Grand Master Tatsuo Shimabuku, Founder of Isshin-Ryu Karate
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Tatsuo Shimabuku was born on September 9,1908 in Kyan Village, Okinawa to a middle-income family. He was one of ten children. His original name was Shinkichi, later changed to Tatsuo, meaning “Dragon Man”. As a child, Tatsuo attended grammar school and later the Okinawa Prefecture Agricultural School. His father was a butcher by trade and his grandfather was an Okinawan dance master. Tatsuo also had an elder brother who would frequently torture and bully him. As his father would not control the abuse, Tatsuo decided to seek Karate instruction. Thus, his initial involvement with karate was not sought via respect for the art nor a desire to broaden his horizons. He needed Karate for practical ends, as did his ancestors, with self-defense as the urgent purpose.
Tatsuo’s first Karate instructor was Kamasu Chan, a distant uncle on his mother’s side of the family. He was a master of Shuri-Te and his dojo was located in the ancient Okinawan capital of Shuri. During 1916, Tatsuo walked daily to reach his uncle’s dojo in hope of training. Upon his initial arrival, he told his uncle about his sibling problem and asked to become his Karate student. At this request, his uncle merely laughed and told him that he would have better luck learning to run so that his brother could not catch him. Kamasu Chan, however, was apparently unaware of the diligence of this particular youth. Tatsuo continued to walk twelve miles daily until his uncle finally realized that his nephew was serious about learning Karate.
After four years of intense training in Shuri-Te, Tatsuo Shimabuku had achieved considerable experience in Karate. In addition, his older brother quit challenging him after he demonstrated his Karate skill in a brief confrontation. Tatsuo was no longer exclusively concerned with self-defense but had developed a deep love for Karate, which would nourish him throughout his life.
To enhance his knowledge in Karate, Tatsuo sought another instructor. Tatsuo Shimabuku began studying Kobayashi Shorin-Ryu under the guidance of Gajoko Chioyu.Master Chioyu soon recognized the open potential of Tatsuo Shimabuku and realized that the young Shimabuku needed a higher level of instruction than he could offer. Chioyu took him to meet the legendary Master Chotoku Kyan, one of the last true Okinawan tode masters. Tatsuo Shimabuku commenced training under Master Kyan in 1920. Kyan ranks as Tatsuo Shimabuku’s most profound Karate influence. These two karatekas were similar because both were physically small, fast and the Shorin-Ryu style of Karate therefore suited them well.
Master Kyan had studied under two of the most esteemed Okinawan masters, Soken Matsumura, credited with the founding of the Shorin-Ryu system of karate and Yasutsune “Ankoh”Itsou.both of these masters also taught the father of the modern day Karate-Do.Gichin Funakoshi, who first introduced Okinawan karate to the colleges and universities in mainland Japan during the 1920s.
Master Kyan instructed Shimabuku in Seisan, Naihanchi, Wansu, Chinto and Kusanku kata. Kata was practiced continuously and master Kyan did not proceed to another kata or technique until the current one had had been mastered. Kyan also began Shimabuku’s instruction in the power of ki (chinkuchi in Hogen, the Okinawan language), as well as provided his initial instruction in the Bo and Sai, two of the classical Okinawan weapons. Shimabuku studied under master Kyan for a number of years, becoming his favorite and outstanding student. Shimabuku never forgot master Kyan’s teachings, both physically and spiritually. Ironically, Tatsuo elected not to succeed master Kyan as the Soke in his style of Shobayashi shorin –ryu when this opportunity arose; rather it was Tatsuo’s brother, Eizo Shimabukuro, who eventually assumed the position of Head Master of the Shobayashi Shorin-Ryu system. Eizo began karate training in 1947.he trained with Tatsuo Shimabuku during the day and at night at his own dojo would teach techniques Tatsuo had taught him. Eizo Shimabukuro never actually trained with Chotoku Kyan; indeed, most of his training originated with his brother. In 1959,Eizo Shimabukuro, at the age of 34 claims to be the youngest man on Okinawan to attain the rank of the 10th Dan and to head an entire system of Karate.
After many years of training in Shorin-Ryu, Shimabuku’s quest for knowledge took him elsewhere. He sought out the great Master Chojun Miyagi, the founder of Goju-ryu Karate. Master Miyagi’s goju-ryu grew from a synthesis of the Okinawan Naha-Te style and Chinese Pa Kua Ch’ang. Master Miyagi studied under the legendary Master Kanryo Higaonna. Higaonna receives credit for founding Naha-Te, as well as developing Sanchin kata as it is currently practiced. Higaonna was reportedly so proficient in Sanchin that he allowed students to attempt to choke him to unconsciousness with a wire or other such implement while performing Sanchin.All such attempts were unsuccessful. Master Miyagi was Higaonna’s best student and learned the fundamental Sanchin kata from the ultimate Sanchin Master himself. Prior to Higaonna’s death, Miyagi traveled to china to deepen his understanding of the martial arts. He intended to trace the roots of Okinawan Karate back to its origin in China. While there he studied the internal style of pa Kua Ch’ang, one of the three internal styles of Kung Fu; the others are Hsing-I and Tai Chi Ch’uan. He then returned to Okinawa and with the knowledge he gained in China, Miyagi developed Tensho Kata, creating the perfect contrast to Sanchin.from these two root kata, he formed Goju-Ryu, the “Hard-Soft style”.
