Whenever karate men get together and start telling stories about the past, one name that comes up more than any other is that of Mike Stone. The accounts of his powerful fighting style and his unbelievable tournament record have made him a legend in his own time … but there is another side to his persona.
Interview by Terry Smith.
PROFESSIONAL KARATE MAGAZINE is interested in exposing his years of experience as a fighter and a promoter of Karate tournaments. This has developed him into one of the most knowledgeable of the contemporary Karate men in the United States today. It is PROFESSIONAL KARATE’S aim to create a better understanding between Karate’s competitors, coaches, and spectators. With this in mind, we approached one of the most fascinating men in Karate today during one of his few relaxing moments for a very candid and personal interview.
P.K.: Where were you born?
Stone: I was born on the island of Oahu in Hawaii.
P.K.: When did you come to the U.S. Mainland?
Stone: When I was first inducted into the service: on the Fourth of July in 1962. But it took us five days to come over by boat so it was in the middle of July.
P.K.: Where did you receive our formal education und how much did you receive?
Stone: I just went through high school and graduated us a senior in Hawaii.
P.K.:Were you an athlete in school and what sports did you participate in?
Stone: I played marbles, jacks and hula hoop. No, I’m just kidding. I played football, a lot of football, basketball and I ran track. They were the primary sports I played in high school, the organized sports.
P.K.: Mike, what motivated you to begin Karate. and when was it?
Stone: I’ll answer the last question first. I started Karate in 1963 at Ft. Chaffee, Arkansas. The motivation for it was not so much a motivation as it was a lack of something to do. I didn’t smoke or drink, and I still don’t, and there was a lot of spare time, especially in Arkansas so I pent a lot of my time working out in different sports and that’s how I met my instructor and started training just for something to do.
P.K.: Who was your instructor?
Stone: His name was Herbert Peters. He was a staff sergeant E-7. and he had just come from Okinawa and had started a class on post.
P.K.: Where is Mr. Peters now? Many of the veterans of Karate remember him but we haven’t heard from him lately.
Stone: He is now out of the service and Jiving in Hawaii where he is originally from. He is living there with his family.
P.K.: Does he have a Dojo?
Stone: No. he doesn’t have a studio, not that I know of.
P.K.: We have read where many instructors claim you as their student. Are any of these claims legitimate or was Mr. Peters your sole sensei?
Stone: Mr. Peters was my first instructor. The question is really hard to answer because you benefit from every one that you come in contact with, but yes, Mr. Peters is the one that I claim as my instructor.
P.K.: How long did it take you to make your first degree Black Belt and what style was it in?
Stone: The style is shorin-ryu Karate in the Okinawan system and the length of time was six months.
P.K.: Six month is a very short time in which to receive a Black Belt. How many hours a day did you work out to get your Black Belt so quickly?
Stone : A t first we started out slow and gradual, but it built up to where I was working out six hours a day and sometimes eight. On weekends we would go down to the park and work out all day. But it really wasn’t a matter of how much time I put into it. After just a couple of months of training I entered a tournament in Tulsa. Oklahoma and I won and won the next one I entered. and in a short period of time I was getting a reputation for my fighting ability. So I really wasn’t a Black Belt in the full sense of the knowledge and experience. I think primarily I was given a Black Belt for my fighting talent more than anything else and I’m sure people recognized that.
P.K.: Can you relate the happenings of your Black Belt exam?
Stone: Actually it was a combination of several things. First of all when I won the Nationals as a brown belt at Jhoon Rhee‘s tournament. My instructor said he thought I was ready to compete as a Black Belt. When we got back after one of our work outs, which was two and a half hours long, I was promoted.
P.K.: What do you feel the requirements should be for Black Belt today?
Stone: First of all I don’t feel that time has that much to do with it because some people will have natural ability and will progress much faster than others . It would really be unfair to those who are naturally good. Why should they be penalised for having natural talent by making them wait out a period of time in order to satisfy that one qualification. Another requirement is that he must have the proper attitude, and naturally he must have the physical talent to go along with it. A person that receives a Black Belt never really deserves it at the time. You know you can have your Black Belt initially but you’re re really still a first brown. You then grow into the responsibility that the Black Belt has and what it stands for. It takes time. I’ll be the first to admit that I really wasn’t a Black Belt at the time I was promoted to one.
