Masters Of Karate In Tokyo (1930's)

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(From left)Toyama Kanken, Ohtsuka Hironori, Shimoda Takeshi, Funakoshi Gichin, Motobu Choki, Mabuni Kenwa, Nakasone Genwa and Taira Shinken
Isshin-Ryu employs a vertical punch with the fingers tucked in and the thumb on top of the fist. Advantages vary with opinion, but it is usually taught that the thumb placement increases the stability of the wrist when punching, and that a vertical punch strikes with the same force at any range instead of at maximum extension as with a corkscrew style punch. Another advantage is that when punching, the thumb will not get caught on an object as opposed to having the thumb sticking up or out.

In Isshin-Ryu it is believed that the vertical punch is faster than the cork-screw punch: three vertical hand punches can be generated in the time of two cork-screw punches.

Isshin-Ryu arm blocks are performed today with the muscle at the intended contact point as opposed to other styles that block with the bone. By using the two bones and the muscle to form a block, less stress is created against the defender's arm, increasing the ability to absorb a strike.

Isshin-Ryu kicks are primarily a "snapping" motion, as opposed to placing primary emphasis on thrusting and follow-through

Tatsuo Shimabuku

Shimabuku Tatsuo (島袋龍夫 ) (1906-1975) was born September 19, 1906 in Chun village, Okinawa. Shimabuku began training under his uncle on his mother's side Kamasu Chan. Chan later sent Shimabuku to study karate from Chotoku Kyan. He was around age 23 or 24 at the time. Chotoku Kyan would be his most influential instructor (and after whom he initially named his style Chan migwa Te). He also studied karate with Chojun Miyagi in Naha for several years beginning in 1936 and from Choki Motobu around 1938 (also in Naha).

Shimabuku opened his first dojo in Konbu village and began teaching in 1946. On January 15, 1956, he held a meeting and announced that he was naming his new style of karate Isshin-ryu. Shimabuku's number one student, Eiko Kaneshi, was at the meeting and he asked Shimabuku, "Why such a funny name?" Tatsuo replied, "Because all things begin with one."

At the age of 51 (1959) Shimabuku began studying kobudō, the art of old traditional Okinawan weapons. The kobudō weapons included were the sai, bo, and tonfa, under Shinken Taira. He incorporated the kobudō that he had learned from Kyan and Taira into the Isshin-ryu system.

Bio Of Sensei Mitchum - Harold M. Mitchum

(as told by John Ingram)

VHS Cover with Sensei MitchumWhen Isshinryu founder Tatsuo Shimabuku died on May 30, 1975, the style splintered into many different factions. As is oriental tradition, the style was handed down to Master Shimabuku's eldest son, Kichiro Shimabuku. However, many people felt that he was not the most qualified to take over the style. There also were four American Marines, all of whom were promoted to 8th dan by Tatsuo Shimabuku; and therefore, were the senior Americans in the style. They are Steve Armstrong, Harold Long, Don Nagle and Harold Mitchum.

The first three men, Steve Armstrong, Harold Long and Don Nagle quickly opened schools, started teaching and made names for themselves. They were always in the forefront and in the public eye. The fourth man, Harold Mitchum, on the other hand was a career Marine and by nature a very laid back man who preferred a secluded lifestyle to one that brought attention to himself. Besides an article in Black Belt Magazine in 1978, not much has been done on this great karate pioneer.

Harold Mitchum was born in South Carolina on December 17, 1933. He joined the Marines on July 23, 1953. He was first stationed on Okinawa in March, 1958. He checked all of the local karate schools out and chose Isshinryu because he considered it to be more practical and because the dojo was closest to the base where he was stationed.

