Biography of John Sells Hanshi, 8th Dan Shito-ryu & Student of Kenzo Mabuni, Dan Ivan & Fumio Demura
A native Californian, from a long line of Californians, John Sells began his study of karate and other Asian martial arts as a youth in Los Angeles. By the time he was fourteen, John was practicing karate daily. He took is first lessons in small, neighborhood Judo and Karate clubs.
Hanshi Sells perfomring a sai kata in Japan.
By the time John was sixteen he was a member of Hidetaka Nishiyama's original All America Karate Federation and studying the Shotokan karate of the Japan Karate Association. While still in high school and a brown belt in karate, John organized a school sponsored karate club and acted as its first teacher. After high school, John attended the University of Redlands in California, where he was able to continue his study of karate in new ways. At Redlands, Sells enrolled in the Kyokushin karate course offered by the University as well as joining a Shorin-ryu karate club on campus.
In 1968, Sells received his first black belt ranking in a progressive form of Shobayashi-ryu Shorin-ryu under George Torbett. He was then retained by his University to teach the karate courses as part of the physical education curriculum of the school. Sells went on to train in Shito-ryu concurrently with Shorin-ryu while continuing his studies in Shotokan during summer vacations. After college, John pursued a career in the Aerospace Industry and opened his own commercial karate school while also maintaining his University teaching post.
By 1973, John held a 3rd degree black belt in Shorin-ryu and 2nd degree in Shito-ryu. He became a licensed instructor of Kotaka-ha Shito-ryu with Del S. Saito under the system's founder, Chuzo Kotaka. By 1977, Sells was teaching in Santa Barbara, California and from 1979 to 1984 he was the karate instructor at the University of California at Santa Barbara. During this same time, John studied Itosukai Shito-ryu and Shotokan from Fumio Demura and Daniel Ivan eventually becoming a senior instructor with the Japan Karatedo Federation USA.
Under Dan Ivan, John earned his 5th degree black belt in 1988. By this time Sells also was training under Ben Otake, Takiyuki Kubota's senior student, in an aggressive, fighting form of Shotokan. Never completely abandoning Okinawan karate, Sells received his 4th degree in Okinawan Kobudo (karate weapons art)---also in 1988---as well as black belt ranking in Matsumura Shorin-ryu. John was awarded the rank of 7th degree black belt in Shito-ryu karate, receiving that rank along with the title of Shihan (Senior Teacher) from Kenzo Mabuni, the son of the founder of Shito-ryu and titular head (Soke) of that style.
In 1999 Kenzo Mabuni Soke elevated John to eighth dan and May, 2001 in Osaka, Japan at a special celebration, John was honored and awarded the title of Hanshi, for his diligent efforts in promoting the true spirit of karate-do and his technical excellence.
Shito-ryu practitioners Jason Armstrong (6th Dan) & Garry Edwards (5th Dan) with Hanshi Sells (8th Dan) in 2006.
He is also ranked 6th degree black belt in Okinawan Kobudo and is founder of both the United States Kobudo Association and co-founder of the Shindokai Karatedo (with Ben Otake).
Since 1976, John has published many articles in several martial arts magazines including "Black Belt", "Karate Illustrated" and "Dojo Magazine". These articles have all focused on historical aspects of karatedo with the aim of bringing to light the details of karate's past so long hidden and overlooked. As an instructor of karate and kobudo, Sells teaches and lectures throughout the United States.