Monday, February 21, 2011

Isshinryu standards

Start with Okinawa, if it’s about karate we must start there.

After the War interest in karate renewed itself. Shimabuku Sensei with about 30 years of training drew students to him, likely though his association with Kyan. After all he did give his group a name Chan-migwha-te which obviously signified the lineage he was teaching. There is even a sai kata apparently named for reference to his main instructor.

The students on Okinawa likely lived in walking distance from your home/dojo. Being a student of a senior gave credentials, and your students likely wanted that association to Kyan. That material of Miyagi and Motobu was included was probably seen as a plus.

Then having students satisfied to study Kyan’s art Shimabuku really reworked thanged his classes to include the USMC students. I’ve read he lost Okinawan students who didn’t want to change their earlier studies, until he had to permit two layers of training, Kyan style technique among Okinawan students and Isshinryu technique for the Americans who had to link to earlier traditions.

Okinawan tradition was based on change occurring, but not to such a great extent. I suspect the changes of Isshinryu with the inclusion of the Americans combined as a source of their discomfort. No matter his abilities he did not overcome many of his former students desires, and even in the 1960 meeting with them they still wanted the older Kyan style karate. Of course other issues, rank , succession of the leader, etc. also muddy the picture.

Yet you can’t ignore what Shimabuku Tatuso did accomplish. He proved a style could exist beyond the leader. Styles in Okinawan karate was a new idea. His temporary students left after very intense short term training and have perpetuated the idea of an Isshinryu system far beyond Okinawa, making Isshinryu one of the largest Okinawan derivative systems.

Now how does Isshinryu stack up against the rest of the Okinawan systems of study?

Did others on Okinawa have an way to value Isshinryu’s potential? They must have observed his students leaving his training? That’s a hard way to present your systematic method of training. Did they understand or ever know the import of the changes he had made? If one is an instructor there is a simple way to evaluate their ability, what is the quality of the students they produce? Think of what Okinawan Isshinryu would represent with that standard?

That the short term students would transplant their studies around the world is not something Okinawa would treasure! The because of the short nature of their training, because of the approach behind their training with a system of study in flux, and the lack of long range participation of those students to the remaining Isshinryu on Okinawa would not be ignored. When the Rengokai held their World Championships in Atlanta the large American Isshinryu community did not participate except marginally.

They could only evaluate by Okinawan standards, not the reality of the world spread of arts derived from Okinawan study.

When you compare Isshinryu to the other ‘systems’ on Okinawa it’s not the ‘system’ but the instructors that matter. How does Isshinryu stack up in how it developed instructors? Being an instructor is much more complicated than standing in front of a class. How has the instructor’s ability, technique and knowledge evolved? What is the quality of the students they are training?

IMO the only standard for Isshinryu on Okinawa is those actually doing Isshinryu.

The Rengokai included Uechi Sensei to have Isshinryu represented in their community, but their stated purpose is preserving karate pre-1950 and Isshinryu is truly a post development. The Rengokai recognizes they’re not the standard for the world, but only are focusing on what Karate is defined as for Okinawa, and what is appropriate for their events.

In any case it’s Okinawa’s responsibility as to what Isshinryu means to themselves, not ours.

Beyond Okinawa

On Okinawa karate kept marching on, flowing from instructor to instructor and change was the true constant of the past experience, and this is on an Island only 45 miles long.

The returning Marines had to establish a beachhead for karate in a country 3,000 miles wide, with no populace understanding karate’s existence and literally no constraints or controlling mechanism on the art. Of course change always occurred on Okinawa, but abroad it was a certainty. Of course no one on Okinawa could have understood what the reality of a world developing interest in their art would mean.

The strongest control for developing instructors is simply spending several decades under continual instruction of a senior, ensuring much continuality in the art. Perhaps that even explains the variance in the development of Isshinryu.

Then the American seniors when they did meet discovered variances between them for a wide variety of reasons, many starting on the inconsistent instruction from Shimabuku Sensei, from the fact that they were trained to practice Isshinryu but were not seasoned on how to teach it, and there was no appreciation of what their art should become over the years. That Isshinryu was still a baby didn’t help provide guidance on that either.

Groups formed, broke, reformed. Some remained apart, some didn’t worry about the differences. The loyalty test to prove or demand the ‘right Isshinryu’ became felt.

More importantly every individual who became an instructor ended up doing things nobody on Okinawa ever did. The system of training flowed into many different nitches, Private Groups, Commercial programs, Full time students, part time students, Tournaments of all dimensions.

It’s hard to imagine standards that fit an island where people had to walk to train at their instructors fit the evolving Isshinryu world wide.

The existence of Isshinryu is a non-Okinawan proof that Systems of study can pass beyond the originator. There is a basic Isshinryu-ness that pervades all performing Isshinryu. But how that fits the individual will vary. Some can hit a high standard and then spend the rest of their life in full time training. Others will hit a high standard and then set deep practice aside for part time because living life is more important than just Isshinryu. Comparing such differences is futile they’re very different Isshinryu experiences.

One size just doesn’t fit all, any more than one system does. The ongoing continuity of Isshinryu is the acquisition of new students.

Students do not appear because of the existence of Shimabuku Tatsuo. For the most part they appear because of the local efforts of the local instructor. The why students appear is also in change. Today’s reasons are not those of 20 years ago. There are so many competing martial arts out there all proclaiming they’re the best. You can hardly show them video tape of our founder to convince students Isshinryu is for them.

As Isshinryu has moved to fill each local need where Isshinryu is and will go modifies at the same time.

It is irrelevant what one can do unless you train with them full time to borrow from their efforts. Great effort can be inspiration but as each reason does change with the student, there is not a constant answer.

Shimabuku did not teach referring to Kyan, Miyagi or Motobu as examples for the student, as far as I’ve read, and in the case of the American’s he wouldn’t have been able to express that anyways.

When you plainly look at what is available from our founder I think we’d be better off if it was totally Okinawan totally undocumented. With experience we can view the available record but you have to give a student years of training to understand what is there. Again it’s a very different world.

Of course all of the Shimabuku material is readily available on the web. I never forbid students anything, but if asked plainly explain what they can see has nothing to do with our dojo floor practice. Then if pressed I’ll give them a 5 or 10 hour lecture about what I mean.

Isshinryu is ours, it is up to use to use it wisely.


For thoughtful research

Note is possible that the art of Shimabuku Tatsuo’s younger brother shows us what much of his earlier art technique consisted of. Certainly not a definitive answer but worth consideration to understand the pre-Isshinryu Shimabuku Tatsuo art.

Shimabuku Eizo Shobayashi Shorin-ryu and sometimes Sukunaihayashi Shorin-ryu

Note how close this version is to Isshinryu’s (later changed in other Shobayshi Seiunchin)

Note this is the Hiagonna K Sanchin and not the Miyagi C Sanchin

Kata performed by other students of Shobayshi Shorin-ryu
Part of Wanshu

Kobudo practiced by Shobayashi Shorin-ryu
Bill Hayes student of Eizo Shimabuku – Sai kata
Toyei No Sai
Tokumini No Kun

** other styles from Kyan Chotoku’s students

Kyan Karate - Master Nakama (preserved by Patrick McCarthy)
Tomari Chintou
Tokumine no Kun

Nakazato Joen Shorinjiryu
Tokumine no Kun

We remain grateful for all who have shared this material!

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