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Tatsuo Shimabuko 1908 - 1975

Shimabuku Tatsuo Sensei, the founder of Isshin-Ryu Karate, was born in the village of Chan (nowadays Kinaka, a part of Gushikawa city) on Okinawa, Japan on the 19th of September 1908. His parents were farmers and Tatsuo helped them on the farm.  Upon his birth he first received a girl’s name. This was an Okinawan custom, adopted by the Chinese, to fool evil spirits who would be looking for a girl instead of a boy.
After the evil spirits were fooled, the baby received the name Kana, and the Japaneses name Shinkichi. The Japanese name Shinkichi can be found in Shimabuku's koseki (family register) and later on his passport. The Okinawans (since 1879 under the Japanese government) gave two names to their children, because they were forced by Japan not to use any Chinese or typical Okinawan customs. One of the things they forbid was to wear the hair in a topknot, a custom used when a boy entered manhood. They were also told not to speak Okinawan hogen (dialect). Many Okinawans gave the children an Okinawan name, which couldn't be used on their koseki (family register).

At the age of twenty three he married his wife Uto. From the marriage four children were born: two daughters, Matsuko and Yukiko; and two sons, Kichiro and Shinsho (in that order).

Shimabuku named his two sons after himself: Kichiro and Shinsho; his name Shinkichi split in two parts. It was only at about thirty nine years of age, that he took the name Tatsuo (about the time he starts teaching karate). Tatsuo in English means 'Dragon Man'. In Okinawa, the dragon is a symbol of happiness and prosperity. His second daughter Yukiko married Angi Uezu, who shall be important to for Isshin-Ryu later.  His first born son Kichiro is nowadays the official heir of Tatsuo, but many people, including Arcenio J. Advincula, regard his second born son Shinsho as a better heir, who is the only acknowledged 10th Dan in Isshin-Ryu Karate.

At his thirteenth year Kana received his first karate training with his uncle Ganeku, who also lived in the village of Chan. Ganeku mainly taught him Chinese philosophy and literature, like the I'Ching and astrology, and a little karate.  According to Shinsho Shimabuku (Tatsuo's second born son) Ganeku stayed two years in Fuzhou, China, where he learned fortune telling (sumuchi) and Shorinji kempo.  Because Shimabuku’s uncle has to little knowledge of karate, he later introduced him to Chotoku  Kyan, who lived in Kadena.  This became his first teacher of three very famous karate teachers he trained with:  Chotoku Kyan, Chojun Miyagi and Choki Motobu.

Chotoku Kyan (1870 – 1945) was a student of Master Yasutsume ‘Ankoh’ ltosu, who taught him Shuri-te, and of Master Kosaku Matsumora who taught Tomari-te.  These two styles were combined to Shorin-ryu (named after the Shaolin temple tradition).  Chotoku Kyan is one of the most famous Shorin-ryu teachers.  Kyan was a perfectionist and Shimabuku became one of his best students.  Around 1931-32, Shimabuku was about 23 or 24 years old.  He walked barefoot to Kadena where Kyan lived.  He trained six hours a day and after arrival home he helped his parents on the farm.
Kyan was a traditional teacher and taught as first kata Seisan and not the beginner kata which his teacher Itosu since 1904 had introduced on the Okinawan schools.  Karate is a martial art and not meant for children.  Shimabuku trained for four years with Chotoku Kyan and learned from him the following kata: Seisan, Naihanchi, Wansu, Chinto, Kusanku, a sai kata Kyan no Sai and the bo kata Tokumine no Kun.

Chojun Miyagi (1888 – 1953) was the top student of Naha-te Grandmaster Kanryo Higaonna. Higaonna formed Naha-te by combining Okinawa karate with Chinese Kempo (Chung fa / Kung fu).  Miyagi, like his teacher, went to China to study kempo. Back on Okinawa he formed his own style of karate, which he later called Goju-ryu (hard / soft style) Goju-ryu is taken out of a line of the book Bubishi (eight precepts of Chu’an Fa).

Since 1936 Shimabuku received lessons from Miyagi.  Shimabuku still walked to his training.  Miyagi lived in Naha which was much further from Kadena.  Miyagi was known for his powerful grips and power training.  Shimabuku trained with Miyagi for three years and leaned kata Seiunchin and Sanchin.

Choki Motobu (1871 – 1944) was Shimabuku's next teacher.  Motobu was a less formal teacher then his former teachers.  This famous Shorin-Ryu teacher was also known as someone who practiced his techniques in street fights.  Motobu became famous in the 1920's in Japan, as he picked a fight with a prize boxer who challenged the public to fight with him. Motobu, already in his fifties, took the challenge and eliminated the boxer with a knockout.  Japanese newspapers wrote articles and Motobu became instantly, with one strike, a famous Karate-Ka in Japan.

Tatsuo trained in 1938 for about a year with Choki Motobu, who lived in Naha, just like Miyagi. Motobu stressed the importance of makiwara (punch board) training.  Shimabuku's most important lessons were practical applications from karate (street fighting techniques) and Motobu's version of Naihanchi kata.

In the year 1939 Shimabuku traveled to the Philippines, he stayed there for two years. According to Shinsho Shimabuku (Tatsuo's second born son) his father gave karate lessons to a theater group there. Prior to Japan becoming involved in World War II, in 1941, he went to Osaka where he worked as a general supervisor until 1944. At the time Shimabuku went back to Okinawa to get his family and take then to Kyushu, Japan, to protect them from the watt. Since then he earned his living as a farmer.

