A Bio of Master Tatsuo Shimabuku

Tatsuo ShimabukuTatsuo Shimabukuro, originally named Shinkichi, was born on September 19, 1908, in Kyan Village, Okinawa. He later changed his name to Tatsuo, meaning “Dragon Man.” At the age of 12, he began training with his uncle, Kamasu Chan, in Shuri-Te. He initially began Karate training in the hopes that he would be able to fend off his older brother who would frequently torment him. After a few months of training, his brother no longer posed a threat for young Tatsuo. He later studied Shorin-Ryu under Chotoku Kyan, Goju-Ryu with Chojun Miyagi, and Shorei-Ryu under Choki Motobu. Later in his life, he studied Okinawan Kobudo with the famous master Shinken Taira, from whom he learned the techniques of the bo and sai. Master Shimabuku was a Hachidan, 8th degree, in Shorin-Ryu and also developed considerable skill in Goju-Ryu and Shorei-Ryu. From Kyan, Shimabuku learned Seisan, Naihanchi, Wansu, Chinto, Kusanku, and Tokumine No Kun (Bo #1) kata. Kata which he also learned from Kyan but which he did not adopt as part of his new style of Karate included Gojushiho, Passai, and Pinan.. It is also likely that Shimabuku learned the arts of Kyusho-jitsu (pressure point fighting) and Tuite (joint locking) from Kyan.

From Miyagi, he learned Seiuchin and Sanchin, and from Motobu, he learned his version of Naihanchi kata, as well as kumite techniques and how to properly train with the makiwara. From Shinken Taira, Shimabuku learned the following weapons kata: Chatanyara No Sai, Urashi Bo (Bo #2), Shishi No Kun (Bo #3), and Hamahiga No Tuifa. . Shimabuku later incorporated two additional kata into his repertoire: Sunsu and Kusanku Sai. Sunsu Kata was a combination of the other seven Isshinryu empty-hand kata as well as many of Master Shimabuku’s favorite fighting techniques, named for his grandfather, an Okinawan dance master. Kusanku Sai was an adaptation of the empty-hand Kusanku Kata and Kyan No Sai (Short Sai).

During World War II, Master Shimabuku taught Karate to the Japanese Marines. His small business was destroyed during the war and afterwards, he worked for one of his students transporting bricks to the construction site of the new Kadena Airbase. At this time, he also began to teach an eclectic style of Karate called Chan Mighwa-Te (Small Eyed Kyan’s Karate), which was a combination of Shorin-Ryu and Goju-Ryu, named in homage of Master Shimabuku’s most pervasive Karate influence, Chotoku Kyan, who died in 1945 as a result of starvation from the war. Master Shimabuku began experimenting with a number of new, innovative techniques, most notably the vertical punch and block which he later added to his new system of Karate, although he still taught the traditional twist punch and block in Chan Mighwa-Te.

On January 15, 1956, he officially announced the formation of a new style of Karate, Isshinryu, meaning “One-Heart Way.” He chose this name because, according to Shimabuku, “all things begin with One.” Beginning in 1955, Shimabuku began to instruct a number of U.S. Marines in his front yard in Kyan Village. In February 1956, Don Nagle became the first American of note to train with Master Shimabuku at his original dojo. In 1957, Harold Long also began training with Master Shimabuku in Kyan Village. In 1958, the dojo was moved to Agena in order to be closer to the military bases and Master Shimabuku secured a contract with the U.S. Special Services to teach Karate to the U.S. Marines for $250 each month. In March 1958, Harold Mitchum began training at the Agena Dojo. Mitchum later trained in Shorin-Ryu with one of Shimabuku’s top Okinawan students, Kinjo Kinsoku. Arcenio J. Advincula also began training in November 1958. He trained on Okinawa with Master Shimabuku longer than any other American. He also trained in other Okinawan Karate styles and Hindiandi Gung Fu. Other Americans of note who trained with Master Tatsuo Shimabuku while serving with the U.S. Marines include Don Bohan, Sherman Harrill, Steve Armstrong, Ralph Bove, Ed Johnson, and William Blond, among others.

