I want every student that I have taught to be better than I was because I care about my students and my teaching.John Roseberry
Described in equal parts as a drill sergeant, philosopher, and father figure, John Roseberry is a pioneer of Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate in the United States. A former US Marine, Roseberry also held black belts in Judo and Aikido.
John Samuel Roseberry was born on 8 March 1935 in Plattsburgh, 40 miles north of Kansas City, Missouri. He was raised by his single mother, Madeline Grayson.
Growing up, Roseberry loved to play music. He learned to play the trumpet after his mother had saved up to buy him the instrument. He developed a lifelong interest in music, learning to play other musical instruments.
When Roseberry was aged13, his mother, Madeline, died in 1948. He stayed with various family members in the Kansas City area after her death. As he grew up he started moving with a bad crowd and frequently got into street fights. By his own admission, he wasn’t a very nice person.
To improve his street fighting skills Roseberry took up boxing. He eventually became an accomplished Golden Gloves boxer.
In 1952 Roseberry enlisted in the United States Air Force, aged 17. The following year he saw his first tour of duty in Korea, which lasted for 12 months.
On his return home from Korea in 1954, Roseberry was assigned to SAC (Strategic Air Command) at Lincoln Air Force Base in Nebraska. An accomplished boxer he fought for the Air Force and won several All-Services Championships.
In 1955 Roseberry was transferred to Lincolnheath, United Kingdom. It was during this time that he was exposed to Judo for the first time. The Air Force boxers shared the same training facilities as the judoka. He was persuaded to take classes and found he liked Judo.
Roseberry was honorably discharged from the US Air Force in 1956, after four years of service.
On his discharge from the Air Force Roseberry returned to Kansas City. However, he started running with a bad crowd again. This landed him in some trouble and led to him being arrested. The judge in his case gave him the choice of going to prison or enlisting in the United States Marine Corps. He chose the Marine Corps.
After Marine basic training, Roseberry was assigned to 29 Palms Marine Corps Base in California. He was soon deployed to Okinawa for his first tour of duty. During the journey, he met and became friends with Joe White.
Joe White was the first black man to be awarded a black belt in Goju–Ryu. He received his grade from Seikichi Toguchi. He later died in action while serving in Vietnam.
In Okinawa Roseberry was stationed at Camp Hanson. During his 15-month tour, he practiced martial arts during his downtime. He resumed his Judo practice, training under Takaski Matsumoto. He trained at the Naha Police Academy, where he also had the opportunity to practice Kendo. He also had the opportunity to train at the Kodokan, the home of Japanese Judo. He had the opportunity to train with the legendary Donn Draeger.
During his time in Okinawa Roseberry competed in several Judo tournaments, becoming champion. His successes included:
- 7-time All–Marine Champion
- 3-time All-Services Champion
- All Okinawa Judo champion, the first foreigner to win the title.
It was Roseberry’s friend, Joe White, who introduced him to Goju–Ryu Karate. He took him to Seikichi Toguchi’s dojo in Koza City.
Meeting Toguchi, who had been a senior student of Goju-Ryu founder, Chojun Miyagi, changed Rosebery’s life. Toguchi had seen him compete at the Kodokan. He excepted Rosebury as a student.
For the next eleven years, Roseberry trained at Toguchi’s dojo in Koza City and also in Tokyo during his various tours of duty. The training was very traditional, with a lot of emphasis placed on practicing the kata Sanchin. Most often, katas would only be practiced once a student was tired. This meant they would have to focus on techniques and not their muscular power. Every year the annual kangeiko or winter training was held during the coldest month of the year. Toguchi would open the dojo to the winter air and would increase the intensity of the training. Students would have to constantly move so as not to freeze. Roseberry would institute this type of training years later in his own dojo in the United States.
Roseberry would eventually be graded to 4th Dan by Toguchi. He had been only the second non-Asian to be promoted to black belt, after Joe White.
In 1956 Roseberry re-enlisted in the Marine Corps for another four years and was deployed to Okinawa.
Roseberry met his future wife, Emma LaJune Goodwin in 1958. They were married two years later on 13 May 1960.
In 1959 Roseberry returned to the United States and was stationed at the Great Lakes Naval Station. Before leaving Okinawa Toguchi awarded him with a teaching license. It was around this time that he began teaching Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate in the United States.
Roseberry was sent on another deployment to Okinawa in 1960. Following this deployment, he spent time at Camp Lejeune, and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) in San Diego, where he was a drill sergeant, and also taught Judo and Karate.
In 1964 Roseberry was awarded his 3rd Dan in Judo by the Judo Black Belt Federation. That year he was also selected as the Heavyweight Alternate to the 1964 United States Olympic Judo Team, for the Games held in Tokyo, Japan.
Roseberry was deployed to Vietnam in 1967. He taught Karate to Marine Recon Units and Navy SEALS. The following year he was transferred to the University of Nebraska to teach General Military Subjects for the ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps). This was his last appointment as a US Marine.
During his time at the University of Nebraska Roseberry met Mike Descenzo. It was Descenzo who convinced him to teach martial arts to non-military personnel and open a dojo. He began to informally teach both Judo and Karate the following year.
After a 16-year military career, Roseberry retired from the US Marine Corps in 1972. He decided to open his first commercial dojo in Lincoln, Nebraska. On 1 October he established the Sho Rei Shobu Kan Okinawan Goju-Ryu organization. The aim of the organization was to uphold the teachings of Chojun Miyagi and Seikichi Toguchi.
Not the type of person into self-promotion, Roseberry quietly worked to establish Sho Rei Shobu Kan Okinawan Goju-Ryu as one of the best Goju–Ryu organizations in the United States.
On 1 January 1994, the Sho Rei Shobu Kan changed its name to the Sho Rei Shobu Kan Budo organization. The aim of the organization was to expand it to include other martial arts with a similar philosophy.
In 2011, Roseberry’s wife of 51 years, Emma died. He eventually met Jeri Goble, who he married in 2013.
Roseberry decided to hand over his Lincoln, Nebraska dojo to his senior students in 2013. He wanted to move to Virginia to be closer to his children.
On 22 September 2018, John Roseberry died. He was survived by his wife, 6 children, 10 grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren.
On 29 September 2018, a funeral service was held at the Chester Chapel in Chester, Virginia for Roseberry.
At the time of his death, John Roseberry held a 10th Dan in Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate; an 8th Dan in Judo; a 5th Dan in Daitoryu Aikijutsu; and a 3rd Dan in Aikido. As an instructor, he taught in Taiwan, Japan, parts of Europe, Okinawa, Vietnam, the Middle East, and North America.
Away from martial arts, Roseberry was a running back for the US Marine Corps American Football Team. He eventually tried out for the NFL’s San Diego Chargers, making the team. However, he decided that his future lay in the Marine Corps.
Roseberry was a veteran of both the Korean of Vietnam wars. He is pictured on the National Korean War Memorial Wall in Washington DC. He and his friend, US Senator Bob Kerry are part of a Vietnam Memorial Sculpture on display at Branson, Missouri.