Master Tatasuo Shimabuku

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.
Tatsuo's Instructors
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 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.

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