Tatsuo Shimabuku was born on September 19, 1908 in Kyan Village, Okinawa to a middle-income family. He was one of ten children. His original name was Shinkichi but he was also given the Okinawa name Kana (a female child's name in order to "protect him from evil spirits." When he started to teach karate he later changed his name to Tatsuo, meaning “Dragon Man”. As a child, Tatsuo attended grammar school and later the Okinawa Prefecture Agricultural School. His father was a butcher by trade and his grandfather was an Okinawan dance master.
At age 13, Tatsuo sought instruction from an uncle Ganiku. While Ganiku was employed as a principal in the Isshikawa Primary School, he knew only a little karate. Instead, Ganiku instructed Tatsuo in the art of Samuchi (fortune telling). This included the study of the I-ching (book of changes), Feng Shui (fu shui), fortune telling sticks, and other books and instruments. Fortune telling was an important aspect of Master Shimabuku's life. When Shimabuku was older, people would come to him to ask if they were compatible as marital partners, would thier children be healthy, and many other questions. Shimabuku continued this practice until he started teaching the Marines in the mid-50's.
By 1923-1924, Tatsuo began his true study in Karate. He sought an instructor in the style: Kobayashi Shorin-Ryu. He went to Gajoko Chioyu. Master Chioyu soon recognized the open potential of Tatsuo Shimabuku and realized that the young Shimabuku needed a higher level of instruction than he could offer. Chioyu immediately took him to meet the legendary Master Chotoku Kyan, one of the last true Okinawan tode masters. Tatsuo Shimabuku, therefore, actually commenced training under Master Kyan. Kyan ranks as Tatsuo Shimabuku’s most profound Karate influence. These two karatekas were similar because both were physically small, fast and the Shorin-Ryu style of Karate therefore suited them well.
Master Kyan had studied under two of the most esteemed Okinawan masters, Soken Matsumura, credited with the founding of the Shorin-Ryu system of karate and Yasutsune “Ankoh” Itsou. Both of these masters also taught the father of the modern day Karate-Do. Gichin Funakoshi, who first introduced Okinawan karate to the colleges and universities on mainland Japan.
Master Kyan instructed Shimabuku in Seisan, Naihanchi, Wansu, Chinto and Kusanku kata. Kata was practiced continuously and master Kyan did not proceed to another kata or technique until the current one had been mastered. Kyan also began Shimabuku’s instruction in the power of ki (chinkuchi in Hogen, the Okinawan language), as well as provided his initial instruction in the Bo and Sai, two of the classical Okinawan weapons. Shimabuku studied under master Kyan for a number of years, becoming his favorite and outstanding student.
Shimabuku never forgot master Kyan’s teachings, both physically and spiritually. Ironically. According to Joen Nakazato, Tatsuo was sempai to Zenro Shimabukuro and himself. Eizo began karate training in 1947. He trained with Tatsuo Shimabuku during the day and at night at his own dojo would teach techniques Tatsuo had taught him. Eizo Shimabukuro never actually trained with Chotoku Kyan; indeed, most of his training originated with his brother. In 1959, Eizo Shimabukuro, at the age of 34, claims to be the youngest man on Okinawa to attain the rank of the 10th Dan and to head an entire system of Karate. Actually, Shimabuku Eizo's 10th dan was awarded under the auspices of the All Japan Karatedo Federation and under the authority of Toyama Kanken. This came about after a request by Toyama for representatives of the various karate groups to come to Japan to "qualify" as karate masters. For various reasons, Shimabuku Eizo was the only one to go to the meeting from Okinawa and thus was recognized even though he was only in his thirties.
After many years of training in Shorin-Ryu, Shimabuku’s quest for knowledge took him elsewhere. He sought out the great Master Chojun Miyagi, the founder of Goju-ryu Karate. Master Miyagi’s Goju-ryu grew from a synthesis of the Okinawan Naha-Te style and Chinese Pa Kua Ch’ang. Master Miyagi studied under the legendary Master Kanryo Higaonna. Higaonna receives credit for founding Naha-Te, as well as developing Sanchin kata as it is currently practiced. Higaonna was reportedly so proficient in Sanchin that he allowed students to attempt to choke him to unconsciousness with a wire or other such implement while performing Sanchin. All such attempts were unsuccessful.