Being stationed on Okinawa on different assignments during his 20 years of duty, he had spent more time directly under Master Shimabuku than any other American. His time totaled 7 1/2 years. In comparison, other Marines usually just spent one tour of duty which was usually one year and by the time they found the dojo, they only studied about ten months. Some people claim to have studied 8, 10 or 12 hours a day while on Okinawa. When I asked Master Mitchum about this, he just laughed and said that being in the Marines wasn't a vacation. These people had jobs.

harold mitchumWhile on Okinawa, Harold Mitchum was the only American who can lay claim to actually running a second dojo for Master Shimabuku. Angi Uezu, Master Shimabuku's son-in-law, lived in an adjoining apartment in the dojo and Mitchum said he doesn't believe Uezu had even started karate at that time. Mitchum was appointed the first President of the American Okinawan Karate Association and was the first American ever promoted to 8th dan by the Master. His certificate is numbered #1 and dated 5 November 1964. Master Shimabuku later promoted Nagle, Armstrong and Long to 8th dan, but he never promoted an American to 9th. Therefore Harold Mitchum is the senior American student.

Sensei Mitchum was promoted to 9th dan on June 5, 1988 by the late Masufumi Suzuki - who was at that time, and until his passing - the head of the All Japan Budo Federation and the Seibukan Academy in Kyoto, Japan. Mr. Suzuki knew Master Shimabuku quite well and stated that he had heard Master Shimabuku speak very highly of Mitchum. Mr. Suzuki, in private conversation with Sensei Mitchum and Dennis Fink, stated that since Master Shimabuku's death, Isshinryu had died. What he implied by this was that Isshinryu no longer had any strong oriental leadership.

Mitchum often talks about Master Shimabuku's #1 Okinawan student, Kinjo Chinsaku. Mitchum studied ShorinRyu for about nine months under Chinsaku. Mitchum says he had the best side kick he had ever seen. Joe Lewis also credits his legendary side kick to Chinsaku. Mitchum said Chinsaku. often performed Tokomine Bo kata in demonstrations they did and demonstrated more power than anyone he had ever seen - before or since.

On the occasions that Shimabuku visited the States (the most notable in 1966 when he was filmed doing kata at Armstrong's dojo) Mitchum could not be in attendance due to military obligations. The last time he was in Okinawa was in 1971.

Upon retiring from the military, Master Mitchum settled down in Albany, Georgia and opened a dojo there. His three sons, James Tatsuo, Leon and Steve, became proficient karateka and helped in running his dojo.

I first met Sensei Mitchum at his Albany dojo in 1981 when I traveled up from Florida with my first instructor, Jim Canter, and a classmate, Oscar Wheeler. Sensei Mitchum is a very quiet, non-intimidating person. He knew we had come to him seeking promotion and not knowledge. Like a lot of young karateka we thought we knew it all anyway. I guess in the martial arts world full of egos, I interpreted his humbleness as a lack of knowledge. Boy was I wrong! He felt we were worthy of promotion, so he promoted my instructor who in turn promoted Oscar and I.

Shortly after this, my instructor retired to pursue other interests and I was left with the school which was only a handful of students at the time. I then embarked on a tournament frenzy competing and training students to compete on state and national levels. We were very successful and I became a Top 10 point fighter rated by the old Karate Illustrated ratings and also won the Florida State and national titles. My wife, Cindy Ingram was 1989 NASKA Rookie of the Year. My students won black belt divisions at NASKA's largest tournaments, the U.S. Open, Battle of Atlanta and Diamond Nationals. We also competed in kata competition and this is where we became sidetracked and really lost sight of our style in an effort please the judges.

By 1986 I had students who needed promoting: therefore, I had to pursue a promotion myself in order to promote them. I had thought, "No problem. I'll just go to Sensei Mitchum and get promoted." I had gotten word of a group from Canada who were going to Cartersville, Georgia to meet and work out with Mitchum, so I figured it would be a good time to just meet them in Georgia and come back with a promotion.

Well, it was a whole different story from the first time. Now I didn't have a sensei and due to lack of guidance, had deviated drastically from the correct kata. The experience this time was incredible! This time Sensei Mitchum worked with us and I could tell this man really knew what true karate was. I had been to testings and promotions by other associations and I got the feeling that the upper rank's goal was to let you know that they knew more than you, and instead of trying to prove that through demonstrating their own ability, they did so by setting the students up and humiliating them.

Well, Sensei Mitchum was the most gentle and kind person I had ever met. He gained my respect by getting up and showing us the way he had learned from Master Shimabuku on Okinawa. It was obvious by his powerful performance and the ease with which he applied the bunkai that he was a true Master and possessed a deep understanding of the kata.

