Robert Trias

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Robert Trias
Robert trias - photo.jpg
Historical photo of Robert Trias
BornMarch 18, 1923
Tucson, AZ
DiedJuly 11, 1989(1989-07-11) (aged 66)
Phoenix, AZ
ResidenceUnited States
StyleShuri-ryū Karate
Teacher(s)Tung Gee Hsiang
Rank10th dan (degree) black belt     

Robert A. Trias (1923–1989) was a U.S. karate pioneer, founding the first karate school in the mainland United States and becoming one of the first known American black belts.[1][2] He also developed Shuri-ryū karate, an eclectic style with roots in Chinese kung-fu, and indirectly some Okinawan karate.

Life before karate[edit]

Trias was employed by Southern Pacific Company as a boilermaker apprentice from 1937–39 and a boilermaker from 1939-42.

Introduction to karate[edit]

While serving in the United States Naval Reserve as a Metalsmith First Class (M1c) during World War II, Robert Trias was stationed on or around Tulagi in the Solomon Islands from June 1944 to November 1945, and was a Navy champion middleweight boxer. There he met Tung Gee Hsiang, a Chinese missionary of Chan (Zen) Buddhism. Hsiang often watched Trias work out and imitated his boxing footwork, and he asked to practice with Trias. Trias refused because Hsiang was "just a tiny little guy," but Hsiang was persistent and at last Trias agreed to spar with him. Hsiang gave Trias "the biggest thrashing of his life" and Trias then asked Hsiang to instruct him in the martial arts.[3]

Hsiang taught Trias some xingyiquan as well as some Okinawan Shuri-Te karate, which Hsiang had learned from Choki Motobu in Okinawa. Later, Trias studied with Hoy Yuan Ping whose lineage was from the Teshin Shinjo School of Kempo Jujutsu in Japan. Trias also held a 6th dan black belt in Kodokan Judo,[citation needed] and studied under Yaju Yamada. Trias was also mentored by Yasuhiro Konishi and Makoto Gima.

Karate in the U.S.[edit]

In late 1945, shortly before Trias left the Navy in January of the following year, he began teaching martial arts in his backyard. He later opened the first public karate school operated by a Caucasian in the United States mainland in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1946.[4] Trias served as an officer of the Arizona State Highway Patrol from 1946-1961[5] utilizing his self-defense knowledge on duty and teaching his fellow officers. In 1948 he founded the United States Karate Association (USKA), the first karate organization on the American mainland.[6][7] Jointly with John Keehan, Trias hosted the first national karate tournament in the United States, called the 1st World Karate Tournament, at the University of Chicago Fieldhouse in 1963 in Chicago, IL. This event was retitled the USKA Nationals in 1966 and the USKA Grand Nationals in 1968.[6] His rules for tournament competition are still used today with only slight variation.

Trias' style was once dubbed, by Trias himself, as Shuri Karate Kenpo, Goju-Shorei-Ryu, and Shorei-Goju ryu though there is no relationship or direct ancestry to the Gojo-Ryu currently practiced in Okinawa or the original form of Shorei-ryu once practiced by the Okinawans. His style is now referred to as Shuri-ryu to imply roots to traditional karate though his style is much different from any martial art originating from the ryu-kyu islands. It has much more Chinese influence and overtones than Okinawan. The naming of his style was as eclectic as the style itself. A few US organizations claim to trace their roots to him and the USKA, including the United States Karate-Do Kai, Professional Karate Commission, United States Karate Alliance, International Shuri-Ryu Association, and Kondo No Shokai.

Career accomplishments[edit]

Robert Trias was responsible for the following developments in karate in United States:

  • 1955 - Wrote the first rules for karate competition.
  • 1955 - Conducted the first karate tournament.
  • 1958 - Wrote the first textbook.
  • 1959 - Made the first instructional film.
  • 1963 - Conducted the first world karate championships.
  • 1968 - Conducted the first professional karate tournament.[8]

Published works[edit]

Trias authored Karate is my Life, The Hand is my Sword, The Pinnacle of Karate, The Supreme Way, and Render Yourself Empty.


Trias was the recipient of the 1989 Black Belt Hall of Fame Honorary Award.[9]

Death and legacy[edit]

Trias died of cancer on July 11, 1989, leaving the Shuri-ryu system to his daughter Roberta Trias-Kelley, inheritor and Menkyo Kaiden of Shuri-Ryu. This precipitated a struggle for succession within the USKA.[10] Trias is buried in Section 35, Site 112 of the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona in Phoenix. Trias founded the Goju-Shorei-Ryu, which was later called Shorei-Goju-Ryu karate style and in 1979, he named Herb Johnson as the 2nd Style Head and Menkyo Kaiden of that style. Trias also founded the Shorei-Ryu style of karate, but that name was later changed to Shuri-Ryu.


  1. ^ Inc, Active Interest Media (1 July 1964). "Black Belt". Active Interest Media, Inc. Retrieved 5 October 2018 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ Bruce A. Haines. Karate's History and Traditions: Revised Edition (Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1995), pg.154
  3. ^ Ortiz, Sergio. "Robert Trias: pioneer of U.S. karate." Black Belt Magazine. April 1976, pages 36-39.
  4. ^ Jones, C. Michial (2011). Entering Through the Gateway of Gojuryu. Lulu Press.
  5. ^ "Robert A. Trias". Retrieved 5 October 2018.
  6. ^ a b Corcoran, John and Farkas, Emil. Martial Arts: Traditions, History, People. Gallery Books, New York (1983) p. 230
  7. ^ Wallace, Bill. "Robert Trias and his USKA. Black Belt Magazine. March 1990, p. 12.
  8. ^ Robert Trias Biography
  9. ^ "Black Belt Hall of Fame Awards". Retrieved 5 October 2018.
  10. ^ Vandehey, Tim. "Power Struggle in the USKA: Who Will Succeed Robert Trias?" Black Belt Magazine. December 1989, p. 34.

External links[edit]