The Dojo


Sensei Smithstein with Master Herman Kussro - 1984

David Smithstein will be the primary sensei (instructor) of the class, having received his black belt from master Herman Kussro in 1984.  Master Kussro received his master status from Master Shimabuku in 1974, and has been teaching Isshin-ryu for about 47 years at the same YMCA in Dekalb, Illinois.   For the last 28 years Sensei Smithstein has been practicing Ishhin-Ryu, sparring with other martial artists at times and wishing he wasn’t so far from his home dojo in Dekalb. Dojo Genealogy

Over the years Sensei Smithstein had the chance to compare other martial arts environments with his original dojo, and came to realize how much dedication and preparation Sensei Kussro put into his class.  A high school math teacher by day, Sensei Kussro is the American mid-west version of Mr. Miagi from the Karate Kid.   If anyone exemplifies the principles of Isshin-ryu as a inner path of dedication, strength, respect, and community, it is Sensei Kussro.

Sensei Smithstein - 2011- with first student (his son)

Sensei Kussro now manages multiple martial arts programs at his local YMCA with about 120 students between kids and adults.  It’s practically impossible to find him on the web, since he simple doesn’t need to promote himself, nor does he have any need to establish his credentials, as he simply does that through his actions as a teacher.

Sensei Smithstein’s desire to teach Isshin-ryu is primarily driven by a profound appreciation for how Sensei Kussro taught him Isshin-ryu, and the realization that it is now time to turn around to teach others.


Class Sessions

See New Student page


For the first class, students are to wear a white gi with the Isshin-ryu patch over the heart, the American flag patch on the left shoulder and a black and white yin-yang patch on the right shoulder. Each is symbolic; of the art, the students’ role as a citizen, and the importance of deeply understanding the principles of balance in all aspects of one’s martial art, and in all of life.  This is a requirement before your first promotion and for all classes thereafter.  See New Student page

Black belts are required to wear the patches described above on a martial arts uniform of their choosing.

New students after the first class starts can wear whatever gym clothes they feel comfortable in.  The gi and patches described above will be required before their first green belt promotion, however.


All advancements and belt promotions come under the supervision of the sensei.  Promotion requirements are posted and the student will be informed when it is time to him/her to be promoted.  The promotion event gives the student a chance to demonstrate their skills to the class, it is not a test and there is nothing to prove.  The promotion is actually part of the learning process as the student prepares for the demonstration.  When the sensei informs a student it’s time to schedule their next promotion, they have already demonstrated the skills needed to be recognized at the next belt level.

Promotion Requirements


There are a few strict formalities in class that are designed to support the larger purpose of the class and your training.

1.  Students must bow before entering and upon exiting the work out area.  Bowing into class is  symbolic of the respect one has for everyone in the dojo and your commitment to contribute to a supportive learning environment with both your actions and words.  It is also  the moment at which you can remind yourself that anything that is not Isshin-ryu that might be going through your head can be left outside the dojo.  Bowing out of class is symbolic of the gratitude you have for everyone who provided you a learning opportunity during that day’s class.

2.  Students are to address fellow students as Mr. or Ms. and their instructor as Sensei.

This gesture of respect serves as a little reminder throughout the class of the commitment you made when you “bowed in” to the class.   You will also discover that as a group we collectively have the power to redefine ourselves through each other’s eyes.   Since we are committed to always use the power of Isshin-ryu for good, we will use this group phenomenon to everyone’s benefit through this formality.  In other words, regardless of rank, everyone in class will feel like they are respected by everyone else in class.

Due to the potentially dangerous nature of some of the physical aspects of this art, proper attitude and conduct is expected at all times. If, in the judgment of the instructor, one’s behavior or attitude is threatening to the security of others or the harmony of the class, that student will be dismissed.

Practicing Isshin-ryu should be a fun and rewarding experience that every student looks forward to each week.   It is the instructor’s responsibility to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that this environment exists.

 Other Dojo Rules

  • All students must bow before entering and leaving the dojo.
  • Gi’s with patches are required upon testing for all belt ranks.
  • Students should never ask their Instructor/Black Belt/Sensei to spar (kumite).
  • No form of jewelry is to be worn during class.
  • Students must always be helpful and courteous to lower ranks.
  • Students must not practice any technique that has not been formally introduced to them by a qualified instructor.
  • Students may not engage in kumite (sparring) or randori (free play) without being under the direct supervision of a Black Belt in that respective art.
  • Students must remember that the teachings are safe as long as one keeps in mind the dangers and harm that can come from these teachings if not controlled.
  • Students must refrain from casting views on other arts with which they are not familiar.
  • All martial arts have the same basic aim within their teachings: To cultivate  the individual’s mind, embody his mental culture, and above all, to perfect his  character.

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