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Karate translated means "empty hand".  It is a term describing the Oriental art of weaponless self-defense.  Karate was founded on the principle of a 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 considered clergymen, nor were they 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 emigrating 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 student's 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.  The Japanese systematized and established sport Karate (Karate-Sho) which has spread rapidly throughout the western world since the end of World War II.





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 Kobayashi-Ryu under Master Chotoku Kyan and was one of Kyan's leading disciples.  He also studied Goju-Ryu under Master Chojun Miyagi and became very adept at Goju-Ryu.  Returning to Kobayashi-Ryu, Shimabuku studied under Master Choki Motobu, who at this time was a legend on the island of Okinawa.

Tatsuo Shimabuku won great recognition for his kata 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.

At the beginning of World War II, Shimabuku was a Karate instructor and owned a small manufacturing 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 a secret if he would teach them Karate.  Shimabuku agreed.  After the war, Shimabuku continued to farm and practiced 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 could 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 kata from Shorin-Ryu and Goju-Ryu.  These kata are common to most styles of Okinawan Karate.  Each contains elements that are necessary to develop a well-polished karate-ka.  These kata were modified by Shimabuku to fit the mold that he designed for Isshinryu.  The only kata that Master Shimabuku created himself is Sunsu, meaning "strong man", the Master's nickname.  Sunsu embodies techniques from the other Isshinryu kata 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.

Master Shimabuku practicing in his dojo

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