Master Miyagi was Higaonna’s best student and learned the fundamental Sanchin kata from the ultimate Sanchin Master himself. Prior to Higaonna’s death, Miyagi traveled to china to deepen his understanding of the martial arts. He intended to trace the roots of Okinawan Karate back to its origin in China. While there he studied the internal style of Pa Kua Ch’ang, one of the three internal styles of Kung Fu; the others are Hsing-I and Tai Chi Ch’uan. He then returned to Okinawa and with the knowledge he gained in China, Miyagi developed Tensho Kata, creating the perfect contrast to Sanchin. From these two root kata, he formed Goju-Ryu, the “Hard-Soft style”.
Master Miyagi instructed Shimabuku in Seiuchin and Sanchin Kata. Shimabuku believed Seiuchin to be served as a crucial preparation to Sanchin and moreover Seiuchin was a superior body conditioner. It has been reported that Shimabuku also became Miyagi’s top student; however, he actually studied under Miyagi for a limited period of time and mastered those select elements he believed most effective from Goju-Ryu.
Completing training under Master Miyagi, Shimabuku had one final Karate instructor, Master Choki Motobu; a well conditioned fighting master of large physical stature. Motobu taught an eclectic style of Karate mot closely related to Tomari-Te. Motobu studied under Kosaku Matsumura.
One final element Shimabuku desired to learn was the use of Okinawan weapons, known as Kobudo. He started his work with the Bo, Sai, tuifa, nunchaku and Kama under Master Shinken Taira, who was a student of the renowned Kobudo Master Yabiku Moden. Master Taira founded the first major Okinawan Kobudo organization in 1940, known as Ryukyu Kobujutsu Hozon Shinkokai, of which Shimabuku, Kenei Mabuni, Meitoku Yagi, Eizo Shimabukuro and several other leading Okinawan Karate masters were members. From Master Taira, Tatsuo Shimabuku learned Tokumine No Kun, Urashi, Shishi No Kun Dai, Mi Yoshi and Tsu Yoi Bo kata; Chatan Yara No Sai (The sais in this kata are used to defend against a bo. Among the techniques, the karate-ka learns to hook the bo with the foil (short prong), and to counter attack with the knob (pommel) and the shaft.), Nippon Sai kata and Hamahiga No Tuifa kata.
During the late 1940s, Master Shimabuku started working out his own personal kata. It was in this kata that he combined his favorite techniques from the other seven empty hand katas and adding his own innovative techniques. This kata was called Sunsu from the words Sun nu su.
"Sun" means "Old Man" and is the Head Family Household name.
"Nu "means "of".
"Su" means "Father".
Sun Nu su means Father of the head house of Sun (Old man). Tatsuo's Grand father created a comedy eiku dance he named Sunnusu. Tatsuo at one time was a tax collector for Chan Village. The Major of Chan, called Tatsuo "Sun nu su" after the dance his father created. This is where the nickname Sunsu came from. Sunsu is short for sunusu. Take out "nu" or "of" and you get Old man father. Old man is a term that is used in the Orient for a wise man. The older you are, in Asia it is a
sign of wisdom. Lao tsu the author of the Tao Te Ching and other wise men were called the Old men.
According to Sensei Arsenio Advincula's quote of Ciso (one of Tatsuo's longest students), his father was hired as a Guardsman. It was here he made a lot of money and when he returned to Okinawa in 1942 he bought land in Kyan, Vilage. In 1944, he and his family were evacuated to Kyushu. While in Kyushu he continued to farm.
Japan started to evacuate Okinawan children in 1944 to Kyushu knowing that the American and allied forces were closing in. Later families which included Shimabuku's family were also evacuated to Kyushu.
During the mid 1950s, Shimabuku Sensei came under strong pressure to form his own style of Karate, but he was unsure as to his course of action and hoped for divine influence. Tradition tells of night when he had a vivid dream that changed the course of Karate forever. Shimabuku fell asleep one night in his home while listening to the radio. He dreamed that Kannon (QuanYin: The Buddhist goddess of mercy) came to visit him. Kannon came riding on a dragon and In this dream told Tatsuo to create his own style of karate because he had had studied with different sensei and also had his own ideas. Kannon also told Tatsuo to make an image of her. After experiencing this dream, Master Shimabuku went to a uncle who was a artist who’s name is Nakamine paint the Goddess for him. According to Shinsho Tatsuo’s second son, his father meditated for three to four months about how the megami should be painted. Tatsuo included the Code of Isshinryu Karate into the picture. Shimabuku Soke hung the painting in the Agena Dojo to look over his newly formed Karate system.
