Shihan DeFelice & Sensei Szmitkowski, Circa 2011

The lineage of Goshin-Do Karate-Do DeFelice-Ryu begins in the year 1960 when Shihan Thomas DeFelice embarked upon his journey in the martial arts. Shihan DeFelice’s early exposure to the martial arts began in Am-Do (American-way) jujitsu under the tutelage of Sensei Fred Stahl (then a Go-Dan) and Sensei Al Gossett (then a San-Dan) at their Dojo in Paterson, New Jersey. In 1961 Shihan Frank Van Lenten visited the Paterson Dojo. This was the beginning of an informal martial arts relationship between Shihan Van Lenten, Stahl and Gossett.

In 1963, Shihan Stahl and Shihan Gossett dissolved their martial arts relationship. Shihan Gossett opened his own Dojo in Kearny, New Jersey with Shihan DeFelice as his uchi-deshi. During this time, the relationship with Shihan Van Lenten grew. This relationship ultimately ripened into the Goshin-Do Karate-Do Kyokai (Self-defense empty hand way association). The Kyokai was the result of combining Shihan Gossett’s knowledge of jujitsu with Shihan Van Lenten’s knowledge of the technique and kata of Okinawa Karate-Do. Shihan Van Lenten became the chief instructor of the association by virtue of his advanced rank.

Shihan Van Lenten’s education in Okinawa Karate-Do was fostered during (ultimately) fifteen years of training on Okinawa under the following teachers and in the following systems:

  • Kempo under Sensei Wong and Sensei Anthony Sanchez;
  • Goju-Ryu under Sensei Tamura, Sensei Seikichi Toguchi and Sensei Masanobu Shinjo;
  • Shorin-ryu under Sensei Zenryo Shimaboku;
  • Isshin-ryu under Sensei Tatsuo Shimaboku; and;
  • Uechi-ryu under Sensei Kanei Uechi.

Shihan Frank Van Lenten

After receiving black belt ranks in the above systems, Shihan Van Lenten sought to create his own style of Okinawa-based Karate which he subsequently demonstrated to his Okinawan instructors. He called his style Goshin-Do Karate-Do. The kanji for the style originally translated as “Strong heart empty hand way”. The phrase “Goshin-Do” is a homonym and has different meaning depending on the kanji used for the phrase. Shihan Van Lenten subsequently changed the kanji of Goshin-Do Karate-Do so that it translated as “Self-defense way of the empty hand way.” It is this kanji that remains in effect under Shihan DeFelice.

Original patch of Shihan Van Lenten’s Goshin-Do Karate-Do Association

During this time period, Shihan Van Lenten began an all-consuming quest into the kenkyuu (research) kata that was to form the core of the Goshin-Do Karate-Do system. His research often resulted in changes not only as to the kata that were required for rank in the system but also in the specific techniques and manner of performing the kata. (See endnote # 1).

Revised patch of Shihan Van Lenten’s Goshin-Do Karate-Do Kyokai.

Shihan DeFelice remained one of Sensei Van Lenten’s most ernest and loyal students, often making several trips to California (where Shihan Van Lenten was stationed with the U.S. Marine Corps) for training purposes. To view a video with archival training footage of Shihan Van Lenten, circa 1960’s, featuring Sensei Wesley Evans, Sensei Jack Porta and Shihan Thomas DeFelice, please click the following link:

Our newest video features Shihan Frank Van Lenten engaged in kumite is available by clicking the following link:

On March 14, 1969 Shihan Van Lenten designated Shihan DeFelice as the person “directly responsible to him in regard to the methods and techniques of the style.” Shihan DeFelice was also elevated to the rank of Go-dan.

Eventually, however; the inability to form a core of kata as opposed to kenkyuu kata proved fatal to this relationship. It was due, inter alia, to the nebulous nature of the changing kata requirements that Shihan Thomas DeFelice resigned from the Goshin-Do Karate-Do Association on August 3rd, 1970. Shihan DeFelice had operated a successful Dojo at 125 Broad Avenue in Palisades Park, New Jersey (since May, 1965). This Dojo location became Shihan DeFelice’s Hombu (Headquarters) Dojo.

Shihan DeFelice’s hombu dojo, 125 Broad Avenue, Palisades Park, NJ.

Shihan DeFelice desired to remain faithful to the core teachings of the Goshin-Do Karate-Do, but understood that given the changing kata and techniques, further research needed to be undertaken so as to fully codify the style.

Shihan DeFelice’s Goshin-Do Karate-Do patch.

Shihan DeFelice expanded the Hombu Dojo to include three Shibu (Branch) Dojo located in Garfield, New Jersey (under Sensei Jeffrey Tyne), Maywood, New Jersey (under Sensei James Kingston and Sensei Dave Crum) and Teaneck, New Jersey (under Sensei Steve Malmoud).

