Today marking what would have been the birthday of Sherman Harrill, I wish nothing but good memories for his students and friends.
I was not a student of Sherman Harrill.
In fact one evening Garry Gerossie walked onto my dojo and asked to attend the class for the night. Garry was from Concord an hour north of me, and we had met at a few local tournaments. So I knew him and of course knew nothing of him.
He watched some of what we were working on then remarked it was similar to what his instructor was teaching him. He then offered to show what he meant, and showed an application for Seisan kata, one I had not seen before. Of course we were intreagued.
Garry then explained to me he was training with Sherman Harrill from Carson, Iowa. That and he understood Sherman trained on Okinawa the same time my instructor, Tom Lewis, trained there. I knew nothing about Sherman.
Garry then invited me to attend a clinic he was having Sherman teach at, and I decided to go.
When I got there at Garry’s school, I met Sherman. He explained that on Okinawa he trained alongside Tom and that Tom had brought his silks back from Okinawa when his tour was finished. He also clearly explained he was not looking for new students. So I responded “that’s ok, for I am not looking for a new Sensei.”
After that opening, both of us were cool.
And I watched Sherman, go on and on and on, movement by movement, kata by kata a never ending exposition of what Isshinryu could do.
I had to travel for business the next day, as I was doing so I made noted of what I remembered. It was about 20 applications, strong applications. I would have fun showing them to the guy’s.
Now I was 25 years into my own study, many of those instructors I worked with were very impressive in their own right. But the depth that Sherman showed was very, very impressive too. For the life of me I could never decide which of them was the better martial artist (For there were 5 of them) each had different strengths.
My own art had more than enough to keep my busy for a lifetime. But that beginning with Sherman offered a different direction for my own studies.
It turned out Garry had filmed that clinic, and a year later gave me a copy. There were many times more that 20 applications shown by Sherman that day. But as Sherman later said, it often took people more than one meeting to understand what was going on.
So Garry and I hosted a joint clinic with Sherman, On that day he asked what I would like to see. I told him “Why not some Chinto, Kusanku and Sunsu?”
I remember him laughing then telling me “any one of them could be an entire clinic, but he would try.”
For the first several hours he showed applications for the opening movement from Chinto, after that he moved on and on and on.
Over the years I experienced at my location his use for Wansu, Chinto, Kusanku, Sunsu and Bo a bit. And attended other New England clinics covering much of the rest. But I realized no matter what I saw he had ever so much more. Much too advanced to share at clinics where he had not developed anyone to accept what his students shared. Of course that was logical. You can’t pour an ocean into a tea cup.
Through my students and my association with Sherman we developed a real admiration of what he was doing.
I did not spend personal time with Sherman on his clinic visits to our area. I did not want to intrude with his personal time with Garry. And the time Tom Lewis came to visit, expect at the dinner afterward, I let Tom had his time alone with his friend the rest of the weekend. That dinner was something hearing them reminisce about times on Okinawa, I heard many things I never heard before.
We also became aware of health issues Sherman was dealing with, One of my students was a surgeon, and he tried to assist Sherman over the years. There were times he was concerned with Sherman health when a clinic would begin, but as the day progressed and Sherman got further in kata application potential, he also got stronger and stronger. He could not turn if off at the clinic end and kept sharing ideas in the changing room. Unstoppable.
At my last meeting with Sherman, he had heard one of my students, John Dinger, was dying, John had been his favorite uke for demonstrations in his clinic at our school. He wanted me to drag John to an upcoming New England clinic for he wanted very much to see him again.
Unfortunately John passed away first, and then I heard the sad news of Sherman’s death too.
I was very shaken by this, and as a result began a 3 month effort to gather all my notes and videos from those clinics together. I began compiling what Sherman showed. It came to 800 applications for Isshinryu’s kata. Along with a study of the underlying principles involved. And I knew it was just a piece of what Sherman was about.
Everyone missed him and John. The loss made a profound change in my program, but we went on. That’s what you do in life, keep living.
And 5 years later I met John Kerker, Sherman’s senior student. Along the way meeting him I learned a great deal, a very great deal, about the part of his art Sherman never had the time to share.
I know Sherman’s art lives on in the outstand efforts of his students and friends.
What Sherman meant to me was how he shaped my own explorations into the meaning of Kata movement application potential, and kata movement application realization. That was a very large legacy to follow.