Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sherman Harrill a Giant Presence who is still felt


Yesterday would have been Sherman Harrill’s 72nd birthday. {May11, 1941 ~ November 4. 2002) This was not to be, as he had departed this plane. An Isshinryu practionier he began his training on Okinawa under Shimabuku Tatsuo alongside my original instructor, Tom Lewis, and of course many others.


I am not his student, for I could not have the privilege of training with him on a regular basis, but his methodical approach to Isshinryu study, his joy if pursuing meaning and training, and his unending quest of Isshinryu Karate have altered my own understanding of my art, and he had similar impact on other’s training.

In the brief time I was fortunate to attend clinics with Sherman, and also help Gary Gerossie, one of this student’s host them, I observed him show over 800 possible applications (the count taken from my notes) and this was only a portion of his understanding.

He often would open a clinic showing applications possibilities of the initial movement of one kata, then after 3 hours would reluctantly decide to move on to the next movement. Sherman was inexaustable, after 6 or 8 hours of a clinic he would still be showing applications in the changing room. And he had serious health issues but though as the years passed and they caused him to slow slightly down, he simply kept going on and on.

To share a small piece of his teachings I offer a bit of the following notes from the first clinic I had with Sherman.



This series of techniques formed the opening hour or so of this clinic. They comprise a great variety of techniques underlying his art.

1. Most generally he sets off his defense on an angle when working on a technique. (my observation)

2. Stances

     a. Returning from Okinawa, Harrill Sensei’s Seisan Stance was more like a Sanchin stance. He feels this allows more movement to execute a punch without locking up.


     b. Sanchin Dachi also prevents scoop kicks into the groin, whether front kicks, or heel kicks to the rear.


     c. Nihanchi Stance also protects the groin from kicks. Shimabuku Tatsuo used to test the stance in this way.


3. On the street when you’re grabbed and then hooked punch, counter with an inner circular hook punch of your own.

      a. Using a counter attack roundhouse punch to deflect a roundhouse punch.. Your roundhouse punch travels on the inside (the shorter arc), deflecting and taking the collision energy to strike faster on the inside track.


4. Against a straight punch to your middle, throw a counter straight punch over the top of his punch.

     a. Use of a Reverse Punch to counter a reverse punch by punching right over the attacking punch’s

     forearm. Your forearm performs a wedging deflection during your own strike.

5. Against a hook punch (thrown from a natural stance) followed by a left straight punch, counter with the inside hook punch of your own, and tehen a straight punch over the top of their straight punch (wedging that punch downward).

     a. Against a roundhouse punch followed with a reverse punch, you can use basic tools 1 & 2 to do so in combination.


6. Also against a roundhouse punch, throw a straight punch to the attacking shoulder. You can also punch into the biceps. This punch may rise and then punch down into the shoulder too.

7. Against an attackers right foot stepping forward with a right punch,

     a. step outside their strike, with your left foot.


     b. Your left open hand parry moving clockwise over and guiding their arm down,


     c. Follow with your right open hand slap into their inner elbow,


     d. As their arm bends, roll it over (pulling up with the right hand and down with your left), and then slip  your left arm through the opening to press down against their arm’s triceps.


     e. This forms an arm lock


8. Against an opponents right foot forward right punch, where I’m right foot forward

     a. Throw a left straight punch over his punching arm into his stomach.


9. Against an opponents right foot forward right head punch

     a. Step right foot forward with a right high open hand parry across to the left


     b. Shift to the right front (knee release mechanism) wedging the attack away at the same time.


     c. Fold the right arm into a right horizontal elbow strike


10. Don’t tense while countering.

There was much, much more.

His example has been a source for my own study and an inspiration not to let my current problems slow me down. I miss his presence today, very acutely. For Sherman Harrill remains a bright beacon, whose light still guides those who trained with him.

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