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Commemorating Tatsuo's 91st
by Arcenio J. Advincula


"The bushi uses the natural way and the natural way is to use a straight punch without a twist." --- Kaneshi Eiko

Shimabukuro Kana was born, according to the Nengo or Japanese counting system which uses an era associated with one emperor, in Meiji 41 in the year of the Monkey in the Chan settlement, Okinawa.

On the 9th month, 19th day, of the year 1999, Tatsuo would have been 91 years old. Throughout his life he was known as Shinkichi, Kana, Kanahi, Sun nu su, Sunsu, and Tatsuo. He would go by the family name Shimabuku.

During different periods of time, he was a farmer, tax collector, bodyguard, karate instructor and sumuchi or fortune teller. When he died on May 30, 1975, he was still doing fortune telling. Before Tatsuo studied karate, he was learning to be a sumuchi from his uncle Ganeku Shinko who later would teach the young Shimabuku shaolin-zi style of karate that he learned in Fukushu (Foochow) China.

Today much of the history of Tatsuo has been fabricated. The style he created is drastically being changed by those who never studied or who briefly studied with him. Many are changing what was a punching, striking and kicking style into a grappling style. Even today, after all these years, some still mistakenly call Tatsuo the Dragon Boy when it should be Dragon Man. His birthday an be found on the internet and in books with the wrong years, (1906) or wrong day (September 9). Instead of correcting their mistakes, they constantly perpetuate them.

Some claim to teach the lost kata of Isshin-ryu like gojushiho which Tatsuo never liked and stopped teaching. Still others claim to teach kobudo such as kama (sickle) or nunchaku they say they learned from Tatsuo.

Tatsuo was an erudite who could read and understand the ancient writings found in the ancient books from China such as the "I Ching", yet he was a humble, non-pretentious man who like to joke. Shinsho, he second son, says, "My father was natural. Look at all the pictures of him standing and you will see that he is relaxed and natural. Watch him doing kata and you will see my father doing it in a natural way."

Kaneshi Eiko, with reverence, in an interview said, "When I close my eyes I can see Shimabuku's body doing kata. I'm proud of Shimabuku." Eiko further states that during the January 15, 1956 meeting that Tatsuo called to change from the twist punch to the vertical punch, Kaneshi explains, "The bushi used the natural way and the natural way is to use a straight punch without a twist. So we all decided to use the vertical punch."

If Kaneshi Eiko is right that the bushi uses the natural way, then shouldn't we do Isshin-ryu the natural way? When Tatsuo came to the United States in 1964 and again in 1966, he was filmed doing sanchin kata using a twist punch. In all the years while studying with Tatsuo on Okinawa, I never saw him do sanchin using a twist punch. Maekawa, better known as Major Mike , on his view about which punch was better in sanchin says it best, "The use of the twist punch in sanchin is for exercise, but the vertical punch is for combat." And contrary to what some say, Isshin-ryu sanchin is used for both; as an exercise or for combat.

In 1969, I asked Tatsuo which punch did he want us to use. In the past he allowed us to use either the twist or vertical punch. The reason was to appease some of his old Okinawan students who disagreed with him. Tatsuo then told me either punch was ok. I again repeated the question. "But which one do you believe is the superior punch?" Again he said either was ok. Again I asked, "But which one do you think is the best?" Tatsuo answered the vertical punch was the best punch because it was faster and more natural.

Of course, stupid, I said to myself, it's his creation. It is one of the things that make Isshin-ryu. The vertical fist is the trademark of Isshin-ryu and can be proved to make the wrist stronger. To test this, all you have to do is get a person to try and bend your wrist while make different fists. The further the thumb comes down along toward the middle finger, the weaker the wrist.

The muscle block again is the stronger block. You don't see them breaking 2x2's over the bone of the forearm do you?! They always break over the muscle

The vertical punch is superior to the twist punch. Now I'm talking about a karate straight thrusting punching. It is faster and for all who do not understand, faster is better. In scientific terms, force equals mass times the square of the velocity. Not only do you get more force, you can throw more vertical punches than twist punches in the same time span. it takes less energy to user vertical punches than twist punches and doesn't karate teach to be efficient by using economy of motion?! It is natural and bushi uses the natural way.

