kick and a good punch . . . but if you never score with it, then it’s no good.”– Oriental Fighting Arts Fighters Forum, February 1975
Hanshi-sei Ron Martin Recounts One of his Most Memorable Matches as Captain of the first US Karate Team
“I think the thing that sticks out the most to me is when I was captain of the United Stated team in early 1974. And we went to Panama City, Panama with the Central and South American Championships and these were the best from all these countries. There was I think about 16 countries that gathered and there was black belt team, brown belt team, green belt team of five men and it was a three-day event and it was just unbelievable. There was a parade before it. It just was my first time on a huge international stage. And the night before… The first day they had kata, the second day they had team fighting, and the last day would be individual. So the first night, they wanted the coach of the United States team, Chuck Merriman Hanshi, to run a clinic and of course, me being his senior student, he asked me to assist him.
This tournament is held every two years, so the previous two tournaments, which would cover four years, the champion was the captain of the team from Colombia.
Merriman Hanshi decided to do the seminar on the front thrust kick and how to get the hip into the kick and throw it straight, rather than let it rise and snap. Because that glances off the opponent. So while he was explaining it, this captain from Colombia kept interrupting him and telling him how that wouldn’t work and that the snap kick was good and he wanted to do the snap kick to my teacher. And of course, in those days, that just couldn’t be allowed. So I stepped in front of my teacher as if to say hey, if you want to throw a kick to someone you have to throw it at me not him. And in the true traditional karate tradition, and of course I’m French-Canadian, things got heated very rapidly. And it was so bad that they had to shut the seminar down.
So we fast forward, we have the kata day and then we have the team day and we took the team championship and we never fought Colombia, they got eliminated by somebody else. And then it comes the day for the individual championship and my name was called first. So I went into the ring and I think there really is such a thing as divine justice. Because the next name that they called to come into the ring with me, my opponent, was the captain, the previous 2 time champion from Colombia. So while he’s walking into the ring, I fully know exactly what he’s gonna do. He’s gonna show me that that snap kick is better.
So the referee said start and he came at me with that snap kick then I just slid back a few inches and I did a rear leg front thrust kick. And I caught him in the abdomen and it really, it just was the timing, the distance, everything just came together, and he folded up. The top of his thighs were on the bottom of my leg and his chest was on the top of my leg. And I pulled the leg out and he fell to the ground. Now he’s still folded up so the medics came out, the doctor and the medics came out, they’re trying to pry him apart. Now I’m kneeling away from this but I keep looking over my shoulder. And my teacher’s giving me the shrug of the shoulders like I told you not to do that.
They give him a shot, a muscle relaxer shot in the stomach and they still couldn’t pry him apart and he’s starting to turn blue. And there was almost 19,000 people in the arena and there wasn’t a sound. There just wasn’t a sound at all. And they gave him a second shot and then they pried him apart. Then he started to breathe.
Now, in the meantime, all the judges are off to the side and I know what they’re doing. They’re discussing how it is that they can disqualify me. But in those days, if you couldn’t continue, you lost. That was the rule. It didn’t matter what happened. There were almost… There was a few rules but nobody paid attention to it – not the competitors and not the judges. So up on the stage was the guest for the day, a 10th Dan Mabuni. And he was watching all of this and the stage was about 30 yards from where the ring was. And he saw the referees and he knew what was gonna happen so he stood up and he walked very slowly across the stage to the steps. He walked down the steps, walked all the way across the gym to the ring and he never even went over to talk to the referees. He stood in the ring, held his hand up in my direction and said, Ippon, which is full point. And then he said the Japanese word, winner. And he started to walk out of the ring and he detoured over by me and he hit me in the thigh where I was kneeling with his foot. I looked up at him and he said, same, same Okinawa. And he walked slowly back up, sat down, and that’s true power isn’t it.
They brought him on a stretcher to the hospital and he was never seen in Karate circles again ever. And what I really enjoyed most about it was that it didn’t take years for Karma to come around. I was gonna show him how good that front kick was but I didn’t mean to kill him. And what’s funny, the next three rounds, the opponents didn’t come into the ring. Their coaches wouldn’t allow them to come in the ring. It was a big tournament. I think I had five fights after the three walk offs. And I won the championship.
And it’s funny, I fought a Panamanian for the grand championship. He was from Panama but he spent months of his life in Texas. And everybody knows how good Texas fighters are. He was really, really good. And it was amazing to me that all those people in that arena are from Panama, I’m fighting a Panamanian and they’re cheering for me. My teacher couldn’t get over it either. Sensei Merriman said it’s the most amazing thing he ever saw that they’re not rooting for the hometown boy.”– Hanshi-sei Ron Martin as related in his Whistlekick interview.