Prior to leaving Okinawa, Master Shimabuku awarded many of his American students with Rokudan, 6th degree, certificates with the proviso that they would not claim these ranks until having trained for a certain amount of time. He did this because he did not expect many of them to return to Okinawa. Unfortunately, many of the Americans abused his generous gift and claimed the high ranks as soon as they returned to the States.

In 1961, Master Shimabuku, Harold Mitchum, Steve Armstrong, and several others formed the American-Okinawan Karate Association (AOKA). Mitchum was the first AOKA president and Steve Armstrong and Ralph Bove were association officers. Harold Long was later appointed as the U.S. representative of the AOKA and A.J. Advincula was the vice-president of the association in 1963. Throughout the 1960s, Master Shimabuku continued to teach Isshinryu to the Marines on Okinawa. Many of his American students returned to the United States and opened dojos of their own. In 1964, Master Shimabuku made his first trip to the United States, staying for 3 months in Pittsburgh with Jim Morabeto, Harry Acklin, and William Duessel.. He traveled to the United States again in 1966, spending time with Steve Armstrong in Tacoma, Washington; Harold Long in Knoxville, Tennessee; and Don Nagle in Jersey City, New Jersey. At this time, all three were promoted to 8th Dan by Master Shimabuku. Harold Mitchum was promoted to 8th Dan while still training on Okinawa.

Because Master Shimabuku did not enjoy traveling, he sent his son-in-law, Angi Uezu, as his representative in 1967. Uezu spent a year teaching at dojos in New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. In 1969, Toby Cooling traveled to Okinawa to train with Master Shimabuku. Prior to returning to the United States, he was promoted to Rokudan, becoming the last red and white belt promoted by Master Shimabuku.

During August 1974, Master Kichiro Shimabuku, Tatsuo’s eldest son, formed the Isshinryu World Karate Association (IWKA). He sent out a letter to all Isshinryu practitioners that all ranks awarded prior to August 31, 1974 would be considered valid, but all ranks awarded thereafter must be in the IWKA in order to be recognized. Although many Isshinryu karateka continued to support Kichiro Shimabuku and the IWKA, many left and joined other Isshinryu organizations or became independent. During December 1974, Harold Long traveled to Okinawa to seek Master Shimabuku’s permission to create a new Isshinryu association in the United States. Long and a number of other high-ranking American Isshinryu black belts then formed the International Isshinryu Karate Association (IIKA).

On May 30, 1975, Master Tatsuo Shimabuku passed away at his home in Agena, Okinawa, after suffering a stroke. After Master Shimabuku’s death, Isshinryu splintered with a number of associations and independent dojos. Kichiro Shimabuku administered the IWKA from Gushikawa City, Okinawa, Steve Armstrong continued the operation of the American-Okinawan Karate Association (AOKA), and Harold Long continued the work of the IIKA in Tennessee. In March 1977, Harold Mitchum, Ed Johnson, Arcenio J. Advincula, and Milledge Murphey formed the United Isshinryu Karate Association (UIKA) in Albany, Georgia.

Although Angi Uezu and a number of other Okinawan Isshinryu masters remained with Kichiro Shimabuku throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, in 1989, Angi Uezu left the association and formed the Okinawa Isshinryu Karate and Kobudo Association (OIKKA). He soon became the chief proponent of Isshinryu Karate on Okinawa.

During 1994, Toby Cooling and J.C. Burris, promoted to 9th Dan by Harold Long and Don Nagle, formed the United Isshinryu Council (UIC), providing an umbrella organization for Isshinryu Karate in the United States. The UIC is comprised of the International Isshinryu Karate Association (IIKA), the United Isshinryu Karate Federation (UIKF), the Order of Isshinryu (OI), and the Tatsuo-Kan Society (TKS). The UIC sponsors the annual Isshinryu Hall of Fame Tournament and Banquet in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. After Angi Uezu’s semi-retirement from Isshinryu in 1996, his top Okinawan student, Mr. Uechi, took over the day-to-day operations of the OIKKA and continues to work towards making Isshinryu more respected and well-known on Okinawa. A.J. Advincula continues to return to Okinawa each year to interview former students of Master Tatsuo Shimabuku.

From: Isshinryu Karate-Do, By: David D. Evseeff

Posted in Isshin-ryu History.