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Okinawan Karate Clubs

8830 Currie Rd.   Northville, MI 48168 


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Tatsuo Shimabukutatsuo_shimabuku was a tiny man, five feet two inches tall, weighing only 130 pounds. But, he was such a skilled fighter, he impressed big, tough American Marines who came to him for karate training. A few Marine Corps sergeants, especially Don Nagle, Harold Long, Steve Armstrong, and Harold Mitchum, opened schools to teach Shimabuku's style of karate, Isshin-ryu, when they returned to American from Okinawa. One story says that Armstrong, six feet three inches tall (if not more), and 240 pounds (almost double Shimabuku's weight), was so impressed by Shimabuku's fighting ability when they first met, that Armstrong needed a few days in the hospital to recover.

Born Shinkichi Shimabukuro on September 19, 1908, Shimabuku was one of ten children. He was born in Kyan village, but raised in Chun village. At eight years old, he walked many miles each day to ask his uncle, Irshu Matsumora, for karate lessons. At first, his uncle refused and made him sweep the floor. But, little Shinkichi kept coming back, and that determination persuaded his uncle to give him lessons. He soon demonstrated such talent and dedication that his uncle introduced him to another karate master, Gajoko Chioyu, who soon introduced the boy to Grandmaster Chotoku Kyan, the leader of the Shobayashi-ryu branch of Shorin-ryu karate. By the age of 13, Shimabuku knew he wanted to devote his life to karate, and took for his adult name Tatsuo, which means "Dragon Man."

Tatsuo became one of Kyan's top students. But, he also studied Goju-ryu under its founder, Chojun Miyagi. And, he studied under the notorious fighting master Choki Motobu, who taught the Kobayashi-ryu version of Shorin-ryu. Tatsuo regarded Kyan, Miyagi, and Motobu as his most influential teachers, and kept portraits of them in his own dojo in a place of honor. He learned Okinawan weapons, kubudo, from Taira Shinken and Yabiku Moden. In later years, Shimabuku visited China to collect even more knowledge of the martial arts. And, he experimented, having his students wear full contact armor, to prove which techniques worked the best.

After more than 30 years of study and experimentation, he formulated his own system of karate. He took the best principles and techniques from the styles he studied, two empty hand katas from Goju-ryu (Sanchin and Seiuchin), five from Shorin-ryu (Seisan, Naihanchi, Wansu, Chinto and Kusanku), one composed by Shimabuku himself (Sunsu), and five weapons katas (3 bo: Tokumine no kun, urashi, and Shishi no kun, 2 sai: Kusanku sai and Chatan Yara no sai), plus a number of innovations based on his own observations, such as the vertical fist, and the snap punch.

The official birthday for Isshin-ryu is January 15, 1954. The name Isshin-ryu meaning "one heart style," came fromEiko Kaneshi, one of Shimabuku's best Okinawan students. Kaneshi's uncle created the original Mizu Gami painting according to Shimabuku's instructions to symbolize the philosophical and spiritual aspects of Isshin-ryu. Shimabuku believed the principles of Isshin-ryu were not just for fighting, but for all life. The first MizuGami patch was designed by one of Shimabuku's American Marine students, Arsenio J. Advincula.

Don Nagle began training with Tatsuo Shimabuku in February 1956.Harold Long started in 1957. Both trained at Shimabuku's dojo in Kyan village. Later, Shimabuku moved the dojo to Agena, closer to the U.S. military base. In 1958, Harold Mitchum began training there, with Steve Armstrong joining him in 1959. These four did more to spread Isshin-ryu in the United States than anyone else. When Nagle returned, he first taught at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. Then, when he left the Marine Corps, he opened a dojo in Jersey City, New Jersey. Long taught at 29 Palms, California, then in Knoxville, Tennessee. Armstrong opened a dojo in Tacoma, Washington. And, Mitchum opened one in Albany, Georgia. From these seeds, Isshin-ryu grew across America and worldwide. tatsuo_robert

Tatsuo Shimabuku died on May 30, 1975.

Today, important Isshin-ryu masters in Okinawa are Kichiro Shimabuku, Tatsuo's eldest son,Shinsho Shimabuku, Tatsuo's second son, and Angi Uezu, Tatsuo's son-in-law (he married Tatsuo's daughter, Yukio). NagleLongand Armstrong have passed on, but the Black Belts they promoted to master level have spread Isshin-ryu far and wide in America. In 1964,Ken Pittaway, a student of Don Nagle, moved to Michigan and opened the first Isshin-ryu dojo in the Detroit area. He and his partner, Doug Noxon, trained some outstanding black belts, including masters Willie Adams, Norbert Donnelly, Bill Pogue, and Robert L. White. Other Isshin-ryu masters active in the Michigan area are Danny Bartley, Robert Markovich, Tyrone Melton, Michael Jackson, Lee Campbell, Sam Santilli and Dennis Anderson.

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