P.K.: Have you ever had to use Karate to defend yourself?
Stone: There have been several occasions where I had to use it but it didn’t really last that long so I don’t actually call it defending myself. It normally just lasted one punch.
P.K.: Can you relate one of the experiences?
Stone: I bounced in Hawaii in a bar called the Whale’s Tail and I also bounced at a place called Pier II in Costa Mesa. There was one occasion in Costa Mesa for example where two guys were fighting over a girl on the dance floor and I just walked up and asked them if they would continue their argument outside because it was really disrupting the atmosphere of the place. Then one of them kind of pushed me away and so I figured that they weren’t really listening to me and one of them was pretty drunk so rather than talk about it anymore I just punched him out and dragged him out of there .
P.K.: Mike, you are always billed as the undefeated Karate Champion. Have you ever been defeated?
Stone: I’ve lost twice. I’ve never lost in individual Black Belt competition. When I was a brown belt in 1963 I fought a Black Belt named Allen Steen and I lost that match . When I was a Black Belt, in Utah, for the Western United States Karate Championships for the grand championship match, I supposedly lost to a brown belt. Just a footnote that might help; four of the five officials were from that guy’s own school and the head referee was his instructor. In that particular match I hit the guy so hard a couple of times that he went down to his knees and I didn’t get a point for it. I think something very important is that when you fight there are two people who know who really won and that’s you and the guy you are fighting. You both really know and that’s what makes all the difference.
P.K.s How did tournaments of the mid-sixties differ from the tournaments of today?
Stone: The officiating has gotten better and the competitors have gotten better, technical wise. I still fee l that the competitors of the past were much stronger physically. I mean raw courage and getting into the ring to fight. I mean really fight. I feel that the fighters of the past had that over the fighter of today. However, today’s competitors are much better technicians, but that doesn’t mean that they arc better fighters if we arc going to use the term “self-defense.”
P.K: Mike, which tournament that you participated in is the most memorable to you?
Stone: I’ll have to pick Jhoon Rhee’s Nationals in Washington D.C. for a couple of reasons. My in structor had lost to Pat Burleson the year I entered it and won it as a brown belt. So the following year I got the opportunity to fight Allen Steen who had beaten me when I was a brown belt and Pat Burleson, who had beaten my instructor. It kind of gave me it good feeling to know that I was going to settle a year old d dispute in my mind as to who was better. You see Allen had beaten me as a brown and Pat had beaten my instructor and this was my chance to get revenge. Another reason is that this was the first tournament that was televised on the “Wide World of Sports.” Those were quite exciting matches that evening.
P.K.: What man in Karate do you have the most respect for?
Stone: All of them. Anybody that ‘s crazy enough to put a Karate uniform on I’ve got respect for.
P.K.: Mike, what 1s your most coveted award?
Stone: The most prestigious would be the Internationals.
P.K.: Who was the toughest opponent you have faced in your career?
Stone: Myself. Because when I’m emotionally down I’m not as good as I normally can be. As a fighter there was a guy, you’re not going to believe this, who was a little Japanese guy in Chicago that I fought , I believe his last name was Yogi and he was the toughest guy I ever fought. You see, most of the guys I fought I scored on easily without much of a problem, but this guy was so short and his defenses were so good that he was the only opponent that I ever went into an overtime with .
P.K.: Mike, who would you say is the best Karate coach in the U.S . today?
Stone: There are two of them that always produce good Black Belt s that are always nationally rated and they are Chuck Norris and Allen Steen . I think they have the best camps of young talented Black Belts.
P.K.: Who do you feel is the best promoter in the U.S . today?
Stone: Myself. The reason that I do say that is because of the event held at the Long Beach Elks Lodge. I honestly feel that it was the best tournament that I have ever participated in. Not only as a promoter, but as a spectator. And the Four Seasons that I have been promoting for a long time 11as become one of the most organized tournaments on the West Coast if not in the country. We start on time and end on time. We have really good attendance and the tournaments arc growing. I think I do as good as a job as anyone in the country.