In 1974, Shihan DeFelice was elevated to the rank of Shichi-dan (seventh degree black belt), Karate-Do No Shihan, Goshin-Do Karate-Do. His certificate of rank was signed by perhaps the most preeminent American Karate-Do pioneers of the day, including, Shihan Al Gossett (now with the Goshin-ryu style of karate), Shihan Peter Urban, Shihan Don Nagle and Shihan Michael DiPasquale.

During the subsequent years following 1974 Shihan Frank Van Lenten abandoned the Goshin-Do Karate-Do style of karate and association initially in favor of the Goshin-RYU Karate-Do moniker. Eventually, Shihan Van Lenten totally abandoned the entire “Goshin-Do/Ryu” concept in favor of a style of Karate-Do and association that was slanted towards the Goju-ryu style of Karate-Do. He referred to his style and association by various monikers, including the Goshin-Kai association and Kagen Goju-ryu style. During this time period and documented through the year 1989, Shihan Van Lenten continued his kenkyuu (research) kata ideology with emphasis on a Goju-ryu basis tempered with a Shorin-ryu influence. (see endnote # 2).

Patch worn by the Goshin-Do Karate-Do Shobu-Tai (Combat-corp), tournament competitors.

On August 24th, 1983, Shihan DeFelice was summoned to a meeting by the eminent Karate-Do pioneer, Shihan Peter Urban, Ju-Dan USA Goju-ryu. Prior to this meeting Shihan DeFelice and Urban were, for more than a decade, true martial arts comrades, often teaching at each others Dojo and performing seminars for each other students. At the meeting, Shihan Urban, in recognition of Shihan DeFelice’s devotion, knowledge, abilit and prowess in Karate-Do, presented Shihan DeFelice with a certificate of rank as Ju-dan, 10th degree black belt. In deference to Shihan Urban’s desire and command, Shihan DeFelice hesitantly accepted the certificate so as not to dishonor Shihan Urban’s wishes.

Shihan DeFelice therein embarked upon a quest of introspection and soul-searching as to this elevation. During this quest, Shihan DeFelice visited, trained with and exchanged Karate-Do technique and ideology with many of the preeminent Karate-Ka of that era. In addition, he also made several visits to San Francisco, California where he trained and conferred with Shihan Richard Kim, the United States representative of the Botokukai.

Patch of the Botokukai

On May 31st, 1985, as the proximate result of his knowledge and capability in the martial arts, Shihan DeFelice was elevated to the rank of Ku-dan, ninth degree black belt, and awarded the Menkyo Kaiden (“certificate of full transmission” or “license to teach all arts”) for the Goshin-Do Karate-Do system. This elevation was in recognition of not only Shihan DeFelice’s dedication to the Goshin-Do Karate-Do stye of Karate, but also in recognition of the fact that Shihan Van Lenten had abandoned the Goshin-Do style of Karate-Do. Once again, all certificates were signed by the aforementioned Karate-Do pioneers.

The Ku-Dan certificate presented to Shihan DeFelice.

The Menkyo Kaiden presented to Shihan DeFelice.

As you can see from the photograph below, the elevation ceremony was attended by several esteemed martial arts dignitaries; from left to right are: Shihan Thomas DeFelice, Shihan Antonio Periera, Ju-dan, Miyama-ryu Ju-jitsu, Shihan Michael DePasquale, Sr., Ju-dan,  Yoshitsune-ryu Ju-jitsu, Shihan Don Nagle, Ju-dan, Isshin-ryu Karate, Shihan Al Gossett, Ju-dan, Goshin-ryu Karate, Sensei Hector Negron, Miyama-ryu Ju-jitsu, Shihan Bob Long, Ju-dan, Nage-ryu Ju-jitsu and Shihan Wayne Norlander, Ku-dan, Goshin-ryu Karate. In addition to his certificate of rank, Shihan DeFelice was also presented with letters attesting to his elevation from Shihan Peter Siringano, Samurai Ju-jitsu and Shihan Antonio  Pereira, Miyama-ryu Ju-jitsu.

In 1992, Shihan DeFelice and the Goshin-Do/Ryu sphere was saddened to learn of the passing of Shihan Al Gossett.

In 1994, Shihan DeFelice desired to further his meditation and introspection into the Goshin-Do Karate-Do style. He was also a much desired consultant and advisor to various branch styles within Shihan Van Lenten’s former Goshin-Do/Ryu Associations. The tremendous dictates placed upon his time required Shihan DeFelice to retire from the daily operations of the Hombu Dojo which was then relocated to 500 10th Street, Palisades Park, New Jersey. At this time, the rigors of such daily operations were assumed by Sensei John Szmitkowski. So as to expand the teaching of Goshin-Do Karate, Sensei Szmitkowski opened a shibu dojo located at 748 Paterson Avenue, East Rutherford, New Jersey in April, 1995.

