Tom Heriaud, December 19, 1945 to June 6, 2022

Tom Heriaud, the top-ranked Isshin Shorinji Ryu black belt in the Midwest, died on June 6. The funeral will take place Friday, June 17 at 1 p.m. at Dieterle Memorial Home in Montgomery, Illinois. Visitation will follow until 7 p.m.

Our late karate sensei Tom Heriaud
Tom Heriaud

Mr. Heriaud’s death is an incalculable loss to his family, students, and everyone who knew him.

He started training in Isshin Ryu under Shihan James Chapman in 1965. When Mr. Chapman joined Robert Murphy in the new Isshin Shorinji Ryu system, Mr. Heriaud followed his instructor.

After Mr. Chapman died in a car accident in 1971, Soke Murphy promoted Mr. Heriaud to black belt. Mr. Heriaud took over the Isshin Shorinji Ryu system in the Midwest after Mr. Chapman’s senior black belt, John Shafer, left instruction to work in his family’s pharmacy.

Mr. Heriaud led the Midwest branch of Isshin Shorinji Ryu until his death, teaching at the Aurora and Fox Valley South Family YMCAs, the American Academy of Martial Arts in Naperville (which he co-founded with Tom and Rosie Letuli), and guiding his many students. Mr. Heriaud was a superior teacher, fierce competitor, and renowned judge, referee, and tournament promoter.

Among other bouts, he refereed the 1989 world kickboxing title fight between Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Marek “The Punisher” Piotrowski. The Illinois Martial Arts Hall of Fame inducted him in 2008. A coalition of the Midwest’s top martial artists promoted Mr. Heriaud to tenth-degree black belt in December 2012.

Mr. Heriaud’s daughters, Kim and Jennifer, were accomplished competitors. Among many others, they, his wife Pat, and many grandchildren survive him.

None of those extraordinary accomplishments come close to summarizing Mr. Heriaud’s greatness.

To his students, Mr. Heriaud provided an informational handout, probably written by Soke Murphy, that read, in part:

In the scheme of Oriental philosophy, the truth most often lies in the paradox. This is most exemplary in Budo since the way of combat is really meant as the way of peace. The concepts of the spirit of Budo imply that gentility comes from strength, ferocity comes from peacefulness, greatness comes from humility.

That passage described Mr. Heriaud perfectly. He was the epitome of a martial artist and gentleman in how he taught, trained, competed, treated others, and lived.

In December 2021, Mr. Heriaud promoted Shihan Scott Francis to ninth-degree black belt and appointed Shihan Francis as his successor. As irreplaceable as Mr. Heriaud is, he left the Midwest branch of Isshin Shorinji Ryu in capable hands. His legacy continues, including through the Carbondale Park District karate program’s students.

Instead of sending flowers, please donate to the Tom Heriaud No Student Left Behind Scholarship Fund for students who cannot afford martial arts classes or the American Kidney Fund.