After nearly 100 years of combined martial arts training and instruction and more than 40 years of friendship, local martial arts experts Randy Earle and Mike Taylor have combined forces to bring to Middlesboro a new combined dojo (karate school).
The school highlights traditional Asian martial arts with roots that can be traced back more than 1,000 years. They call it the “Middlesboro Combined Traditional Martial Arts Academy.”
Taylor says the word “traditional” is intentional.
“We have to distinguish what we are doing from some so-called fight clubs and homemade martial arts schools in the area,” said Taylor.
Earle teaches a system called Shaolin Kung Fu, which is the original martial art spanning centuries all the way back to the Shaolin Temple. Grandmaster Sin Kwan The’ (pronounced tay) brought the system to America. It focuses on the five animals system and is a true martial art, with more than 600 katas (or forms) being taught.
“Shaolin is not just a martial art, it is a way of life,” said Earle.
Taylor points out that Earle is the “face of martial arts in Middlesboro.”
“Anyone who has studied martial arts at some time in the last 40 years or who brings their kids to the dojo has studied from Randy at some time,” said Taylor. “He has carried the torch very well, for his Grandmaster and for his system.”
Earle said there are only three instructors between the last burning of the Shaolin Temple and the floor in his dojo.
Taylor began studying an Okinawan system called Isshinryu (One Heart Way) Karate in 1972 in Pontiac, Michigan. He has continued his study all over the United States by studying in Knoxville, Tennessee with Grandmaster Harold Long; in Reno, Nevada with Grandmaster Toby Cooling; in Chattanooga, Tennessee with Grandmaster Harold Mitchum; and a host of others, all with ties directly to Okinawa and the founder, Tatsuo Shimabuku.
Earle and Taylor are joined in the endeavor by Danny Smith, a lawyer in Taylor’s firm. Smith began by studying with Earle as a boy and earned the youngest black belt ever under Grandmaster Sin at the age of 9.
Since moving back to Middlesboro, Smith has taken up Isshinryu Karate, in which he holds a third-degree black belt.
This year is the 70th year that Earle and Taylor have sponsored the “Battle of Cumberland Gap,” an open martial arts tournament held on the first Saturday in October during the Cumberland Mountain Fall Festival.
“We did this deliberately to support the festival and bring in more folks from all over the region,” said Taylor.
Earle continued saying that if someone wants traditional martial arts with traceable roots to Asia, this area is the place to be.
“We aren’t making stuff up or just throwing together a hodge-podge of mixed martial arts techniques found on the Internet. We teach martial arts the way we were taught and the way the traditional martial arts have been taught for more than a thousand years.”