He died suddenly, on November 26, 2008, of an aortic dissection, following emergency surgery.
Eric was buried with military honors at Fort Custer Military Cemetery, Battle Creek Michigan on Dec. 5, 2008.
Sensei Eric Bishop began his Uechi-ryu training in Kalamazoo in 1973, and was the first person known to have introduced Uechi-ryu to Germany, in the late 1970’s. Eric died of a heart ailment in late November. In a video interview for a future documentary, Eric told me the following in Kalamazoo on Oct. 28, 2005:
(While Eric was teaching Uechi-ryu in Badkissigen, Germany), “The only Europeans that we could track down that had any Uechi experience were the guys in England, who were very helpful communicative-wise. There was supposedly a guy in Czechoslovakia. And, of course, the Iron Curtain was up, so we had no access to him. And there was supposed to be a gentleman in France, who I believe was actually an Okinawan, but we could never locate him.”
Bishop started in Uechi-ryu in the summer of 1973. “It was because my best friend at the time, Doug Wunderly, had just gotten his Shodan during one of the first visits of the Okinawans. In fact, I still have one of the boards that he chopped in half, and they autographed it for me. At the ‘Y’ (Kalamazoo YMCA), anyway, the policy was that once you got your Shodan, you helped teach. So, he (Doug) was teaching his first class
that summer. And the big Bruce Lee fad was going on, and I thought, “Well, I ought to go see what this chop suey stuff that he does is. And I went and took his first class; and, of course, it was surprisingly demanding and difficult. And I wasn’t sure I was going to pass my first belt test.
“Bill Arch was the main instructor. We always called him ‘Master Poe’ – that was our nickname for him. And I believe that Steve Fuller was teaching. A brown belt, Don Kinch, was very involved. Don Joyner didn’t come down to the Y often, but he was involved. Larry Mahar was involved.
“I was commissioned as Second Lieutenant in the Army, and headed off to Germany, where I was stationed for two back-to-back assignments. So I was there eight years. And I was an Ikkyu at the time I left for that.
“If there was any significance to my being in Uechi (ryu), it was that in ’81, when I was in (Badkissigen, two hours east of Frankurt) Germany, there was a thing called the Kontact Programme – find any way to get Germans and Americans doing things together. And there was a local sport club – they had aikido and judo – sort of like a mini-YMCA. They asked if someone would teach karate down there, and they said, ‘Yeah, we want you to teach.’ And I told them I can’t teach. And they said, ‘Sure, you can.’ And I said, ‘No, you don’t understand, I can’t teach it…I’m an Ikkyu, not a Shodan, I’m not allowed to teach…they couldn’t understand, it wasn’t there kind of authority thing. And I was talking to Doug about it, I believe, and he talked to Bill Arch and Jim Thompson, and got back ahold of me and said, ‘Yeah, they said it’s okay. Go ahead and start teaching.’
And I didn’t really think it would go much anywhere. Showed up for the first class, and there was like 25 young Germans in gi’s, in seiza, ready to start training. It was really an interesting experience. About a year into that, I came back for a friend’s wedding, so by chance it was timed right, they were doing Dan testing, and so I tested for my Shodan at that time.
In ’84, just before I came back for my first return for a school, I had Doug and Stuart Eddy come over to run a training seminar, and hopefully to test my top two or three students, to see where they should be…we decided to make it an annual thing. In that second year, Kris and Steve (Fuller) came over. I don’t think that was a Thompson year yet, I don’t think he was there (Kalamazoo) until the third year. By the third year, they (students) had gotten Shodans….they were pretty much running it (German program) on their own. I believe they still actually train there.”
Anything you’d want to say to anybody, Eric? “I’d just thank Bill Arch, especially, the Master Poe, the efforts he put in. He was very patient with me. I’d be there for three months, out for three months…he was always just 100% there. And, of course, Doug and Stuart for being such good friends, even outside of the Uechi thing. And what they helped me do in Germany. And Master Thompson’s trust in me was really flattering. It’s a great thing and it’ll always be a part of my life, whether I ever teach again or not, doesn’t really matter to me.”
Eric brought enthusiasm to everything he undertook, then magnified it through his willingness to share his interests with others. I knew him while he was stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army, where I saw this in three special ways.
Whatever his job, Eric strove to do it well. In Germany, he was an excellent officer, well trained, focused on his mission and blessed with a gift for leadership. His unit performed its missions well and Eric was involved in many extra activities that kept relations with their West German partners strong.
Eric was also keenly interested in the world around him. In Germany, that brought him a rich life outside the military community. He was thrilled to visit the cities and towns around him, with their history, culture and wonderful scenery. His outgoing nature led to friends in many places, from the house next door to the corner pub to the local motorcycle shop. He was deeply grateful to those people for the many ways they added to his experiences, and they gained from knowing him.
And finally, Eric’s ability to share opened a new world to a group of young people interested in the martial arts. Eric had trained in Okinawan karate before being commissioned, and when he got to Germany, he looked for an opportunity to continue training. Finding none, he volunteered to teach at a local recreation hall and led classes regularly for several years. His most dedicated students from those early days still practice and many now teach their own classes. All would tell you that Eric was a close friend and that they are deeply grateful to him for opening the door to an important part of their lives.
I, too, am grateful for Eric’s friendship. In small ways, the interests he shared enriched my life. In much bigger ways, his approach to life as a whole made him a valuable role model.
– Stuart Eddy
December 7, 2008
Eric was my first Troop Commander as a First Sergeant (Lima Leads was our motto). Captain Bishop was full of life and was a soldiers soldier. He truly kept the soldiers at the forefront of his charge and never waivered from that key responsibility. His trusty sword always traveled with him on all field exercises most notably on all Graf Gunnery deployments. As with your first teacher, your first drill instructor, your first mentor, I will remember “T” as my first Commander during a critical time during the “Cold War” in the Fulda Gap. I know your are reading this Captain Bishop….See you at Fiddlers Green. God Bless and keep you until then……Leadhorse 7 (Ernie Ford)
Ernie Ford (North Pole, AK)
December 7, 2008
The entire Blackhorse family offer our condolences. We will miss this wonderful soldier and member of the Blackhorse family. President, The Blackhorse Association 2008-2009
John Sherman Crow (Thibodaux, LA)
December 7, 2008
I will always remember a young Captain T. Eric Bishop, a fine young commander, who was an outstanding leader. His death comes as a major surprise; he died much too young. Our sincere best wishes to his family.
Ned Devereaux (Portland, OR)