Shinkichi Shimabuku, was a renowned Master
of both Shorin-ryu and Goju-ryu styles, as well as, the ancient arts of
known as “Te”. He utilized his mastery of these arts to distill the best
techniques of both styles and added his own startling and innovative principles
of fighting to create Isshin-ryu, “The
One Heart Way
”. At an early age, Shimabuku began his study of karate under his uncle, but
after several years of study his uncle placed him under the tutelage of Choto
Kyan, for advanced studies. Shinkichi ( Soke’s original name) studied Shorin-ryu
for about four years with Master Kyan becoming his principle student during that
time. He then enrolled in the Goju-Ryu style under the legendary Chojun Miyagi,
known for his Seiuchin and Sanchin katas, which Shimabuku was to incorporate in
his new style. His other Sensei's were Choki Motobu, a large and fearsome
looking man and probably the best known and most feared fighter on
. As you might assume, Motobu had perfected and taught Naihanchi kata, one of
the strongest stances in karate and now embodied in Isshin-ryu. Shimabuku
studied the martial art of Kobu-jutsu from one of
’s greatest weapons Masters, Taira Shinken, with whom Shimabuku learned the
Tunfa, Bo and Sai.
At this point, Shimabuku began
to teach on his own and as custom demanded in
he took a new karate name “Dragon Man” or Tatsuo. He was thirty-nine years
of age at this time. Tatsuo Shimabuku, over the following years began to evolve
his mastery of the martial arts he had studied, constantly looking for
perfection and logic in the practice of his arts. Keep in mind that originally
Soke was a working farmer, as were approximately 45% of Okinawa’s population
and yet, his analytical mind showed it’s genius in the extrapolation of his
empirical knowledge and aptitude to create a new and devastating martial art, Isshin-ryu.
The synthesis of these techniques into Isshin-ryu
and it’s unique fighting style is not the project of a simple man, but the
elevation of his art to perfection, by a complex, intuitive and logical mind.
His creation, Isshin-ryu,
or the “
was announced in January of 1956 and was received with derision. In fact, the
other masters on
to be an affront to everything that they held sacred in the martial arts. Among
the most important innovations connected to Isshin-ryu
is the fact that the stylized, immobile, deep and flexed muscle stances of the
past were now converted to a relaxed fighting style, which relied upon speed,
balance and focus, rather than strength and power for effect. Practicality
replaced historic movement for street fighting purposes, such as the use of
vertical punches with the thumb on top of the fist to lend strength to the
wrist, rather than the previous twist or corkscrew punches. He was not a
scientist and yet, Shimabuku’s reasoning was based upon sound physics and his
sense of the human anatomy. The best example is the use of a vertical punch
which is natural to the human body making it faster than a twist punch. In the
corkscrew punch the arm muscles are torqued creating a braking action and
lessening the focus that would be capable with Shimabuku’s vertical punch.
Further, less emphasis on kicking techniques as the total answer to an attack
and instead, the use of an equal combination of hands and feet allows the Isshin-ryu
practitioner to display a complete array of technique to the opponent. Matched
with close-in fighting, blocking and maneuvering into an oblique stance in
relation to the opponent, Isshin-ryu
brings professionalism to street fighting techniques.
Soke Shimabuku stressed that the Isshin-ryu practitioner should always remain in a relaxed
posture, until the very moment of focus. This keeps the Isshin-ryu karate-ka from becoming tight, which would deplete his or her strength
and stamina. A relaxed stance also enables a higher level of
speed and reaction, making
blocks more effective and bringing focus to it’s highest possible level, at
the moment of impact. Master Nagle emphasized the fact that the blocks were also
delivered with focus and snap, delivered to cause injury and pain, but withdrawn
immediately, in the same manner as a punch or kick.
Shimabuku related this metaphor during his stay in
in 1965, “the lions sleep most of the day, yawn and stretch when
awake. It is only when game is near enough for a successful strike, that they
will focus all of their strength, speed, balance and ferocious spirit, in an
attack that will end in the death of the prey or enemy. After the attack and
ensuing meal, the lion will once again lay down, relax and fall asleep,
conserving strength”. This is the manner in which the Isshin-ryu karate-ka must attack and defend against his foe or opponent.
Soke Shimabuku was now on his own, with all of the masters of
arrayed in opposition to his innovative style, including members of his own
family. But he persevered and practiced to evolve and perfect his Isshin-ryu.
Fortunately, after World War II, the
occupied all former Japanese
The servicemen stationed on
Marines of the Third Marine Division, learned of and sought out Soke Shimabuku.
In time, Division Headquarters, accepted Shimabuku as the sole recognized chief
instructor of the Marines stationed on
This came as a result of the lobbying of Soke’s Marine students. Among those
first students were the legendary Masters; Don Nagle, Harold Long, Steve
Armstrong and Harold Mitchum. To the chagrin of the opposing
these tough Marines began to defeat the other Masters students, in all the local
though just beginners. This triumph of wills culminated in a stunning victory,
when Sensei Nagle won the overall
Championship, as a white belt, against the other teachers best black belts. Isshin-ryu
karate had been validated and would soon be recognized world wide.
Soke Shimabuku never fully realized the depth of his accomplishment or the power
of his creation. In fact, he had not simply amalgamated the two styles of Goju-ryu and Shorin-ryu, he had evolved an entirely new process, an entity unto it’s self.
Not another style of karate, Isshin-ryu was a new paradigm, a martial art of it’s own. Each of us should be
dedicated to a lifetime of study to uncover all of it’s value and meaning.
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