Life Story

Written account
of Ernie's Life

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Ernest H. Lieb 10th Dan Life Story Video

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Sensei Ernest H. Lieb
10th Degree Black Belt

Founder American Karate Association (AKA) 1964
Founder American Karate System (A.K.S.) 1973
Chief Instructor of the American Karate System  1973 - 2006
AKS Board Advisor and AKS World Council Member 2004 - 2006
Academy of Masters, Masters Hall of Fame 1st Posthumus Inductee - 2009

Tragically, Ernie died in Lathen, Germany on Friday, September 22, 2006, in a maglev train accident along with SFC Charles (Chuck) C. Krum, 5th Dan A.K.S., Mattheas Augustijn, 1st Dan Shotokan, and Dagmar (Daggi) Wichterich who were both German A.K.S. students.  Mr. Lieb and Sgt. Krum had traveled to Germany to conduct an A.K.S. seminar.  They will all be sadly missed.

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Ernie Lieb at 24 years old.  He had just won the World Tae Soo Do Light-Weight Division Title in South Korea

1963, Mr. Kim and Mr. Lieb practicing Kima 1
(a straight-line form kata).

Mr. Lieb with the base commander, Colonel Sullivan.  In a period of several years, Colonel Sullivan presented Ernie with many awards and trophies.  They stayed in the trophy case at the Kunsan gymnasium.

Mr. Lieb sitting on the floor at the far left of the picture.  Next to him is one of the tournament referees.  Notice that safety equipment was not used at over 90% of the tournaments in South Korea.

Ernest Horst Lieb was born in Berlin Germany in 1940 as Hitler's armies were devastating the European country side.  He, along with his mother and father, immigrated to the United States in 1952.  He became an American citizen in 1959.

At the age of 12, Ernie was a small, malnourished 67 pound boy.  Life for him was difficult as he learned about the dangers of the Chicago streets the hard way.  He was involved in many fights and quite often lost.  He never gave up trying to win.

In 1956, Ernie discovered Martial Arts as he began his studies in Judo.  He had always wanted to fight the bigger guys, but discovered that with Judo it works very much against a smaller opponent.  When a Marine started teaching a Karate class at the YMCA in Muskegon, Michigan, Ernie was impressed by this art as size did not seem to matter as much as speed, determination, timing and focus.  In a Karate Illustrated article written about Mr. Lieb in January of 1980, he said that this first encounter with Karate allowed him to see a future for himself.  A future where his small size would not matter, and a person's dedication could allow him to excel in this sport.  He started training in Karate and saw in it something he wanted to do for the rest of his life.

Lieb joined the U.S. Air Force in 1961 after graduating from High School.  He was stationed in Korea, even though he had hoped for an assignment back in his native Germany.  He continued his martial arts studies by joining Mr. Kim, head instructor of the Chi Do Kwan club on base.  Mr. Kim's students had won the Korean National Championships five times.

Ernie earned his black belt in Chi Do Kwan in 1963, and went on to win numerous events in South Korea.  Also in 1963, he was chosen as the U.S. Air Force Team captain.  The same year, he won in the Korean Nationals.   In 1964, he was the first American to win the light weight division in the World Tae Soo Do championships.  Later that year, Ernie returned to the United States.

Shortly after his return, he founded the American Karate Association.  Because of the prejudices and differences in philosophies in all of the styles, he was very displeased by the poor attitude among the different styles.  No one wanted to work in harmony with one another.  So Mr. Lieb created an organization to foster a spirit of togetherness, sportsmanship, and respect for all styles.  A spirit where people would work and train together regardless of the style of martial arts they studied.

It was also during this time frame that Ernie's views about and American style of karate were being formed.  In those first years, he used the word "AMERICAN" in front of his Korean style.  In those days, using the word "American" in front of an oriental style was unheard of.  It brought quick retribution; using violence against Ernie when he competed in Karate tournaments across the nation.

Ernest Lieb, J. Reeh, Ed Parker, Bruce Lee 1967 - Ernest Lieb, J. Reeh, Ed Parker, Bruce Lee

In 1972, with thirteen of his most dedicated Black Belts, Ernie founded the American Karate System.  Those head instructors, with Mr. Lieb, started a revolution in the Karate world of America.  For if you look around you today, you will find over 75% of all Karate schools using the word "American."  Some even imitate Lieb's style by using his ideas, style's name and techniques, and calling themselves American Karate Systems.  One can suppose that "imitation is the greatest form of flattery."  But let it be clear, Mr. Lieb's American Karate System is the only Karate organization recognized in representing American karate.  This [fact] has been recorded in the Book of "Who's Who In the Martial Arts," as well as in dozens of Karate Magazine articles which go back to the 60's and 70's, and also recorded at all major Karate Tournaments and events.  So anyone not affiliated with the original American Karate System cannot be a representative of his system.

