About National Karate

National Karate has a reputation for being family friendly while producing quality martial artists and confident people and has been voted “Best Martial Arts School” in the Chicago Suburbs for 11 years in a row! There are 4 full time schools in the western suburbs, located in Aurora, Bartlett, Elk Grove and South Elgin. National Karate teaches a combination of martial arts that include Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Kickboxing and Krav Maga Self-Defense along with many varieties of self-defense and safetyseminars.

NK has a very rich history that can trace it roots all the way back to Korea and Japan with influences from Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris and Jhoon Rhee. Please take a moment to read about our rich history and traditions below…


In 1945, Chung Do Kwan, Korea’s first post war dojan (school) is opened by Master Won Kook Lee. Jhoon Rhee would later become a student and then instructor at the Chung Do Kwan.

Then in 1955, Korean Martial Arts leaders unify several kwans (schools) and adopt the term “Tae Kwon Do” as created and submitted by General Choi Hong Hi, the President of the Korean Tae Kwon Do Association.

The Father of American Tae Kwon Do

Jhoon-Rhee-1950's-Photo In 1956, Jhoon Rhee moves to the United States and attends San Marcos Southwest Texas State College and opens a “Karate Club” at the college.

Jhoon Rhee is now known as the “Father of American Tae Kwon Do” because he is the first person to bring Tae Kwon Do from Korea to the United States.As Mr. Rhee’s students become Black Belts, the little known sport of martial arts begins to grow.

“Tex Kwon Do”

Because of this growth under Master Rhee’s tutelage, Texas becomes one of the most important and prolific martial arts areas in the country. The American style of Tae Kwon Do practiced there soon became nationally recognized for its bruising style of fighting and was often referred to as “Tex Kwon Do” reflecting its Texas roots.

It was in this hard-hitting environment that John Worley, Larry Carnahan, movie star Chuck Norris and many others of that era earned their stripes and would eventually spread martial arts across the country.


In 1959, some of Mr. Rhee’s first Black Belts, J. Pat Burleson and Allen Steen open the first commercial martial arts school in Texas which was also one of the original martial arts schools founded in America. History records Mr. Burleson as America’s first karate pioneer and “Father of All Karate Champions” because he won the first U.S. Karate Championships in 1964, held in Chicago, IL. He also has the distinction of holding the highest American Tae Kwon Do ranking under Master Jhoon Rhee’s extensive martial arts family tree. In addition to teaching the martial arts, Mr. Burleson later became a movie and stunt actor with regular appearances on the television show “Walker, Texas Ranger” staring Chuck Norris. He currently travels the world as a speaker and trainer.

Bruce Lee

Jhoon-RheeBruce-Lee-Photo It was at the 1964 Long Beach Karate Championships where Bruce Lee first met taekwondo master Jhoon Rhee. The two developed a friendship — a relationship from which they both benefited as martial artists.

Jhoon Rhee taught Lee the side kick in detail, and Lee taught Rhee the “non-telegraphic” punch. John Worley, the founder of the National Karate Schools would later perform Karate demonstrations with Bruce Lee in the 1970’s.

Washington D. C.

In 1960 Jhoon Rhee departs Texas and moves to Washington D. C. and opens theJohn-WorleyJhoon-Rhee professional chain of martial arts schools known as the Jhoon Rhee Institute.

He asks John Worley to join him to manage and instruct at one of his schools and later that year Larry Carnahan joins them. They soon become the Institutes top instructors. Master Rhee becomes a very successful businessman and in addition to his prosperous chain of martial arts schools, he invents the first line of martial arts protective gear. Before this invention, martial arts students would punch each other in the face with bare knuckles. Mr. Worley, Mr. Carnahan and the other Institute instructors got the proud distinction of beta testing the first prototypes of martial arts gloves and footpads made of foam rubber and duct tape. Master Rhee finally perfects the sparring equipment design, which is very similar to the equipment that we still use today.

Grand Master Rhee is one of the few true 10th Degree Black Belts in the United States (the highest possible rank in the martial arts). He now spends his time training U.S. Senators and Congressmen and other famous students.

Our Founders

Both Mr. Worley and Mr. Carnahan have a very storied history in shaping martial arts in America. Here are some highlights:

Grand Master John Worley:

  • He tested for Black Belt with an esteemed panel of examiners including film star Chuck Norris.
  • He performed karate demonstrations with Bruce Lee in the 1970’s.
  • He served as the expert “Fight Commentator” for ESPN on televised Kickboxing events from 1983-1989.
  • He was one of the most recognized Fight Promoters of Professional Kickboxing bouts in the 1980’s and 90’s.
  • He was the Vice-President of the kickboxing federation known as the PKA (Professional Karate Association – based in Los Angeles)
  • He is the co-founder and co-promoter of the Diamond Nationals – the largest and most prestigious sport karate tournament in North America.
  • He is the co-founder and co-President of the National Karate Schools.
  • In April of 2014, he was promoted to the martial arts highest rank of 10th度黑带的武术传奇,马大ster J. Pat Burleson. The promotion was conducted on their knees to demonstrate humility and respect

Grand Master Larry Carnahan:

  • He was one of the early pioneers of professional Kickboxing were the fighters fought their first bouts using hand pads not boxing gloves. Eventually they adopted boxing gloves.
  • He was ranked among the top ten professional Kickboxers in the world from 1976-1982.
  • He was honored as one of the “Top Ten Black Belts” in the Nation in 1975 by Karate Illustrated Magazine.
  • He is the current President of NASKA (North American Sport Karate Association) the world’s largest sport karate sanctioning body. (1990-current.)
  • He is the co-founder and co-promoter of the Diamond Nationals – the largest and most prestigious sport karate tournament in North America.
  • He is the co-founder and co-President of the National Karate Schools.
  • In April of 2014, he was promoted to the martial arts highest rank of 10th度黑带的武术传奇,马大ster J. Pat Burleson. The promotion was conducted on their knees to demonstrate humility and respect.

