Professional Karate is the oldest Martial Arts school location in the Grand Rapids area. It began as Brian Lee’s School of Self Defense offering Yamashita Shorin Ryu, Tae Kwon Do and Goju Ryu. Professional Karate and its affiliated schools are the only schools continuing to offer Yamashita Shorin Ryu in West Michigan.
The “karate boom” in the 1970’s was getting into full swing. Enter the Dragon was getting shown everywhere and Kung Fu was on television as a weekly series. Many people were seeing the Martial Arts for the first time. It would be another decade before Karate would receive the media exposure of the early 70’s.
Another contributing factor to the school opening was Tadashi Yamashita leaving Michigan and moving to California. As a result there were several ronin blackbelts, those who had no school or instructor. This allowed Brian Lee to choose from several possible candidates for the head instructor position.
When the school opened in October, 1973, Brian Lentz started studying Karate with instructor Gordon Gravelyn at Brian Lee’s. Then started working at the school in 1974. From 1973 through 1978 Lentz worked with Gravelyn, Bill Mattix, Jim McCune, Tom Englebretsen, Dan Palmer, Gene Wudkewych as instructors. During that time he also worked with other style Martial Arts instructors such as Bill Leonard (Tang So Do), Phil Dunneback (Tae Kwon Do), Tom Callis (Goju Ryu) and others.
Many people taught classes at this location prior to Pro-Karate: Jim McCune, Bill Mattix, Gordon Gravelyn, Kitty Berry, Dan Palmer, Robert Wright, Tom Callis (Goju), Phil Dunneback (TKD), Rick Heath (TKD), Gene Wudkewych, Mike Griffen (TKD), Larry Johnson, Matt Pulaski, Dan Layhif (Boxing) and others. Then there is another group of people who started at this location and teach or taught elsewhere which is too large to list.
So the school began. From it’s inception until 1984 it ran as Brian Lee’s with Brian Lentz as student and an employee. Except for taking a brief period away in 77 / 78 Lentz has been with the school its entire life. In 1984 Lee was evicted from the location. At that point in time Lentz and another instructor for Lee, Rick Heath, formed Kicks Professional Karate, Inc. reopened the school and continued to offer instruction. Kicks Karate offered Yamashita Shorin Ryu Karate (Lentz) and Tae Kwon Do (Heath & Dunneback) classes from 1985 to 1993. In 1993 Lentz and Heath went their separate ways and Kicks Professional Karate became just Professional Karate, L.L.C. with Lentz as the owner and Yamashita Shorin Ryu as the primary style.
Our school has also been a hotbed for developing kickboxing talent since the 70’s. Brian Lee promoted some of the very first “full contact” karate matches in the country in the early 70’s. Some of these shows featured the superstars of that time and up and coming talent of the future. Some of the fighters trained here or managed by our team: Roger Hurd, Neil Singleton, Terry Gay, Kelly Croy, John James, Brian Simmons, Mark Stewart, Tracy Thomas, Frank Perez, Rob Zajkowski and more recently former K.I.C.K. (Karate International Council of Kickboxing ) World Champion Steve Shively and current K.I.C.K. World Champion Doug LaFontsee..
An item of interest at the time this is being written is that there are three other schools / gyms in Grand Rapids offering kickboxing programs. Panther Gym (John James), Franks Gym (Frank Perez) and Super T (Terry Gay). They all have one thing in common…..they were all training here at one time or another!
Since 1993 various programs have come and gone at Professional Karate. Aikido, Ju Jitsu, Kung Fu are some of the other programs that were, at one time, offered at the school. But our primary program has always been Shorin Ryu.
While our school has never been what you would call “fancy” we have always tried to give our members an advantage by having a completely equipped facility.