Thursday, May 5, 2016

Frank Van Lenten.


From "The Spirit of Okinawan Karate Vol. History, Tradition and Philosophy: pg. 25-29.

By Frank VanLenten.

Tztuso Shimabuku was probably the greatest Shorin master that Okinawa
ever produced. his decision to develop Isshin-ryu into a new style
met with opposition from his own students as well of a lot of their
Okinawan masters. this great man and his system have never been
really understood by many, including his staunchest supporters. even
though his son inherited the Isshin Ryu mantle when master Shimabuku
passed away, there has been no growth or further acceptance of this
system ok Okinawa. to be quite frank, the real reason his art died on
Qkinawa with him is that he left only his son in law Angi and his son
Kichiro to carry on the what he taught. all of his other Okinawan
students were and still are Shorin Ryu Sukunaihayashi followers. and
let me assure you that they are some of the best karateka i have ever
trained with. the big reason for Isshin ryu dying out on okinawa is
that it has not nor ever has been popular with the Okinawans.

When i returned to Okinawa in november of 1959, i began training at
master Shimabuku's dojo in the town of Agena. this renowned yet
controversial founder of Isshin ryu had been a great Shorin ryu
teacher and practitioner and had only recently undergone the personal
changes in his art, combining Shorin with some Goju.

His newly found style and association had met with resistance among
many of Okinawa's most reputable masters and even amongst most of his
Okinawan students. More than a few of his students had dojo of their
own. most of them left him to maintain their shorin training.
several became independent while others found new homes with other
shorin masters or shorin groups.

I attended a meeting in 1960 at a restaurant in Agena that was
organzied by Master sSimbuku in an attempt to bring his former
students back into his association. There were twenty okinawans
presenta this meeting. this was the forming of the Okinawan American
Karate Association. there were five Americans present at the meeting,
and they were Harold Mitchum, Steve Armstrong, Donald Bohan, bBll
Blond and myself. at my suggestion we hired an interpreter in order
to be able to know what was being discussed and to be able to have our
say as well. Most of the arguments were over kata and style of
punching. most of the Okinawans tried to persuade Master Shimabuku to
go back to Shorin Ryu at this meeting. he declined and the rest is
history. they went their way and he followed the path that he chose
to follow.

Tatsuo's dojo was nothing more that four cinder block walls minus a
roof with a concrete floor. Years later he added roof for the dojo.
there was a small room for changing into your gi or for practicing
San chin in front of a mirror. by all of today's standards it was a
very crude dojo. however, I loved it, I loved training at night with
the lights off when there was no one else there. with the stars
shining overhead it gave me a very weird feeling as though I had
traveled back in time and was practicing karate in secret. I found
the true meaning of Seishin (spirit) in that dojo.

There were very few organized classes. everyone was taught a series
of exercises and basics from a large chart on the wall of the small
room and they were expected to practice these exercises and basics
along with kata whenever they came to the dojo. students taught kata
to each other and Master Shimabuku would make corrections in their
technique. I didn't want to learn any kata from other students so i
always managed to find a way to get Master Shimabuku to teach me a new

This concept of self training is more common on Okinawa than many
people realize. the old way in China was for a master to teach a
student a technique and then leave the student to practice. when the
master returned to check the student, he would teach him a new
technique if the student had perfected the old technique, if not, he
would show him the same technique again.

Most dojo have an open door policy and many never close. it is not
uncommmon for karate to be practiced on Okinawa at any time of the day
or night. however, most dojo have time allotted for organized formal
classes and training. they all have unlimted free time for practicing
kata and other techniques.

The changes that Master Shimabuku had made in the formation of his new
system made it the easiest of the okinawan styles to learn. it had
the fewest techniques and the fewest number of kata. Steve Armstrong
had gotten Master Shimbabuku a contract with the Narine Corps special
services to subsidize sSimabuku's classes so that servicemen could
train free. by comparison, the average okinawan monthly income was
$40. his contract with the special services earned him $250 a month
teaching karate to the Marines.

Developed a long lasting friendship with another Marine, William
Blond, during this period. Blond had the peculiar habit of always
wearing a white belt instead of his black belt. he did this so that
new students would not ask him too many questions or disrupt his
training. Blond provided me with a very valueable link to master
shimabuku when i returned stateside. after serving his term in the
Marines, Blond remained on the island, married a beautiful Okinawan
girl and got in the post office to maintain his training with Master

When I first met Master Shimabuku and at his dojo and related my
previous martial arts experience and rank to him, he told me that
Isshin Ryu had a lot of Goju combined into its formulation and he
related his having trained with master miyagi as the reason for
this. I hate to be the one to burst his bubble, butt there is very
little goju in Isshin ryu. other than the fact that he taught San chin
and Seinchin kata there was very little goju in Isshin. Even those
two kata are taught quite different to the way that they are taught
in Goju. my own speculation is that he did not study Goju for very
long or in depth. I base this upon the difference in technique in
the kata that he did adopt from goju and the fact that he did not
employ some of the higher class Kaishu kata from Goju in his

In keeping with tradition, I wore a white belt when i started my
training with Master Shimabuku. at the end of my first month in
Isshin Ryu Master Shimabuku told me to start wearing my black
belt. he used to enjoy watchin me perform san chin kata and
whenever we performed demonstrations he would have me
perform San chin. he used to refer to me as gGju boy because of
my Goju experience.

Since I hardly ever saw him train or lead formal classes, i used
to think that Master Shimabuku was a bit lazy, but then we'd do a
demonstration and he would always do Chinto kata and bo of
Tokumine kata and they would be perfect.

I had and still have a great deal of respect for Master Shimabuku. i
will always maintain fond memories of him in my heart. he was both
kind and humble. sometimes when you arrived at the dojo and were a
little slow in bowing, he would embarass you by bowing to you first.
He used to sit on a small tatammi mat by that small doorway to a
little side room where he had a sleeping mat and a mosquito net and
and a bang his palms and knife edge against the wood. He had worn a
smooth polished groove into the wood by constantly banging it over the
years. his hands were tough and calloused. He could put out a lite
cigeratte out on his hands and could pound nails into boards with his
hammer fist. He taught me the secrets of his iron palm training and
many people in america have wittnessed me nailing three 1" boards
together with the side of my fist. Once he showed me his clenched
fist in the Isshin Ryu vertical fist with the thumb on top. when he
placed his thumb in this position two huge tendons appeared at the
base of his thumb by the wrist. three years training to develop
Isshin Ryu punch -"three years training" he would always say.

One day when Master Shimabuku and i were alone he had me perform all
of the Goju kata that I knew while he watched. In his heart he knew
that I was in love with Goju and its beautiful yet powerful kata. The
Isshin kata were quite simple and direct. on that particular day i
had mentioned to him that I had heard about Tomari-te and that i was
interested in going to Tomari someday to try and find a dojo in order
to observe their training. he then started telling me about
Tomari-te's masters and kata. much to my surprise he got up from his
mat and walked to the training area and performed a beautiful kata.
that day i learned rohai, i was in shock. however i recovered fast
and and begged him to teach me the kata. that day i learned Rohai
kata and bunkai after promising Master Shimabuku that I would not
practice in front of anyone nor would I teach Rohai to any of the
other Isshin karateka.

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