American Karate Federation founder and first President, Gary Tiktin, was born in Cleveland, Ohio on July 2, 1941. During his teen years in Columbus, he learned judo from Don Speakman before spending two years training as a paratrooper in the US Army. At age nineteen he had obtained letters of introduction from Jim Wax and Don Speakman then flew to Okinawa to learn Shorin-Ryu Karate (a linear, hard-hitting traditional karate style) from Shoshin Nagamine in the capital city of Naha. Mornings began for Gary with the dojo sensei (instructor), Nagamine, instructing him personally for an hour or more, after which they would breakfast and discuss karate. Tiktin then joined the morning, afternoon and evening dojo classes daily. He became a Nagamine family friend and had karate experiences with masters Takayoshi Nagamine, Ansei Ueshiro, and Chotoku Omine.
After a few years in Okinawa, Gary returned home and began teaching Nagamine’s Matsubayashi-Ryu form of Shorin-Ryu in Columbus at the International School of Self-Defense. (To learn more about Matsubayashi-Ryu open another website window by clicking here.) Gary resisted pressure to award belts based on any criteria but skill and opened his own dojo to reflect this principle. Notable among Gary’s students were Roger Ward (who was his first student to earn a black belt), Mike Hixson, Roger Genereau and Bill Dwyer. Gary taught karate at Ohio State while earning his philosophy degrees.
Sensei Tiktin established the American Karate Federation (AKF) in 1968 to maintain the traditions he had learned. He created his own form, Tiktin-Kata-Ichi, which he was astounded to see decades later performed by Shoalin Monks demonstrating their art in Las Vegas, NV. Through the decades Sensei Tiktin continued to advise and train AKF karate men as President and first teacher of the organization. The AKF was established as a loose confederation of dojos throughout the United States under Sensei Tiktin's guidance. Although fees may be charged for teaching, AKF dojo instruction has often been free of charge and taught for the love of spreading the art. Participation in the AKF has always been voluntary and dojos are never charged for membership.
In 1969 one of Sensei Tiktin’s foremost students and AKF Vice President, Walt Sapronov, brought Shorin-Ryu Karate to Iowa City, Iowa, when he entered graduate school at the University of Iowa. He met John Newman, another experienced karateka, and together they gathered students beginning the AKF in Iowa City. Sensei Sapronov led the class for two years, until he left for a business career, and Sensei Newman became chief instructor and AKF Executive Director. Newman ran the Iowa City class and another in Cedar Rapids until he moved to Fort Collins, Colorado in 1975. Two noteworthy students among the many black belts who were trained in Iowa City were Denis Oliver, who succeeded Sensei Newman as instructor, and Gloria Hershberger. Sensei Hershberger was the first woman black belt in the AKF and the first woman in any style of karate to earn a black belt in the state of Iowa.
John Newman continued to teach AKF Shorin-Ryu Karate when he joined the Colorado State University faculty in 1975. At that time in collaboration with Senseis Tiktin and Sapronov, Sensei Newman developed the Fundamentals of Shorin-Ryu Karate and became a contributing editor of Self Defense World. The magazine featured articles and photos of several AKF black belts, including Oliver, Sapronov, Hershberger, Phyllis Kawanbe, and a another contemporary of Newman’s, Kurt Christensen.
Sensei John Newman taught AKF Shorin-Ryu Karate in the Colorado outdoors year round for decades. Of the many black belts he trained, there were such noteworthy individuals as Paul Tanner, Gloria Hershberger, Chris Caggiano, Michael Spadafora, Woody Bell, Ted Bechtel, Bob Hood, John McCarty, Larry Monesson, and Steve Bradley. Many of these black belts moved away after graduation from the university and continued training and producing AKF black belts where they settled. Others moved on to develop their karate in different styles, like Sensei Caggiano who mastered and continues to teach Okinawan Seidokan Karate. Sensei Bechtel taught Self Defense in the Physical Education Department at CSU for six years and afterward continued to teach at various parks and health clubs in the Denver area. Michael Spadafora advanced his black belt rank by making his way to the Nagamine school in Okinawa from his home in the Philippines. John McCarty continued with his own dojo in Glenwood Springs, CO and Steve Bradley joined Ted Bechtel practising and teaching in Denver. Sensei Newman continued to teach in Fort Collins until 1995, when he retired his position as AKF instructor. Bob Hood and Larry Monesson ran the Fort Collins dojo after his retirement.
Like Sensei Newman in Colorado, Dr. Denis Oliver's AKF influence in Iowa City resulted in a large number of black belts who went on to teach and open their own dojos. Most noteable of the teachers was Terry Kutcher, who took over the Iowa City AKF classes when Sensei Oliver left the group. Other noteworthy among Senseis Oliver and Kutcher's lineage of students include Kurt Christensen, Kirk Dombrowski, Tom Hronic, Woody Bell (originally with Newman in Colorado), Bruce Bussell, Tom Hayes, Curt Stansel (and his black-belt family), and Scott Smith. Each of these karate masters have instructed additional AKF black belt students who made substantial contributions to the American Karate Federation. Curt Stansel and Tom Hayes continue to run their dojos in Florida. Unfortunately, Sensei Denis Oliver, one of the giants of AKF karate, passed away in 2010.
Back in Ohio, Gary Tiktin married his life-long partner, Sallie, in 1986. Sallie achieved her black belt in 1994 and her skill level reached many dan levels higher during her training with Sensei Tiktin. In March 2017 Sallie was awarded her seventh degree black belt by Tom Hayes. Numerous black belts visited the hospitable Tiktin couple over the years to have their karate refined by the AKF Founder. Noteable among these students was seventh dan Sensei Tammam Cheetany, who made regular visits to the Tiktin household well into the early 21st Century. In 2011 Sensei Tiktin's earliest black belt students, led by Paul Keller, Roger Ward, Chuck Carlos and Mike Hixson, presented Gary a Lifetime Achievement Award along with the rank of hanshi, tenth degree black belt. Several years later, in July 2015, Sensei Tiktin died unexpectedly of natural causes.
In 2016 Sallie Tiktin led a resurgence in AKF activity by distributing diplomas corresponding to the ranks Gary had awarded but was unable to deliver before his death. She gave Sensei Newman the Hanshi diploma Sensei Tiktin had prepared for him in 2011. Sensei Newman then promoted Ted Bechtel to the ninth degree black belt and designated him as AKF Chief Instructor. Bruce Bussell, Curt Stansel and Tom Hayes received their diplomas for the ranks of eighth, seventh and seventh degree black belt, respectively. At the same time Tom Hayes was designated AKF Director by Sallie. In September 2016, John Newman and Sallie Titkin appointed Ted Bechtel president (documented below) to lead the AKF forward.
Dr. Denis Oliver