American Karate History
American Karate Pioneers
Robert A. Trias (1923 –1989)
Master Trias is credited with bringing Karate and to the United States and starting the first National Karate Tournament organization in America. Trias was recruited into the U.S. Navy during World War II. While in the Navy he became the Middleweight Boxing Champion, then he would later be stationed on Okinawa, Japan where he would get his first taste of Karate.
Trias returned to the United States in 1945 and began teaching Karate out of his back yard, then in 1946 he opened a Karate school in Phoenix, Arizona. This was the first Karate school to be opened in the United States. In 1948 Trias started the United States Karate Association, which was the first karate association in the United States. He also hosted the first national karate tournament in 1963, which he called the world karate championships in Chicago. In later years he would rename this event to be the USKA Nationals and eventually would settle on the USKA Grand Nationals.
While in Okinawa and Japan he would train various Karate Styles with various instructors. When he returned he combined what he learned and developed his own style that he called Shorei-Ryu and would later change to Goju-Shorei and finally would settle with the name Shuri-Ryu.
Charlie P. Contreras (1934 – 2007)
His Fighting Spirit Lives On!
Sensei Charlie P. Contreras began his martial arts training in 1958, 13 years after his movie experience. One day he was lifting weights at a gym and noticed a flyer advertising classes for judo, savate and karate. He went to the address on the flyer where he met and spoke with Master Trias, his sensei. While talking to Master Trias he could hear the sounds of thumping and yelling coming from behind the door which lead into the main dojo. This experience raised such great curiosity that he immediately got a loan to sign up for the class. The dojo was located at 101 West McDowell. His first instructors were Shirley Clum and George Miles. Both held the rank of Ik-kyu, first-degree brown belt. Master Trias was a Lt. Commander of the Southwestern District of the Highway Patrol located in Globe/Miami, AZ. This left him little time to teach on a day-to-day basis. But he would come in several times a week. Inside the dojo there was a small office area, where Master Trias kept a stationary bike and an old duffel bag shaped like a cone that was filled with cottonseeds and cotton. On a table there where separate containers, for rice, beans, sand, small stones and pebbles. Around this table, Master Trias had a tubular canvas which stretched the length of the table. Here is where you would hit with shuto strikes (sword hand strikes) and your wrist. Outside the dojo there were two makawari. The main dojo was about 14 feet by 30 feet with a large mat that covered the floor. Covering this mat was a large rubberized canvas, on which there were painted rice lines, the Kung lines, and lines which looked like stairs. On one of the walls in the dojo Sensei Charlie found two portable hanging mats. These were used to develop the students’ kicks. From the continuous kicking of these mats, he eventually damaged his feet to the point that he no longer could walk. He had to have radiation treatments applied to the soles of his feet. He also had to roll a coke bottle underneath his feet as part of his therapy. However, this still did not stop him. He would practice, practice, and practice some more because he wanted to be the best, and he was. Young and fearless, he became Master Trias’ best fighter; he would fight anyone, anyplace, and anytime. Among the many kata he performed, Gopei Sho was his favorite. As far as weapons, he like them all, especially a little 380 pistol he possessed! He received his Shodan in 1961 from his teacher Master Trias which established him as the first black belt made in the United States. Before his passing, Sensei Charlie achieved the rank of Judan, 10th grade black belt.
Alex Santa Maria
Alex Santa Maria is the Grandmaster of Kensho-Do and holds a tenth degree Black Belt. He started studying martial arts in 1974 in Grandmaster Edmund Parker’s Chinese Kenpo. In 1976 he added Okinawan Shorei-Ryu to his studies, and in 1977 at age14, Charlie P. Contreras awarded him his first Black Belt.
Santa Maria was the youngest to compete in the adult black belt division and win Grand Champion at Ed Parker's Southwest Regionals, a feat which he would repeat many times over in Kata, Kumite and Weapons at State, National and World levels. In 1979, he was featured in Black Belt Magazine and Karate Illustrated as the other “Little Dragon,” a nickname first used by the late Bruce Lee. This same year he fought on a full contact team for the United States in Japan.
In 1985, Santa Maria had a vision of marrying all the different arts he had studied into one complete system, thus the birth of Kensho - Do.