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Murray Journal

Fifty years teaching karate and still kicking

Dec 01, 2017 08:01PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Robert Watson displays the crane pose to a young student. (Photo courtesy Kris Watson)

Karate black belt holders, especially 9th Dan (black belt degree) instructors, should be ready for anything. But at a 50-year celebration, Hanshi Robert Watson was staggered when his wife Kris got a surprise move on him by inviting current and former students and parents to help mark his half-century milestone.

Since the 1960s, Watson has taught more than 1,000 students, 400 of which have come from the Murray area. In 1980, he established the Utah Shorin-Kai Karate School and started a 33-year association with Murray Community Education.

The cornerstone to this program was, and remains, that all instructors voluntarily provide training assistance. By doing so, the program has offered exceptionally high quality, yet inexpensive training experiences to families and individuals by instructors who train and teach the traditional martial art, Matsumura Seiyo Karate Kobudo.

Watson was first introduced to martial arts in high school. One day, the school bully targeted him and his brother, and the fight erupted into a parking lot brawl. The vice principal sat him down in his office and told Watson that if he didn’t control his temper, he was going to end up in prison. He suggested that Watson take up a martial art.

He never forgot his first karate lesson. He went to the dojo (training hall) full of attitude. The instructor, Sensei James Hawkes, wanted to see what he was made of and invited him to spar. 

According to his wife, “Robert looked over at his friend and winked, knowing he was a good street fighter, he figured he would make short work of this Sensei Hawkes.” Robert sailed a few punches past Hawkes, never touching him, at which point Hawkes made short work of Robert. He bounced him off every wall in the dojo.

A few weeks later, after the bruises and cracked ribs had partially healed, he went back to the dojo. Sensei Hawkes acted surprised to see Watson and asked what he wanted. Humbled, Watson asked Sensei Hawkes to teach him. That was the beginning of a long friendship spanning four decades until Hawkes passed away.

This humiliating start led to a storied career in karate. In 2014, following promotion to 9th Dan and receiving the title of “Hanshi” (Master Instructor of Highest Level), Watson was inducted into the International Seiyo Shorin-Ryu Karate-Kobudo Kai Hall of Fame for being a world-class instructor and for lifelong contributions and accomplishments in the martial arts. 

Additionally, he merged his style of Okinawan Matsumura Shorin-Ryu Karate Kobudo (weapons) with the Seiyo Shorin-Ryu Karate Kobudo Style, thus forming the “Matsumura Seiyo Shorin-Ryu Karate Kobudo Style,” which represents an honor and distinction of the highest level, not only in the Utah Shorin-Kai Karate Kobudo School, but in the entire martial arts world. To date, there are only about 33 legitimately recognized “traditional” karate styles in the world.

In April of 2015, Watson was inducted into the USA Karate Federation Hall of Fame for National Administrator, National Official, and National Coach and the USKA PSDI (Police Self-Defense Instructor) Hall of Fame.

Of the many black belt students he has taught, perhaps his favorite is his wife Kris, who he met as a student in one of his classes. 

“He never asked me out while I was in class because he felt that was inappropriate. We really enjoyed each other’s company and talked on the phone often, and he visited me a few times while I was at Idaho State. By the end of the year, we were married,” said his wife.

While he appreciates the accolades, according to Kris, “He is most excited when he is able to teach his students the skills needed to more proficiently learn self-defense and advance them to their next higher ranks in this traditional martial arts style.”