Grandmaster Robert A. Trias  

 Founder of American Karate in the United States             


O'Sensei Robert A. Trias, Grandmaster of Shuri-ryu
1923 - 1989

                                  In a Warriors Heart....There is No Surrender    

Grandmaster Robert Trias was an American karate pioneer, instructor, author, and administrator.  Known as the father of American karate, he opened the first karate school in the United States in 1946 in Phoenix, Ariz. and founded the U.S. Karate Association two years later.

While stationed in the British Solomon Islands during World War II, he met T'ung Gee Hsing, with whom he trained and received his first instructor's degree.  Later, during the war, he trained with Hoy Yuan Ping, master in Kempo and Jujitsu, in Singapore.

Master Trias's first style was Shuri Karate Kempo, which was later called Shorei-ryu.  In 1964 he incorporated some of the Goju-ryu katas into the Shorei-ryu style and founded the Shorei-goju ryu system.

In 1948 he founded the U.S.K.A., which was the first karate organization in the United States, and it became one of the largest in the nation, with almost every early top karate instructor in its membership.

Trias was instrumental in promoting the World Karate Tournament in 1963.  Held in Chicago, it was the largest U.S. tournament up to that time.  He headed the Okinawan Shuri-ryu system and held a 10th Dan. Trias is the author of several books including:  Karate is my Life, The Hand is my Sword, and The Pinnacle of Karate.


"Trias Heads USKA"
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Black Belt Magazine 1964

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1979 Black Belt Editor's Award

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1989 Black Belt Honorary Award

Trias and Keehan Head United States Karate Association

by John Van Nutter

John Keehan breaks a 2-inch brick in half.

…two men greatly responsible for the rapid growth of the United States and Karate Association.

Robert A. Trias and John Keehan are two men greatly responsible for the rapid growth of the United States Karate Association. The organization boasts more than 5,000 memberships, mostly in the Midwest. Last July the organization initiated their first nationwide karate tournament and drew over 300 contestants from all over the country. This year both men, spear-heading the 2nd World Karate Tournament, expect over 500 contestants and more than 10,000 spectators to enter the Chicago Coliseum on June 6, 1964.
What kind of men are Robert A. Trias and John Keehan? What are their backgrounds?


Trias started to learn karate over 25 years ago in the Solomon Islands under the tutelage of a Buddhist missionary, named Tong Gee Sing, who supposed to be a Chinese karate master of Fung Fu, Kenpo, and Tai Chi. Trias' unsatiable quest for more knowledge in karate paid off. Eventually he was able to meet and study under some of the great masters of the past of China, Okinawa, Korea, and Japan. They included Hoy Yuan Ping, a direct descendent of the illustrious Chen Yuan Ping, Tong Gee Sing, Choke Motobu, Ankoh Itosu, and Hoy Yuan Ping, a student of Hachinosuko Fukuda.

Trias displays his technique to his students. On his right sits his daughter, Roberta.

Trias, a former professional boxer, wrestler, and judoist, claims that he was also the wartime South Pacific Boxing Champion. Trias was captured and taken a prisoner of war (WW II), but eventually escaped. He contends that if he had no knowledge of karate then, his chance of survival in the escape was nil.


Trias believes that the discord in karate today is due mainly to the futile struggles of styles, the desire for personal glory or gain, and the attempts by a few to restrict their knowledge to specific groups of a national or racial character.
He feels that there is no such thing as a karate-style. Since style is nothing more than individuals' differences or personal inclination, leading to emphasis or specialization in certain types of technique. To be technically exact, he states there is only one karate— "Kempo."

John Keehan spars with his star pupil, Al Gene Caraulia.

Trias also believes that his association's success is due largely to its concept of equal representation. People of all races and karateists of all systems are treated equally. The only requirements to become a member are to be worthy to karate and be of good moral character.
Robert A. Trias, author of the first published karate book in U.S. (1956), is a colonel in the Army C.I.D. Reserves and a captain of the Arizona Highway Patrol.