Sensei Kim Szmitkowski, Sensei Jerry Ventura & Sensei John Szmitkowski at the Issho Dojo, East Rutherford, NJ. Circa 2002.

This was a fortuitous occurrence because soon thereafter due to a real estate sale and after a brief period of relocation at 410 Anderson Avenue, Cliffside Park, the hombu dojo closed.

Sensei John Szmitkowski receiving a promotion from Shihan DeFelice as Sensei Paul Recchia observes. 510 Anderson Avenue, Cliffside Park, Nj. Circa 1996.

The East Rutherford Dojo, which was named the “Issho-Dojo” (“Lifetime Dojo”) became the hombu and sole dojo.

Insignia of the Issho Dojo.

In 2004, Sensei Szmitkowski relocated to the state of Arizona where he began teaching Goshin-Do Karate-Do to private students. Sensei Szmitkowski also embarked upon writing about the Goshin-Do Karate-Do style. The Issho Dojo remained in operation under the auspices of Sensei Kim Szmitkowski, as Kancho (Director) with the assistance of Sensei Jerry Ventura. Both Shihan DeFelice and Sensei John Szmitkowski remained active as instructors at the Issho Dojo as time and geography would permit. In 2007, Sensei  Kimberly Szmitkowski decided to pursue a higher post-graduate masters degree and Sensei Jerry Ventura desired to relocate to the State of Texas. Thus, Sensei Szmitkowski found it necessary to close the Issho Dojo.

On July 1, 2010, the world of Okinawa Karate-Do mourned the loss of Shihan Frank Van Lenten.

Since he first entered a Karate-do dojo, Shihan DeFelice has continuously maintained a connection with his art, namely, Goshin-Do Karate-Do. He remains a much sought after advisor and consultant to many senior black belts throughout the state of New Jersey. In recognition of this fact, most recently, on March 4th, 2011, his senior black belt, Sensei John Szmitkowski, Roku-dan, Karate-Do No Renshi, during a training session at the dojo proposed that the moniker “DeFelice-Ryu” be utilized to distinguish this style of Goshin-Do Karate from the plethora of styles using the general Goshin-Do, “Way of self-defense” designation. (See Endnote # 2). In attendance at this training session were Sensei Robert Wieczorek, Sensei David Crum and Sensei Rudy Wiegand. Sensei Szmitkowski also conferred telephonically with his daughter Sensei Kimberly Szmitkowski as to this moniker. Subsequently Sensei Szmitkowski presented this idea to Shihan DeFelice. The first public use of the moniker “Goshin-Do Karate DeFelice-ryu” was on Sensei Szmitkowski’s personal weblog on March 11th, 2011. (See endnote # 4)

Hanko seal of Goshin-Do Karate-Do DeFelice-Ryu

Hanko seal of Goshin-Do Karate-Do DeFelice-Ryu

At the time of authorship of this weblog lineage page, Shihan DeFelice made known to Sensei Szmitkowski a fact that due to his modesty and humility was heretofore undisclosed to any other person. On August 24th, 1983 not only did the legendary Karate-Do pioneer, Shihan Peter Urban, issue the above certificate of rank, but by way of the certificate had already suggested a “DeFelice-ryu” designation for his style of Karate-Do. Sensei Szmitkowski found this revelation profoundly and personaly satisfying that two and a half decades prior to his coining the name Goshin-Do Karate-Do DeFelice-Ryu, a legendary master had already conceived a similar name.

With this lineage that dates back to 1960, Goshin-Do Karate-Do DeFelice-ryu strides forth into the future. Shihan DeFelice is involved not only in teaching, but also various literary projects. Sensei Szmitkowski released a book and DVD on Sanchin Kata. (See endnote # 5). Most recently Shihan DeFelice and Sensei Szmitkowski have commenced a collaborative effort on a book and DVD series addressing various (oft forgotten) aspects of Karate-Do. And thus, the legacy of DeFelice-ryu continues . . .

More as of yet unwritten history to follow . . .


1. Please refer to the “Kata Curriculum” page for historical documents as to these varying requirements.

2. In a 1989 interview, Sensei (now Hanshi, Ju-dan, 9th degree black belt) H. Tadeo Imoto states that Van Lenten-Sensei, who had divorced himself from the Shobukan, was engaged in kenkyuu kata as opposed to traditional Goju-ryu Kata.

3. Such a designation of a style of Karate-Do is in keeping with past tradition whereby a style is named for an influential teacher or founder. By way of example, Uechi-ryu is a designation used by Kanei Uechi’s students for a style of karate derived from pang-noon-gai-ryu and Matsubayashi-ryu is used to designated a style of shorin-ryu karate created by Shihan Shoshin Nagamine in honor of his three teachers.

