ED MCGRATH'S SCHOOL OF TRADITIONAL ISSHIN-RYU
My Journey With The Grand Master/Reflections of an American Martial Artist on Okinawa by Major Bill Hayes, USMC (Ret.)
Before I begin the review, I must confess that I am a close friend of Major Hayes, a Retired Marine, successful businessman, a highly ranked and respected Shorin-ryu Master, as well as, an exemplary human being. He will be embarrassed by the previous sentence or any accolades given to him, preferring to be called, simply, “Old Student.” But, his two voluntary tours in Vietnam and three tours in Okinawa attest to his devotion to Corps and Country, as well as to his mentor and teacher, O Sensei Eizo Shimabukuro, the Grand Master of Traditional Okinawan Shorin-ryu. Mr. Hayes Sensei has studied and taught this style for over five decades and is also part of an unusual occurrence, being the brother of Soke Tatsuo Shimabukuro, the creator of Isshinryu karate. This may be the first time that brothers have both been Ju-Dan, in different styles. If not unique, certainly unusual.
The book is not a “how to manual,” but instead, a reflection of the relationship between a senior student and his Master and the background of service to the Corps, during a controversial war. In both, Bill Hayes behaved and performed in the best tradition of American fortitude and intuitive regard for traditional values.
You will quickly find yourself immersed in the ageless substance of Okinawan life, which, while seemingly brought into the new millennium of trade and business concerns, still reveres it’s shadow world of the past, where feudal Lords were in awe of the power of the Masters of the Martial Arts. You will learn what it is like to be a young enlisted Marine, far from home, in a land that balances in the air between to eras. Bill Hayes is obviously an admirable spokesman for the people of this Island and the quandary he sees in a people that he describes as of subdued demeanor, gentleness and propriety, while developing such devastating art forms. However, during the reading of this book, you find that the author has a true insight into the circumstances that developed both the people and the characteristics of the island of Okinawa.
Life for a Marine is hard on the Island that they have dubbed, “The Rock,” since they are in a zone that is at once peaceful, but surrounded by threats of imminent danger of war and the feeling of many of the populace that they wish to be free of the outsiders military presence. However, the author does not dwell upon the politics of the situation but, instead, writes a book about people he loves, a Corps of Marines he represented valiantly and a teacher that he holds in reverence and awe.
You will become familiar with the friendly and humble people of this Island and, in turn, you will feel that you are a member of his Master’s dojo, which is dedicated in the old style of Okinawa, to hard, rough training, where it would not be unusual to see a fit Marine collapse from exhaustion, during class. You will be brought to understand the underlying levels of study and learning that many students won’t even know exist. You will see plainly that, what Americans who train in karate and suddenly feel they have developed a new style and are therefore entitled to be designated Soke, are actually missing the point. Mr. Hayes clearly observes that these Sensei have simply begun to travel the path of enlightenment, in understanding what lays within that which there teachers have let them see.
For me, the most absorbing portions of the book are the personal and private moments when a Master takes an extraordinary student into his confidence. They sit together and the student asks the questions that may have been asked in private moments with famed Sensei's and their students, millenniums past. Even in the discussions that the author has with Grand Master Shimabukuro, Eiko, he must interpret correctly the veil of mist that Okinawan Sensei's have practiced since the beginning of time. The student must first prove himself and then, respectfully insist to be allowed through the portal of senior knowledge. In any case, when he discusses his Sensei and his family, you can a palpable sentimentality for his Sensei and the nearness of fellowship that they shared. This is a book that every karate-ka must read and more than once, in order to fully grasp what you are being told, as well as the insight you need to become what you might become. It is a vastly different style, than most other books you will read. The author does not write a book about himself, so much as he, writes of his Sensei, mentor and how and why that man deserves the accolade of Grand Master. This book will penetrate your mind and your martial soul.