One Hybrid American Style and its Evolution
By Mickey McDermott
"Mickey Fisher, a one-time Texas karate instructor, formulated his Shin-Toshi
system over the past thirty years. His crossbreed
style finds its roots in Korean Tae Kwon Do, Japanese
and Okinawan Karate, and Chinese Kenpo. Here's how
At this stage in the development of martial arts
in America, there remains in most places a sharp division
between the different styles. Through popularization
of the Asian fighting arts in the media, and through
exposure other styles in various competitions, most
practitioners have been introduced to styles other than
their own. Back in the dojo, however, the vast
majority of instructors follow the constrained philosophies
of their style, be it Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or
Just exactly how the styles separated and took
on their own identities is fairly complicated to explain,
the understanding of which would require a thorough
knowledge of Asian history and a great deal more space
than is available in a magazine article. The different
styles prevail in America, however, because they were
introduced largely by instructors from the country of
each art's origin.
Jhoon Rhee of Washington, D.C., for instance,
is Korean, and was a key figure responsible for introducing
this country to Tae Kwon Do. Japanese instructors
likewise brought karate and Judo to America, just as
Chinese instructors brought with them Kung-Fu.
The separation of styles was insured from their very
beginning in this country. Since it was unlikely
for a Japanese instructor to have studied Kung-Fu or
Tae Kwon Do in his home country, it was improbable that
he would teach techniques from either of those disciplines
to students in his dojo.
As martial arts developed in this country the
styles remained secular, with little or no exchange
of technique or philosophy. Practitioners of each
style prided themselves on the strict traditions of
their respective disciplines and considered other art
forms inferior to their own. Any style which dared
to branch off into new areas was considered a "bastardization"
and was generally not respected as a "true" form of
The politics of separatism extended themselves
into martial arts competitions where the rules and structure
of a tournament generally favored the style of those
who hosted it. Since the odds were against them,
there was little incentive for practitioners from different
styles to attend each other's tournaments. The
gap between martial arts was therefore widened, allowing
for little interaction between styles.
There is actually no excuse for shunning all
techniques from other styles and/or believing that one's
own art is superior in every aspect to all others.
Such a philosophy is both unfair and ignorant and is
in fact not as "traditional" as some may believe.
The Shaolin monks, forefathers of many present day Asian
martial arts, were continually willing to accept new
techniques and philosophies which might benefit them.
It was only because of people's prejudice and ignorance
that an unwillingness to recognize other ways developed
in the martial arts.
The virtues of introducing techniques from different
styles, however, have been recognized by a growing legion
of American martial artists. Many of the kicks
that Bruce Lee made famous were of Korean, not Chinese,
origin. His style, Jeet Kune Do, contains techniques
and philosophies from numerous disciplines, including
Western Pugilism. Students' interest in different
styles prompts the diversity in subject matter of magazines
such as this one. Mickey Fisher has the distinction
of introducing Americas' first martial art, Shin-Toshi
Karate in 1963. This predates Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do by at
least three years. Prior to founding this new
style, Fisher had trained in Chung Do Kwan, Shorin-Ryu
Karate, Chinese Kenpo, Tang Soo Do, and Kung-Fu.
Instructors whom he trained under include Jhoon Rhee,
Allen Steen, Ed Parker and Jack Hwang. His original
style was chung do kwan, and he earned a first-degree
black belt from Jhoon Rhee in 1962. He has since
attained advanced degrees in Mu Duk Kwon and several
other styles. He has gained the respect of noted
martial arts figures both here and abroad as a skillful
instructor and tournament referee.
During his training in Tae Kwon Do, Fisher began
to experiment with techniques from other styles in Tae
Kwon Do circles during the early sixties. Chinese
and Japanese martial arts were generally considered
"pansy" practices and were often the brunt of joke and
criticism. After being introduced to Ed Parker
and Chinese Kenpo, however, Fisher was impressed by
the styles' skilled hand techniques and began incorporating
them into his training. Later exposure to Japanese Shorin-Ryu
and Okinawa-Te resulted in further innovation of his
The actual genesis of what is now called
Shin-Toshi karate occurred over a period of two to three
years in Dallas, Texas. During the years 1962-63,
Fisher taught Chung Do Kwan to a group of about fifteen
students in the basement of the Dallas County Juvenile
Home. At that time, he was also teaching Tae Kwon
Do classes around Dallas for Allen Steen.
