The late Bob Earlywine climbed the ranks in the karate world, first learning the art himself before going on to teach it to countless other students through his own school, Five-Star Martial Arts.
One of his first instructors was Ray Murphy, who began teaching karate in 1968. He taught Earlywine for 12 years – from 1976 to 1989. As a student, Murphy described Earlywine as hardworking, dedicated, and positive. However, when Earlywine first started training with Murphy, he said Earlywine’s muscles were so tight that he could hardly kick higher than knee level.
“Bob was always trying his best every time he would train. His muscles were extremely tight when he started. He couldn’t kick much more than your knee level. The time he was finished with training with me, he was able to kick head level,” Murphy said. “He [later] was a marvelous assistant instructor or co-instructor with me. He was always quick-witted. He had a great smile. He was light-hearted. We always really liked him. Everybody just always thought he was a great guy.”
Earlywine was a great competitor in karate tournaments, according to Murphy. He seemed to always pull off a win, and when he lost he “just smiled and went on,” as the loss didn’t seem to bother him much.
According to Murphy, Earlywine took martial arts quite seriously.
“Bob believed that the martial arts were a serious undertaking and believed that as soon as his naked feet have entered the dōjō of the karate school, he had entered forever.
“He was an independent martial artist. He learned enough where he figured out and ended up being able to elicit the same responses as world masters elicit. He was always looking at the past, present, future. It gave Bob a sense of direction of where he needed to go,” Murphy said.
With the enormous change in martial arts during the 20th century, Earlywine put a lot of effort into learning to manage the change, Murphy said. While Earlywine was with Murphy, he had a “third degree” in black belt, but after their time apart was when Earlywine mastered the “10th degree” in black belt.
Murphy said Earlywine was great at giving demonstrations on the art at different high schools and events because he was good at breaking boards with his hands. Additionally, he was especially talented at freestyle and could work a punch on someone faster than the person could react, according to Murphy. Even though Earlywine was right-handed, his left-hand was particularly strong.
Earlywine was listed as the “Kokomo-te” teacher among notables such as Walter Nixon, Rick Turnpaugh, Chuck Henry, and also a member of the James L. Kennedy Karate Club.
When Earlywine turned 80, Murphy asked him how it felt to be a new age. Earlywine replied, “The same.” According to Murphy, Earlywine was quite healthy until the coronavirus (COVID-19) infected him and killed him in a little more than two weeks.
Murphy expressed negative feelings toward the virus and how it’s affected the nation and the world.
“I don’t like this COVID-19 and what it has done to the world and especially our country. It is a deadly disease. It kills people, and it’s indiscriminate. It doesn’t care who it affects or who it infects. I don’t like it, but I know that this is something we have to live with,” Murphy said.
Overall, Murphy described Earlywine as a “fun person to be around,” and his generosity toward people made him a special man to be associated with.
“He never met a person he didn’t like. He [was] one of those charismatic guys. He had that rough voice. That’s just the way he was, although he was a very gentle guy,” Murphy said. “He will be missed.”