Mississippi Isshinryu Karate
Backgrounds, biographies, pictures and insights of Shimabuku's Isshin-Ryu

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by Arcenio J. Advincula
on the Isshinkai Yahoo! message board


Isshin-ryu founder Tatsuo Shimabuku

Tenshin changing course or direction or shifting position

“All things in the universe will change” ~ Shimabuku Tatsuo

Further explanations on Michiko Onaga demonstrating ‘tenshin’ or body shifting punching techniques on the makiwara. She demonstrates how to shift and change direction using body power through speed and agility to deliver a devastating punch into a makiwara. It was not a demonstration of gamaku but a demonstration of foot and body movement or placement shifting the position of the body, then striking the makiwara and driving through it to hit and damage internal organs of the body. To show the power of the punch, a fishing weight or sinker is placed on a cord hanging from the ceiling about a inch behind the top of the makiwara board. The object of the demonstration was to prove the makiwara was driven back enough to strike the lead sinker proving to the viewer the penetrating power of the punch through tenshin, or body shifting.

In the video, Onaga calls it “The feeblest tiniest physique can generate an amazingly destructive punch.” How is it possible that his tiny daughter with a petite physique is able to demonstrate such amazing punching power? Onaga calls it “Fundamentals of ‘tenshin’ bodily movement to enhance your punching and kicking power.” “Tenshin” means body shifting or changing and goes with the Kenpo gokui code “The body should be able to change direction at any time.”

I have often demonstrated this but in dealing with maii or fighting interval between you and your opponent and closing the gap. Tatsuo did Tenshin by shifting and shuffling toward the makiwara it while using a reverse punch driving the force of his punch into the makiwara. Naturally, his added body weight and shifting added a greater force to his punch.

In this day and age where many give martial arts seminars where there is very little body movement taught in demonstrating body shifting karate techniques, understand that knowing how to perform tenshin is vital, especially when confronting a much larger opponent or multiple opponents.

Tenshin training starts with eight direction training using the kanji for kome (rice). The kanji for rice or in Japanese language kome , shows the eight primary directions. North, South, West and East and the four corners. The kanji for kome is also used to demonstrate the 8 directions in the kusanku kata.

see kanji for kome:

When shifting it is essential to float above the surface of the ground or base you are on. In a building with a solid floor like a basketball wooden floor, or in a dojo there would be no problem, but outdoors on terrain where surface conditions can vary to many different degrees from sand on a beach to jagged razor sharp coral as found on beaches in Okinawa. it would be much more difficult and is the reason this training must be practiced outdoors on different terrain.

In the case of Michiko Onaga, her small body type is perfect to demonstrate Tenshin or body shifting. Not only does she have a petite body, but she is also in excellent physical condition. It is obvious that she does a lot of makiwara training by seeing the well formed conditioned calloused knuckles on her fists. I know of no American females who constantly train bare knuckle punching on makiwara or at least shows the signs of having highly developed calloused knuckles. A sure sign Michiko Onaga trains for combat.

One of the keys to swift body shifting is to understand that trying too hard only makes the effort look stiff and often slows the transition. Smooth and effortlessly is the way it should look, and this is only accomplished through constant practice. If one understands balance and body centering, and how to use one’s tanden then this is half the battle to tenshin.

At seminars I constantly see the majority awkwardly perform proper tenshin because of their posture . When I perform kata with someone else I pass them by no matter how tall or quick they are because I understand shifting and movement. Watch Tatsuo and you doing kata in 1958 and you will see very smooth, fluid body movement. Ciso often said, “Look at my father perform kata and you will see very smooth action. Ciso would say, “My father said Isshin-ryu should be in-between Shorin-ryu and Goju-ryu karate. It must be smooth.” I agree with Ciso that Isshin-ryu is in the middle yet being created with aspects from two modes of Shorin-ryu, Goju-ryu, kobudo and Tatsuo own innovations, it can when necessary lean towards one Style (Shorin-ryu/Goju-ryu) over the other when necessary.

This is known as the ‘Doctrine of the mean.’ The “Doctrine of the mean“ is also translated as:

the Mean (D.C. Lau)
the Constant Mean (Huang, James Legge)
the Middle Way (Simon Leys)
the Middle Use (Arthur Waley)
the Common Centrality (Tu Wei ming)
the Unwobbling Pivot, or the Pivot (Ezra Pound).

In other words staying in the path or road and not deviating from the path, road or way. The path is better known as the “Tao” or “Do” and this is where we get the ‘Do’ in karatedo and kobudo.

What make a style is the path in which it follows. Each of the various Okinawan karate styles emphasize certain techniques over another therefore different paths (Tao/Dao/Do).

This is why it is proper and essential to study other martial arts so that we get a greater understanding for several reasons.
1. We have to combat them we understand their strength and weakness.

2. If looking at the source, Shorin-ryu (Kyan lineage) and Goju-ryu Miyagi lineage we get a better understanding of our own style, Isshin-ryu.

3. What you will find is that all Okinawan karate and kobudo that emphasize the ‘do’ even though they follow different paths will end at the same destination. That is the Tao/dao/do.

While all ryu take different paths and use or emphasize different techniques,
the ‘tao/dao/do’ or road is the common thread that keeps us together. Tatsuo said, “All bottles are good.”

So tenshin means ‘changing course or direction or shifting position. In combat it is essential and learning from those who do it well is essential. It is also essential to practice gokui (essential points) from other styles but understand that returning to the center is understanding the “Doctrine of the mean.” That is what makes a ‘ryu’, a style and Isshin-ryu is a style and has its own unique way of doing things.

Remember what the I Ching (Book of Changes) say about change:

"In the Book of Changes a distinction is made between three kinds of change: nonchange, cyclic change (recurrence), and sequent change (non-recurrence). Nonchange is the background, as it were, against which change is possible. For in regard to any change there must be some fixed point to which the change can be referred; otherwise there can be no definite order and everything is dissolved in chaotic movement. The point of reference must be established, and this always requires a choice and decision. It makes possible a system of coordinates into which everything else is fitted. Consequently at the beginning of the world, as at the beginning of thought, there is the decision, the fixing of the point of reference....The ultimate frame of reference for all that changes is the unchanging."

“All things in the universe will change” Tatsuo a follower of the I Ching said, but his teachings should never change. For Isshin-ryu must always have a fixed point or frame of reference, and that is the mean or center. That never changes. At least the I Ching says so. AJA

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