The Founding of Isshinryu Karate
Isshinryu Karate was officially founded on January 15,1956, although Master Shimabuku stated that there is no exact birthday for Isshinryu since it was developed over a lifetime. The name Isshinryu means “One- Heart Style”. Master Shimabuku believed that his unique name encompassed his understanding of Karate-Do ("The Way of the Empty Hand."
On May 30,1975, Master Tatsuo Shimabuku, the founder or Soke of Isshinryu karate, died at his home in Agena Okinawa after suffering a stroke. His eldest son, Kichiro, had already been appointed Soke (also meaning "next in line of the founder") of Isshinryu Karate worldwide and accorded the rank of the 10th Dan, as is Okinawan tradition. He is current master of IWKA and resides in Gushikawa city Okinawa. Other Masters of Isshinryu, however, also teach the wisdom, concepts and skills of Master Shimabuku, each representing one or another of the periods of study during which those Masters experienced Soke.
Advincula Sensei is perhaps the most knowledgeable of all the Masters who studied with Shimabuku because he returned to restudy with him throughout Soke's evolution of Isshinryu Karate Do and Advincula Sensei knows the most recent ways in which Shimabuku Soke wanted Kata or techniques to be performed.
Isshinryu- No- Me Gami
Leading to the official inception of Isshinryu Karate in 1956, Tatsuo Shimabuku had a dream that gave him the inspiration and courage to break from the traditional Shorin-Ryu and Goju-Ryu styles. Shimabuku was a profoundly religious man and believed his dream had been divinely inspired. If he had not experienced this dream, Isshinryu Karate may never have been initiated.
Shimabuku fell asleep one night in his home while listening to the radio. He dreamed of training alone in his dojo and being visited by the goddess Megami who was a close representation of the Female Buddha or Quan Yin (goddess of mercy). In this dream, Tatsuo was told to make an image of her. After experiencing this dream, Master Shimabuku went to a shop in Naha and had an artist by the name of Nakamine paint the Goddess for him after seeing several other paintings of Goddesses including the Quan Yin. This painting has come to represent the Code of Isshinryu Karate and the Code of Conduct. Master Shimabuku hung the painting in the Agena Dojo to look over his newly formed Karate system.
Around 1961, Master Shimabuku was asked by one of his top US Marine students, Arcenio J. Advincula, about Tatsuo's dream from several years earlier. Using the details of the dream and the portrait of the Goddess in the Agena Dojo that Shimabuku referred to as the "Goddess of Isshinryu," Advincula designed the patch that serves as Isshiryu's emblem. When Advincula finished the rough design, he and William D. Blond, another Marine student, brought the original portrait of Me Gami and the design to an embroidery shop in Naha, the capital of Okinawa. Advincula and Blond had fifty of the original patches made at the shop. Advincula traced the shape of his fist to serve as the shape of the patch. It was vertical fist, the hallmark of the Isshinryu Karate. They intended the border of the patch to have 'real' gold thread but found it too expensive. They then asked for cheaper gold thread to be used on the patch. When they returned to get the patches, they found out that the shop owner had misunderstood and had used orange thread instead for the border of the patch and did not include the thumb on the fist. According to Advincula they were so happy to have the patches they were not concerned with the mistake.
After Advincula designed the patch, Shimabuku was pleased and felt as tough the patch design of the Me Gami encompassed all aspects of his new Isshinryu system.
The Isshinryu Me Gami has become internationally recognized for its deep symbolism and not only serves as a guide to Isshinryu Karate students in training but in their daily lives as well. It encompasses the major precepts that Master Shimabuku advanced worldwide through his creation of Isshinryu Karate-Do. By understanding the meaning of the symbolic Me Gami, we can better fathom the life's work of Master Tatsuo Shimabuku, O'Sensei and Soke of all Isshinryu Karate. The unique Me Gami is certainly one of the most beautiful and symbolic emblems in all Karate today. The following is a standard interpretation of the meaning of the various aspects of Me Gami design.