In 1978 and 1979, Major Mike Sullenger and Sgt. Robert Debelak served in our military in Germany where they started teaching our A.K.S. style of Karate.  With time, and their ability to win events all over Germany and several foreign countries, they established a respected name and reputation for our style there.  This includes having Mr. Lieb's beloved A.K.S. become recognized in Germany, Mr. Lieb's native country.  Later, Herr Andreas Modl, current director of the A.K.S. in Germany, went a step further.   He had the American Karate System recognized and accepted as a member of the German D.K.V.  They are the largest Karate organization in Germany with 130,000 + members.  In 2004, the European and World Karate Associations also accepted the A.K.S. as a full fledged member. It is the only style of American Karate that has been accepted and has received this recognition. The books were then closed by these Karate organizations. Thus, closing the doors for anyone else being able to represent American Karate in Germany or Europe.

This important recognition assured Ernest H. Lieb as founder of his style.  A place in history alongside all of the major founders of styles of Karate in the Martial Arts World such as the founders of Shotokan, Goju Ryu, Uechi Ryu, Shito Ryu, Chi Do Kwan, Chung Do Kwan, Moo Duk Kwan, and many others.   Now that our foundation and history have been recognized throughout the world, remember that without the dedicated instructors and students within the A.K.S., this wonderful event would never have happened.

I thank all of you for your support of my dream.

Ernest H. Lieb 10th Dan
American Karate System


Following is a Brief Synopsis of Ernie Lieb's Background


    1959 - Graduated Muskegon High School
    1969 - B.S. in Psychology & Sociology, Grand Valley State College
    1979 - B.A. in Physical Education, Grand Valley State College

Ernest Lieb U.S. Airforce


    1961 - 1964   US Air Force, discharged with E-4 ranking
    1965 - 1969   Michigan National Guard, 2nd Lieutenant
    1967 - 1969   Training Officer for the Guard Academy
    1975 - 1979   Re-enlisted in the National Guard as a Staff Sergeant, retiring later as a Master Sergeant.
    Chosen Top Sergeant for the State of Michigan.

Classes & Instruction

    1963 - 1964  Trained advisors to the US Armed Forces for those going to Vietnam.  The advisors represented the Special Forces, Rangers, and Navy Seals.  Subjects included hand-to-hand combat, self-defense and methods of interrogation.  This training was conducted in Kunsan Korea.
    1964  Opened his first karate club in Muskegon, Michigan
    1965  First instructor to teach karate for the Adult Education program
    1969  First Karate instructor to be approved as an accredited college program in the state of Michigan
    1970 - 1982  Head Karate Instructor at Muskegon Community College for 12 years.  As coach of the Muskegon Community College Karate Team, he lead an undefeated college karate team during 11 seasons.
    1983 - 1985  Was trained and upgraded in Aikido programs held at the Michigan State Police Academy in Lansing, Michigan.  Trained correctional officers at the Muskegon, Michigan Correctional Facility

Ernest H. Lieb

Martial Arts

    1955 - Started training in Judo and Karate
    1958 - Certified as a 1st Dan in Karate
    1960 - Certified as a 2nd Dan in Karate
    1963 - Certified as a 3rd Dan in Karate
    1963 - Was chosen as team captain for the U.S. Air Force competition teams
    1964 - Certified as a 1st Dan in Jiu Jitsu and Aikido in Korea
    1964 - Became the first American to win the Korean International Tae Soo Do Championships in Korea
    1964 - U.S. Air Force Lt. Wt. Champion
    1965 - 1973 - Won over 127 trophies in competition, and 43 awards as the best referee, judge, and martial arts practitioner.
    1973 - Martial Artist/Man of the Year for Black Belt Magazine's Hall of Fame - the highest award bestowed by the magazine by tabulation of all votes sent to the magazine by fellow Martial Artists across the nation.
    1973 - First A.A.U. Karate Chairman for the United States
    1978 - Recognized as the head of American Karate in the "Who's Who" listings
    1967 - 2000 - Over 387 Black Belts earned their rank through Mr. Lieb
    2009 - Academy of Masters, Masters Hall of Fame 1st Posthumus Inductee

Ernie Lieb remained undefeated in over 200 individual fights in the Light-Weight division in 45 national and international karate tournaments.  In open competition, he lost on a few occasions due to rough or excessive contact. On a couple of occassions, he did lose to the heavy weight champion.

Until his death in September of 2006, Mr. Lieb was the Chief Instructor of the American Karate System with its headquarters located in Muskegon, Michigan.

The AKS has been in existance since 1964, the same time he founded the AKA.  The AKA was polled by Black Belt Magazine and Karate Illustrated as the largest non-profit karate association in our country.  The AKA has its headquarters in Chicago, Illinois.

In his 40 plus years in Martial Arts, Ernie Lieb has trained police officers, sheriff's deputies, state police officers, national guard, army (pentagon officers) and US Special Forces personnel.

Today, a dream come true for Mr. Lieb, the A.K.S. is practiced in many states within the Continental United States as well as in Germany under the direction of Herr Andreas Modl 6th Dan.

In 2004, with dedicated effort by Herr Modl, the American Karate System is the only non-Asian style recognized by the German Karate Union (DKV) and the World Karate Federation.  No other American organization or style has accomplished this.  The A.K.S. was seen by the DKV to represent all of the best values and traditions of its stringent adherence to conservative traditional values in the study and practice of Karate.