Isshinryu Karate was developed and introduced in 1954 by Tatsuo Shimabuku on the island of Okinawa. His karate was the offspring of two different systems, Goju-Ryu and Shorin-Ryu. Goju-Ryu being the Hard method, and Shorin-Ryu being the Soft method. He introduced katas from other forms into his own form, and developed features unique to his newly created style. The ranking system, also unique to his style, was made up of 7 kyu ranks and 10 degrees of black belts. A vision Shimabuku had in a dream also played a major role in the development of his style. The vision that helped him mold his karate into one form is represented on a patch presently worn on the gi s of his followers and their students. Isshinryu may be the youngest karate to come from Okinawa, but it is as rich with spirit as the earlier forms.
Shinkichi Shimabuku, founder of Isshinryu, was born on the island of Okinawa on September 19, 1908 (Armstrong 7). Upon reaching the age of six, Shimabuku would travel on foot, six miles down an old farm road to reach his uncle s house. His uncle, Chioyu, a Shorin-ryu Master, was reluctant to teach young Shimibuku. Instead, Chioyu made him perform menial chores around the dojo. After two years of chores and six mile walks, Shimabuku developed the patients and physical condition to begin karate training. His uncle taught Shimabuku his system and started him off on his martial career. During his years of adolescence Shimabuku changes his name from Shinkichi to Tatsuo meaning Dragon Boy. It was common during the 1920 s for a young boy to change his name during his adolescence years.
With the motivation from his uncle, Shimabuku sought out the famous Chotoku Kyan, another Shorin-ryu master. After developing an excellent kicking ability, his next sensei was Chojin Miyagi, known for his vigorous training habits. Miyagi teaches Shimabuku Naha-te, known today as the Goju-ryu style. His fourth teacher was a man by the name of Motobu, a famous brawler in Okinawa. Motobu furthers Shimabuku s in Shorin-ryu and grants him the title of Master (8). Lastly, Yabiku Moden, helps polish Shimabuku s training by teaching him the art of the Bo, Sai, and Tee-fa (9). With the teachings of some of Okinawa s legendary teachers, Tatsuo Shimabuku sets of to begin a life in the martial arts.
Late one evening at his home in Chun Village, Shimabuku was awakened by his dream of the Mizu-gami, the sea goddess. With this symbol, Tatsuo realizes the unification of his training that the Mizu-gami represents. It was on that evening that Isshinryu was born (Armstrong 27). Later, his vision was produced on a patch worn by all students of Isshinryu Karate. The emblem of Isshinryu karate symbolizes the Mizu-gami. Its oval shape was originally designed to represent the unique vertical fist in Isshinryu karate. The symbol depicts a woman whose lower half appears to take the form of a sea dragon. Her left hand is held open in the universal sign of peace while her right hand forms an Isshinryu fist. In Oriental mythology, the dragon in the sky is a sign of good luck while the gray background and churning seas is a sign of unknown dangers. Three stars are located at the top of the emblem representing three virtues. These virtues consist of mind, body, and spirit which all must be developed to reach total harmony (Tyurin). With this vision and sensei s knowledge of the martial arts, he sets off to create the Isshinryu system.
What would a martial arts system be without kata? According to the Martial Arts Dictionary, by Louis Frederic, the word kata is defined as Form , Sequence , but there is much more to kata than form and sequence (104). To really grasp the meaning of kata, the true essence of karate, one must be involved in one or more forms of the martial arts.
In the Isshinryu system there are 16 katas:
- Nai Hanchi
- Kusan-Ku Sai
- Tokomen Kun No Dai
- Chatan Yara No Sai
- Urishi Bo
- Chi-Chi No Kum No Dai
- Bo Sai/kumite
- Bo Bo/kumite
These katas will help the karate-ka develop breath control, speed, rapid techniques, balance, rhythm, and coordination (Tyurin). One of the major aims of the karate-ka is to be able to perform all the katas as accurately as possible therefore kata exercise is a must. When performing kata, a karate-ka imagines himself being attacked by enemies from all different sides (Holubecki 42). Katas are also a means of physical exercise. There are some katas that develop upper body, while others that develop lower body and even some that work the entire body. Kata can be performed at home, in the dojo, at work, anywhere a karate-ka feels comfortable practicing. Kata is the ideal form of exercise (42).
In formalized karate schools, most have a belt ranking system. This system is used to help the instructor of the school keep track of the progression levels of his or her students. The beginners start out in the kyu ranks. The belt, or Obi, signifies the technical and mental skill obtained by its bearer by its color (Frederic 173). In the Isshinryu system there are 7 kyu ranks represented by 5 colors: white, yellow, green, purple, 1st.-2nd-3rd degree brown. Following the Kyu ranks are the Dans, or Black Belts. The Dan ranks are divided into 10 degrees, 1st being the lowest and 9th being the highest a non-founder can obtain. Tenth degree is usually reserved for the founder of the system (Holubecki 21). It is not until a karate-ka reaches black belt that he or she is regarded as truly being established in their form (Frederic 173). Higher belt ranks are gained by formal promotions in the dojo. The karate-ka will be asked a series of various questions to show his mental ability and asked to perform katas and basic skills to show physical ability. Shimabuku created this rank system to keep a low number of ranks which is easier for the instructor to keep track of.
From his birth in Okinawa, Tatsuo Shimabuku was born a karate-ka. Growing up with the teaching of some of the most famous martial artist of his time, Shimabuku learned from some of the best. With his training and knowledge of over four decades, Shimabuku founded the Isshinryu system. He introduced katas from different forms which was taught to him by some of the originators. He created a unique ranking system that kept the number of belts low and the amount of knowledge high. With his vision in his dream, he discovered a way to unite his knowledge and ability.
Isshinryu Karate will continue to be taught and enjoyed by those karate-ka who have captured the beauty of the vision of master Tatsuo Shimabuku.
- Armstrong, Steve ISSHINRYU KARATE: The One Heart Method. American Okinawan Karate Association, 1993.
- Frederic, Louis A Dictionary of the MARTIAL ARTS. Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc., 1994.
- Holubecki, Chester. KARATE: Isshin-Ryu Karate. Orange City, 1984.
- Tyurin, E. Isshinryu Karate Page. On-line. Infoseek. Internet. 28 Oct. 1996.