by Herb Borkland
Barry Guimbellot received his first dan from Allen Steen in 1976 and in 2015 was promoted to 10th-degree by Steen, Pat Burleson and Keith Yates. A legendary school owner and director, Guimbellot first ran and then bought Steen’s Texas Karate Institute schools. Along with Walt Mason and later Dave Mason, Guimbellot continued to operate those schools until 2010. He also co-promoted the Southern Karate Championships for 37 years and the Big “D” National Karate Championships for 35 years. From 2008 to 2017, he served as President of the Amateur Organization of Karate.
MASuccess: Where did you grow up, and what did your dad do?
Barry Guimbellot: I was raised in Richardson, Texas. Dad began by inspecting airplanes and later worked as a salesman.
MAS: How did you first hear about martial arts?
BG: A high-school friend started taking karate from Allen Steen, and then my brother did, too. It was cool, but I never thought about it for myself. But at Sunday dinners at our parents’, he would say, “Let me show you this. …” The lesson might have been one basic block, but next Sunday, if I didn’t have the move down, he wouldn’t show me anything else. I’ve always been athletic, and he kept nurturing [me] and finally invited me to the school for a workout.
I signed up for a two-year brown-belt membership because I knew I’d never be good enough to make black belt. At that time in Texas, black belts walked on water. I tested and made brown, but I kept thinking, “I’ve got to be better than I am now.”
I worked in the ’70s selling LPs and 8-track tapes to our smaller-account stores. I also started working as our school’s program director. Steen appreciated good employees. Stories of him being hard to deal with came about because some person wasn’t doing his job. My dad gave me a super work ethic, and Allen and I always got along. He never yelled at me because I did what was expected of me.
MAS: What was your turning point?
BG: When our manager asked if I’d like to take over the school because he was moving to another location to open his own school. After that opportunity, I was in from then on. Walt Mason and I kept our partnership up for 22 years until he passed away, and then his son Dave took over and eventually bought me out.
When you really look at yourself, you know you had wonderful instructors, and your black-belt exam proves you can be better than you think. I fought 16 or maybe 18 matches for black belt. It’s an initiation, and you can do it. And the next day, a completely different person walks in after getting the black belt.
MAS: How do you feel about the arts after so many years?
BG: You’re going to make the difference in peoples’ lives — I have students from 30, 40 years ago who are still in contact with me. You’re going to make them feel better about themselves because they will be a better person. Students will bring in their children to train, and that is one of the nicest things that can ever happen. You’ve brought up a child through martial arts to where they’ve grown up, gotten a job [and have] a good work ethic, and now they are going to entrust the most important thing they have into your hands to give that child the same experience they had.
To contact Herb Borkland, send an email to [email protected]
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