American Karate System

The American Karate System (AKS) is a style of karate, founded by Ernest Lieb in 1964. This style includes techniques of karate, jujutsu, hapkido, taekwondo, judo, aikido, kobudo and kung-fu. The current chief instructor is Michael A. Sullenger, 9th Dan. In 2005, following a disagreement between the American and the German leaderships, the German AKS branch ceased to be a part of the American mother organization.

Consequently, the American Karate System (USA) ceased to be a member of the Deutscher Karate Verband (DKV). Head of the style in Germany is Andreas Modl, 6th Dan. Ernest Lieb died in a maglev train crash in Germany on 22 September 2006. He was in his native Germany to conduct a seminar on karate.

The A.K.S. is an organization that is recognized in numerous American states, as well as in various parts of Europe. The A.K.S. is the only American style of karate to be recognized by the German Karate Union (Deutsche Karate Verband), and the World Karate Federation.

The latter organization is recognized and part of the Amateur Athletic Union. No other system or style of karate that considers itself American is so recognized.

The A.K.S. is a conservative, tradition-oriented style of karate. This is embodied in our use of only a white uniform for all levels of rank for all formal occasions (e.g. testings, tournaments, visits to and by other schools, etc). Brown and black belts may also use an all black uniform for normal in-school training.

Rank System: ranking system uses only the “WHITE” “YELLOW” “GREEN” and “BROWN” belts for under black belt students. The black belt ranking currently goes up to 10th Dan, which is held by the late Mr. Ernest H. Lieb, founder of the A.K.S. Most systems have physical testing in black belt ranks through 4th or 5th Dan. The A.K.S. physically tests through 5th Dan, with individual black belts being able to request physical testing for 6th and 7th Dan.

Mr. Mike Sullenger and Mr. Fred Reineke, the only two A.K.S. 8th Dans, have under gone physical testing through the 6th Dan level. In 1979, Mr. Ernest H. Lieb tested for 3 1/2 hours with two 15-minute breaks for his 7th Dan level. He was reviewed by Master level instructors from five different styles. One of those was Grand Master Yuen from Taiwan, teacher of Master John Tsai.

Unlike many other styles, being able to say one is a high ranking black belt has never been an important issue within the A.K.S. The quality of our students in both their physical and mental training has been a much higher priority than rank promotions. We have always told our students we’d rather they were good green, or brown belts, than a mediocre one at the next higher belt level.

Testing to the Black Belt rank within A.K.S. does not occur unless the student is at least 18 years of age. A.K.S. is unlike many other schools that have a lot of children running around sporting black belts. The A.K.S. philosophy is that earning and wearing of a black belt requires more than just ability; it also requires maturity. The wearing of an A.K.S. Black Belt carries with it a great deal of responsibility. Therefore, the importance for a black belt to be a mature individual is self evident.

Introduction: The American Karate System is the brainchild, and dream come true, of the late Mr. Ernest H. Lieb, the system’s founder, and a 10th Degree Black Belt. While conducting an A.K.S. seminar in Germany, Ernie, SFC Charles Krum, 5th DAN A.K.S. and two German A.K.S. students, Mattheas Augustijn, and Dagmar (Daggi) Wichterich were tragically killed in a maglev train (magnetic levitation) accident in Lathen, Germany on September 22, 2006. It is our intent to carry on with Ernie’s hopes and dreams for the American Karate System.

Historical Perspective: The beginnings of the martial arts cannot be accurately traced. As early as the days of the cave dweller man has sought weapons and techniques with which to defend himself or to conquer his enemies. For the purposes of brevity we’ll begin with what is believed to be the origin of Kung-Fu.

Various martial arts publications tell us that about fourteen hundred years ago the founder of Zen Buddhism, Daruma (Bodhidharma), left his native country of India and traveled to China to present lectures on Buddhism. He eventually settled in the Hunan Province in a place of worship known as the Shaolin Temple. Once there his following, which had grown to a large number, were led through rigorous training which caused many to drop out from exhaustion.

Daruma developed a set of exercises for them called the “Ekkin Sutra.” Through these movements, his followers were able to regain their physical strength, and soon became known far and wide for their courage and fortitude. These movements were combined with local techniques to form the Chinese system of boxing, or Kung-Fu.

Korea, Japan and Okinawa each had martial arts systems unique to their native lands. As countrymen traveled to and from their homeland and China, they brought back new and different techniques. Karate, as we know it, originated in Okinawa and was brought to Japan by Ginchin Funakoshi in 1917. Funakoshi’s travel to Japan, at that time, was to demonstrate his martial art to the Emporer of Japan. This trip was made possible by an invitation from the Ministry of Education. After giving his demonstrations and lectures, Funakoshi returned to his Okinawan homeland. He returned again to Japan in 1923 and continued teaching his system of karate. He remained there until his death in 1957.

Evolution of Modern Karate: Before beginning our discussion of the A.K.S., we must first understand how many of the present day systems of martial arts have evolved. So as to not become overly engulfed in the many examples, only five systems will be discussed. The following examples do not fall in any particular order.