When I asked him why there are so many variations of the kata even by people who trained during the same time period, he said that many people came back to the U.S. after such a short length of time that they either forgot and did the kata the best that they could remember, or in many cases they didn't really understand the kata because of their lack of knowledge (many people learned no bunkai because the old way of teaching was bunkai taught only if you asked - and many people never asked!). Therefore if they didn't understand they would just change the move to something they could understand.

Well, when I left Cartersville, I had a whole new outlook on my style, and my goal was to learn everything I could from this man. I was promoted with the understanding I would work on the kata and take my new knowledge back to my school. Sensei Mitchum informed me he would be in Florida in a couple of months to check my progress.

When he came to Florida, he checked my top student who happened to also be my wife, Cindy. He then promoted her and worked with some of my other top students on kata bunkai.

My relationship with Sensei Mitchum has made me a believer in traditional karate. I have traveled to the largest tournaments in the U.S. and have seen the top forms competitors in the nation. But when I see this humble man who is over 60 years old do kata, I see true kata perfection - kata the way it was meant to be. His kicks and punches are the most powerful I have ever seen and maybe those who don't believe in the one punch kill (and I didn't until I saw Sensei Mitchum) have never seen a true karate master in action. When he demonstrates bunkai, it is very practical and really does work. The problem is that to become proficient at kata moves takes years of hard work and you truly don't reach your full potential until the day you die. If you ever see this man and want a demonstration, don't hold your breath because he does karate not to impress people but because it is a part of him and the people he teaches are few in number and that's the way he wants it.

Sensei Mitchum is the current Director of the United Isshinryu Karate Association (U.I.K.A.). He prefers to keep the association a small and close knit group consisting of only sincere practitioners whose goal is to learn things the way Sensei Mitchum learned them. The association is run similar to a dojo: with loyalty, patience and harmony within the association being a must.

History Of Isshinryu

Born in 1906, Tatsuo Shimabuku began training for karate at the age of eight. His first instructor was his uncle, who taught Shuri-te Karate. Each day, Shimabuku would walk to Shuri and perform certain chores in exchange for his karate training.

Later, Shimabuku studied under Master Chotoku Kyan. Shimabuku was taught Kyan's form of Shorin-ryu and became a leading student. He also studied Goju-ryu under Master Chojun Miyagi and became very adept at Goju-ryu. Master Shimabuku later studied street fighting techniques and grappling under Master Choki Motobu, who at this time was a legend on the island of Okinawa.

Tatsuo won great recognition for his katas at a large martial arts festival. He began to study the art of the bo and sai under the Okinawan kobudo master, Shinken Taira. By this time, Shimabuku had developed an outstanding reputation throughout the island of Okinawa.

MiyagiAt the beginning of World War II, Shimabuku was a karate instructor and owned a small manufactur- ing plant. The plant was destroyed in the early part of the war. In order to avoid being forced into military service by the Japanese, Shimabuku sought refuge in the hillsides where he worked as a farmer until he was discovered by some Japanese soldiers.

They agreed to keep his hiding place secret if he would teach them karate. Shimabuku agreed to do this. After the war, Shimabuku continued to farm and practice karate in private for his own spiritual and physical benefit.

Master Shimabuku was recognized as a leading practitioner of Shorin-ryu and Goju-ryu. He included the best elements from each into a new system, which he called "Isshinryu". This style means "one heart or one mind" style. The official birth date of Isshinryu is January 15, 1956. Isshinryu epitomizes the powerful, lighting-fast techniques that, in ancient times enabled the weaponless Okinawans to defeat the sword-wielding Samurai warriors of Japan.

In developing Isshinryu, Master Shimabuku utilized the sage oriental philosophy of the "hard" and the "soft" which emphasizes strength through speed and accuracy. Muscles are relaxed until the point of contact. He used a vertical punch with the thumb placed on top of the fist. This style of punch could be easily forced, produced increasing speed, was easily retracted and avoided positions in which the elbow would be broken. The placement of the thumb on top of the fist strengthened the wrist as well.

