Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Classical Fighting Arts and Isshinryu Karate

In a recent Classical Fighting Arts article it questioned whether Shimabuku Tatsuo was a student of Kyan , Motobu and Miyagi. The article was unsigned. One supposes that might be the premise is dubious and keeps the author anomyous. Given the fact that no author of the article was listed, this fact may suggest that the CFA itself was unsure of the articles historical accuracy. About this we can't absolutely know, but it is historically unlike the magazine to publish an article with such unsubstantiated content, or publish one without an author listed. Very strange.

While I am an Isshinryu practicioner, I do not speak for all Isshinryu Karate, rather for myself. I imagine most within Isshinryu Karate would ignore this as unattributed contention. On the other hand, once something is written it has a way of hanging around, and I feel the primary issue of Shimabuku Tatsuo’s instructors worth defending.

Unfortunately the article is a messy analysis, often using side issues having nothing to do with Isshinryu. It is necessary to ignore them and focus on the primary issue in contention. In that the primary source of Isshinryu technique comes from the technique of Kyan (abet with Shimabuku’s own vision), I will begin there.

The major item is whether Shimabuku trained with Kyan, in the face of many sources that suggest he was. . Okinawa was a small place, and while Isshinryu is a minor system there, we can look at Okinawan sources of information. Consider Hokama Tershuiro, Karate Okinawan karate historian and Master Goju instructor in his book "100 Masters of Okinawan Karate" (translated into English by Joe Swift) ‘references Shimabuku Tatsuo, instructors as Kyan, Miyagi and Motobu . Additionally the founder of modern Okinawan Kobudo instruction, Taira Shinken, also one of Shimabuku’s instructors, listed Shimabuku Tatsuo as a master,instructor in his 1972 book “An Encyclopedia of Okinawan Kobudo”, so we can see some Okinawans felt him credible. But that doesn't make it true, just plausible.

Even more ancedotal evidence comes from a different source, a friend and student of Shorinjyu Ryu, when he heard of the CFA article wrote me that "Nakazato Joen, founder of Shorinji Ryu, held Tatsuo in respect was precisely because he WAS a student of Kyans and despite being many years his junior had always treated Nakazato respectfully when they trained at Kyans house."

In lieu of other evidence when I compare the technique of Shimabuku and what I see in Nakazato Joen’s student’s I see enough similarity to make a clear comparison.. That Shimabuku made changes is unmistakable. Those transformed his prior studies into Isshinryu Karate.

It’s interesting the author didn’t make reference to the recently published ‘Okinawan Karate and Kobudo Encyclopedia’. Hokama Tershuiro, was one of its authors. Although not in English it would be interesting to get the official Okinawan historical record. While not ‘authoritive’ in one sense it would be interesting to hear Okinawa’s official line.

As to his training time with Miyagi and Motobu I likewise can’t say but I feel it remains reasonable. I only continue to see parallel ideas in their students arts.

As the practice of my Isshinryu takes place on the dojo floor, it was never intended to be a history lesson. In lieu of credible sources otherwise I’ll still teach my student’s that the source of Isshinryu depended on Shimabuku’s studies with Kyan, Miyagi and Motobu. But the more important lesson was his Isshinryu was extensively modified from those lessons based on his personal research. That is the most important lesson.

I have analyzed his previous training in The complete Shimabuku Tatsuo articles which can be found at  (They were undertaken with advice from the late Sherman Harrill, a very credible Isshinryu Karate source,  but any errors are my own.)

Isshinryu Karate has moved into many places and has taken many identities. That has been both good and bad, perhaps, though I tend to focus on what I find as good. Relying on old memories about whether or not Shimabuku Sensei, it’s creator had such and such training. It’s very obvious through the creation of Isshinryu Karae that he did.

It is irrelevant what Shorin Ryu or Goju Ryu students think about our art. Although with defference to those arts credibility, I wouldn’t turn to them for advice on Isshinryu Karate.

In any case, Isshinryu isn’t a history lesson, it takes place on the dojo floor. The history is a possible study for the advanced student (say with 30 or more years into their own training), but the art is the essence of the training.

This is true on Okinawa or around the world where there are Isshinryu Karate dojo. A sign of the limited knowledge of the author of the article for Isshinryu Karate is practiced around the world. Yes, much of it is in the USA, for many of the students were originally US Marines. But there has been continual globalization of Isshinryu Karate.

The art of Shimabuku Sensei continued to change as he faced different conditions in his life. Perhaps there is a lesson there to. Perhaps the lesson its to retain our diverse pasts and evolve to meet our individual conditions. Isshinryu may be like water, you can try and grasp it but it escapes our simple grasp. There is no one correct answer and even Okinawa can’t see all of it’s aspects today..

We must continue our studies to develop our art.

By the way I am

Victor Donald Smith


Charles James said...

First, it was supposedly a composition of several sources, ergo the reference to the magazine staff.

Second, the actual author who edited the article ignored some of, if not all, the source material.

Third, the guy named, i.e. Andy Sloane, was infuriated with the article and has been on a road to correct its inaccuracies and lies.

In closing there are a few blogs that have printed the rest of the story by Andy.


Charles James said...

I returned to comment on the content of your post regarding this issue .... excellent and very valid points were made. I liked your reference to the site where you explain about the three teachers of Tatsuo-san, again excellent.

Thanks for this effort to put the path back on track.

Brett Thomason said...

Came here to say that Andy Sloane provided some of the source material and was not happy about the outcome. Mr. James, could you post a link to the rest of the story that Mr. Sloane wrote?

Victor Smith said...

Brett, you can find a copy of the article Andy Sloane posted to the Isshinryu community at