The Story of Kinney Karate

…How different people, their backgrounds, and the styles they studied influenced Michael Kinney. 

Kinney Karate’s unique system of martial arts emerged from Michael Kinney’s 50+ years of training, and his vault of knowledge was influenced by a number of historical figures and mentorships.

Michael Kinney’s Background (in his own words)

It all started in a little traditional karate school. It was on the second floor of a strip center on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring, Maryland, near the D.C. line– a simply named school, like mine. It was named Kim Studio.

I began my martial arts career in 1963 at Kim Studio in Silver Spring, Maryland. The first 20 years of the skills that formulated my knowledge came directly from Mr. Kim and his influence. Even today, the forms, the tang-soo-do, and aikido that he taught in his second floor studio carried me to heights that I am sure he would be proud of. The dynamic kicking and fighting style that he taught to me fifty years ago has become the foundation of Kinney Karate.

My father passed away in late 1964, and my mother arranged for me to take my lessons from one of Mr. Kim’s black belts at the YMCA, who offered classes at a lower cost. She was working three jobs to make ends meet. In some ways, this was both a blessing and a curse. I never got my black belt rank from Mr. Kim, but I never would have gotten to the unbelievable place I am now if it hadn’t been for the vision of a rebel black belt, Dale Tompkins. He had broken away from Kim Studio and taken me under his wing for the ride of my life.

Major changes were happening in the martial arts in America. I had stepped into the middle of the “Golden Age of the Martial Arts.” I received my black belt in 1969; I had been a brown belt for four years because there was no such thing as a “junior” black belt. I had to wait until I was eighteen to be promoted to black belt. It was a good thing. I became the FIRST black belt in this new school started by the man who had “kidnapped me” from Mr. Kim.

Dale Tompkins had named the school TKA (The Tang Soo Do Karate Association). I became the chief black belt instructor of the school. TKA grew to over 50 locations with over 2,000 students by 1975. We were the first school to contract into recreation centers and school gymnasiums. We brought martial arts into small communities on a large scale. Before TKA, it was rare to see children and women in the martial arts. This was a ground-breaking school that introduced family-style martial arts into suburbia for the first time.

After I graduated from Springbrook High School, I began college at the University of Maryland. That year I also opened a studio in Adelphi, near campus, with my instructor, Dale Tompkins. Over the next 8 years, the huge base of instructors that I produced would lead TKA into the future. Today, scores of black belts that I trained as kids are teaching thousands of students in their own schools, both in the Washington, DC metropolitan area and around the country.

During the growth of the school, I was an active competitor, and I was training other instructors and students to be competitors to represent our school. We were highly successful, with hundreds of competitors throughout the East Coast. I coached and fought on a school team that represented Washington, DC– no one was doing this at the time. I was also well-known as a breaking competitor.

TKA sponsored the Eastern Regional Karate Championship, one of the first large annual open tournaments, which started in 1970 and is still running today. We also sponsored an annual Karate Camp with over 500 campers. The first camp was held in Buffalo Gap West, Virginia in 1968.

The amazing size of TKA resulted in hundreds of thousands of students participating in this visionary program. We taught celebrities, politicians, athletes, diplomats, writers, newscasters, professors, government agents, and their families. The area was a hotbed of activity.

In November 1980, I made the decision to move to St. Petersburg, Florida, and the adventure in the south began. My mother had remarried and, after 40 years, was retiring to Florida. My wife and I decided we were going to make a lifestyle change, and the time was right. Soon after arriving, I quickly reestablished my reputation in the south. Florida was a decade behind in development in the martial arts, and I quickly was able to duplicate what I had previously established as a school model, using the successful formula I was comfortable with.

Nobody believed in me when I approached the City of St. Petersburg Recreation Department. They said it couldn’t be done–no one before had built a successful martial arts program. I was turned down for the gym and given a little room in the back of one of the city’s largest centers. Within three months, Kinney Karate had taken over the gym two nights a week and on Saturdays. Before long, the program became city-wide.

I give credit to my mother– her dedication as a single mom. She was a teacher who worked three jobs – as a music teacher, a waitress, and a church organist- to pay the bills. She always had faith that I would make something of myself and give back to my community.

