You don’t train for speed, you train for technique. Once technique is perfected, speed will come.Cecil Patterson
A pioneer of Wado-Ryu Karate in the United States, Cecil Patterson is credited with introducing this style of Karate into the United States. He was one of the first non-Japanese graded to black belt in Wado-Ryu.
Cecil Patterson was born in the small town of Sevierville, Tennessee, on 22 June 1930.
In 1944, at the height of World War II, Patterson enlisted in the US Navy. He was only 14 years old.
After finishing his first tour of duty in the Navy, Patterson returned to Sevierville, where he began pursuing a career in law enforcement. It was during this time that he was first introduced to the self-defence aspect of martial arts, on a training course with an FBI agent. It sparked an interest in him to learn more.
By 1955 Patterson had re-enlisted with the Navy and was stationed in Iwakuni, Japan. He had found the small Karate dojo of Kazuo Sakura. Sakura was a student of Wado-Ryu Karate founder, Hironori Ohtsuka. Patterson had approached him to learn Karate. However, Sakura would not take him on as a student. It was only after someone had vouched for Patterson, that he was allowed to train at Sakura’s dojo.
Patterson became a student of Sakura in August 1955. He trained 6-7 days a week. The training was tough. No English was spoken in the dojo. This led to a language barrier at times. Sakura was a tough taskmaster. He frequently told Patterson that he would not succeed in his training. However, Patterson persevered with his training and soon won him over.
By the time Patterson returned to the United States in 1957, he had been graded to 1st Dan. That year he opened the first Karate club in the State of Tennessee. It was a private club. He was one of the first instructors to teach Karate in the American South.
In 1959 Patterson was promoted to 3rd Dan.
By the 1960s Patterson was married, with a young family. In 1961 his eldest son John began learning Karate and Judo, at the age of 6.
In 1961 Patterson opened his first commercial Karate school in Nashville.
With the interest and number of Karate practitioners growing, Patterson organised the first Karate tournament held in the State of Tennessee.
In 1968 Patterson organised for Hironori Ohtsuka to visit the United States. Ohtsuka stayed with Patterson and his family during the visit. Patterson had the opportunity to train with him, one-on-one for seven days. The training was gruelling and would last all day. Patterson learnt more in those seven days than he did during his entire time in Japan. Ohtsuka taught him about confidence and the type of relaxation necessary for martial arts.
On 1 December 1968, Patterson was promoted 5th Dan by Ohtsuka. At the time he became the highest ranked non-Japanese Wado-Ryu practitioner in the world. He had been previously promoted to 4th Dan in 1964.
Ohtsuka wanted Patterson to establish Wado-Ryu Karate on the East Coast of the United States. Patterson established the United States Eastern Wado-Kai Federation (USEWF), becoming President and Chief Instructor.
In 1974 Patterson had his first book published. The book was called ‘An introduction to Wado-Ryu Karate‘.
By the mid-1970s do USEWF had become well established. Patterson had 17 dojos across the State of Tennessee. Karate had become so well established that in 1978 a state resolution was passed to name him as the ‘Father of Karate in Tennessee‘. By 1979 he had been promoted to 8th Dan.
On 29 January 1982, Hironori Ohtsuka, the founder of Wado-Ryu Karate, died. His son Jiro succeeded him as head of Wado-Ryu. Some senior instructors decided to break away to form their own organisations. However, Patterson remained loyal to the new head.
A humble man, Patterson was content to be out of the public eye. He contented himself with the running of the USEWF and the development of his students. On 16 June 2001, Patterson was inducted into the Bluegrass National Sports Karate Hall of Fame.
Cecil Patterson died on 27 October 2002 aged 72. He was survived by his wife Joan and their four children (two boys and two girls). His son John succeeded him as a second President of the USEWF.
Away from Karate, Patterson had a successful career in law enforcement. For 40 years he served as the Director of the Arson and Fraud Division for the Department of Commerce and Insurance for the State of Tennessee, until his retirement.
Patterson can rightly be thought of as a pioneer of Karate in the United States. He built the USEWF from a Federation with only two members, to one with over 20,000 members. He was interested in teaching traditional Wado-Ryu Karate. Many of his students have gone on to become high ranking instructors. Even though he was an 8th Dan, he frequently wore a white belt. He once said:
If you have the mind and attitude of a white belt, you are always willing and wanting to learn more.
Wise words indeed.