P.K.: Who do you feel are the five best fighters on the open tournament circuit, today?
Stone: I can only talk about the ones that I know personally. the ones that I’ve seen. For instance, the’re is a boy named Mike Warren whom I have never seen so I cannot select him even though I understand that he is very good. My selections would be Wallace, naturally, Garcia, Natividad, Fred Wren, and Bob Burbidge, who, I feel is the best fighting talent of any Black Belt today. He has all the qualities that make up a good fighter. Another man that must be included in the top five is Jeff Smith .
P.K.: Who in your opinion is the best all around Karate man in the U.S. today, considering forms, fighting, demonstrating and all other things?
Stone: I’d have to go with Roy Kurban and just a half a step behind would be Jerry Piddington because they both compete in forms and free style fighting and they win consistently in both.
P.K. : Who is the best student you have ever trained?
Stone: Jerry Piddington is one of them and now we have Steve Fisher who is doing very well out here on the West Coast. Steve is quite young, though. I think he is only 19.
P.K.: Arc you in favor of professional sport Karate?
Stone: Yes, very definitely .
P.K.: What do you think is the future of professional Karate?
Stone: I do think there is a future for it. It ‘s going to be a matter of developing a larger market for it. One of o ur biggest problems is the old idea of tradition. The question is what Karate is – art or sport and it can’t be both. But with the type of Black Belts that we are developing there is room for another division, the professional division.
P.K.: If you could change sport Karate today and had the cooperation of all the Black Belts in the country, what would you do?
Stone: First o f all I’d change it to where all of the rules would be unified on national level. Then I would establish two major categories, the professional and the amateur sport karate.
P.K.: Mike, you’ve seen the format for our new magazine Professional Karate. What do you think of it?
Stone: Well, I think your doing a good thing starting off involving a lot of different people from different styles. The most important thing is that you’re giving recognition to the fighters regionally and nationally that work the hardest. I think all in all, it’s a very good format and if you follow it in all of the issues you’ve set, I’m sure it will be a good thing for you and for Karate.
P.K.: Mike, what are your plans for the future?
Stone: I’ve retired from the competitive end of Karate. I’d like to do more in the promoting side of Karate. I’d like to promote more tournaments, but good tournament s. Anyone can promote a tournament, but it’s very hard to promote a good one. If there is going to be professionalism I would like to get in on the ground floor because I have a lo t of good ideas and I’m very sincere about them. Also I would like to strive to improve the relationships between karate people across the U.S. This has already been done to a certain degree. For example, Chuck Norris and I have gotten together here on the West Coast to promote the Four Seasons Tournament. AI Dacascos and Jim Hark ins are from different styles and they have gotten together on the Four Seasons in the Colorado area.
P.K.: Do you have any other interests besides Karate?
Stone: Yes , I have quite a few hobbies. I enjoy archery and hunting. I have horses and I enjoy riding. I’m also in a field that is quite different from most Black Belts’ I’m in the business of manufacturing women ‘s watch bands. I like to get involved in a lot of different things to kind of widen my horizons, if you know what I mean.
P.K.: Now that we have the advent of the AAU, what are your feelings concerning this?
Stone: I think it has a place for the amateurs if they want to get involved with it. Most of the benefits are not going to be for Karate but for the AAU financially. The AAU is going to profit so much from the initial enrolment. Their big selling point is the unification of Karate, but that’s our problem and I think we should solve it. The AAU has so many problems of their own and they are so busy with so many other sports that they will hardly have time to help us. When you start talking about professionalism which is an up and coming thing. there is no place at all for it in the AAU. That is the feeling of most of the Black Belts today and that is the professionalism Although I have joined the AAU, my reason was just to keep abreast of what ‘s happening in Karate within the AAU.
P.K.: One more question, Mike. What would you attribute your success in fighting to, speaking from a physical standpoint?
Stone: Probably my timing and coordination more than anything else.
P.K.: Mike, it’s been a pleasure.
Stone: The pleasure is mine. If I can be of further assistance to you or your readers, my door is always open.