LOLO — Jim R. Harrison, 83, of Lolo, passed away of natural causes on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020, at St. Patrick's Hospital.
Born during the Great Depression on Dec. 30, 1936, in St. Louis, Missouri, to Everet Ray Harrison and Mildred (Bay) Harrison, Jim Harrison learned how to survive at a young age. Due to his father being an itinerant carpenter during World War II, the family found themselves constantly moving. At the age of seven, the family moved to California, where young Jim got his first taste of the martial arts after watching two Japanese Nisei kids demonstrate Judo. Mesmerized by their demonstration, this event would change Jim’s life forever. After returning to the St. Louis area, Jim attended several different schools throughout Missouri. At each new location, he searched for a place to learn Judo. By the age of 17, Jim had successfully found a martial arts dojo in which to learn the relatively new and intriguing art.
Without a doubt, Jim Harrison’s influence and impact on the martial arts world has been immeasurable over the past 66 years. Although not known by many young practitioners today, ask any Karate veteran who they would least like to face on the street, and they would probably say Jim Harrison. Even Bruce Lee was once quoted as saying: “I fear no man, but Jim Harrison and Mike Stone are the last two men that I would wish to meet in an alley fight. Jim Harrison’s fighting style is not flamboyant or spectacular, it’s just simple and deadly! He’s one of the most dangerous men in the world.”
Harrison’s formal martial arts training started with Judo in 1954. As a result of his training in St. Louis under Bob Kurth, a former World War II Navy Commando, Harrison earned his first Black Belt in Judo and became a 3-time Regional AAU Judo Champion. Many years later, at the age of 62, Harrison won the National Masters Judo Championships in Spokane, Washington, and placed third in the World Masters Championships held in Toronto, Canada. In addition to rugged sport competition, Kurth also taught Harrison basic striking, self-defense, and how to read body language while bouncing at the local bars and clubs. According to Harrison, his training under Kurth was priceless and laid the foundation for the future Martial Arts icon he would later become.
In the late 1950’s, Harrison also began training in Karate. After studying under several different instructors and styles, he earned his Karate Black Belt in Shorin-Ryu under Jim Wax in 1964. In addition to Shorin-Ryu, he also earned Black Belts in Shotokan, Goju-Ryu, Kyokushin, and Moo-Duk-Kwan. Blending his different styles of Karate together, he was one of the first Americans to form their own eclectic style - known as Bushidokan® Karate. Bushidokan® quickly became well known around the world for its emphasis on practical and effective street self-defense, hard contact sparring, and producing champions!
In 1964, Harrison moved from St. Louis to Kansas City, where he opened his first Bushidokan® Dojo. A pioneer of the 1960’s “Blood-and-Guts” era of American Karate, he went on to win championship titles at some of the most prestigious tournaments of the time, including the U.S. Karate Championship (3-times) and the All American Grand Championship (3-times). His bare knuckle Karate battles against competitors such as Fred Wren, Ed Daniel, David Moon, and Joe Lewis are now a matter of legend. Virtually every tournament in which Harrison made it to the finals, were described as “bloody” - due to Harrison’s love for full-contact. One such event was the 1969 Gulf Coast Karate Championship, which became known as “Bloody Galveston”. At that particular event, Harrison’s war with 6-foot-6, 270-pound Ed Daniel resulted in the winner being determined by who would receive the fewest number of stitches later that night in the hospital - Harrison won!
In addition to Judo and Karate, Harrison became a major force in the American Kickboxing and Full-Contact Karate scene throughout the 1970’s and 80’s. In 1970, Harrison Coached Joe Lewis when he knocked out Greg Baines to win the first ever Kickboxing match held in the United States. Later that year, Harrison made Martial Arts History by becoming the 1st U.S. Light Heavyweight Kickboxing Champion by defeating Victor Moore in Dallas, Texas. A hard fought match, Harrison received staples above his eye between rounds before coming back to knock Moore out. In 1974, Harrison served as the co-chief referee for the World Professional Karate Association (PKA) Championships held at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Televised on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, the nation watched as Harrison refereed the title matches that crowned Joe Lewis, Bill Wallace, & Jeff Smith World Champions and Superstars. In 1974, Harrison was selected to coach and train the U.S. Professional Karate-Kickboxing Team (consisting of Howard Jackson, Bill Wallace, Jeff Smith, Jim Butin, and Joe Lewis). Under his guidance, the U.S. Team went undefeated in 57 matches and defeated the European Champions by an overwhelming spread of 25-0 in Berlin. Harrison also coached the U.S. Team in 1975 and ’76, when they were equally successful on their European Tours. Serving as Bill “Superfoot” Wallace’s personal coach and trainer, Harrison helped Wallace defeat several tough opponents, such as Blinky Rodriguez. In the mid-1970’s, Harrison’s Kansas City Bushidokan® Dojo had four U.S. Kickboxing Champions: Jeff Payne (#4 PKA World Rated Lightweight), Ray Patton (#6 PKA World Rated Lightweight), Mark Payne (#4 PKA World Rated Middleweight), and Steve Mackey (#2 PKA World Rated Middleweight and #3 PKA World Rated Light-Heavyweight).