A Ringside View of that Most Memorable Match and “Thunderous Front Kick”
“Yes, people were terrified of your amazing abilities. I’ve been a witness to that over and over. I saw it happen right there at Colegio Javier in Panama in front of a capacity crowd of South Americans. You destroyed the Colombian champion with what I can only describe as a thunderous front kick that was probably as fast and as perfectly executed as any ever done in the history of this sport, and you did it on a world stage. The sound of that kick slamming home is probably lodged in the psyche of everyone who saw it. There was this boom like a sledge hammer hitting a base drum followed by a long silence as people rushed to try and save this guy’s life…. Your next opponent wouldn’t stand up… He vanished, and you won that one by “default.” No one who was there will ever forget you. You left giant footprints Ron Martin. It is me that will always be proud of having been your team mate… and yes, this bond is not one that will ever die.”– Michael Levine, Teammate – First US Karate Team
Whistlekick Martial Arts Radio Interview – Episode 57
Decades Later Hanshi-sei Ron Martin Once Again Returns to his Legendary Sensei – Chuck Merriman
Around 2011 it was more than twenty years since Ron Martin had last seen or spoken to his legendary sensei, Chuck Merriman. Hanshi Merriman was about to relocate to the Midwest, so Ron went to visit with him before he left. They reminisced about their time together on the tournament circuit. Hanshi-sei Martin recounts some of their conversation.
“I asked him point blank where he ranked me with all the great fighters he had seen at the many National, International and World Championships. He had an opportunity to see the best in action. He took some time to think on it, all the while looking me right in the eye, and said that he had seen many, many fighters that were better than me. In the momentary pause while he took a breath, I was myself unable to breath, he then said that he honestly doubted if all but two or three would have had any chance to beat me. He said I fought in a realm that was beyond ability, He stated that the better the fighter I was against, was technically, it seemed the less trouble I had beating him. He said this is against all reasoning but he saw it happen too many times for it to be luck, and that he knew it to be true.
He then asked me a pointed question, he wanted to know if I ever wondered why it was that he never gave me any advice before, during or after a match. I told him that I had thought on it often and even more after we had separated and I had retired from competition and that I related that fact to anyone who would listen as to why that was. He related to me that sometimes the way to be the best coach is not to coach, to just give the proper tools and get the hell out of the way. He said he was deathly afraid to give me any advice at all because he felt I had already figured out the best way and he would only cause doubt and thus screw it up.
He also took the occasion to tell me some things that I did not realize. He said he never knew another fighter who entered the ring with more confidence, an air of superiority and get this, with a big wide smile. He said the way I entered the ring, as if I owned It, had the effect of getting the judges on my side, my opponent worried ( why was this guy smiling? ) and he said the most remarkable thing of all was the way the crowd would be on my side even against the hometown team or the hometown favorite. This he said he understood! He said almost all other fighters brawled, he called It poke and hope. He said he didn’t understand how I always came up with the right plan, but he knew that was the reason my points would be so clean and spectacular that other fighters, judges and most of all the crowd had very rarely seen such perfect points, that looked like Kata and not like fighting.
He said the crowd rising to Its feet and giving standing ovations for a point was intimidating to the judges, and made them fearful of not calling a point for me. He also said he would see fighters that were still in the running, applauding for some of my points and he knew, they too had already lost to me.
I know I seem to be going on and on about how wonderful I was but believe It or not this was the first time I ever heard it from him and when you think about this man’s resume [Hanshi Chuck Merriman], It is high praise indeed.”
Hanshi-sei Martin, has your karate training impacted your life outside the ring in any way?
One of the most memorable instances happened in Bermuda in 1974 or 1975. I had just finished teaching a seminar and I went to the ocean to cool off. I encountered two parents who were so distraught, that they could barely speak. Oddly, I still remember that they were from England. Their two young children had been swept out into deep water. It was easy to see that the large waves would soon dash them against the rocks.
The Father was in the water up to his chest and was so overwhelmed that he still had his pipe in his mouth. The parents had had their children late in life and in no way could cope with the mighty surf that day. I can still remember the name of the beach, horseshoe beach, even after all these years. I could see that it was going to be a very close call if I could reach them before they were crushed on the rocks, but I had to try.
When you look at my shape now, it is hard to imagine me at 164 lbs. and as fit as a person could be. So, I dove into the water and battled the surf to reach the brother and sister. As I was swimming out to them it dawned on me that I didn’t know how I was going to save them both all by myself. Luckily, they were both young and small. I reached them with only ten feet between the three of us and the face of the cliff. Now I was in great peril as well. I agonized over having to choose which one to save.