One year after the 'Battle of Okinawa' (1945), he brought his family back to Okinawa.  From age 39 Tatsuo starts giving karate lessons.  According to Shinsho he taught in Konbu Kofo in Tegan (1946), Tairagawa Kofo (1947) and Chan Dojo (1948).  At that time he called his style Chan Migwa Karate, after Chotoku Kyan's nickname (Chan Migwa = small eyed Kyan in Okinawan hogen; Kyan wore glasses)

After 1951 he called his style Sun Nu Su Karate after the nickname he received from the mayor of Chan.  In Tatsuo's family there was a dance called Sun nu su, which means "Son of old man".  Later Shimabuku shortened Sun nu su to Sunsu, also the name of the Kata he created; Sunsu Kata.

At a special gathering (first publicly announced January 16th 1954), with his students held at January 15th 1954 he declared that his style of karate should be called Isshin-Ryu Karate.  Isshin-Ryu means; one-heart or one-mind method.  Eiko Kaneshi,Tatsuo's right hand man said "Why Isshin-Ryu, why such a funny name?" and Shimabuku replied "Because all things begin with one".

Isshin-Ryu stems from three different martial arts.  One of the interpretations of the stars in the Isshin-Ryu emblem, the Megami / Mizu Gami (which had been designed with Tatsuo Shimabuku's approval in 1961 by Arcenio J. Advincula), is that they stand for Shorin-Ryu, Goju-Ryu and Kobudo.  Tatsuo Shimabuku once said that Shorin-Ryu's Naihanchi the mother, Goju-Ryu's Sanchin the father and the result was Isshin-Ryu.  Shimabuku analysed and perfected all Kata, techniques and applications learned from diverse teachers.  He took what he regarded the best and most effective out of Shorin-Ryu, Goju-Ryu and Kobudo and formed a new system.

Shimabuku had developed a karate system with fast, direct and powerful punches and kicks, without every superfluous movement.  He replaced the traditional twist punch with the trademark of Isshin-Ryu; the vertical punch. A punch with a vertical fist is faster and had more impact. In a real fight -in many other styles learned - a horizontal fist is frequently replaced with the more effective and faster vertical fist (as you can see in a boxing match).

Tatsuo instructed the people of Okinawa and also many American soldiers, who were stationed in Okinawa after the war.  In 1956 he started to use the Agena Dojo, giving him the opportunity to be nearer to the American bases.  From the American marines he got a contract for $250 a month (which was a lot of money that time) to train the Americans.  Because of that Shimabuku became one of the first professional karate teachers.

Tatsuo Shimabuku learned in the years 1951 to 1961 Kobudo (old weapon arts) from Taira Shinken (1898 – 1970) to deepen his knowledge in this fighting art.  He already learned diverse Kobudo Kata from his first teacher Chotoku Kyan (Kyan no Sai and Tokumine no Kun).  From Taira's Kobudo he added the following kata to Isshin-Ryu: Chatan Yara no Sai, Urashi Bo, Shishi no Kun and tuifa (tonfa) data Hamahiga no Tuifa.  Besides these weapon Kata Isshin-Ryu has Kusanku Sai Kata which was developed by Shimabuku himself.
Many American marines, who trained with Shimabuku, brought Isshin-Ryu karate over the ocean and were important for Isshin-Ryu karate's growth and popularity worldwide. In 1960 the first international Isshin-Ryu association was founded; first called Okinawan American Isshin-Ryu Association (OAKA) and later changed to American Okinawan Karate Association (AOKA).  The founders of the AOKA were: Tatsuo Shimabuku, Harold Mitchum, Kinjo Chinsaku, Ralph Bove, William Bond and Steve Armstrong. Later Don Nagle and Harold Long shared the AOKA.

In the following years many international organisations were founded.  This happened because of disagreement or contradictory interests.  Some of these organisations are 
Isshinryu World Karate Association (I.WK.A.)
International Karate Association (I.I.K.A.)
European Isshinryu Karate Association (U.I.K.A.)
American Isshinryu Karate Association (A.I.K.A.)
United States Isshinryu Karate Association (U.S.I.K.A)
United Isshinryu Counsel (U.I.C.)
Anyway, their shared interest is promoting Isshin-Ryu karate!

The official Dutch organisation is Netherlands Isshinryu Karate-Do Association (NIKA), which was founded in 1986 by Steve Armstrong and Fred van de Vijver.

The official association in Okinawa was the Okinawan Isshinryu Karate and Kobudo Association (OIKKA), which was established by master Angi Uezu in 1990. After he retired, the association headquarters of OIKKA moved to the USA.

From 2002 the Okinawan Renokai named the Isshin-Ryu Okinawa Traditional karate-Do Association (IOTKA), founded by master Tsuyoshi Uechi, as the official Okinawan representative of Isshin-Ryu Karate-Do.

The official Australian organisation is Okinawan Isshinryu Karate Association (OIKA - Australia), which was founded by Shihan Robert Slywa in 1995 as a branch of the Okinawan Isshinryu Karate and Kobudo Association (OIKKA).  This was authorised by master Uezu after matter Slywa was personally trained and grade by master Uezu and master Uechi (who was the Chief Instructor in OIKKA at the time), in Okinawa from 1995.

After master Uezu retired, master Slywa affiliated with the IOTKA of master Uechi as we wanted to have our connection to Okinawa continue.

The OIKA - Australian is now the official Australian branch of the:
Isshin-Ryu Okinawa Traditional karate-Do Association (IOTKA)
American Isshinryu Karate Association (A.I.K.A.)
International Isshin-Ryu Karate Federation (IIKF), 
which is headed by master Joe Jennings and his leading Sensei in the USA.

On the 30th of May 1975, Tatsuo Shimabuku died of a stroke.  Let us remember him and honour with good Isshin-Ryu Karate!

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