In his 50+ year career, Michael Kinney introduced hundreds of thousands of students to the martial arts. He trained and performed with many of the world’s greatest legendary masters.  His seminars were in high demand at conferences, schools, camps and clinics. Mr. Kinney received service awards from schools, universities, city and state governments, international organizations, and President Obama.

He was featured in Black Belt Magazine, U.S. News and World Report, Professional Karate Magazine, Who’s Who, International Martial Arts Elite, Washington Post Magazine, and Karate Illustrated, along with hundreds of other publications.  He was inducted into the EUSA International Martial Arts Black Belt Hall of Fame, and is recognized as a martial arts pioneer and legend.

His numerous television appearances included NBC’s Today Show and ABC’s Wide World of Sports.  Mr. Kinney was the host of Kinney Karate World, a series syndicated nationally and produced by Group W Television.  He also produced professional DVDs for instructors and school owners.

Soke Michael Kinney promoted thousands of black belts, many who now own their own schools around the country.  Proudly, hundreds of his young black belts have gone into the military, served in combat, and many have gone directly into our nation’s military academies. Many are career soldiers holding high ranks; many are professors, teachers, scientists, lawyers, law enforcement officers, judges, and leaders of industry.

Michael Kinney continued to teach beginners and advanced students in his classes in St. Petersburg throughout his life.  He was proud to work alongside his instructors.  The year 2014 was his 51st continuous year as a practicing martial artist.

Influences: Martial Arts Styles

During the Japanese occupation (1910–1945), Hwang Kee left Korea and ventured into Manchuria. There he came into contact with an art similar to T’ai chi ch’uan. Hwang Kee eventually incorporated the flowing and graceful motions of the Chinese system with the linear, strong movements of Karate Do. This blend resulted into what is currently known as Soo Bahk Do.

Around the time of the liberation of Korea in 1945, five martial arts schools called the kwans were formed by men who were primarily trained in some form of karate, but also had exposure to kung fu. The five prominent kwans (and respective founders) were: Chung Do Kwan (Lee Won Kuk), Jidokwan (Chun Sang Sup), Chang Moo Kwan (Lee Nam Suk and Kim Soon Bae), Moo Duk Kwan (Hwang Kee), and Song Moo Kwan (Ro Byung Jik). These schools taught what most Americans know as “Korean Karate.” However, there were some philosophical differences in technique application and more of an emphasis on kicking in the Tang Soo Do Jido/Chung Do/Chang Moo/Moo Duk/Song Moo Kwan systems.

Around 1953, shortly after the Korean War, four more annex kwans formed. These 2nd-generation kwans and their principle founders were: Oh Do Kwan (Choi Hong Hi and Nam Tae Hi), Han Moo Kwan (Lee Kyo Yoon), Kang Duk Won (Park Chul Hee and Hong Jong Pyo) and Jung Do Kwan (Lee Young Woo). In 1955, these arts, at that time called various names by the different schools, were ordered to unify by South Korea’s President Syngman Rhee. A governmental body selected a naming committee’s submission of “Taekwondo” as the name. Both Son Duk Sung and Choi Hong Hi claim to have submitted the name.

In 1959, the Korea Tae Kwon Do Association (KTA) was formed in an attempt to unify the dozens of the kwans as one standardized system of taekwondo. The first international tour of taekwondo, by General Choi Hong Hi and Nam Tae Hi (founders of the Oh Do Kwan) and 19 black belts, was held in 1959. In 1960, Jhoon Rhee was teaching what he called Korean karate (or tang soo do) in Texas, USA. After receiving the ROK Army Field Manual (which contained martial arts training curriculum under the new name of taekwondo) from General Choi, Rhee began using the name taekwondo. There are still a multitude of contemporary taekwondo schools in the United States that teach what is known as “Taekwondo Moo Duk Kwan.” This nomenclature reflects this government-ordered kwan merger. Modern taekwondo schools with the Moo Duk Kwan lineage often practice the early tang soo do curriculum, a curriculum that was more closely associated with Karate-Do Shotokan.

Despite this unification effort, the kwans continued to teach their individual styles. For instance, Hwang Kee and a large constituent of the Moo Duk Kwan continued to develop a version of tang soo do that eventually became what is now known as “Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan”. This modified version of tang soo do incorporates more fluid “soft” movements reminiscent of certain traditional Chinese martial arts. To restore national identity after the protracted occupation of Korea by Japanese forces, the Korean government ordered a single organization be created. On September 16, 1961, most kwans agreed to unify under the name ‘Korea Tae Soo Do Association’. The name was changed back to the “Korea Taekwondo Association” when General Choi became its president in August 1965.

