Isshinryu karate – an astounding history: 1957 to now

Isshin-ryū in Kanji

Isshin-ryū written in Kanji.

isshinryu karate literal translation means “one heart way”. This literal translation means “wholehearted” or complete”. It is an Okinawan style of karate that was founded by Tatsuo Shimabuku, where he trademarked it in 1957.

There is no set time for Isshinryu karates birth. Arcenio J. Advincula stated:

I will always explain that Tatsuo said that Isshin-ryū was not born in a single day, I will honor the date of the naming of Isshinryu karate as a historical day, but most importantly honor the birth of Tatsuo, as the day Isshin-ryū was born. For without Shimabuku Tatsuo, there would be no Isshin-ryū karate. Isshin-ryū is heart and Shimabuku was the heart and soul of Isshin-ryū.

Shimabuku was born on September 19, 1908. When he was around 12 years old, he began studying karate from his uncle Ganiku Shinko.

Around 1927, when Shimabuku was 19 years old, he pursued more forms of karate. These forms were known as Shōrin-ryū and Gōjū-ryū.

Shimabuku began experimenting and trying new techniques with Shōrin-ryū and Gōjū-ryū in the late 1940s. He combined what he felt were the best of these two styles, weapon forms he had studied, and his own techniques.

There are two major aspects that differentiate this style of fighting from the others of that time. These aspects are seen within punching and blocking.

This style of fighting utilizes a verticle punch with the fingers tucked in and the thumb placed on top of the fist. It is taught that thumb placement increases the stability of the wrist. This differs from the corkscrew style punch that was popular at the time of this style’s conception.

This type of karate also differs in the performance of arm blocks. Isshinryu karate uses the muscle at the intended contact point rather than using the bone. By using the muscle to form a block, less stress is created on the arm. This increases the ability to absorb a strike overall.

He consulted several masters about his wish to develop a new style using these techniques. He easily received their blessings on the matter for him to continue. All that was left was for him to decide on a name.

It wasn’t till 1955 that he found his inspiration for the name of his new system of karate.

Shimabuku had a vision one night while listening to his radio. He states that he saw a goddess riding a dragon, who flew in and circled him. This goddess appeared to be Ryuzu Kannon. She is the Buddhist goddess of mercy and compassion.

She told him to make an image of her to be incorporated into all his thoughts about the new style he was making. Shimabuku meditated on and off for three or four months, trying to decide on what the image of her should be.

He believed that it should show the two styles that had given him so much inspiration over the year. Therefore, the image has much symbolism.

Isshinryu karate logo

First, the border of the patch is always orange or yellow. This is because it represents the ring of fire that appeared in Shimabuku’s vision.

The dragon is thought to represent Master Shimabuku. It is the sea dragon for oriental mythology.

The rough seas and grey background depict a typhoon. This represents the uncertainty of the future. It also shows that trouble may arise from time to time. With that said, the calm face of the goddess indicates that one must remain calm in the face of adversity.

Finally, the three stars at the top of the patch represent the three tenets of Isshin-ryū: the spiritual, the mental, and the physical.

Together, the image represents the past, present, and future of Isshinryu karate. It has remained the image of this style, even when Isshin-ryū crossed over into the United States of America.

By 1955, the 3rd U.S. Marine Division was stationed on Okinawa. Shimabuku was chosen to provide instruction to the marines on the island. As a result of this instruction, Isshin-ryū was spread throughout the United States by the marines who had returned home.

Since then, isshinryu karate has been spread worldwide, and it is known as one of the foremost martial arts in the world!