Master Miyagi instructed Shimabuku in Seiuchin and Sanchin Kata. Shimabuku believed Seiuchin to be served as a crucial preparation to Sanchin and moreover Seiuchin was a superior body conditioner. It has been reported that Shimabuku also became Miyagi’s top student; however, he actually studied under Miyagi for a limited period of time and mastered those select elements he believed most effective from Goju-Ryu.
Completing training under Master Miyagi, Shimabuku had one final Karate instructor, Master Choki Motobu; a well conditioned fighting master of large physical stature. Motobu taught an eclectic style of Karate mot closely related to Tomari-Te.Motobu studied under Kosaku Matsumura.
One final element Shimabuku desired to learn was the use of Okinawan weapons, known as Kobudo.He started his work with the Bo, Sai, tuifa, nunchaku and Kama under Master Shinken Taira, who was a student of the renowned Kobudo Master Yabiku Moden. Master Taira founded the first major Okinawan Kobudo organization in 1940,the Ryukyu Kobujutsu Hozon Shinkokai, of which Tatsuo Shimabuku, Kenei Mabuni, Meitoku Yagi, Eizo Shimabukuro and several other leading Okinawan Karate masters were members. From Master Taira, Shimabuku learned Tokumine No Kun, Urashi, Shishi No Kun.Mi Yoshi and Tsu Yoi Bo kata; Chatan Yara No Sai and Nippon Sai kata and Hamahiga No Tuifa kata.he was also taught two-nunchaku kata and a Kama kata but chose not to incorporate those as part of his original Karate promotion sequence. Some Isshinryu senseis today do know these katas and teach them in their schools.
Birth of Isshinryu
During the late 1940s, Master Shimabuku started working out his own personal kata.it was in this kata that he combined his favorite techniques from the other seven empty hand katas and adding his own innovative techniques. This kata was called Sunsu, meaning “Son of Old Man” and was derived as a tribute to Tatsuo Shimabuku’s grandfather, an Okinawan dance master who created a dance called Sunnu-Su (shortened to Sunsu). The mayor of Kyan village gave the nickname “Sunsu”to Shimabuku because everyone knew of the dance his grandfather had created.
During the mid 1950s,he came under intense pressure to form his own style of Karate he was unsure as to his course of action and hoped for divine influence. One night, he had a vivid dream that changed the course of Karate forever. In his dream, he was working out alone in his dojo when a stranger entered and challenged him. Master Shimabuku casually waved the man away while hiding a clenched fist behind his head and preparing to fight if necessary. The man suddenly vanished, leaving the master surrounded by flames. Master Shimabuku then calmly extinguished the flames with a bucket of water and from the well in his garden. When woke up, he felt this dream had been divinely inspired and gave him the much needed inspiration to openly form the Isshinryu system.
Isshinryu Karate was officially founded on January 15,1956,although Master Shimabuku stated that there is no exact birthday for Isshinryu since it was developed over a lifetime. The name Isshinryu means “One- Heart Way”. Master Shimabuku believed that his unique name encompassed his understanding of Karate-Do. On May 30,1975,Master Tatsuo Shimabuku, the founder of Soke of Isshinryu karate, died at his home in Agena Okinawa after suffering a stroke. His eldest son, Kichiro, had already been appointed Soke of Isshinryu Karate worldwide and accorded the rank of the 10th Dan, as is Okinawan tradition. He is current master of IWKA and resides in Gushikawa city Okinawa.
ME GAMI - THE ISSHINRYU EMBLEM
Leading to the official inception of Isshinryu Karate in 1956,Tatsuo Shimabuku had a dream that gave him the inspiration and courage to break from the traditional Shorin-Ryu and Goju-Ryu styles. Shimabuku was a profoundly religious man and believed his dream had been divinely inspired. If he had not experienced this dream, Isshinryu Karate may never have been initiated.
Shimabuku fell asleep one night in his home while listening to the radio. He dreamed of training alone in his dojo when a frightening stranger entered and challenged him. Tatsuo Shimbuku as peaceful by nature and had no desire to fight. Shimabuku assumed a defensive posture. He stood in a deep horse stance (Seiuchin dachi) and placed his open left hand in front of him to wave the attacker away without incident but hid his clenched right hand behind his head. Peace was offered, backed up by power. He warned the attacker that he would use his Karate skills if forced to fight. Instantaneously, the attacker vanished, leaving Master Shimabuku surrounded by flames. Calmly, Master Shimabuku extinguished the blaze with a bucket of water from the tank in his garden. When he woke up, he felt deeply affected by this symbolic dream. He had wrestled with changing on many levels and believed this dream was positive and beneficial, encouraging him that his changes in Karate were pragmatic. The dissolution of the challenger seemed a portent that barrier would dissolve as he moved to form the fledgling style.