Other modern tang soo do systems teach what is essentially Korean karate in an early organized form. The World Tang Soo Do Association and the International Tang Soo Do Federation, for instance, teach systems of tang soo do that existed before the taekwondo “merger” and before the development of modern Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan. These versions of tang soo do are heavily influenced by Korean culture and also appear related to Okinawan karate as initially taught in Japan by Funakoshi Gichin.

As mentioned above, the term “tang soo do/dangsudo” was initially a Korean pronunciation of “The Way of The Chinese.” In Japan, it was pronounced “karate-do” (“The Way of The Chinese Hand”). These characters initially reflected the historical origins of the arts. However, the term “tang soo do” (mostly in the United States and Europe) has evolved to currently describe a form of karate that is distinctly Korean, but is different than both taekwondo and Soo Bahk Do.

Chuck Norris, the famous actor, popularized tang soo do in the United States, and evolved the martial art Chun Kuk Do from it. Chuck Norris was taught by Ki Whang Kim, Mr. Kinney’s instructor.

Aikido was created by Morihei Ueshiba. He envisioned Aikido not only as the synthesis of his martial training, but as an expression of his personal philosophy of universal peace and reconciliation. During Ueshiba’s lifetime and continuing today, aikido has evolved into a wide variety of expressions by martial artists throughout the world.

Ueshiba developed aikido primarily during the late 1920s through the 1930s, through the synthesis of the older martial arts that he had studied. The core martial art from which aikido derives is Daitō-ryū aiki-jūjutsu, which Ueshiba studied directly with Takeda Sōkaku, the reviver of that art.

The aim of Aikido is to master an attack and harmlessly redirect it. In an ideal resolution, not only is the receiver unharmed, but so is the attacker.

Aikido was first introduced to the United States in 1951 and was popularized by Steven Seagal in the 1990s.

In Aikido, as in virtually all Japanese martial arts, there are both physical and mental aspects of training. The physical training in aikido is diverse, covering both general physical fitness and conditioning, as well as specific techniques.

Because a substantial portion of any Aikido curriculum consists of throws, the first thing most students learn is how to safely fall or roll. The specific techniques for attack include both strikes and grabs, and the techniques for defense consist of throws and pins. After basic techniques are learned, students study freestyle defense against multiple opponents and techniques with weapons.

Mr. Kinney studied Aikido, beginning in his teenage years, from a variety of instructors–starting with Mr. Ki Whang Kim, then Mr. Dick Kern. In Kinney Karate, we teach important and realistic applications of aikido techniques in our program. We teach throwing, falling, and rolling first. As our students advance in rank, aikido becomes more of a dominant part of the style.

Even though the true origins of Jujitsu are impossible to trace, elements of the art can be traced back over 2500 years.  Mythical stories of Kajima and Kadori, two legendary gods, tell how the inhabitants of an eastern province were punished for their lawlessness using Jujitsu techniques.

Chikura Kurabe, a wrestling sport that appeared in Japan in 230 BC, had many techniques that were incorporated into Jujitsu training.  During the Heian Period (784 AD), Jujitsu was incorporated into the Samurai warrior’s training so that he could defend himself against an armed attacker in the event he lost his sword.   In 880 AD, the first Jujitsu Ryu was formed by Prince Teijun.

One of the first Ryu that used Jujitsu as a primary art was founded in 1532 by Takenouche Hisamori.  Legend has it that, while on a pilgrimage, Takenouche collapsed from exhaustion after training and meditating for several days.  In his delirium he received a vision from a phantom warrior.  The warrior taught him five techniques of immobilization, and the advantages of using short weapons over long ones.

Prior to the foundation of the Takenouche-Ryu, openhanded combat techniques existed solely as a subordinate art to a major weapons’ system.  Most modern Jujitsu Ryu can trace their lineage directly back to Takenouche. In the early 16th century, Hideyoshi Toyotomi introduced the Chinese Art of Ch-an Fa (punching and nerve striking) to Japan and it was adopted by Jujitsu.

During the Edo Period (1603-1868), under the Tokugawa military government, Japan became a more peaceful area.  Weaponless styles began to replace the weaponed forms of old.  During the Edo Period, it is believed that more than 700 systems of Jujitsu existed.

