Thread: Wheeler's Isshinryu
12/22/2006 12:20pm, #1
DISCLAIMER: This review was written by a student of Wheeler's Isshinryu and was not condoned or reviewed by the management of the school. It is UNOFFICIAL. Please visit the school page at www.wheelers-isshinryu.com for official information regarding the school.
Wheeler's Isshinryu was founded in 1971 by Allen Wheeler, a student of Harold Long, who was a student of the style's founder, Tatsuo Shimabuku. Mr. Wheeler was awarded 10th dan by vote of the Okinawan Karatedo Union, where the rank seems to denote the leader of the organization as well as a measure of extreme respect. It is worth noting that Mr. Wheeler did not begin studying the martial arts until he was in his forties and was in his late seventies when he was awarded the rank. Upon Mr. Wheeler's death in 2005 the school was passed on to Chuck Reynolds, a 5th dan with over 20 years of experience and a former ISKA forms champion and NAASKA lightweight fighting champion. In addition to Mr. Reynolds there are several older 5th dan and above who are actively involved in teaching at the school. As far as rank is concerned, no one is referred to as "sensei" in class. In fact, the only Japanese terminology used is in the style and kata names. Black belts are referred to as Mr. or Ms. both by other black belts and underbelts. Most black belts refer to kyu rank students the same way. Simple politeness is practiced rather than faux-Japanese etiquette.
The school itself is a large block building that appears to have been, or at least contained a garage at some point in its history since one sealed garage door remains on the structure. The training floor is currently around 800 square feet of mat space, but until the late 1990s the training floor was bare concrete, an experience many of we older students wish we could pass on to the newbies. The dojo has lost all but one hanging heavy bag in recent years to be replaced by eight Wavemaster bags since they are easier to move onto or off of the training floor at need. There are separate men's and women's locker rooms with a single shower each, but limited locker space. For waiting parents with small children there is a separate playroom for children not directly connected to the training floor.
The school offers arnis instruction independent from the karate classes, and I regret that I know less about those classes. Arnis ranks are offered as well, and if anyone needs me to check a lineage or certifying body I can do so. Karate classes are on Mondays and Wednesdays, Arnis classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Tuite classes are offered on Fridays. Sunday afternoons are open floor time for individual instruction, sparring, or weapons practice. All classes and all training sessions are open to all students. Contracts are offered for either six or twelve months, and billing is handled by an outside contractor unless a student wishes to pay a contract up-front. I may have understimated the price however because I have both instructor status and have been grandfathered in under an older reduced price in the past. Many of the older high ranking black belts can be found at the dojo on Sundays.
The dojo retains its black belts better than many schools I have seen, with the average class consisting of 5 or 6 black belts teaching to 12-20 colored belt students. The school's business model appears to be more concentrated on retaining students than filling the floor with white belts who are gone in six months. Belt rank testing is performed quarterly with time to black belt centered around 3.5-4 years. Within the karate student body there are two somewhat overlapping cultures, sport-oriented and traditional.
The traditional students gravitate toward an instructor named James Alley, 6th dan, who teaches intensive application of kata techniques in self-defense. Practice in these class sessions has an "aliveness" of what I would call around 20%, depending on the individual practitioners. When a technique is initially demonstrated it appears extremely choreographed and dead. After a couple of repetitions of the initial technique Mr. Alley begins to show variations and ways to overcome resistance to the technique, then encourages students to "play with that" using more resistance, different timing, or to add additional variations. I hesitate to give a higher score for aliveness however because the initial attack is still scripted and the outcome is in little doubt. Students in the traditionalist camp who wish to practice without resistance are able to do so, and if they are paired with a partner who wishes to practice with resistance it can be frustrating. While Mr. Alley and many of the students in the traditionalist group respect tuite and kyusho jitsu principles, pressure points, meridians, elements and the like are no longer referenced during normal class instruction. Self-defense techniques emphasize standing locks and arm strikes. As Mr. Alley says, "If you can get somebody's head down to about knee level you can start thinking about kicking him in the head." For technique and kata execution instructors often refer back to original videos of Shimabuku. Extreme deviation from Shimabuku's techniques is discouraged since any student of sufficient rank is expected to be capable of teaching techniques to lower-ranking students.
The sport-oriented students, who typically train toward competing in point karate tournaments, emphasize standup continuous sparring with above the belt contact most of the time. Since Mr. Reynolds himself appears to be more in the sport camp, the normal class time curriculum shows this emphasis in the form of heavy bag and pad striking drills. Mr. Reynolds and another instructor study Brazilian jiujitsu outside of the dojo and while they do not claim to teach it, they have added techniques to the curriculum so that an average karate student at the dojo can be expected to know how to shoot, sprawl to defend against a shoot, pass guard, and apply basic front and rear chokes and armbars. Students roll around once a month. Standup sparring for one hour after classes on Mondays and Wednesdays is open to anyone with over a month of experience and is typically practiced continuously with above the belt contact. Point sparring is typically only practiced by tournament team members immediately prior to a sport karate tournament. In-class sparring frequently includes leg kicks and allows clenching. Contact is light to medium to the head and medium to hard to the body and foam gloves, footpads, headgear and a mouthpiece are mandatory. Face contact is discouraged but not strictly prohibited. The dojo holds its own sport karate tournament, the Isshinryu Fall Classic (open to all styles despite its name) every year.
