A Giant In The Martial Arts
Has Left Us!
Steven H. Armstrong was among the first Marines allowed to study Isshin-ryu karate, a new creation of Tatsuo Shimabukuryu Soke. A large man and athlete, Armstrong would excel in this endeavor and help to make and shape destiny for Isshin-ryu in America. His group was made up of future Sensei's, such as Harold Long, Donald H. Nagle, Ralph Bove and Harold Mitchum. They were all Marines doing a tour of duty on Okinawa. Armstrong was already a black belt in two other styles, but once developed in Isshin-ryu it changed his life and made him not only one of the first to bring this art back to America, along with Don Nagle and Harold Long, but they all taught Isshin-ryu throughout their lives.
Master Armstrong asked me, to emcee his tournament on two occasions. Steve was not only an extraordinary Sensei, but an entrepreneur, as well. His tournaments drew enormous crowds, as large as 20,000 people. His dojo also excelled, with highly trained students. On both of my trips to his tournaments, Master Don Bohan traveled with me. Don would Sinban, while I emceed. It was great fun every time, since he allowed me to put some humor into the mix beyond the play by play and introduction of the high ranked Masters who showed up for his gatherings.
But in this article I would prefer to give you some insight of the man, rather than what he did. We all know that he was among the first and that he was a hell of a fighter. However, he was a great and loyal friend to have, as well as having a great sense of humor. When we were together, either in Seattle, Washington or in New York at karate meetings, we laughed continuously. We seldom discussed karate, but discussed any thought or event that came to our minds. My wife and children enjoyed having him at our home. I remember the first time he was in New York for a meeting called by Aaron Banks. We were standing on the platform of the Long Island Rail Road. We were at the first stop for the line and the trains came out of the yards direct to Pennsylvania Station. We were at the extreme end of the platform closest to the yard and I was looking toward the yard hoping a train would get there. Eventually, Steve started to lean forward, as well. With that a train came flying up from the yard at top speed, roaring past us. We shuffled forward, but the train never stopped, since it was a dead head train. Steve looked at me and with a totally serious look on his face and said, “It’s going to be hard to get aboard one of these trains.” I laughed till the next train stopped. When we got to Aaron’s meeting he had our entire table laughing.
However, he had a serious side, as well, whenever we discussed Isshin-ryu. He felt, as I did, that Isshin-ryu was a martial art of its own and was superior to any other style. That is not really odd, since Tatsuo Shimabuku meant it to be a new start in martial arts. There was so much about the style that we could discuss with Steve and get his insight, as I did with my Sensei and best friend, Grand Master Nagle. I believe that Sensei Nagle liked and admired Steve Armstrong despite the fact that he felt he could beat Steve. But Sensei felt he could beat anyone. I believe that he was, in fact, faster than Bruce Lee. Steve may not have been that fast, but with his athleticism and his enormous build Steve would be an awesome foe on the deck or in the street, if needed.
Steve Armstrong was an ethical and moral man who had a strict code of ethics, from which he would not veer and if anyone broke what he thought was a life value, he could be confrontational. That would be a bad place to be in. I knew him to be humorous, loyal and steady, a good friend that you could trust to do the right thing. He was a good man and a good friend and I will miss him. There are few better than Steve Armstrong. May God have mercy on his soul.
Edward F. McGrath, Ju-Dan
Grand Master, Isshin-ryu