During the Meiji Restoration, the power of Japan shifted from the Shogun back to the Emperor. Since the Samurai had supported the Shogun, an Imperial edict was set forth, making it a crime to practice the martial arts of the Samurai.  Many practitioners became bone-setters, as they were well practiced from the injuries sustained in the dojo.  Unfortunately, many more used their skills to put on fake wrestling shows for public amusement, or became gangsters.  Some masters took the art underground, or practiced in another country until the ban was lifted in the mid-twentieth century.

Jujitsu is the father of some fairly new martial arts.  In 1882, Jigaro Kano developed the art of Judo using Jujitsu as the model.  In the 1920’s, Useshiba Morihei developed Aikido, which is based on Jujitsu.  Even more recently, Brazilian and grappling styles have emerged.

True classical Jujitsu is taught as part of the Kinney Karate System. We include the ground-style grappling, which is “sport” Jujitsu.  The techniques recognized as “Brazilian” have always been part of the classical style of the art.

Jujitsu is taught to police and special operations military forces, but there are few opportunities for the general populace to learn this ancient art of Feudal Japan as it was meant to be taught.

Mr. Kinney’s first Jujitsu instructor was Jim Bregman.  In 1964, Mr. Bregman made history as the first American to win a medal in the Olympics in Judo.  He won a bronze medal for the US Team and surprised the world.

Modern Arnis is the system of Filipino martial arts founded by the late Remy Presas as a self-defense system. His goal was to create a training method, as well as an effective self-defense system, in order to preserve the older Arnis systems. The term Modern Arnis was used by Remy Presas’ younger brother Ernesto Presas to describe his style of Filipino martial arts.

Arnis was designated the Philippines’ national martial art and sport after President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed the Republic Act, mandating the sport as a Physical Education course to be included among the priority sports in the National Games beginning in 2010.

One of the characteristics of Filipino martial arts is the use of weapons from the very beginning of training, and Modern Arnis is no exception. The primary weapon is the rattan stick, called a cane or baston (baton), which varies in size, but is usually about 28 inches (71 cm) in length. Both single and double stick techniques are used.

In most areas of the Philippines, Japanese martial arts such as Karate and Judo were much more popular than the indigenous systems. Remy Presas’ modernization of the training method was intended to help preserve the Filipino martial arts. He taught a method of hitting your opponent’s stick (instead of the hand or arm) during practice, which attracted more newcomers to the art and allowed the art to be taught in the Philippines’ school system.

Modern Arnis training includes self-defense (striking, locking, throwing, etc.) as well as the trademark single and double stick techniques of the Filipino martial arts. Emphasis is placed on fitting the art within a student’s previous training (“the art within your art”), smoothly reacting to changing situations in the fight (“the flow”), and countering the opponent’s attempt to counter strikes. Practitioners are called Arisdadors or Modern Arnis players.

Influences: People

Kim Ki Whang, also known in the United States as Ki Whang Kim, was a Korean martial arts Grand Master. He was Chairman in the US of the Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan Association, Chairman of the US Olympic Taekwondo team, and helped unify several Korean martial arts into the overall style of Taekwondo.

Kim was born in Seoul, South Korea in 1920. At the time, Korea was occupied by Japan. Under their regime, martial arts had been banned since 1909, though the practice of taekkyon was not banned until the year of Kim’s birth.

Despite the Japanese ban, Koreans still practiced martial arts in secret, and Kim was able to study Judo at the Kodokan from 1931, earning a Black Belt five years later. The ban did not extend to Koreans who lived in Japan, and Kim learned Shudokan Karate from its founder, Kanken Toyama, at Nihon University in Japan. He became captain of the team, earned the nickname “Typhoon,” and earned a fourth degree Black Belt rank in this style.

He also went to China for two years, probably as a draftee in the Japanese army, where he learned Kempo and Shaolin Kung Fu. He returned to Korea where he founded the Chung Do Kwan style, teaching it at Sung Kyun Kwan University.  A notable early student during this period was Sang Kee Paik.

