BEN KIKER – THE QUIET GIANT OF SOUTHERN KARATE
by Joy L. Thornton
Here’s a man so modest you have to apply armlocks to get his story. Dalton, Georgia’s Ben Kiker has never appeared in a magazine article, yet he is chief instructor of a chain of 16 schools in the South and a trainer of five nationally-rated karate champions and 152 black belts. They don’t come any better than this quiet giant. He reminds one very much of Albuquerque’s supercoach Bill Packer; meaning, Ben Kiker is one of the humblest yet competent instructors in the martial arts business. Ask him to send information about himself to a magazine and he’ll submit material about his students. In a high-profile business like the martial arts, people like Packer and Kiker are special; when you encounter them you have to pause to contemplate the pleasure of their acquaintance. Kiker was a logical and favored choice as the inaugural subject of The Fighter magazine’s “Who’s Who” column. The man might be low-key, but his coaching skills are undeniably high-powered. So are the results of his labors. A former competitor himself back in the bad old days, Kiker has trained no less than five nationally-ranked black belt karate champions, four of whom were positioned in America’s Top Ten rankings at one time. After giving us his students’ credentials in a phone interview, Kiker sounded almost apologetic that there were only five national champions in his superlative stable. My God, we thought, most instructors never train even one national champion! Kiker’s roster of champions includes:
– Bob Harris, America’s number-one middleweight point fighter in 1986. Harris has been nationally rated for seven years. Also a 10th-ranked light middleweight kickboxer, he is currently the ISKA Southeastern U.S. Champion. – Jessie Thornton, America’s number-one lightweight in 1986. Thornton has been nationally rated four times. – Randall DeLoach, America’s number-two super lightweight in 1986. De-Loach, who’s been nationally rated three times, beat the nation’s best fighters last February to sweep the $5,000 grand title of the third leg of the Atlantic Grand Slam circuit. – Mitzy Tyler, America’s third-ranked fighter and fifth-ranked forms champion in 1984. – James Hobby, America’s 9th-ranked fighter and fifth-ranked weapons champion in 1983. What diversity. Ben’s coaching skills, as you can see from the above roster, range from kickboxing to weapons to forms to semicontact. Ben Kiker first attended a karate class at Rhinehart College in 1967 as a guest of his girlfriend, Vickie. He first trained under an American instructor. Shortly after that, Jae Mann Lee, from Korea, became Kiker’s teacher. Lee later turned Kiker over to Jung Kil Moon. Initially, Kiker’s training didn’t encompass competition. For one, there weren’t more than perhaps one or two tournaments in the area per year at the time. In fact, says Kiker, learning karate “was very, very new in our area of the country. There were few black belts. In class, even a brown belt was
revered, was considered awesome.” Kiker eventually taught and ran a school for his instructors. When Moon moved to New York in 1972, Kiker struck out on his own. He founded the United Karate Studios in 1973 with the assistance of his first black belt, Ricky Lockhart. Ben’s first studio was located in his hometown of Ellijay, Georgia. He soon expanded to include a school in Dalton. Then Lockhart launched a school in Rome, Georgia. Those three locations have grown to a total of 16 schools today. Most are located in the Tennessee-Georgia area, but there are two in Iowa (one each in Ft. Madison and Keokuk). Kiker says his teaching career began “for selfish reasons, I guess, a chance to further my own training. Then people started coming along like Robert Harris, Jessie;Thornton, Wayne Sorrells, and the DeLoaches. It changed… I put my heart into training them and the school began to grow.” Like a true coach with heart, Kiker is especially proud of his students who don’t possess championship abilities. “It’s the person who is clumsy or insecure that needs karate. When you see them tie on a brown belt, knowing at one time they didn’t think they could even cross their legs, that’s fulfillment.”
Of his champions Ben humbly says, “I just had to point them in the right direction.” Kiker, whose United Karate Studios embrace a “familytype atmosphere,” believes it’s important for an instructor to be able to inspire his students to stay in karate. “If they make black belt and then quit,” he maintains, “then they’re only proficient red belts. I’ve been successful in having competitors stay in karate. I have several who’ve been with me now for over ten years. I have about 152 black belt students.” It’s no wonder Kiker was named the Professional Karate Association’s “Instructor of the Year” in 1984. And just to show how much his life has been integrated with karate, that intelligent young lady, Vickie, who invited Ben to her karate class back in 1967, is now Mrs. Ben Kiker. Not only does she back her husband’s efforts 100%, but their two daughters also train in karate. For Ben Kiker, supercoach, it’s a lifestyle that has been healthy, happy and rewarding, both personally and professionally. For his commitment to perfection, a commitment matched by his students, The Fighter salutes Ben Kiker and his United Karate Studios.