Though the classes he taught for Steen were restricted
to traditional Tae Kwon Do, Fisher began introducing
his juvenile home students to techniques from Shorin-Ryu
and Kenpo. He recognized each style's relative
strengths and weaknesses, and began to search for workable
adaptations, using different styles. Working with
some of his advanced students, Fisher began to develop
some of the techniques which were later to become known
as typically Shin-Toshi.
Techniques which represented a blend of soft
and hard styles, the unorthodox, and eye catching jumpkicks
were all experimented with during Shin-Toshi's inception.
New techniques were used both in class and at area martial
arts competitions. In an era which saw none of
the skill commonly associated with tournament competition
today, the flashy techniques of this new style stood
out noticeably. Several of today's foremost competitors
and instructors can remember as young students watching
the eye-catching punches, kicks, and sweeps of Mickey
Fisher, which he used to run circles around opponents,
whose techniques were limited to the basic, linear movements
commonly associated with early tournaments. Jump
side kicks, turn kicks, heel rakes and falling sweeps
were welcome additions to tournament fighting and inspired
the use of more techniques by competitors from other
The popularity gained by Fisher and his students,
through these "new" techniques prompted them to further
integrate more punches, blocks, and kicks into their
training. No longer strictly Tae Kwon Do, this
new approach to the martial arts became an identifiable
style which possessed techniques and philosophy from
many martial arts.
The new styles's growth accelerated when Fisher
acquired a new dojo in north Dallas in the mid 1960s.
At this point, the style was still unnamed, even though
techniques and philosophies which were peculiar to the
new system had already been established.
the name for the style, Shin-Toshi Karate was decided
upon. The Chinese/Japanese word shin can be translated
several ways, "new way" or "new form" are two examples.
The word toshi was derived from the old English word
"tosher," which means "unaffiliated with any other style."
The Shin-Toshi emblem (created before the name) consists
of two hands surrounded by olive branches, one being
closed into a fist--representing the straight-line "hard"
martial arts--and the other open, symbolizing the soft,
fluid styles. The olive branches are a universal
symbol of peace and harmony. The yin and yang
between the olive branches represents the harmony in
nature between opposing forces exemplifying the seemingly
"opposing" styles which compose shin-toshi. The
Chinese characters surrounding the branches are kara-te-shin,
and the phonetic representation of toshi. Having
designed the emblem themselves, Shin-Toshi founders
were amazed to later learn that the fist and claw was
one of the earliest martial arts symbols in history!
Further growth distinguished the style from any
other around. The arrival of an instructor named
Bob Jones, who ran the Dallas dojo together with Fisher
during Shin-Toshi's early years, helped to increase
the style's heterogeneity. Jones trained extensively
in Chinese kenpo, and he brought to shin-toshi a variety
of advanced hand techniques, kata, and self-defense
techniques. This provided a contrast in what was
still a style of largely Korean influence.
The introduction of Chinese techniques served
to further the students' desire to learn and to increase
the popularity of the new style. There was a large
picture window in front of the dojo where passers-by
could view the classes from outside. The sight
of Jones executing a lightning-fast "dance of death"
kata would draw large crowds of interested onlookers,
many of whom later became Shin-Toshi students.
The north Dallas dojo (the Dallas Academy of
Karate Shin-Toshi) became known in the late sixties
as "the Southwest's most exclusive martial arts complex."
The facilities were far superior to most other dojos
in the country and the performance of D.A.K. students
in tournaments was outstanding. The Dallas Academy
of Karate later changed its location and Fisher again
became the sole instructor of the dojo.
New techniques were the subject of continuous
experiments, in keeping with the spirit of Shin-Toshi,
a style constantly evolving. Students advancing
to brown and black belt started assisting Fisher with
the teaching of classes. Although always under
his direction, each new sensei injected a portion of
his own philosophy into their teaching, adding new dimensions
to the style.
Having grown from its tiny beginnings, Shin-Toshi
has awarded more than a dozen Shodan ranks to its students,
has formal dojos in Dallas and Denton, Texas, Salt Lake
City, Utah and boasts practitioners in many parts of
the world. A tradition of striving for perfection
and new ideas has been established within every student.
Shin-Toshi techniques include the strong kicks
of Korea, the rapid and exacting movements of Japan,
and the fluidity of Chinese styles. A typical
Shin-Toshi technique is a powerful sidekick which utilizes
full extension of the hip and strikes with the heel,
yet does not waste excess time and motion on the fold.