To Minnesota:

In 1973, Mr. Worley and Mr. Carnahan decided that Middle America was ready for the martial arts. With Master Rhee’s blessing they and some associates moved to Minnesota and opened Mid-America Karate, what eventually became known asThe National Karate Schools. (Even though National Karate teaches Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Kickboxing and other blends of martial arts, the name “Karate” was chosen because it was the most recognized label for martial arts in the 1970’s.)

在那些日子里,武术的有效性arts was not yet well known, and it wasn’t uncommon for “tough guys” to walk into karate schools and ask the instructor to “prove” that karate worked. Let’s just say the instructors were more than able to back up the effectiveness of the martial arts. Over the years karate became more popular and mainstream and has become one of the fastest growing sports in the world. We owe a special thank you and much respect to the martial arts pioneers who have paved the way for us. Without their dedication and passion none of us would be doing martial arts in America today. Master’s Worley and Carnahan eventually grew their organization to be the market leader in their region. As of this writing the Minnesota National Karate Schools have 24 full time locations.

Diamond Nationals

In 1978 the first Diamond National Karate Championships is promoted in St. Paul, Minnesota. Approximately 550 competitors enter the event—which received great reviews due to the high level of competition and organization. It will become North America’s largest and most prestigious martial arts tournament.

It is named theDiamond Nationalsbecause the Black Belt grand champions win a diamond ring. It is an “Open” tournament which means all schools and all styles are invited to compete. It has been voted the #1 tournament in the United States for the last 19 years, and recently the #1 Tournament in the World!

National Karate Quality

多年来,NK学校产生了一些of the finest martial artists in the country. They have produced WorldScott-Masterton-Kickboxing Champions in nearly every arena of competition including professional Kickboxing and Sport Karate tournaments (in both Forms and Sparring). It is often said that a student could walk into any major martial arts tournament in the United States and the competitors and promoters will know about the National Karate Schools.No other single martial arts school in America has produced as many world rated competitors as the National Karate Schools.

That tradition of top fighters and form competitors continues today with dozens of NK Black Belts holding top World Rankings and Championships. Although most students do not desire to be world-class competitors, it is nice to know that the training they are receiving is of world-class quality.

To Chicago!

Tohtz & Cooke World Champions In 1995, the National Karate Schools expanded to the Chicago suburbs under the direction of Master Cristian Nelson, where there are now 4 full time schools and many satellite locations including park districts and schools. A good benchmark of student quality is competition, and the Illinois schools have followed in the great National Karate tradition of producing martial arts champions. The Chicago area National Karate Schools have produced many world and nationally ranked champions. The Illinois schools have also been named the “Best Martial Arts Schools” by local media for 11 years in a row!

About Master Nelson

Cristian Nelson began training with the National Karate schools in 1983 under the expert tutelage of Grand Master John Worley, who is one of America’s most prominent martial artists. He also studied and trained with some of the top professional fighters of our time including National Karate instructors and Kickboxing Champions Scott Masterton, John Longstreet and Terry Norblom. Mr. Nelson began his martial arts teaching career in 1987 and as soon as 1990, he was presented with the “School of the Year” award. While teaching karate he also doubled his time by attending the University of Minnesota where he studied Business and Communications. Mr. Nelson had a successful sport karate career in fighting and in 1994 the N.C.K.A. (North Central Karate Association) presented him with the “Top Competitor Award” for sparring.

In 1995 he moved to the suburbs of Chicago, IL to open National Karate in a new market where there are now 4 NK schools. Over the years he has been recognized with various awards including; the prestigious “Instructor of the Year” award, he is a 6-time winner of the “School of Champions” award (1991-1996), and an 8-time winner of the “School of the Year” award. In 2005, he was awarded the “John Worley Leadership Award” for Organizational Excellence. In January of 2020, Mr. Nelson was promoted to 8th degree and is currently the only 8th degree black belt in the National Karate organization. In 2023, his schools were voted the “Best Martial Arts Studio’s” in the Chicago suburbs for the 12th year in a row by the readers of the Daily Herald newspaper. Also, in 2023, he and his staff were honored to be named runner-up “Business of the Year” in the city of South Elgin, IL.

Mr. Nelson currently oversees the training of over 1,000 students and conducts advanced training for 30 instructors and staff. He has also had the unique opportunity to teach National Karate overseas on mission trips to Singapore, Romania and Austria. To date, his NK schools in Illinois have promoted 1,968 students to the rank of First-Degree Black Belt. He attributes any success and accomplishments to God’s grace and to the help of the great Directors and instructors on his team. Mr. Nelson and his wife Kelly (a 3rd Degree Black Belt) live in the western suburbs of Chicago and they have 4 children.

See More Pictures of Mr. Nelson


National Karate expands into the suburbs of Milwaukee, Wisconsin in May of 2008. Mr. Kishon Soni is the owner operator ofWisconsin NK.


Mr. Dave Kuntz expandsNational Karate into Colorado Springs, Colorado in August of 2015.


In sum, the National Karate Schools is blessed to have one of the richest histories in the martial arts. Every NK Black Belt can be proud to be part of an organization that has such a strong lineage of Masters, and reputation for quality. When you follow this lineage from its roots in Korea, to the Karate Club in Texas, to Washington D.C., to Minnesota, to Chicago, to Wisconsin and to Colorado, you can see the quality and see why National Karate has become not only the largest martial arts organization in the Midwest, but one of the strongest and most recognized martial arts organizations in America.

National Karate, Kickboxing & Krav Maga schoools are in Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and Colorado