Tim Cunningham is a household name in Eastern North Carolina if you’re involved in martial arts. He knows his way around a dojo pretty well. His journey as a Karateka (karate practitioner) started in August of 1975 when he began studying Isshinryu Karate. He now goes by Sensei (instructor) Cunningham, or Kyoshi (a professor capable of teaching martial arts philosophy) Cunningham.
Young Tim became interested in martial arts when he first saw an asian inspired ad in a comic book. It stayed on his mind for a long time. Finally, as he attended Cleveland State Community College in Cleveland Tennessee, he found a karate school and was able to start learning the art of Isshinryu Karate. His first instructor, Master J.C. Burris, had a direct lineage to the Isshinryu founder, Master Tatsuo Shimabuku. Tim left Tennessee for Mississippi in 1976 but continued to train under Master Chuck Chau earning his black belt five years later.
Tim became a Sensei when he started teaching Isshinryu Karate in August of 1982 at the Tarboro Martial Arts Association (TMAA) in Tarboro, NC. He began his teaching career as a new black belt. He taught at TMAA until 1994 when he officially started Cunningham’s Isshinryu Karate Dojo. He began studying Isshinryu under Master Danny Glover in 1987 in Jacksonville, NC and is still Master Glover’s student today.
I asked Sensei Cunningham what made him want to teach, he answered “It was never a goal, it just happened and it fit; God blessed me”. It never occurred to him to teach karate, as he just wanted to train and learn. However, a nudge from other TMAA members got him into it and he’s been going strong ever since.
He became Kyoshi Cunningham in 2008 when he was awarded the title by his Sensei, Master Glover. After earning his 7th degree black belt, Master Glover bestowed the honorable title upon him.
Kyoshi Tim Cunningham loves to teach but he also loves to train. His favorite kata (Japanese detailed fighting patterns) is Chinto. Although he retired from competition in mid 2014, he won Grand Champion six times in a row competing with this kata. But, trust me he’s not bragging, quite the contrary.
Sensei Cunningham is a very humble person, a humble martial artist. He told me that he saw a pie chart early on in his training. This chart was a realization for him that he only knows a sliver of the whole pie. He believes ego’s don’t go far and the things he knows he doesn’t know keep him in check. He admitted even with all of his accomplishments and recognition he still feels insignificant.
For as long as he’s been teaching and training, he is still excited about the martial art he started in 1975. He said it just fits with his personality, because it’s not flashy and neither is he. Isshinryu is based on practicality; it matches with his needs and has remained a good match for him over the years. It’s such a good match for him that he was inducted into the Isshinryu Hall of Fame in 2012. He said it is still a surreal experience to this day to be included with that caliber of martial artists.
Bruce Lee is his best-liked famous martial artist. He thinks Bruce Lee’s small, yet powerful frame and innovative techniques helped made him a great martial artist.
Although Isshinryu is a very significant part of his life, he has other hobbies and another full-time job. He works at Blackwell’s Inc. in Tarboro, NC. He has always been creative and likes to doodle and play the guitar. There is an artistic side to him that’s fun and rewarding in its own way.
Since he works with metal at Blackwell’s, he has become proficient in creating with it. One day he was asked to create a coin bank. It escalated from there and he has since created many figurines out of metal such as a skateboarder, karate figures, a covered wagon, a guitar, a drum set, Frankenstein (as shown in the image) and much more. Sometimes he sells the items, gives them as gifts or just keeps them for himself. He admits it’s a challenge and tedious work but he knows how to be patient and let his imagination take over.
Sensei Cunningham can be contacted about his Isshinryu classes in the following ways:
Call him at (252) 578-7400
Email him at TACunningham52@yahoo.com
Send a Facebook message on https://www.facebook.com/Cunninghams-Tim-Isshinryu-Karate-Dojo-113937911970235/
Visit his dojo website at https://sites.google.com/site/cunninghamisshinryu/
He is currently signing up new students in his kids’ classes at his dojo in Tarboro. Contact him today to get your spot. You’ll be glad you did!