While change is natural and inevitable, you don't make change for the sake of change or to be different. Today some Isshin-ryu practioner's do a six count bow but Tatsuo did a two count bow. Why do a six count bow when the purpose of a bow is for courtesy?!

Tatsuo taught numerous techniques against grapplers or judo techniques. He would say, "Judo man do this, karate man do this." For the last few years certain people that teach grappling techniques are incorporating them into Isshin-ryu. I have no problem with grappling, having studied combat judo since 1946 when I was eight year old. I also teach grappling, but not in Isshin-ryu as a part of Isshin-ryu. Tokumura Kensho said Tatsuo told him not to grab anyone with two hands because it ties up your hands. Against multiple opponents, grappling is not the best solution.

Yes, Tatsuo did some grappling techniques like grabbing the throat, groin, or flesh around the waist. Also blocking and grabbing an opponents arm but notice in over ninety percent of these techniques end with a counter punch, strike or kick. I once attended a tuite seminar and in a span of four hours, four techniques were taught. I couldn't make them work. The seminar was filmed and years later, one person in this style told a friend of mine that he saw the films and said, "Advincula couldn't even do the techniques." My friend replied, "And Advincula is not an idiot." In other words, if it is too complicated remember Murphy's Law.

No, Tatsuo was not a complicated man. He was practical. He took what he thought was the best of Shorin-ryu and Goju-ryu and added his own innovations. He eliminated kata and techniques he did not like. Shinsho says his father taught shiatsu te so he would have understood pressure points. He taught some, but when he demonstrated on you, he hit you in the tried and true basic targets like the solar plexus, throat or kidney, or kicked you in the groin, or grabbed your groin or ribs. At that point, you knew you were in trouble. And to this day, no one will be able to convince me that there are better targets than the prime targets; eyes, throat, temple, base of the back of the neck, solar plexus, kidneys or groin. Most of these targets, if hit properly, can cause death. As for disabling, what is better than the elbow, knee and back of the hand or top of the foot, or bending joints in the opposite direction? In the tuite seminar, a person was knocked out with a two finger slap to the side of the neck. This happens a lot to drivers of autos who are slammed hard against the crossover seat belt hitting the large veins knocking off blood supply to the brain. The difference is someone volunteered to stand and let himself be hit. Wow! Now let me say this, I might not be able to knock you out with two extended fingers, but does two knuckles of the fist count?!!

What I am saying is, let's get back to the basics. If you can't follow the teachings of Tatsuo's Isshin-ryu, then change the style you're teaching or at least don't say it's Isshin-ryu or an Isshin-ryu technique. When I teach what I learned as combat judo, I say it came from combat judo. When I teach a Hindiandi technique, I give credit to Hindiandi. When I teach something I created, I say it is Advincula-do. Give credit where credit is due. There is nothing wrong in teaching your own techniques or other styles, but to say that Isshin-ryu has tuite in it is wrong.

Let us get back to teaching Tatsuo's creation and style. Isshin-ryu. Let us honor his style and if you can't, at least have the guts to change the name. Tatsuo did. He said he did not always agree with his teachers and had his own ideas and when he had his vision of the Megami and she told him to incorporate his own techniques, he did. It was the natural thing to do.

He gave us the following:

  • 1. Dojo kun

  • 2. Kenpo Gokui

  • 3. Upper and lower basics

  • 4. Seisan

  • 5. Seiunchin

  • 6. Naihanchi

  • 7. Wansu

  • 8. Chinto

  • 9. Kusanku

  • 10. Sunsu

  • 11.Sanchin

  • 12. Kyan no sai

  • 13. Kusanku sai

  • 14. Chatan Yara no sai

  • 15. Kusanku sai

  • 16. Tokumine no kun

  • 17. Urashi bo

  • 18. Shishi no kun

  • 19. Hamahiga no tuifa

  • 20. Goshin kumite

  • 21. Bo/Sai kumite

  • 22. Bo/Bo kumite

  • 23. Bo/Tuifa kumite

On this September 19, 1999 on the 91st anniversary of his birth, let us remember and honor our founder. I'll drink to that.

Kanpai Sensei!


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