1. Called Me Gami, Isshinryu No Me Gami, Ryujin No Me Gami, or Goshugin-Sama. She is the protecting goddess of Isshinryu. She rises from the water with her left hand open, symbolizing peace, and her right hand clenched behind her head, symbolizing her ability to use Karate when necessary. The goddess is half woman and half dragon, creating a bond for the karateka between heaven and earth. She is also the symbol of the serpent within us which leads to the disturbance of our worlds. This suppots a concept of Yin-Yang about humanity which teaches us that chaos is as much a part of our own nature as it is a part of the vicissitudes of life. She also represents wisdom, kindness, humility, and understanding. She strives for peace and tranquility in everything she does.
2. Dragon: An oriental symbol of good luck. It also represents the fighting spirit of Isshinryu karateka. The dragon ascends to the heavens, as will karateka upon reaching peace and tranquility through Karate training, clean living, and study. As a symbol for heaven, it is juxtaposed in meaning to a small image of a Tiger in the headress of Megami. The Tiger represents earth, thus Dragon is the heaven and Tiger is the earth. The dragon also represents Soke Tatsuo Shimabuku. His name, Tatsuo, which he took as a child means 'Dragon Man'.
3. Troubled Waters: Show the troubles and turmoil that a karateka must go through before coming to clarity of mind and purpose. Again, the turmoil is as much a part of external circumstances (a storm, say) as it is a disturbance of the serpent part of the self. Even amid the impending storm, the sea goddess remains calm, realistic and centered. Karateka should show these attributes when they are presented with a difficult situation in life. They must calm their own "waters." The Japanese for this is "Mizo no kokoro:" to have a mind like the surface of water, undisturbed by the wind. In doing so, one calms not only the external situation but the internal "serpant" which would make us too upset to perform that which we must do in a efficacious manner.
4. Night Sky: Depicts man's lack of universal understanding. It also represents the unknown and such dark barriers as religious dogma and racial division. The dark night sky also represents man's lack of understanding or "meaning", but the teachers illuminate the sacred path for the student. Man needs to overcome these barriers in his soul and break away from his fear, hate, envy and distrust, opening the way for spiritual enlightenment and understanding. Man must learn to live in harmony with everything (see Kenpo Gokui on Home page). There is a null point from which the mind can see possibilities. This is known as Mushin. Also, the sky is neutral in shade, meaning that "life is neither black nor white, but gray." Lastly, the gray sky shows the stormy, external qualities of life which can disturb the waters of our existence (see Troubled Waters, above).
5. Three Stars: Represents the birth of Isshinryu: Shorin-Ryu and Goju-Ryu creating Isshinryu. By extension, the stars apply to Shimabuku's three major teachers looking down on the young karate students from above and guiding them on their journey (Motobu, Miyagi and Kyan). The three stare also represent the unification of the mind, body and spirit. Angi Uezu has added two additional stars to the emblem, one to symbolize Shinken Taira Master and the other to represent Master Tatsuo Shimabuku. It is interesting to note that the three stars are aligned in the shape of the oriental number one, ichi, representing the "One-Heart Way" of Isshinryu. Also, each star has 8 points which represent the 8 points on the Pa Kua compass of attack (front, rear, right, left and four 45 degree angles from each). The 8 also stands for the 8 codes of the Kenpo Gokui (Code of karate), the 8 empty-handed kata of the Isshinryu system and the 8 fold path of the Buddha.
6. Oriental Characters: The characters written in Kanji (classical Chinese calligraphy) spell "Isshinryu Karate-Do," meaning "One-Heart, Style of Empty Hand Way."
7. Shape: The shape symbolizes the vertical fist of Isshinryu, the fundamental unique feature of the style. Jim Advincula traced his own fist to serve as the shape for the patch.
8. Gold Border: The gold border means that karate is golden and should never be misused. The knowledge a student receives from his Sensei is very special and should never be taken lightly. A student should protect his abilities, like gold and use karate only as a last resort in a conflict ("Karate ni sente nashi:" "karate never strikes first.") Although the border was originally intended to be gold, it was instead altered. The orange symbolically represents the fire around Master Shimabuku in his vision. Today, Sensei Advincula uses gold-yellow thread around the outside of his latest versions of the patch. In the IWKA, the patch still has the orange thread for a border.