Sensei Allan Blackburn was an early member of the OI and was instrumental in the development of many current Order of Isshin-Ryu black belts, including Master Ron Tyree (8th dan), Sensei Danny Cross (6th dan), and Joe Ragan (3rd dan). He was a very strict, demanding instructor and was known to be all business within the dojo. The term warrior can sometimes be overused a bit, but for Sensei Allan Blackburn, this word described him perfectly.
Allan was the owner of a trucking company and was the father of four boys. He served in the United States Army and was a veteran of the Vietnam War. Allan Blackburn was the sensei of the old YMCA dojo on Rt. 40 in Elkton, Maryland. He presented an intimidating stature at over six feet tall and weighing more than 200 pounds. He demanded respect from his students. If you were not prepared to work every second in the dojo, he would tell you to get out. He would not waste time if you were not sincere in wanting to learn karate.
Sensei Dan Cross recalls of training in the Blackburn dojo, “His classes focused heavily on basics. In most of his classes, 75 percent of it was focused on repetition of basic techniques. If you wanted extra training, you had to come early or stay late. His focus on the basics was because he wanted his students to be prepared for kata (forms). He demanded perfection in the execution of the kata.”
Although he was a very disciplined instructor, he truly cared about the overall development of all his students. Sensei Cross provides an example, “There was a dedicated student who informed Sensei Blackburn that he would have to stop coming to class because his hours at work changed and it conflicted with the dojo schedule. Without hesitation Sensei told him, ‘You will not quit, you will make yourself available to come to my house and train when you are not working.’ It was not a question, it was a directive.”
Joe Ragan remembers Sensei Blackburn was his instructor from 1982 to 1984. In 1983, Joe recalls one time when he was getting ready to test for his blue belt, he asked Sensei Blackburn the question, “Does this Isshin-Ryu karate really work or am I wasting yours and my time?” Sensei Blackburn answered, “Stay after class and you can decide.” After class Joe did as instructed and remained on the floor to see what Sensei Blackburn had in mind. Allan said to Joe, “We will tap (light spar) each other and you lead the way.” Joe did as instructed and the next thing he knew, he was on the floor trying to get himself together. Sensei Blackburn had stuck his foot into Joe’s solar plexus and down he went. Joe recalls, “I didn’t know what happened for about a minute. Then it all came to me, his foot hit my solar plexus and I was out of it.” Sensei Blackburn stuck around until he finally got himself back on his feet. He then said to Joe, “See you next class.” Driving home Joe said to himself this Isshin-Ryu stuff really works. Reflecting on it, Joe stated, “It was hard waiting two days until the next class. I was early for class from that day on. That was the beginning of our friendship and trust. I still think of my first sensei to this day.”
Sensei Blackburn was very courageous. As a young man he became very ill and could no longer run the dojo. During an operation he suffered a seizure. As a result, he had blurred vision and difficulty eating solid foods. He also had slurred speech. This once large man became frail and could barely function. Yet in a more limited capacity he continued his efforts to learn martial arts. His students recall he never complained, was always in a positive state of mind and eager to help anyone he could. Sensei Cross remembers, “There was a time when Sensei Ronnie Cimorosi sent an email to the OI black belts asking for assistance in teaching his classes [due to an influx of new students]. The very next class Sensei Blackburn was there and ready to help. He never let his condition get in his way.”
Joe recalls, “Sensei Blackburn never gave up trying on the things he set out to do. He was very special that way. I had a nice talk with him a couple weeks before his death. He was prepared.” Shortly before his passing, on August 31, 2007, he told Sensei Cross what an honor it was to have taught in the Order of Isshin-Ryu, and how rewarding it was to see some of his very first students progress through the ranks.