Shin-Toshi Karate
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 it evolved."

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 AsianMickey Fisher 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 otherwise.

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 martial art.

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 style.

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 styles.

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.

Shin-Toshi KarateFinally, 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 motion.

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?

 Shin-Toshi Karate

Shin-Toshi Karate
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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