Founder of Isshin Ryu Karate
Shinkichi Shimabuku was born in Okinawa on
September 19th, 1908. He began his study of karate at the age of
eight, walking some twelve miles to the neighboring village of
Shuri to learn Shuri-te from his uncle Irshu Matsumora.
Initially, his uncle sent him home: obstinately, Shimabuku
returned, only to be sent away several more times. His uncle
finally accepted him as a pupil. Shimabuku remained for a period
of four years and was only permitted to study karate after
completing the daily menial chores in the dojo. Four years
later, at age twelve, he began the study of Kobayashi Ryu (Shorin
Ryu) under Gajoko Chioyu.
It is during his early teens that Shinkichi changed his
name to Tatsuo, a common act by adolescent boys on the Island of Okinawa
during the 1920's and thus commits himself for life to being a “Dragon
Boy”, a powerful kartate-ka. The power seeking boy, once gaining power,
will evolve into the well-balanced man as the primal dragon evolves into
the Mizu Gami. The two emotionally charged symbols mirror the Master’s
soul at different stages of his life, both chronologically and
spiritually. The symbols reflect the changing life of an evolving man;
the dragon is a martially minded child; the Mizu Gami a socially minded
adult. Thirteen years of training under Master tutors takes the “Dragon
Boy” into manhood.
By age twenty-one, Shimabuku shows great quickness and surprising
strength for a man 5 feet 2 inches, and weighing 125 lbs. He cultivates
his natural talent for the Martial Arts, much the same way his brother,
Eizo Shimabuku (b. 1925), inheritor of Shobayashi (Shorin Ryu) had done.
Eizo was a JU-Dan at age 34 under the guidance of Toyama Kanken and is
the youngest man ever to achieve this rank.
Having achieved a certain degree of skill in Shuri-Te Karate, Shimabuku
proceeded to train formally in Shobayashi Ryu (Shorin Ryu) under Master
Chotoku Kyan. Shimabuku also studied with Chojun Miyagi of the Goju Ryu
(Hard/Soft) style and became his leading pupil. Later, he returned to
Kobayashi Ryu under the guidance of Master Choki Motobu. Motobu
primarily practiced Naihanchi Kata and worked on the makiwara. Still
seeking more knowledge, Shimabuku studied the art of Kobudo, which
included the Bo (long wooden staff), Sai (pronged short sword) and Tonfa
(wooden “L” shaped weapon). He gained this knowledge from Tirara Shinken
and Yabiku Moden, great masters of the day. Both of these men were
directly responsible for advancing the art of Kobudo to Okinawa’s Karate
Shimabuku’s reputation throughout Okinawa reached its peak when WWII
struck. During the early part of the war, he avoided conscription into
the Japanese Army by escaping into the countryside and working as a
farmer. As his situation became more desperate, and the need to press
Okinawans into service became urgent, Shimabuku was again forced to
flee. As his karate reputation grew, many Japanese soldiers organized a
thorough search for Shimabuku in order to study with him. The officers
who finally located him agreed to keep his whereabouts secret if he
would teach them karate. It was in this manner that Shimabuku survived
Following the war, he returned home to farm and practice karate
privately for his own spiritual repose and physical exercise. As the
island’s leading practitioner of both Shorin-Ryu and Goju-Ryu, Shimabuku
experienced a strong urge to combine the two styles of karate into one
system. After consultation with some of the principal Okinawan Masters,
Shimabuku founded the Isshin Ryu System- the ONE HEART/ONE MIND method
on the 16th of January, 1954.
In developing Isshin Ryu, Master Shimabuku combined what he felt to be
the best elements of Goju-Ryu and Shorin-Ryu taking full advantage of
the profound knowledge that he had acquired along the way. From Chotoku
Kyan of Shorin-Ryu, he took the katas and improved them. From Motobu of
Shorin-Ryu he took kumite and from Chojun Miyagi of Goju-Ryu, he took
Sanchin (the breathing and tension kata the basis of all Okinawan
karate). All in all, Shimabuku selected seven empty hand katas, five
from Shorin-Ryu and two from Goju-Ryu. He subsequently modified each to
fit his new system. Master Shimabuku also developed Sunsu Kata by
combining elements from the other seven katas into one “personal” kata.
Master Shimabuku innovated special arm and leg toughening techniques (Kotecki
Tai) and the style of fist and punching principles so particular to
Isshin-Ryu. The style is particularly outstanding and unique from other
styles because of its theory of movement and principle of punching.
In teaching Karate, Master Shimabuku stressed striking with full force
when the time to strike presents itself and relaxing completely when at
peace. He believed the student must have more than a short-term
commitment to benefit from karate training.
Master Shimabuku taught the 3rd Marine Division on Okinawa. Some of his
students became Black Belt Instructors who have helped spread Karate
throughout the United States. Master Shimabuku died on May 30th, 1975.
Isshin-Ryu will continue to be taught and enjoyed by those who have
captured the beauty and vision of the Master.