In the past the dojo has hosted seminars from GJJ, Sambo, Shinkendo and several other styles, but in recent years the only seminars of which I have been aware have been by Rick Moneymaker or Rich Mooney. While this may appear distasteful to Bullshido readers, I will restate that these seminars are outside of class time, voluntary, and that their material is not subsequently incorporated into the curriculum except during Friday night pressure point fighting classes, which I have not attended in seven or eight years.
Overall I would say that this school is a good fit for someone interested in learning some basic striking skills and competing in light-contact karate. The community atmosphere is also appealing if multiple members of a family wish to practice together, and there is a good number of students in their 50s or older who might be discouraged by a more purely sport-oriented school. There are better options in the Knoxville area if one is interested in mixed martial arts or grappling, but few if any locals would fail to place Wheeler's in the top tier of East Tennessee karate schools.
Last edited by MrGalt; 6/13/2007 9:59pm at . Reason: saw that post was top google result for school
12/22/2006 12:23pm, #2
Wow, looking at those colored bars I feel like I'm gushing about the school, which isn't my intent. Feel free to blast me for the hyperbole or if you think from my description the aliveness score is too inflated.
6/13/2007 1:33pm, #3
- Join Date
- Jun 2007
Would be very interested to see who posted this review.
Last edited by alleysensei; 6/13/2007 6:16pm at .
6/13/2007 10:25pm, #4
For some reason the longer response you wrote was sent to my e-mail but not to this page, where I think it would be more useful to a reader.
I hope I haven't offended anyone with the review, although I notice it's had nearly 200 visits. It may have seemed harsh to describe the school as being divided into two camps, but it really is how I have perceived the school to have developed in the time I have been there. This site encourages members to review their own schools upon joining as an extension of their own introductions and to aid in the site's first mission as something of a consumer protection service. I tried to keep a neutral tone and write as if I were an outside observer for an audience of potential students, and I think that the review would compare quite favorably with similarly honest reviews of other schools in our area. Ten times as much could and probably should be written about our dojo and I wouldn't get bored reading it, but I tried to keep it brief and readable.
I agree with you that traditional Isshinryu does in fact have a reputation for hard-coreness historically and even now in knockdown karate circles such as Shidokan. Even on this site Isshinryu gets no worse treatment than other styles of karate and better than most, although I've seen people have a bit of fun with Wansu kata's infamous throw in the technique forums.
I'm slightly attached to 'Net anonymity, but you can e-mail me at (address removed) and I'll gladly own up. You appear not to be able to receive PMs, which I realized after writing you a much longer response, so I'll save it until I can respond to your e-mail. (Afterwards I'll probably edit this post to disinclude my e-mail address).
PS --- Ugh, I didn't realize that I appear to have snatched the #1 google result for "Wheeler's Isshinryu." I have added a disclaimer to the effect that the review does not contain official information from the school and once again referred readers to the official page.
Last edited by MrGalt; 6/14/2007 9:44pm at .
6/13/2007 11:12pm, #5
- Join Date
- Jun 2005
- Sinsinnatti Oh Hi Ho
- lol yet again more Judo !
6/14/2007 6:45am, #6
I'm sure that Mr. Alley is not inquiring to be confrontational. If I were him I would actually be a bit concerned though as I've noticed this is the first search result for the school. I really don't want this to appear to be official information since it is essentially a customer review just as someone would find on amazon.com or the like. It may also be that he can correct me on some factual information regarding the history of the school. I look forward to talking to him about it.
Last edited by MrGalt; 6/14/2007 6:46am at . Reason: grammar fix
6/17/2007 10:15pm, #7
- Join Date
- Jun 2007
Wheelers has some of the best instructors such as chuck reynolds who is equiped with the knowledge of the isshinryu karate style point fighting and grappling. Wheelers also has a great staff such as danny potts who is an expert with working with children and an excellent fighter, Jim Alley who teaches a plillipine stick fighting system of arnis and a nerve center pressure point which was passed down by instructor allen wheeler. The school has many black belts which teach fighting grappling kata weapons and basic skills such as what to do if a stranger comes up to you. The dojo has two USA karate team members who have one many medals. The school is founded by a man who whole life was devoted to christ his family and his dojo. Allen Wheeler used his school for gods glory and nobody elses. At Wheelers the underlying fact in my belief is that we do everything whether it be kata point fighting or simply just streching for the glory of god. I know that Wheelers is a great aptmospere for whether you are 5 or 85. Wheelers has made my life and changed my life.
6/17/2007 10:22pm, #8
- Join Date
- Jun 2007
6/17/2007 10:45pm, #9
Well I'm sold.Captain's Log: Just a little update for all my TRUE and HONEST friends out there:
1) I am STRAIGHT! I am STRAIGHT! Get it through your thick skulls, numbskulls!
2) My name is not Ian Brandon Something.
3) Kacey is coming with me now. I have stolen her from the other Christian Weston Chandler.
REMINDER: I am still the one and only true creator of sonichu and rosechu electric hedgehog pokemon
6/17/2007 10:48pm, #10
- Join Date
- Jan 2007
- Lower Hudson Valley / Rochester
- punching bag / crew jitsu
Nicely written, clear, and objective. Although I'm a little curious about what makes the weapons instruction so great, since you didn't mention it in the review.