Besides being a phenomenal instructor, coach, referee, and competitor, Harrison was also an early Martial Arts promoter. His first major promotion was when he and Jim Lindell hosted the 1965 Korean Yudo (Judo) Federation Central Division Championship & helped sponsor a nationwide tour of the Korean National Yudo Team. In 1967, ’68, and ’69, he organized the United States Karate Association (USKA) Grand Nationals. At the time, this event was considered to be one of the most prestigious Karate Tournaments in the United States. In 1968, Harrison promoted the 1st World Professional Karate Championships. Originally designed to serve as a pilot TV show for Professional Karate Competition, the event included well known fighters Joe Lewis, Bob Wall, Skipper Mullins, Pat Burleson, David Moon, and Fred Wren - along with referees Bob Trias, Allen Steen, and Lou Angel. At the end of the event, Harrison paid the winner, Joe Lewis, one-dollar for his efforts!
Over the years, many of Harrison’s Bushidokan® students went on to become Judo, Karate, Kickboxing, and MMA Champions. Judo Champions include greats such as Jim Lindell, Parker Shelton, Ike Slaughter, Harry Parker, and Shawn Harrison. Karate Champions include Jay Garrett (Trias International Society Member), Ned Day, Jim Cox, George Woy, Tom Whiteman, Mark Payne, Chuck Northcott, Joe Smedley, Larry Paige, Steve Mackey, Jeff Payne, Janet Walgren, Ed Bixbe, Bob Boggs, Matt David, and George Clarke. Three Bushidokan® students became World Champions: Steve Mackey (Shootboxing), Bob “Thunder” Thurman (Kickboxing), and Josh Barnett (MMA).
One of Harrison’s most proud achievements was his instruction of elite Military and Law Enforcement units - such as SWAT, SEALS, DELTA, and Rangers. His two highest ranking Black Belts, Jim Lindell and Col. Ike Slaughter, are well known throughout those communities. Harrison himself, served in the early 1960’s on a Special Violence Squad designed to clean-up violent crimes in St. Louis (where he had several near death experiences). In addition, during the Vietnam era, he was part of a mercenary team that participated in several Search and Destroy operations throughout Southeast Asia.
Throughout the decades, Harrison received many awards and accolades. In 1988, he was inducted, alongside his good friend and Movie Star, Chuck Norris, into the Karate Hall of Fame in Ohio. In 2002, Harrison, along with Evander Holyfield (Heavyweight Boxing Champion), Wesley Snipes (Martial Arts Film Star), Bernard Kerik (former NYPD Commissioner), and John Corcoran (Martial Arts Historian), were inducted into the Battle of Atlanta Centurion Club. In 2009, he was named Black Belt Magazine’s Self-Defense Instructor of the Year. Most recently, he was inducted into the American Karate Black Belt Association (AKBBA) Hall of Fame (2019 Class).
In 1978, Harrison moved to Missoula, in order to pursue his love for extreme sports and expand the Bushidokan® Style to the Northwestern United States. While operating his personal Dojos (Samurai Martial Arts Training Center and Sakura Warrior Arts), he competed and participated in various outdoor activities, such as alpine & nordic skiing, skin & scuba diving, rock climbing & rappelling, telemark skiing, sky diving, parachuting, para-skiing, bow hunting, whitewater kayaking, and both regular & snow camping. His emphasis on being able to survive not only in a street fight, but also in the wilderness, made him a true survivalist.
On a more personal level, it was the friendships that Harrison developed over the years that he cherished the most. Most of his closest friends were the people that he had fought and shed blood with on the mats many years ago. His family, most notably his children, meant the most to him. Many of them achieved Black Belts in both Judo & Karate, and became reputable Martial Artists in their own right. His 11 children, including Dirk (RIP), Shawn, Lance (RIP), Erin, Kris, Keli, Cody, Valkyrie, Tania, Thor, and Ty, all made him extremely proud. An avid reader, author, outdoorsman, pilot, skier, kayaker, gardener, and carpenter, his interests and knowledge were so wide-ranging that he was truly a renaissance man - in addition to being the closest thing to a modern Samurai…or as he would say, a ‘Ronin’.
In 2017, Harrison created the Bushidokan® Yudanshakai organization in order to develop and preserve the legacy, standards, traditions, and reputation of his Bushidokan® Martial Arts Style. The Board of Directors, consisting of Thor Harrison (Soke), Travis Boggs (Chairman), Steve Kinser, Bob Thurman, and Luke Jovin, are dedicated to carrying on the Jim Harrison legacy.
After passing away on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020, Jim was cremated at the Garden City Funeral Home in Montana. Jim is survived by his wife of nearly 40 years, Carolyn (Johnson) Harrison, along with his six sons and three daughters: Shawn (Debbie) Harrison, Ballwin, Missouri; Erin (Bob) Rath, Stranton, Missouri; Kris (Marielle) Harrison, Austria; Keli (Gina) Harrison, Sandpoint, Idaho; Cody Harrison, Sandpoint, Idaho; Valkyrie Harrison, Lolo; Tania (Matt) Brazda, Missoula; Thor Harrison and Ty Harrison, both of Missoula. He also leaves behind 26 grandchildren, 16 great grandchildren and two great great grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents, Ray (1991) and Mildred (2003) - and two of his beloved children, Dirk (1976) and Lance (1982).
A celebration of life will be held on Sunday, May 10, 2020. Time and venue to be announced at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the Harrison Family asks that donations be made to the Jim 'Ronin' Harrison GoFundMe Memorial Fund at the following link: GoFundMe.com/Jim-Ronin-Harrison.