Isshin Ryu Karate

Soke Tatsuo Shimabuku


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 instructors.

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 the war.

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.