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Mr. Karate

Richard Smith has been dedicated to martial arts for nearly 60 years and was recently promoted to 10th degree black belt in Shorin Ryu Karate.

Richard Smith began training in Jiu-Jitsu in high school in the 1950s to be able to better defend himself. Since then, he's been dedicated to martial arts, and was recently promoted to 10th degree black belt in Shorin Ryu Karate.

"My dad was in sales so I moved through different schools," Smith, 76, said. "In those days, they'd beat you up. I thought I better do something."

The black belt or "dan" system is distinctly Japanese, but it has been adopted by many other martial arts styles. Ranks are indicated by belt color or by stripes on the belt

A dan-ranked practitioner of a certain style of martial art is usually recognized as a martial artist who has surpassed the basic ranks. They may also become a licensed instructor in their art. The total number of dan ranks is style-specific. First through fifth and first through 10th are common in Japanese arts. The lower dan grades can normally be attained through an examination or sometimes through competition. The higher dan grades usually require years of experience and contribution to the relevant martial art.

"I have all the certifications and they're all from Japan, written all in Japanese," Smith said. "It's something to be able to go up that high. It's really something. I was very fortunate."

Smith, who graduated from Henry Sibley High School in 1954 and has lived in Cottage Grove since 1958, earned his first black belt or dan in Okinawa, Japan in 1971, under the tutelage of Master Miiyahira K. Katsu Chika in Shorin Ryu Karate.

Since then, he has made his living instructing martial arts, training thousands of people.

He has been on the faculty of four different colleges and universities over the past 38 years, training self-defense. He taught at Concordia University and Golden Valley Lutheran College and more recently at Inver Hills Community College and Century Community College.

Smith said he has also trained individuals or departments at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Minnesota State Attorney's General Office the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the Internal Revenue Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration as well as numerous Sheriff departments and Police departments. He has also competed in and been a promoter of national tournaments.

"I've been very lucky," Smith said. "I would run a number of courses at Century. You give people a new start in life -- clean living, respect, good sportsmanship -- that's all part of the martial arts."

Smith was a longtime member of the United States Karate Association (USKA) -- considered the first karate organization on the mainland United States, founded by Robert Trias in 1948.

The USKA became one of the largest associations of karate instructors in the nation. Trias and the USKA was also instrumental in setting up and promoting some of the first karate tournaments in the US in 1955, as well as national and world-wide competitions. The USKA rules for tournament competition are still used today in the United States. At its peak, the USKA had more than a 500,000 members worldwide and conducted an annual national championship competition in the United States, called the USKA National Championship, beginning in the 1960s.

Smith, who was part of the USKA, said he trained with Trias for a period of time, which helped him to become a 10th-degree black belt.

"I did get to train with him," Smith said. "He got to be a 10th-degree black belt. That's why I was able to get so high too. You train under somebody high, you can get to be high. There aren't that many. It takes five years to get a black belt. I have probably 140 people through the years that I've made black belts."

Smith said his martial art form, Shorin Ryu, is similar to the mix martial arts, which have been made popular today by the UFC, Pride and Strikeforce.

"It was all-out," Smith said. "That Shorin Ryu is pretty rough stuff, but that's what I used to do. It's lucky I'm even walking."