Born in 1906, Tatsuo Shimabuku began training for Karate at the age of eight. His first instructor was his uncle, who taught Shuri-te Karate. Each day, Shimabuku would walk to Shuri and perform certain chores in exchange for his Karate training.
Later, Shimabuku studied Kobayashi-Ryu under Master Chotoku Kyan and was one of Kyan’s leading disciples. He also studied Goju-Ryu under Master Chojun Miyagi and became very adept at Goju-Ryu. Returning to Kobayashi-Ryu, Shimabuku studied under Master Choki Motobu, who at this time was a legend on the island of Okinawa.
Tatsuo Shimabuku won great recognition for his kata at a large Martial Arts festival. He began to study the art of the Bo and Sai under the Okinawan kobudo master Shinken Taira. By this time, Shimabuku had developed an outstanding reputation throughout the island of Okinawa. At the beginning of World War II, Shimabuku was a Karate instructor and owned a small manufacturing plant. The plant was destroyed in the early part of the war. In order to avoid being forced into military service by the Japanese, Shimabuku sought refuge in the hillsides where he worked as a farmer until he was discovered by some Japanese soldiers. They agreed to keep his hiding place a secret if he would teach them Karate. Shimabuku agreed. After the war, Shimabuku continued to farm and practiced Karate in private for his own spiritual and physical benefit.
Master Shimabuku was recognized as a leading practitioner of Shorin-Ryu and Goju-Ryu. He included the best elements from each into a new system which he called Isshinryu. This style means “one-heart or one-mind” style. The official birth date of Isshinryu is January 15, 1956. Isshinryu epitomizes the powerful, lighting-fast techniques that, in ancient times enabled the weaponless Okinawans to defeat the sword-wielding Samurai warriors of Japan.
In developing Isshinryu, Master Shimabuku utilized the sage oriental philosophy of the “hard” and the “soft”, which emphasizes strength through speed and accuracy. Muscles are relaxed until the point of contact. He used a vertical punch with the thumb placed on top of the fist. This style of punch could be easily forced, produced increasing speed, was easily retracted and avoided positions in which the elbow could be broken. The placement of the thumb on top of the fist strengthened the wrist as well.
For Isshinryu, Shimabuku used what he felt were the best kata from Shorin-Ryu and Goju-Ryu. These kata are common to most styles of Okinawan Karate. Each contains elements that are necessary to develop a well-polished karate-ka. These kata were modified by Shimabuku to fit the mold that he designed for Isshinryu. The only kata that Master Shimabuku created himself is Sunsu, meaning “strong man”, the Master’s nickname. Sunsu embodies techniques from the other Isshinryu kata and is the most difficult to perform with strength and speed. On May 30, 1975, Grandmaster Shimabuku died, yet his dream continues to live. Thousands of men, women and children keep his dream alive by studying Isshinryu the world over.
The patch or crest worn by Isshinryu karateka often raises admiration and curiosity. The patch is based on a day dream Tatsuo Shimabuku had in the fifties while he was creating his karate style. This dream was the missing piece in the puzzle called Isshinryu. The patch is often called Mizu Gami.
4 Stars – In the early painting pictured above, there are only three stars. The stars are in the position of one (-) in Kanji and mean one or ichi and is the “is” in Isshin-ryu. They represent heart, as shown in the heart of scorpio, or “shin”. They also represent Shimabuku’s teachers: Ganeku Shinko (uncle) Chotoku Kyan (Kiyan) – Shorinryu, Chojun Miyagi – Gojuryu, Choki Motobu – Kobudo, Shinken Taira – Kodudo. The fourth star represents Master Shimabuku.
Night – The unknown (the stars, Tatsuo Shimabuku’s teachers light up the darkness)
Woman’s Upper Body – Karate can be as gentle as a woman
Dragon’s Lower Body – Karate can be as fierce as a dragon.
Goddess’ Calm Face – Be calm in adversity.
Turbulent Water – Danger or evil which is always present.
Left Hand Open (Soft) – Talk your way out if possible.
Right Hand Closed (Hard) – Use force only as a last resort, and then only what is necessary.
Dragon in the Sky (Heaven) – Tatsuo who is the energy of Isshin-ryu moves endlessly from earth to heaven. Dragon (Tatsuo) can also be written “ryu” and is pronounced the same as ryu (way, style or mode). Its hidden meaning — the ryu of Isshin-ryu. Simply put, the dragon is symbolic of Master Shimabuku, who named himself, “dragon boy.”
I come to you with only Karate – empty hands, I have no weapons; but should I be forced to defend myself, my principles, or my honor; should it be a matter of life or death, of right or wrong, then here are my weapons – “Karate, my empty hands”.