Grand Master Frank Van Lenten, Soke,10th Degree Black Belt
Grand Master Frank Van Lenten devoted his adult life to the practice and teaching of Okinawan Karate. Many people consider him to be one of the most knowledgeable Karate masters in the world and a pioneer of Karate in America.
Born in 1935 in Paterson, New Jersey, Grand Master Van Lenten's martial arts career began when he joined the United States Marine Corps in 1954. He initially studied judo at the armed forces YMCA in Honolulu. During his time in Hawaii, he also trained in Chinese Kenpo under Sensei Anthony Sanchez.
Subsequently, Grand Master Van Lenten studied under the best Okinawan Karate teachers. A strong man and prominent among these was Masanobu Shinjo. Master Shinjo opened a dojo he named the Shobukan. Master Shinjo later appointed Grand Master Van Lenten as the United States Director of the Shobukan. Although Master Van Lenten resigned from the Shobukan in 1986, he and Master Shinjo remained friends until Master Shinjo's death.
During his three tours of duty on Okinawa, and a brief tour in Japan, Grand Master Van Lenten trained under a number of other widely known and respected Karate masters. Among them was Tatsuo Shimabuku, a memorable Shorin-Ryu teacher and the founder of Isshin-Ryu style of Karate. Sensei Shimabuku taught that "you should never stop trying to learn and to improve yourself." Grand Master Van Lenten inspired that attitude and principle in his students as well and it was in Sensei Shimabuku's dojo that Grand Master Van Lenten found the true meaning of seishin (spirit).
Grand Master Van Lenten further studied the Goju-Ryu style under Sensei's Seiko Higa, Takayuki Tamura,and Seikichi Toguchi. He studied Naha-te under Kasai Azama and Uechi-Ryu under Kanei Uechi. Additionally, he studied Shorin-Ryu under Sensei's Eizo Shimabuku, Zenryo Shimabuku and Chinsaku Kinjo. Grand Master Van Lenten's initial Kobudo training began under Anthony Sanchez in Hawaii and later he had the opportunity to train under a most remarkable weapon's master, Taira Shinken. In 1983, Grand Master Van Lenten founded an association called the Ryukyuan Kobudo International, to further propagate Okinawan Kobudo.
In 1970, Tatsuo Shimabuku, recognizing Frank Van Lenten's mastery of Isshin-Ryu, Shorin-Ryu and Goju-Ryu styles of Karate, awarded him a Judan, tenth degree black belt.
Grand Master Van Lenten was a top ranked competitor in both the United States and Japan. In 1964, he competed in a Karate tournament held by the American Okinawan Karate Association on the island of Okinawa. He was the first American ever to win a championship in both kata (forms) and Kumite (sparring). He also established a record for breaking stacks of clay roofing tiles, when he broke 27 tiles with his fist, during a demonstration of Goju-Ryu Karate in 1963. Tatsuo Shimabuku spoke of Grand Master Van Lenten as his strongest student and one of the most powerful karate fighters in the world.
He was also considered by many to have been a martial arts genius and one of the best teachers. His martial arts training and experience carried over into his career in the United States Marine Corps. During that time, he taught martial arts classes on the base at military installations at Camp LeJuene, North Carolina and in Barstow and San Diego, California. As an Instructor for the Unites States Marines, he taught recruits Bayonet Fighting, Close Combat and Hand to Hand Combat.
Grand Master Van Lenten retired from the Unites States Marine Corps in 1974 after twenty years of military service.
In addition to his military credentials, he held a Master's level ranking in Goju, Shorin and Isshin Okinawan Karate styles.
In 1961, Grand Master Van Lenten founded the Goshin-Do Karate-Do Kyokai. This was an association for all Okinawan Karate styles. It united American instructors who had trained in Okinawa or those who had trained under an instructor who had trained in Okinawa in order to preserve the association's roots to Okinawa. The Goshin-Do Karate-Do Kyokai was disbanded in 1983, when Master Masanobu Shinjo appointed Grand Master Van Lenten as the United States Director of the Shobukan. Following this, Grand Master Van Lenten founded the Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate-Do GoshinKai, meaning the "self-defense association," in 1986.
Grand Master Van Lenten had over 56 years experience in the martial arts. He was featured on the cover of Official Karate Magazine, and there were numerous other articles written about him in martial arts magazines and books. Over the years, he taught many martial artists who became famous in their own right.
Grand Master Van Lenten also authored "The Spirit of Okinawan Karate," about the history, philosophy and traditions of Okinawan Karate. He also wrote three training manuals. They included "Strength to Conquer," "Okinawan Karate for Self Defense," and "Strength Training for Contact Sports."
In 1984, Grand Master Van Lenten was the honored by the Mayor of Okinawa City and the Governor of Okinawa at a ceremony in recognition of his contributions to the propagation of Okinawan Karate in America.
In 1986, Official Karate Magazine inducted him into their Legion of Honor. As a former top ranked competitor in both the United States and Japan, Grand Master Van Lenten is the only American to ever win a championship in both kata (forms) and in Kumite (sparring).
On July 1, 2010, an era in the history of the martial arts ended. Grand Master Frank Van Lenten passed away unexpectedly at the age of seventy four, ending a unique chapter in the history of the fighting arts. Honoring his wishes, on August 18, 2010 at 1300 hours, with rain from the heavens, Grand Master and veteran Marine Frank Van Lenten was escorted to rest beside hundreds of thousands of historical and decorated soldiers in the sacred and protected grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. Buried with full military honors, in an atmosphere of dignity and respect, the ceremony included a burial flag, traditional three volley gun salute and the singularly melancholy sounding of the bugle.