After experiencing this dream, Master Shimabuku went to a shop in Naha and had an artist by the name of Nakamine paint the Goddess for him after seeing several other paintings of Gods. This painting represented the Code of Isshinryu Karate and the Code of Conduct. Master Shimabuku hung the painting in the Agena Dojo to look over his newly formed Karate system.
Around 1961,Master Shimabuku told one of his top U.S.Marine students, Arsenio J.Advincula, about this dream from several years earlier. Using the details of the dream and the portrait of the Goddess in the Agena Dojo that Shimabuku referred to as the "Goddess of Isshinryu,"Advincula designed the patch that serves as Isshiryu's emblem. When Advincula finished the rough design, he and William D.Blond, another Marine student, brought the original portrait of Me Gami and the design to an embroidery shop in Naha, the capital of Okinawa. Advincula and Blond had fifty of the original patches made at the shop. Advincula traced the shape of his fist to serve as the shape of the patch. It was vertical fist, the hallmark of the Isshinryu Karate. They intended the border of the patch to have 'real' gold thread but found it too expensive. They then asked for cheaper gold thread to be used on the patch. When they returned to get the patches, they found out that the shop owner had misunderstood and had used orange thread instead for the border of the patch and did not include the thumb on the fist. According to Advincula they were so happy to have the patches they were not concerned with the mistake.
After Advincula designed the patch, Shimabuku was pleased and felt as tough the patch design of the Me Gami encompassed all aspects of his new Isshinryu system.
The Isshinryu Me Gami has become internationally recognized for its deep symbolism and not only serves as a guide to Isshinryu Karate students in training but in their daily lives as well. It encompasses the major precepts that Master Shimabuku advanced worldwide through his creation of Isshinryu Karate-Do. By understanding the meaning of the symbolic Me Gami, we can better fathom the life's work of Master Tatsuo Shimabuku, O'Sensei and Soke of all Isshinryu Karate. The unique Me Gami is certainly one of the most beautiful and symbolic emblems in all Karate today. The following is a standard interpretation of the meaning of the various aspects of Me Gami design.
1. Sea Goddess: Called Me Gami, Isshinryu No Me Gami, Ryujin No Me Gami, or Goshugin-Sama. She is the protecting goddess of Isshinryu. She rises from the water with her left hand open, symbolizing peace, and her right hand clenched behind her head, symbolizing her ability to use Karate when necessary. The goddess is half woman and half dragon, creating a bond for the karateka between heaven and earth. She also represents wisdom, kindness, humility, and understanding. She strives for peace and tranquility in everything she does.
2. Dragon: An oriental symbol of good luck. It also represents the fighting spirit of Isshinryu karateka. The dragon ascends to the heavens, as will karateka upon reaching peace and tranquility through Karate training, clean living, and study. The dragon also represents Master Tatsuo Shimabuku.His name, Tatsuo, means 'Dragon Man'.
3. Troubled Waters: Show the troubles and turmoil that a karateka must go through before coming to clarity of mind and purpose. Even amid the impending storm, the sea goddess remains calm, realistic and centered. Karateka should show these attributes when they are presented with a difficult situation in life.
4. Night Sky: Depicts man's lack of universal understanding. It also represents the unknown and such dark barriers as religious dogma and racial division. Man needs to overcome these barriers in his soul and break away from his fear, hate, envy and distrust, opening the way for spiritual enlightenment and understanding. Man must learn to live in harmony with everything (see Isshinryu Code#1).
5. Three Stars: Represents the birth of Isshinryu: Shorin-Ryu and Goju-Ryu creating Isshinryu.By extension, the stars apply to Shimabuku's three major teachers looking down on the young karate students from above and guiding them on their journey. The dark night sky represents man's lack of universal understanding, but the teachers illuminate the sacred path for the student. The three stare also represent the unification of the mind, body and spirit. Angi Uezu has added two additional stars to the emblem, one to symbolize Master Shinken Taira and the other to represent Master Tatsuo Shimabuku. It is interesting to note that the three stars are aligned in the shape of the oriental number one, ichi, representing the "One-Heart Way" of Isshinryu.
6. Oriental Characters: The characters written in Kanji (classical Chinese calligraphy) spell "Isshinryu Karate-Do," meaning "One-Heart, Empty Hand Way."
7. Shape: The shape symbolizes the vertical fist of Isshinryu, the fundamental unique feature of the style. Jim Advincula traced his fist serve as the shape for the patch.
8. Gold Border: The gold border means that karate is golden and should never be misused. The knowledge a student receives from his Sensei is very special and should never be taken lightly. A student should protect his abilities, like gold and use karate only as a last resort in a conflict. Although the border was originally intended to be gold, it was instead created. The orange symbolically represents the fire around Master Shimabuku in his vision.
Courtesy : Dr. Milledge Murphey, Hachi(8th) Dan Isshinryu Karate, Isshinryu Brotherhood Florida, U.S.A.
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