In 1963, he emigrated to the United States, where he remained for the rest of his life. His U.S. students included Richard Chun, Chuck Norris, John Critzos II, Pat E. Johnson and Mitchell Bobrow. He taught more than 25,000 students and issued 424 black belts. He had a wife and daughter and retired in 1992. He was awarded a 10th dan black belt while in the hospital with liver cancer at the age of 73 and died on 16 September 1993. Kim was held in high regard, and more than 650 people attended his funeral.

Remy Presas was born in the town of Hinigaran, Negros Occidental, Philippines. By the age of fourteen, he had his first stick fighting match with a Sinawali master who Presas knocked out with one stick hit. He continued to travel across the Philippine Islands to learn from other masters and to compete in competitions and many street fights. Presas eventually focused on Balintawak Eskrima, but also earned a 6th degree black belt in Shotokan Karate and a black belt in Judo.

In 1966, Presas began developing his own system, which he called Modern Arnis, by identifying and merging the basic concepts of the numerous systems he had learned.

By 1969 Modern Arnis had been approved by the Philippine Amateur Athletic Federation as a regular subject to be taught at the National College of Physical Education.

Presas was the Arnis consultant in the 1974 Philippines-produced film The Pacific Connection. While working on this film he instructed and became friends with US actor Dean Stockwell.

In 1982 Presas was inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame as Instructor of the Year. In 1994 he was again honored by the Black Belt Hall of Fame as Weapons Instructor of the Year.

Presas earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education and taught the subject at the University of Negros Occidental-Recoletos. Because of this, he was addressed as Professor Presas, and became known in martial arts circles as “the Professor.”

He later worked for the Philippine government in the area of physical education, spreading arnis instruction through the high schools. Presas was forced to leave the country in 1974 because of pressure from certain government officials.

He moved to the United States, first staying in the home of his student, Dean Stockwell. He lived the rest of his life in North America, but traveled worldwide to conduct seminars.

Presas died on August 28, 2001 in Victoria, Canada from brain cancer. Since his death, several groups have emerged to carry on instruction in his art. His younger brothers Ernesto Presas and Roberto Presas, as well as several of his children (most notably his eldest son, Remy P. Presas), are active in the Filipino martial arts.

Wally Jay was born in Hawaii of Chinese descent. At age 11, he began to study boxing under a community program. In 1940, he studied Danzan Ryu jujutsu under Juan Gomez and learned Judo under the former Hawaiian Champion, Ken Kawachi. Jay and his wife Bernice were awarded a Certificate of Mastery by Seishiro Okazaki, the founder of Danzan Ryu jujutsu, on February 22, 1948. Jay spent time with Bruce Lee and his associates in 1962 teaching them Judo and Jujutsu techniques.

Jay was the head instructor of Jay’s Jujitsu Studio, which is also known as Island Judo/JiuJitsu Club in Alameda, California. Even past the age of 90, he traveled worldwide teaching seminars on Small Circle Jujitsu. Jay published two books, Dynamic Jujitsu and Small Circle Jujitsu, and numerous instructional videos.

In 1969, Jay was inducted into Black Belt Magazine’s Black Belt Hall of Fame as Ju-Jitsu Sensei of the Year and again in 1990 as Man of the Year. In August 2002, Jay held a ceremony officially handing the title of grand master over to his son Leon Jay in their hometown of Alameda, California near San Francisco. Family, friends, several martial arts masters, and the media witnessed the occasion.

Michael Kinney was influenced as a young man by his friend Bob Maxwell.  As a young teen, he was befriended by Bob, and they spent hundreds of hours together sparring and sharing time training.  At the time, Michael didn’t really understand the meaning of what he was learning and what Bando was.  He had heard endless conversations about Dr. Gyi, the founder of American Bando.  A big part of Michael’s background in combat skills, sparing strategies and philosophy was directly influenced by his friendship with Bob Maxwell.

Bob Maxwell studied Bando as part of the first generation of students with Dr. Gyi.  He was an early competitor in the 1960s.

Bando (pronounced bun doe) is a multifaceted martial art, with roots in China, Burma, and India. The system was brought to America in the late 1950s by Maung Gyi (now Dr. U M. Gyi, Grandmaster) from Burma. Dr. Gyi later formed the American Bando Association [ABA]. This Burmese art is practiced by a small group of dedicated students and teachers here in the U.S. under the direction of Dr. Maung Gyi.

Dr. Martin introduced Kinney Karate to Kage-Essensu, a modern martial art style emphasizing practical self-defense techniques.