Snapping backfists and swift front and spinning kicks
give the style its share of Japanese influence.
Evasive circular blocks and graceful crane stances are
also part of the style.
Beginning students normally learn basic punches
and blocks from traditional stances. A typical
"first lesson" would include a brief introduction to
the style, an explanation of correct procedure and learning
a few basic blocks and hand strikes. As the student
progresses, he/she begins to learn multiple kick combinations,
self-defense techniques, kata, and sparring.
Belt ranks in Shin-Toshi range from white, gold,
green, blue, brown, and finally black belt as in some
other styles. The length of time required to earn
a Shodan in Shin-Toshi range from 3-5 years, slightly
longer than for most other styles. Much work is
expected from students for each belt rank and examinations
are extremely demanding, in order to be promoted, the
student must have sufficiently mastered progressively
more advanced techniques, fighting and katas.
Martial arts philosophy becomes more important in advanced
belts, and continuity of mind and body begins to appear
in techniques and forms. Hyung (patterns) is an
especially interesting part of Shin-Toshi, because it
puts the technique and spirit of the style into living
The development of the standard Shin-Toshi forms
covered about a decade. In the style's weaning
years, no forms were practiced. Fisher and those
others controlling Shin-Toshi wanted their style to
be "practical," and at that time saw no need to incorporate
kata into the system. Instead, training consisted
of drilling techniques in sparring and self-defense
situations, ever innovating and changing the techniques
in search of those that were most functional.
As the style and its founders grew, however,
the sense and purpose of kata in the martial arts became
more evident. Fisher says that through people
like Jack Hwang, he learned the importance of forms,
and that in fact, "They are the language of martial
arts, allowing the passage of technique from one generation
to another. They also give a system its identity."
Techniques that were formerly developed and experimented
with for use in sparring and self-defense situations
were then incorporated into unique forms which symbolized
the spirit of Shin-Toshi Karate. Techniques from
several styles were integrated into the forms. ranging
from the powerful linear techniques of Tae Kwon Do and
Tang Soo Do, to the fluidity of Kung-Fu and the grace
of Tai-Chi chuan. This new mixture of styles in
kata did not appear to be a mish-mash of incompatible
components, but a functional harmony of art forms that
had previously not existed.
Just because a circular arm block had yet to
be followed by a thrusting side kick in a kata did not
mean that such a combination would not work, only that
it had not been tried! And so is the norm with
most Shin-Toshi forms. Straight-line techniques
mixed with fluid, evasive movements are commonly used,
often in combination with swift or snapping punches
and kicks. The style contains hyung which are
representative of most major martial art forms.
The repertoire of Shin-Toshi kata today includes
the system's original forms, plus traditional kata from
Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Okinawan systems.
The four initial hyung all H-shaped and are named tai-guk
chodan through sahdan (1-4). Following are advanced
kata which are called Pyungons and are five in number.
Advanced students are introduced to traditional forms
from other systems, including basai, a kata which is
taught in both Japanese and Korean styles, and Choolgi,
the "Iron Horse" Hyung of Tae Kwon Do, The ancient Kusan-Kudai
, or "Moon Form," and the relatively modern Choog Mu
(developed by Jhoon Rhee) are also taught.
As prerequisites for promotion to black belt
more advanced Shin-Toshi forms must be learned.
An example is Shin-Kata, a trilogy of sequences which
blend together as one form. When performed skillfully,
Shin-Kata is awesome to observe. It contains complicated
movements, the success of which depend on split-second
timing and absolute concentration. It is no wonder
that very few Shin-Toshi students have been able to
master this kata.
It is important to Mickey Fisher that Shin-Toshi
is carefully guided through its pubescent period, in
order that a lasting art form will be the result of
his efforts. "If something dies when the person
controlling it dies, it was not an art but only a pastime,"
he says. "Only time will judge the durability
of this new way, unaffiliated with any other style."
Shin-toshi's unorthodox nature has made it a
style with many admirers--as well as some enemies.
No student of the martial arts has been exposed to the
style, however, without becoming intrigued by it.
The principle of Shin-Toshi offers a lesson to practitioners
of all styles: all fighting arts originated from one
source, why not benefit from sharing the knowledge that
we each have to offer?
One Hybrid American Style and its Evolution
By Mickey McDermott
This article was written by 1st Degree Karate Black Belt in Shin-Toshi Karate. Mr. McDermott studied with Mr. Mickey Fisher and obtained his rank on August 17, 1973.
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