John Keehan at age 25 is one of the top instructors of karate in U.S. Although he's a college graduate, he's self-employed as a full-time karate instructor. He has already supplied 18 instructors to other schools and clubs in the midwest area.
Keehan's proficiency as an instructor can easily be concluded by his students' successes in competition. Al Clene Caraulia captured the brown belt and overall championships in the World Karate Tournament. His students have already amassed more than 50 trophies in competitions. They have won in every midwest karate tournament that they had participated.

Trias poses for the photographer. Trophies in the background are won by the versatile athlete.

Keehan, himself, can hold his own in any freestyle competition. He has competed in most of the important national karate tournaments. The former Marine and Ranger has never been defeated in freestyle (kumite) competition except for a disqualification in the North American Championship held in Madison Square Garden. He lost to Gary Alexander, the North American and Canadian Champion.
Keehan has studied the Japanese, Chinese, and Okinawan styles of karate in the past 6 years. But he considers Robert A Trias as his sensei (instructor.)
Keehan affirms that karate has made a great stride in a short period in educating the layman. Gone are the days when incense was burned in the dojo to impress the students. Or brass gongs were used to start the class. Or non-believers offering blood-bath challenges to any karateist.
The young karateist is also the founder and president of tie Midwest Karate Yudanshakai which has over thirty black belt holders. The purpose and aim of the Midwest Karate Yudanshakai are to unite all karate clubs and schools in the midwest area under one controlling body. If successful, a nationwide attempt will be made eventually.
The prolific instructor has just completed writing his third book on karate and is being sought after to head a daily "Karate for Health and Defense" television program for WON-TV in Chicago.

Robert Trias
Black Belt Honorary Award

In a world of fly-by-night martial arts masters, where every Tom, Dick, and Chang claimed to be the father of this style or the grandmaster of that art, Robert Trias was an exception. He was not universally-loved, but whatever the many opinions about the man were, one fact remains: Robert Trias perhaps did more for the martial arts in the United States than any man ever, including Bruce Lee.
Trias' long career began when he was a boxing champion in the U.S. Navy while stationed in the British Solomon Islands during World War 11. During that tour of duty, he learned the rare Chinese art of fusing-i chuan from kung fu master Tung Gee Hsing. That knowledge led to his quest to learn other martial arts. Trias traveled to China, Japan, Okinawa, Hawaii, and other locations, training with the likes of James Mitose and Yasuhiro Konishi, acquiring expertise in shuri and shorei-ryu karate, kempo, ju-jitsu and judo. He would later become style head of shuri-ryu karate, the world's recognized top authority on that art.
Trias then returned to Phoenix in 1946, where he opened one of the first karate schools in America, and immediately became the font of knowledge for a nation of aspiring karateka. A few years later, he began the United States Karate Association (USKA), with the intent of disseminating knowledge about the martial arts to the public, organizing the nation's martial artists into a cohesive, powerful body, and carrying the sport to financial health.
Today, the USKA claims more than a half-million members worldwide. Through his teaching, Trias carried the message of the martial arts to millions more across the globe, organizing tournaments, giving seminars, striving tirelessly to communicate karate's ideas of honor, discipline, and respect to new generations. "My purpose is to make the practitioner aware of the changes in karate, from the karate of the past to the karate of today," Trias said in one of his many prepared public statements.
Unfortunately, he never saw all his goals realized. Trias was diagnosed with bone cancer in 1987, and his body weakened as the disease spread. Nonetheless, he continued to teach and give seminars as long as his failing health would allow. Some students spoke of caring for Trias before seminars, giving him shots of morphine to help control his agony during demonstrations which he refused to cancel.
On July 11, 1989, Robert Trias courageous struggle ended as he passed away in a Phoenix hospital at age 67. Since then, efforts to replace him as head of the USKA have been acrimonious and confusing.
However, as unpleasant as the USKA power struggle has been, the infighting and propaganda have not dimmed the image of a great karate pioneer. Though his organization is in some turmoil, Trias' USKA remains strong and popular, and the memory of the man is that of a great master, teacher, and innovator. The late Robert Trias, a father of the martial arts in America, is unquestionably a worthy recipient of the 1989 Black Belt Hall of Fame Honorary Award.



This site was last updated 05/11/16