For Isshinryu, Shimabuku used what he felt were the best katas from Shorin-ryu and Goju-ryu. These katas are common to most styles of Okinawan karate. Each contains elements that are necessary to develop a well-polished karate-ka. These katas were modified by Master Shimabuku to fit the mold that he designed for Isshinryu. The only kata that Shimabuku created himself is Sunsu, meaning "strong man", the Master's nickname. Sunsu embodies techniques from the other Isshinryu katas and is the most difficult to perform with strength and speed.

On May 30, 1975, Grandmaster Shimabuku died, yet his dream continues to live. Thousands of men, women, and children keep his dream alive by studying Isshinryu the world over.

History Of Karate

Karate translated means “empty hand”. It is a term describing the Oriental art of weaponless self-defense. Karate was founded on the principle of mind-and-body unity. A karate program includes precise, sustained mental and physical conditioning to develop keen reflexes, excellent coordination and simultaneous command of the mind and body.

Karate is more than physical training. Its’ main objective is the perfection of oneself. The art of karate combines strength, grace and beauty to give students self-confidence and to develop their integrity and serenity. Literally, Karate-Do, or Karate as it was taught in the ancient Orient, means “a way of life”. Practicing Karate-Do, the student will study, train and discipline himself to find life’s “true” meaning. The training and discipline are difficult, yet rewarding.

Karate’s origin has been obscured by myths and legends. However, near the time karate was developing, it is known that many scoundrels would rob and kill travelers, not caring if the travelers were beggars or monks. Monks were not allowed to carry weapons. In the monasteries, the monks were taught various forms of self-defense along with their Buddhist religion.

One legend has it that a monk named Bodhidharma (Daruma Taishi, to the Japanese – 500 A.D.) studied Buddhism in India before immigrating to China. He taught the Chinese people Buddhism at the temple of Shorin-Ji. Bodhidharma found it very difficult to teach the Indian form of Buddhism to the Chinese, so he taught Zen Buddhism, which he thought, was easier to understand. Still finding difficulties in getting his students to comprehend, Bodhidharma added physical training to his teachings to keep his students’ minds from wandering. This included many self-defense techniques, which later became the basis for a style of karate known as Chinese Kempo, or Shorin-Ji Kempo.

The defensive art taught at the temple of Shorin-Ji was the finest in China for many years. There are many stories of the Karate-Ka that were produced there. Shorin-Ji Kempo eventually found its way to Okinawa and became an important factor in the development of Okinawan Karate.

Legend tells of a shipwrecked Chinese sailor named Chinto who hid in an Okinawan cave and stole his food at night. The villagers complained and Matsumura, the best Samurai, was sent to capture the sailor. When confronted, Chinto successfully blocked or eluded each of Matsumura’s offensive techniques and then he ran away. Matsumura eventually found him hiding in a cemetery and befriended him. Chinto taught Matsumura his “form”. This form was thought to be from Shorin-Ji Kempo and many feel that this is how Shorin-Ji Kempo was brought to Okinawa.

For approximately 400 years, Japan controlled the island of Okinawa with an iron fist. They confiscated everything that even resembled a weapon and blacksmiths were forbidden to manufacture any edged weapons. Karate, however, was taught in secret for hundreds of years, hidden and underground. Through the centuries, Japanese invaders were discovered dead. Rumors spread about the way they died, but nothing was documented. Few facts were known about karate in the outside world, except for the number of Japanese invaders who fell victim to its practitioners.

Karate remained underground on Okinawa until 1901 when a master named Itosu opened the first karate school on the island. Gichin Funakoshi was trained at this school and in 1916 took karate to Japan in a series of demonstrations. These demonstrations were so successful that Funakoshi remained in Japan and established a style known as Shotokan.
Many Okinawan masters traveled throughout China, studying hosts’ styles and throughout Japan spreading Okinawan Karate. The Japanese systematized and established sport karate (Karate-Sho), which has spread rapidly throughout the western world since the end of World War II.

The Isshin-ryu Code

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A Person's Heart Is The Same As Heaven And Earth
The Blood Circulating Is Similar To The Moon And Sun
A Manner Of Drinking And Spitting Is Either Hard Or Soft
A Person's Unbalance Is The Same As Weight
The Body Should Be Able To Change Direction At Any Time
The Time To Strike Is When The Opportunity Presents Itself
The Eyes Must See All Sides
The Ear Must Listen In All Directions