George Alexander, a shorin-ryu karate pioneer and the president/founder of the International Shorin Ryu Karate Kobudo Federation, began training in judo and karate in the Marine Corps. He currently holds the rank of 10th dan hanshi, or “teacher of teachers.” Alexander has been inducted into six halls of fame, produced more than 200 instructional DVDs and published 10 books. He is a professor emeritus of East Asian history at the State University of New York and a distinguished research fellow and member of the faculty of the Institute of Martial Arts and Sciences in the United Kingdom. He teaches at the Budokan Martial Arts Honbu Dojo in Palm Coast, Florida.
MASuccess: Where did you grow up and what did your dad do?
George Alexander: I was born on Long Island and grew up in New York. Dad was in real estate there. We moved to Florida when I was 14.
MAS: When did you discover the martial arts?
Alexander: Dad was an officer in the Army Air Corps during World War II, and he got into what they called “combat judo” — basically, [Japanese] jujitsu. At age 10 or 11, I started learning it. A friend would come over, and we’d practice over-the-shoulder throws. Once, he ended up with both feet smashing through our wall!
I was always fascinated by the arts. I was kind of a wild kid and joined the Marines at 17. Marines coming home from Okinawa brought back karate. At Camp Lejeune, you saw guys jumping around in white gis. I was immediately attracted — “fighting techniques from the mysterious Orient!” (laughs)
So I trained in blood-and-guts, full-contact karate with Charles E. Clark, the 1968 All-Marine judo champ, inside a hut on a plywood floor. He was a big guy, 225 pounds, with me at 175. His back kick once broke my ribs!
I mustered out in California [and] trained for months with Takeuchi sensei, and he never said anything to me except, “Do this now.” Over the years, either deliberately or by chance, I ended up with the world’s best karate teachers. I was always looking for a teacher, for leadership, for that special traditional relationship.
MAS: What was the turning point in your life?
Alexander: In my early 40s, it got challenging to have two careers going at the same time: juggling martial arts, writing books [and] producing DVDs while working my professional job. By 1983, I was an executive in national real-estate advisory services, dealing with pension funds and such, and on a nice career path. I might have joined Halliburton or Continental Development and gone international instead of just traveling nationally. But that would have been the end of my Southern Florida lifestyle, [enjoying] sand in my shoes and pina coladas on the weekend. So in 1993, I went full-time martial arts. I put more energy into production and moved to a larger school.
MAS: What does the future hold for you?
Alexander: I’ve got an obsessive personality; I just never stop. That explains my success. (laughs) I’ve been very lucky. I count my blessings.
To contact Herb Borkland, send an email to [email protected] This essay was originally published in the February 2014 issue of MASuccess.
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