In Isshin-ryu, the value of Kime or Chi, is the center of our fighting prowess. In English, Kime and Chi, relates as closely as possible, to Focus. Grand Master Don Nagle taught us to find focus in the movements of the original fifteen upper body basic movements, as well as the lower body or a diverse group of kicks. This essential power was gained over time, by repetition of a snapping motion. We would throw a punch or kick as fast as possible to the opponent sending our blow about two inches into the body and less at the head and immediately snap the blow back faster than it went into the opponent, to a ready stance for the next move. That snap back created the Chi which stopped an opponent in their tracks. That is what causes the focus that injures your foe. Pulling away that fast leaves the energy of the blow within the opponent’s body to cause damage to the internal organs. In order to get maximum focus every inch of your body must tense from your toes to your head, for an instance. You must bring your weapons back to the ready position, because the opponent may attack at the same time or just a moment after. Remember, you are not the only one in the fight, so as you attack you must be ready to divert a punch or kick at the same time. I say divert, rather than block, since after fifty years in Isshin-ryu and nine years teaching Active Duty Marines hand-to-hand combat from the Isshin-ryu, using from Ippon Kumite. Ippon Kumite is distinctive, in that it is not a martial art, but simply a portion of the diversity of the art of Isshin-ryu. Rather than the normal blocks, since I was very slight and the larger fighters could blow my blocks out of the way and strike me. We were originally taught these blocks, but Isshin-ryu was developed to become a martial art for the average person. Therefore, rather than utilize the original blocks and since I was quick in my moves but lacked brute force, such as Ralph Bove and Don Bohan who could crash through the standard blocks. I realized quickly, that I had to use an alternate method and Sensei Nagle was my model fighter. At 5’ 10” and 140 lbs., at best, he used speed and cunning and I used every move that I could steal from his fighting methods, as best I was able since he could up his fighting capability in mid-fight.
I began to feel comfortable with the manner in which I fought, which relied on constant movement and often changing the direction of movement. I also used what I referred to the Metronome program. That is, I would begin, subtly, to slow down my movement, causing the opponent to fall into the trap of moving slowly, letting me set the speed of movement. Then I would suddenly rip toward the opponent as fast as I could close with him and fire punches and kicks in volleys, overwhelming the other fighter. Also, rather than use those hard blocks, that I mentioned before, I use the palm of my hands on the wrist or ankle of the opponent as he throws his blow to divert it across the opponent’s body. Once my palm has begun to divert the blow, I grasp the wrist or ankle in order to be in control of the opponent’s body. With the arm diverted across the body, I slide to the side and strike to the lower body or the side of the head. This causes an imbalance of the foe, as Shimabuku states that this is the moment to strike. You can also put the unbalanced foe in an arm hold around the neck of the foe using the forearm and bicep to cut off the flow of the carotid arteries flow and render the foe unconscious or dead, quickly, in a deadly attack by the foe.
Isshin-ryu was created to be a natural movement in this art. The Isshin-ryu fighter does not get into deep stances for power, which are also difficult to come out of these portraiture stances, that are uncomfortable, such as the Japanese fighters. We stand up straight, totally relaxed, making Isshin-ryu movements faster than other martial arts. I moved around my opponents, circling the foe in arcs, changing direction constantly, befuddling the opponent, never knowing when I would wheel into range of the foe and reign punches and kicks, but, I also circled waiting the opponent to make a poor move leaving them open to attack. Nagle’s credo of Speed, Balance and Focus laid out Shimabuku’s inner ideal. The most difficult part of those three elements was learning to strike with deadly Focus and oddly, as I get older, my Focus has become stronger. While fighting in Isshin-ryu, we stay totally relaxed in your shoulders and arms, which will help your speed. Speed kills in Isshin-ryu. I often threw my favorite technique, the back-fist to the opponent’s jaw or brow ridge, as well as the nose and mouth, which created a profusion of blood, especially since you are wearing a white uniform. When the opponent realizes he is bleeding badly, there is an instant loss of courage. That is simply human nature, urging you to quit. The first time that my Sensei broke my nose, was the same night he promoted me to Sho-Dan (First degree black belt). My wife was less than thrilled when I went home with my black obi and blood all over my gi and clothes.
You can win matches simply because you have built your Chi, since one strike can end a fight in an instant. Even a punch to the shoulder could cause a fracture and end a match. We used the Makiwara at the beginning to build Chi and later through our punches against the concrete walls of the dojo. It is not easy and perhaps insane, but it built the knuckles on my index and middle finger. Letting calcium heal the knuckles, eventually built the knuckles and hardened the skin, until they were a deadly item. Doing all of the things you have to become a true fighter is difficult and you must be enthused by your Sensei to make you a karate-ka. My Sensei, Don Nagle was beyond anything I have ever seen over my fifty years in Isshin-ryu. He made us good and we felt the esteem of being a student of the best fighter in America. I was proud to be his best fighter and close friend.
Edward F. McGrath, Ju-Dan
Grand Master, Isshin-ryu “The Art”