By 10th Degree, Grand Master John Worley
The Move to Minnesota by John G. Worley After three years at the Jhoon Rhee Institute, Patty and I decided we wanted to have our own school, somewhere. Along with one of the other instructors (Gary Hestilow, another Texas transplant and good friend) and with Jhoon Rhee’s blessing, we started our search for our new home. After considering several major cities (Houston, Boston, Baltimore) we decided to visit the Minneapolis-St Paul area. The “Mary Tyler Moore” tv show made Minneapolis look really charming, although Master Rhee would have preferred us to move the short distance to Baltimore. About Minnesota, he said “You go there, you die there”. In other words, “no turning back”. So we struck out in May, 1973 for the 1500 mile drive to Minnesota. With the birth of our third child, son Kelly, my family was now complete and stage two of our great life adventure was in motion.
We didn’t know a soul in Minnesota but fortunately, Patty was able to get a job, right away. Gary and I would drive the streets every day looking for a school location. Since we were new to the area, had a very skimpy bank account and were opening a martial arts school, potential landlords were hesitant to lease to us (to say the least)! Our days consisted of driving the streets of Minneapolis and St Paul suburbs, peeking into storefront windows that had “For Lease” signs and returning home in the afternoons to call potential leasers. Many building owners wouldn’t even allow us to look at their spaces because of the nature of our business. “Karate school??? No thanks!” Finally, after 3 months of searching and after being turned down 10 times on efforts to lease a space (we said “yes”, they said “no!”), we were finally given the opportunity by a building owner in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington. The owner of the building was a 75-year-old man named GL Running. When we first approached him, we thought he would never allow us in his building. In his words “A karate school? I don’t know anything about that”. But after checking with his lawyer and accountant and taking a look at our meager financial report, he said “Well, everyone says I shouldn’t rent to you. But I have a feeling about you boys.” Thank goodness he trusted his “gut” and allowed us to lease our first school space. Thank you Mr G L Running.
We opened that first school in Sept, 1973 in east Bloomington. We initially were affiliated with Master Rhee and the school name was “The Jhoon Rhee Institute”. After about 8 months, my brother Pat (he followed me for a change) joined us and we opened a second school in W. St Paul. Pat Worley’s student and sparring champion, Gordon Franks joined us and we opened a third school. Five years later, we were joined by another Texan, Jhoon Rhee Institute alum and great fighter, Larry Carnahan and opened another school. We eventually opened five schools together (5 owners, 5 schools). By this time, we had begun to do things with curriculum that deviated from GM Rhee’s strict policy. It wasn’t a matter of right or wrong, just that we had matured to the point that we needed to be able to follow our own best interests and instincts. Around 1980 and by mutual agreement, we decided to change our name and “Mid-America Karate Schools” was our new name and identity. Throughout all the years, however, we continued to have a good relationship with GM Rhee. To this day, the foundation of our curriculum and classical martial art structure are from GM Rhee’s teachings and from our time with the Jhoon Rhee Institute.
Since that time there have been many changes. In the early 1980’s, Gary Hestilow decided he didn’t want to continue in the school business and moved to Oklahoma leaving four of us as owners. My brother and I didn’t always agree on business decisions. He and Gordon Franks usually were on one side of an issue while Larry Carnahan and I were on the other side. In the mid- ‘80’s, after a fairly contentious series of events, we all decided it would be best if we split up the schools and established our own businesses. Pat Worley and Gordon Franks, started USA Karate in Minnesota and have distinguished themselves as two of America’s great fighters, martial artists and school owners. Larry Carnahan and I established the National Karate Schools and another chapter of our lives was beginning.
It was also during this time that I had my “15 minutes of fame”. We had been actively promoting full-contact karate events and had trained several of our black belt fighters to compete in those events. One of our contemporaries, black belt fighter\school owner Joe Corley in Atlanta, Georgia had partnered up with a man and his wife, Don and Judy Quine from Los Angeles to form the Professional Karate Association (PKA) which sanctioned full contact events and established rules governing the sport. The PKA was one of the earliest sports to be featured on the then-fledgling sports network, ESPN. Through our efforts to promote the sport, Mr. Corley invited me to assist him in the over-seeing of some of these events and to act as an on- site liaison between the live event promoter and with ESPN.
Joe Corley had always been the color commentator for the PKA – ESPN telecasts. ESPN however needed more programming and Joe Corley couldn’t be in two events on the same night. I had established myself in my liaison duties and, since I was already on site at some of the televised events, Joe Corley gave me a quick tutorial on the dos (smile, try to speak clearly with interesting in-sights, look straight at the camera) and don’t’s ( no cursing, no mumbling, don’t “step” on the play-by-play commentator) of what the color commentator’s role should be and poof…I was a TV personality. I filled the role to his and the ESPN production team’s satisfaction and spent most weekends during the late ‘70s “on the road”. While the grueling schedule (Mon-Thurs teaching in the schools; Fri-Sun -traveling to PKA-ESPN events) was very tough on my family (especially Patty who had to take care of kids while working a full time job), it did provide the financial support we needed to stay afloat while we continued to build our school business.
Since 1973, the National Karate School organization has produced multiple world recognized fighters
and martial artists. There are currently 20 NK schools operating in Minnesota led by school owners NK
9th Degree holder, Jim Albertson and his wife Kim; our son, Kelly and his wife, Jamey Worley; Bruce
Nelson in Rochester; Gregg Sutherland and Sue Lomasney; Jeff Sidner; William Hill; Jesse Zaragoza & Paula Aburto-Zaragoza; Gary, Becky and James Halonen and Joe and Christa Boone and the most recent school owners, Heidi Busch. National Karate black belt holder and sparring champion, Cris Nelson moved to Illinois in 1995 and owns 4 NK-licensed schools in the Chicago area. Additionally, there are licensed NK schools in Milwaukee, Colorado Springs, Colorado and Ft Myers, Fla. Since we all have been involved in the sport aspect of martial arts, in 1978, Larry Carnahan, Bill Dunkley ( our first attorney, NK black belt holder and great friend) and I formed JLB Productions. We have been promoting sport karate events since 1978 and the “Diamond National Karate Championships” has been one of the largest and most successful events in North America. Larry Carnahan has served as President of the North America Sport Karate Association (NASKA) ever since it’s inception in the early 1980’s. NASKA is the largest sanctioning body for martial arts tournaments in America.
“Why did you choose to make martial arts your life’s work?”
As one can tell, none of us started teaching karate because we thought it was a good financial opportunity. On the contrary, we all have lived through many years of barely being able to keep the lights on. Teaching martial arts is a passion. Helping students go from neophyte to accomplished martial artist is truly a labor of love. While there is certainly physical improvement and growth, the student’s confidence that is developing every month is even more gratifying to instructors. And now, after almost 50 years, we have grandfathers who were our students decades ago now bringing in their children and even their grandchildren because of what National Karate’s martial art training did for them. Martial art is based on the concepts of honor, respect, humility and perseverance. Without these critical aspects of the art, we’re just teaching effective fighting. As a martial arts instructor, my life’s mission of helping others reach their maximum human potential, both physically and mentally, is a life worth living.
10th Degree Grand Master
Cofounder National Karate Institute of Martial Arts