The first is the Wado Ryu System. The founder, Sensei Hironori Otsuka, was a master of the Shindo-Yoshin Jujitsu Ryu and had studied under O’Sensei Funakoshi. Sensei Otsuka combined his knowledge of Jujitsu and karate to create the Wado Ryu system. The culmination of Sensei Otsuka’s Wado Ryu endeavors was his development of rules and regulations for free sparring (fighting) in 1934.

The second style is Shito-Ryu. This system was devised by Sensei Kenwa Mabuni. Sensei Mabuni was born in Okinawa in 1893 and studied under Masters Itosu and Higaonna, both instructors with whom O’Sensei Funakoshi had studied. Itosu and Higaonna were two of Okinawa’s most renowned proponents of the islands three main systems of martial arts. By combining the teachings of Itosu and Higaonna, Mabuni created Shito-Ryu.

As we’ve discussed Funakoshi at the beginning of this introduction, it would only be fitting to talk about his system. Probably the most widely known system throughout the world is Shotokan. Though not called Shotokan until the mid 1930s, this system of karate has followers on every continent of the world. O’Sensei Funakoshi also combined teachings from several of his instructors, two of whom were mentioned above. Shotokan translates to “Shoto’s way.” Shoto was the pen name Funakoshi used when he wrote poetry.

For the last two systems, we move to Korea. The Korean form of Karate was called T’ang su around 337 A.D., and under went several changes from Subak, to Tae Kwon and Kwon Pup until it became the present day style of Tae Kwon Do. This was due to the liberation of Korea in 1945, and under the direction of General Choi Hon Hi.

Lastly, the Korean system of self-defense called Hapkido has roots that transcend both the earliest systems of Tae Kwon Do and the Japanese system of Jujitsu. A Korean traveled to Japan in 1910 to study the Daito system of Aikijujitsu. The Korean student, Yong Shul Choi, was in the same class with a young Japanese student name Morihei Uyeshiba. O’Sensei Uyeshiba developed and organized a school of Aikijujitsu in 1945 that later evolved into modern day Aikido. Also in 1925, Choi returned to Korea and combined the styles of Aikijujitsu and Tang Su Do, thus creating Hapkido.

The American Karate System: A Historical Perspective: The American Karate System is the realization of a dream and ideas that began in the mind of its founder, Ernest H. Lieb, upon his return from Korea in 1964. One of Mr. Lieb’s first dreams was an organization that was not dedicated to any one style or system of martial art, but made up of a variety of them. His dream was an organization which promoted sharing and brotherhood, as opposed to senseless rivalry, bickering, and competition over whose style or school was the best.

American Karate: So what is this system of karate called the American Karate System? It’s a system of techniques and strategies which are geared to provide a person with a means to effectively defend themselves in the event of a personal attack. It employs blocks, punches, jabs, kicks, throws, joint locks, and breaks that can neutralize an attacker in the blink of an eye. It’s a system by which a person can condition their body physically and mentally arriving at a state of well being, self-confidence and control.

Few other forms of physical endeavor can do this. It’s a sport that allows students to compete within their own school, or at regional, state, national or international tournaments. It’s an art form that allows a student to seek perfection and self-enlightenment through dedicated practice of both physical and mental techniques. All of this is accomplished in English (with the exception being our German counterparts), as opposed to another language. One who becomes totally immersed in their study of karate, or any martial art for that matter, will soon find it has become an integrated part of their very existence.

Today, the A.K.S. is practiced in many States within the continental United States and Germany. In Germany, the A.K.S. is the only non-Asian style recognized by the German Karate Union (DKV) and the World Karate Federation. No other American organization or style has accomplished this. The A.K.S. was seen by the DKV to represent all of the best values and traditions of its stringent adherence to conservative traditional values in the study and practice of Karate.

Mr. Mike Sullenger and Mr. Fred Reinecke are the first two black belts under Mr. Lieb to have attained the master level of 8th Dan. Both individuals were named as the “first assistant chief instructors” in the A.K.S.

The picture above is also indicative of several historically important events and accomplishments. The first is the certificate Mr. Lieb is holding, which is his promotion to 9th Degree Black Belt. The certificate itself was created both as the new Master Level Black Belt diploma for the 21st Century, and also to establish a different type of black belt certificate for those who attain the master level.

Last, but most definitely not the least, is the presence of Mr. Lieb’s representative from Germany, Mr. Andreas Modl, 5th Dan. Mr. Modl is the head of the European Headquarters for the A.K.S. located in Germany. This was the first time Mr. Modl was able to attend a summer camp. In addition to himself, he was also accompanied by his four key black belts.

The events of the 2004 summer camp were truly historic. Mr. Lieb’s dream of an American system (style) of karate have reached new heights. The development of a branch of the A.K.S. in Germany, Mr. Lieb’s native land, was more than he could have dreamed possible. Yet today the A.K.S. in Europe is alive and well. Here (the A.K.S.) director and his black belt instructors all represent the best qualities and traditions expected of traditional karateka.