We we think of the contributions made to the founding of Isshinryu Karate by our founder Shimabuku Tatsuo we should look to what he learned from his instructors too. Fortunately today we can see the actual source training that formed the basis of his development.
In Itoman Seijin (Morinobu’s) book Toudi-jutsu no Kenkyu, Itoman discussed the process in Toudi (the older Oikinawan martial tradition) where one becomes an instructor. “Following, breaking and transcending Following, breaking and transcending involve a student first copying the form of his teacher and restraining himself from making any personal changes to it. Next, he breaks or separates his practice from that of his teacher trying to exceed him. Finally he transcends his teacher’s instruction and finds his own unique military art “. I feel that this tradition is what Shimabuku Tatsuo lived to create his Isshinryu. The following show to see the sources of Shimabuku Tatsuo.
This allows us to review the teaching of his instructors Kyan Chotoku, Motobu Choki and Miyagi Chojun. The core of their teachings are present in Isshinryu but with Shimabuku Tatsuo’s own developments. I am just focusing on the empty hand kata at this time and leave Isshinryu Kobudo for a later date.
We are fortunate to have Nakazato Joen's Shorinji-ryu kata to review. Nakazato was a direct student of Kyan Chotoku and preserved his training I believe with little change. If you follow the link to this site http://shao.sakura.ne.jp/kata.htm which is in Japanese, you can see the following kata presented.The kata on the shorinji-ryu link are shown in this order:
9. Tokumine no kon
While a version of Ananku is used by my students (from the Shimabuku Ezio lineage) it is not found in Isshinryu proper.Kata Seisan, Wansu, Chinto and Kusanku are found in Isshinryu. It is evident how similar the kata Seisan, Chinto and Kusanku are to the Isshinryu versions. Of course they evidence Shimabuku’s choice of verticle striking (which was personally favored by Kyan as reported in Nagamne Shinso’s book “Tales of the Great Okinawan Masters”. You can clearly see how the Kyan core kata were adapted for Isshinryu use.
Wansu is greatly modified, and I believe it may show Shimabuku adding elements to his Isshinryu in the process. Using evasive steps, Empi strikes, and front leg kicks are among it’s changes. This may have been the starting point for the development of his Sunsu (SuNuSu) Kata.
The Nihanchi kata is not from the teaching of Kyan, but came from an Ishi, a student of Nakazato who had previous training (as reported to me by a ).friend in Nakazato’s lineage. Nakazato felt that this should be added to the Kyan studies. It’s more probable that Nihanchi’s lineage descended from Motobu Chokoi. Here we have a video of Motobu no Naihanchi Shodan - Motobu Chōsei ,Motobu Chokoi’s son. Note this version of Naihanchi kata begins by moving to the right like the Isshinryu version unlike most other versions .
Even at this there are differences in Isshinryu’s version showing Shimabuku’s personal development.
Motobu Ryu Self Defense Techniques = as originally shown by Motobu Choki
Further influence of Motobu Choki can be found within the original self defense techniques he developed. The following video of his son Motobu Chōsei performing those techniques can be found to influence the development of kata Sunsu (SunNuSu). Thanks to Joe-san Swuft for sharing this with me years ago. (Look at 9:40)
This leaves us with Passai and Useishi (Gojushiho) We do find there influence in kata Sunsu (Sun NuSu) the kata created by Shimabuku Tatsuo. Passai with few modifications is seen in the kata’s beginning. Useishi is found in Sunsu’s Nutike striking techniques. Then other Isshinryu kata techniques are found. Finally unique Isshinryu contributions show multiple empi (elbow or forearn) strikes. Open hand striking and kicking techniques resembling those in various Goju kata.
The primary influence of Miyagi Chojun is found in the kata Sanchin and Seiunchin (Seienchin).
Miyagi Chojun was known to often teach a student only two kata. In this case the Sanchin taught in Isshinryu is the one developed by Miyagi Chojun himself, which incorporates backward movement not found in the Higaonna Kanryo original. Sanchin is also used with Shime testing and in Chinkuchi training.
We can see the Miyagi version in this video of Higaonna Morio.
The next Goju kata found in Isshinryu is Seiunchin (Seinenchin and other spellings). For this kata et us look at the Yagi Meitetsu in his Meibukan group variation.
Again we see the variety of technique as modified by Shimabuku Tatsuo. The same application potential of the original remains present.
There is a further presence of Goju technique found in Isshinryu. You can find it in Shimabuku’s use of their kicking techniques. For example the side kicks in Wansu and Sunsu kata have Goju influence. Look closely to the applications shown by Higaonna Morio in his Seisan kata applications and you see it. Additionally,, look at the last ‘front’ kick on the video and see it’s influence in our thrusting kick in Sunsu kata.
As Isshinryu developed Shimabuku was influenced by his instructors training. You can see their presence within our Isshinryu technique. But going back to Itoman’s description of an instructor, I feel Shimabuku’s changes is a mark of his own thinking and development on his art. The Isshinryu system owes his instructors a great debt, but also is a sign that Shimabuku Tatsuo did transcend their arts too.