4. Sensei Szmitkowski’s personal weblog may be found at WWW.SenseiJohn.Wordpress.Com. The specific article making first public reference to “Goshin-Do Karate-Do DeFelice-Ryu, entitled “Hidden traits of 8 primordial principles” may be found using this link:

5. For more information on his Sanchin Kata DVD and book, please visit Sensei Szmitkowski’s personal weblog as above or his website. WWW.Dynamic-Meditation.Com


  1. Pamela Jo Capone November 15, 2013 at 4:17 am #

    This is an amazing article to find. I had been seeking out info. on the Goshin-Do style due to the fact that my instructor Sensei James Keahon trained under and attained his rank of Shodan under Shihan DeFelice back in 1966. I had also been privileged to workout a few times with my instructor at the Palisades Park dojo. The detail of history in this is outstanding. Thank you for an excellent resource to refer back to. Respectfullly, Pamela Jo Capone

    • defeliceryu November 15, 2013 at 10:57 am #

      Hello Pamela Jo:
      Thank-you for your comment. In my youth I also knew Sensei James Kingston. He was an accomplished karate-ka and an honored Sensei. You may enjoy our Kata page which contains numerous videos. I hope you find future submission of interest.
      — Sensei John Szmitkowski

  2. Bill Osmolski January 5, 2018 at 1:18 pm #

    Thank you for this capturing of the History of Goshin Do Karate Do. I was a student of this style for several years in the late 1960’s achieving the rank of ni que (Sp?). Not a big deal rank-wise but an endeavor that had a dramatic positive effect on my life which I carry with me to this day.

    Our dojo was in Hawthorne NJ and led by Sensei Jerry Thompson. We were active in the larger Goshin Do organization. We visited other Dojos and had Goshin Do visitors come to our Dojo. We participated in tournaments in NJ also in NYC where I competed. Alllof this was a fantastic experience improved me so much as a person.

    So I was somewhat dismayed to see no mention of our Dojo (which I believe still exists) and our Sensei who is one of my heroes. I can’t understand how this can be and can only guess that it is because of some personal or political feud. if true that is a shame.

    Sensei Thompson was an important figure in my life. More than he could ever realize and I wish I could reach out to him and tell him this. I would also like to say to any Sensei that might read this that what they do can change peoples so much for the better.

    • defeliceryu January 5, 2018 at 1:48 pm #

      Hello Bill:

      Thank-you for reading the blog and your comment. As to the exclusion of Hanshi Thomson’s Arts Of Self-Defense Dojo in Hawthorne, NJ, the answer is simple. Your dismay comes from misinterpreting the purpose of the blog.

      This blog is, as the header reads, the “Official weblog of Hanshi Thomas DeFelice and his Yudansha”. Thus, the Lineage Page (entitled “Lineage of DeFelice-Ryu”) only discusses Hanshi DeFelice’s branch of the overall Goshin-Do Kyokai Family tree. No representation is made or implied that this represents the entire family tree of Hanshi Van Lenten’s Goshin-Do Karate-Do Kyokai.

      I am fortunate to have known and taken the dojo floor with many of the founder’s of other branches of the tree as various members broke from the Kyokai. This includes both Hanshi Jerry Thomson and Shihan Ed DiNardo of the Kagen Goju-Ryu Branch (Arts Of Self-Defense) and various founding and ranking members of the various Goshin-Ryu branches. I am also very blessed to have obtained over 20 hours of historical video from my comrades, including directly from Hanshi Thomson who provided footage of him performing all kata of his system.

      Perhaps one day, I will be able to undertake the daunting task of setting out a full and complete picture of the Goshin-Do Kyokai tree; a project that was undertaken by my good friend Shihan Wayne Norlander, Ku-dan Hanshi U.S.A. Goshin-Ryu, but ended with his untimely death May 18th, 2011. For now publishing my “Kata Laboratory”© project and my “Life Is A Kata”© series, in addition to work and seminars keeps my time fully occupied.

      — Sensei John Szmitkowski

  3. Thomas Dos Santos May 2, 2022 at 5:27 pm #

    Very good article. In 1964 I started my training with Sensei Al Gossett, my uncle was Sensei Rich Pegram. In 1974 I was in a very bad car accident, and was unable to continue training. A few times I went to Sensei Pegram dojo in ? East Rutherford. The knowledge I learned has stayed with me for 60 years. I lost touch with Sensei Pegram. I do have his fathers watch. Thank you, Tom

    • defeliceryu May 8, 2022 at 9:47 am #

      Thank Tom for your comment. I do believe Sensei Pegram’s Dojo was located in East Rutherford. I am always gratified by the fact that many students will comment that their Dojo knowledge and experience has remained with them as they journey through life.
      My best,
      – Sensei John

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