At that precise moment, a rogue wave saved me from making such a difficult choice. Why, I will never know, but that wave seemed to collect both of the children and pushed them right into my arms. Unfortunately, it also tossed all of us right into the rock face of the cliff. Somehow, the wave turned me around, still with both children in my grasp, and pushed us into the wall in such a manner that my feet hit the rocks first. This allowed me to thrust off the rock and to the side, out of immediate danger of being battered against the cliff.
However, we were far from out of the danger yet. I still had about 100 yards of rolling surf to deal with and two children to keep above water. The older child, maybe ten years old, luckily was a fairly strong young lad and able to hold onto my neck and swim a little as I towed the younger child in the lifeguard carry. Bit by precious bit we came to be close enough to shore that people could wade out to help pull them in.
The Parents were reduced to tears. In between sobs they managed to tell me that neither one of them could swim. They naturally thanked me profusely for saving their children from certain death. I could hardly remain upright. I was so exhausted. The emergency personnel had arrived by this time, and every thing was under control with the parent’s smothering their children with hugs and kisses.
While all were dealing with the children, I quietly picked up my towel and beach stuff. I walked up to the road, started my moped, and went back to my hotel room. I slept for 11 hours. The next day while having breakfast I read in the papers that the parents were searching for the brave young man who saved their children. They wanted to thank him with a monetary reward. I smiled for their happiness and never did call the telephone number that was in the story. The next day I was on an airplane headed home with a sense of calm and satisfaction that I can recall to this day.
What put me on that beach that day, at that time? What made me think I could reach them in time? How did that wave toss both of them into my arms? How did that wave turn us so that I could use the strongest part of my body, my legs, to push away from danger? It seems to be too many questions to be explained by mere chance. I will leave it to others that have more faith than I to answer those deep questions. I often think about all those hours training in low horse stance and all those hours kicking. I wonder if that was the difference that gave me enough strength to thrust off those rocks with my legs to just barley slide past the cliff and swim back to shore against the raging surf that day with those two children.
About five years later my wife Beverly and I were in Bermuda on our honeymoon. We were laying on a beach called Horseshoe beach. I pointed to the outcrop of rocks to the right side of the cove and told the story of that day for the first time since the event. I believe in a thing called pay it forward. I did not know it at the time, but I was with a woman that would make me happy and bring great joy for forty years and we would have a daughter that would be the light of my life. Coincidence? I do not think so. The monetary reward would have quickly slipped through my fingers… but forty years of happiness with my wife and daughter, priceless.
Hanshi-sei Ron Martin Now Shares his Vast Experience in Seminars and with Dojo Owners Nationwide
“Well, what I do is I travel around to different dojos and I do seminars and I try to simply, simplify, simplify because everybody wants to make it complicated. And I work with dojo owners to get them on the right track, to simplify their requirements for rank.
Somehow, they think everything they ever learned needs to go into the curriculum for different ranks. And they think if they have a simple curriculum of what the students must know for their next rank, that that’s all they can teach them. But it’s not true. But when you put too much in there, one of two things happen – you either promote them without them knowing all the stuff or take so long to teach them all the stuff, they lose interest. And I am convinced that almost all dojos have an information overload and a time allocation problem. They’re teaching classes of less time and they’re trying to give them more information. And I just don’t see how that can work. And that’s why their reverse punch doesn’t work, and their front kick doesn’t work and their round kick doesn’t work
I mean they’re just adding information to try to make up for quality and you know. They all are terrified that the students are gonna get bored by repetition. And students do get bored with repetition when they can see that they’re not getting any better. But let me tell you something, if you do a repetition and those students know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they’re getting better, they have no problem with repetition. So the teachers gotta get, buck up and get some guts and just say this is the way it’s gonna happen.
Simplify, simplify, simplify. It’s not complicated – one block, hit your opponent. If the teachers out there that are listening, when you go back to your dojo and you have people sparring, you just watch. How many times they block before they counter? You’ll be astounded and you need to stop it. You need to have them block and be mentally and physically prepared to counter almost in the same motion. You can’t block, hang around, have a sandwich, fix your hair and then just… You gotta do it right away; you block and you nail one. Then they’re not gonna throw that technique at you again. And then they’re gonna slower or off the line. All good things.”– Hanshi-sei Ron Martin as related in his Whistlekick interview.
Hanshi-sei Ron Martin was Inducted into the Pennsylvania Karate Hall of Fame in 2018
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-Renshi Mike Scaramozzino