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

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"Mensori" or Welcome to the "Tomo No Kai".
by A. J. Advincula Sensei

A. J. Advincula

A. J. Advincula

The philosophy of the Tomo No Kai began long before Kensho Tokumura named it in 1997. It can be said to have started when I first arrived on Okinawa in November of 1958 as a young Marine Corps Corporal.

In 1946, At the age of eight, my father began my martial arts training in the Filipino knife and stick fighting art eskrima (escrima) and what my instructors called combat judo. Two of my instructors, Tony Navarro and Pete Rado, who were friends of my father, were "close combat" instructors in the Philippine Scouts (Army). When I was about 10 years old I also had some training in gung fu by another friend of my father, a Chinese cook named Pang Yao. I also tried to study from books on jujitsu and anything else I could. My father at the time worked for the Army Air Corps and he started me training with my first instructors. My father brought returning GI's, who had studied Asian martial arts, over to instruct me in their art, whatever it was. So, I had a basic understanding of different Asian martial arts before I arrived on Okinawa.

I began my training in Isshinryu Karate on my first day of liberty which was about three or four days after arriving on Okinawa. This was not by design but by chance. As all of those in the military know, when you first report or arrive at a new duty station, you must "check in" to all the different places on the base, for example; sick bay (where one goes for medical treatment), disbursing (where ones pay record is located), mess hall (now called a dinning facility), chapel, special services (where one goes for recreation and sports), and other places that are important to your military functions. At each of these places the administrators will sign your "check-in- sheet". After you get it signed at each location, you report back to your unit. If you get all the signatures, your unit knows you can locate them and now you can go to work. After an indoctrination about Okinawa, its people and customs, and what you can or can not do, you are allowed to go on what the Marines and Navy call "liberty", or "go-to-the-ville" which is another term we used.

A. J. Advincula

A. J. Advincula

When I first checked in to Special Services at Camp S.D.Butler, which was located next to Camp McTureous, near the village of Kawasaki, I saw a large sign on the wall which read; "Sign up for free judo lessons". So, when I reported to my NCOIC (Noncommissioned Officer In Charge) who was a Sergeant, he asked if I had any questions about Okinawa, my job, or anything else. I said, "Yes, how do I sign up for free judo lessons?" He answered, "Why judo? You can study karate in the ville (village) from Papasan." I replied, "Karate, they have karate here?" "Yes, this is where karate originated from. We have one of the top karate instructors off base", he replied. I asked, "How much will it cost?" The Sergeant said, "Its free. Special Services pays for it. Why take judo when you can study karate. I'll take you. I'm a green belt from Papasan". I don't recall him mentioning the style or the name of the instructor although, he might have. At the time, these names would have been strange to me anyhow. I remember my first liberty or first venture into the village of Agena. The Sergeant (I forget his name) took me from our base, Camp Smedly Butler, on a bus located outside the base, to Agena Village where it stopped about a half a block away from Tatsuo's dojo. We walked to the dojo and I remember as we got closer, I could hear strange smacking sounds of what I later learned was someone punching a "makiwara". I remember the Sergeant led me through the entrance door into the dojo. There were several people in white karate "gi", striking or punching "makiwara". Some were doing karate moves which I later found out to be "kata". He took me straight up to Shimabuku Sensei and told him he brought a new student. He introduced Tatsuo as "Papasan". I signed up, filled out a special service card, Sensei stamped it and sold me a white karate gi. I started my first day of what later I would learn was Isshinryu Karate.

On my first tour of duty, I worked at the Camp Butler carpenter shop which at the time was located at Camp Courtney near the Village of Tengan. I worked with Okinawans and it was from them I learned who "Papasan" was. When I told them I was studying karate from "Papasan", they admonished me and said I should call him "Sensei". From that day, I began calling my instructor, Shimabuku, "Sensei". This was my first introduction to the culture of Okinawa. I remember that most of the Americans learning Isshinryu were Marines, with a few Navy medical personnel who were attached to our sickbay. Most continued to call Tatsuo Shimabuku "Papasan". The senior Americans at the dojo never tried to correct this fault. Later, when some of us became senior, it was corrected.

A. J. Advincula

A. J. Advincula

I remember when I first arrived on the Talagega, a Navy transport ship to Okinawa. I had my first experience of cultural shock. Many of the roofs on houses were covered with either red or gray concrete roof tiles or had thatched roofs. At the time, you could still see some of the all-grass houses that were made of "miscanthus", whose strong, brittle, hollow stalks resemble small bamboo woven diagonally. This was used for walls with the thatched roofs. There were very few cars but many bicycles, three wheeled motor vehicles, taxies and buses. The names I remember of some of these vehicles were Datsun, Hino, and Mitsubishi. Most signs on the store fronts were in Japanese but many near the military bases were in misspelled English. Okinawans dressed in kimonos, jenbai, and in various American clothes. Many of the Okinawan males wore parts of U.S. military clothing. Many wore "geta" (wooden clogs), straw sandals, rubber shower shoe sandals, and some were barefooted. Some of the older men could be seen riding bicycles while their wives walked behind them. Women worked at hard labor on the streets doing road repairs or cleaning the street. Only the main roads were paved and there were very few of them. There were many open markets with various fruits, vegetables, and roots being sold in small makeshift stands or booths. Fish and large slabs of meat were also present in the fish or meat market. Octopus and squid were also seen and Americans would always openly joke about what to them was strange and exotic foods. Many of the older women over sixty years could still be seen with tattoos on the back of their hands.

Black market American goods could also be seen openly being sold in the shopping areas. I remember that insect repellents in olive drab cans were in high demand because of the numerous bugs and mosquitoes on this semitropical island. Cigarettes were sold in packs or individually. Many of the Okinawan men could be seen smoking a "kiseru", a very small pipe where only a little amount of tobacco was placed in it and only a few drags could be puffed from them before it had to be recharged. Some would just place a regular cigarette in the "kiseru" like a cigarette holder. On numerous occasions I saw Sensei Shimabuku using the "kiseru". On base, the Marines had house boys or house girls who washed our clothes or shined our boots and shoes. They also would starch and press our utility or work uniforms and blocked our utility covers (hats), starching and ironing them. As a Corporal pay grade E-3 at the time, I made about $90 a month. While this amount was small in the U.S., on Okinawa it was a hefty sum. On mainland Japan the exchange rate was 360 yen to a dollar. By the time I arrived on the rock (Okinawa), dollars were being used instead of Okinawan yen which was different than the Japanese yen. Okinawa was under the administration of the U.S Government and would be until its reversion back to the Japanese Government on May 15, 1972.

I studied with other now well known Americans. Harold Mitchum had started before me in March the same year. Others who started after me were Steve Armstrong, Bill Blond, Don Bohan, Jake Eckenrode, Clarence Ewing, Sherman Harrill, Louis King and Ed Johnson. Kensho Tokumura, was an Okinawan schoolboy who was already studying Isshinryu before me. It is Tokumura who eventually will give the "Tomo No Kai" it's name.

A. J. Advincula

A. J. Advincula

After learning that Isshinryu was a combination of Gojuryu and two modes of Shorinryu karate, I always wondered what Shimabuku Sensei had added or deleted from his system. On one occasion while relaxing after a class, Shimabuku Sensei and several others students were sitting around a table drinking beer and "awamori" (a Okinawan brandy made from rice) and pine-juice (pineapple soda) to mix with the potent "awamori". Tatsuo asked which was the best bottle? On the table were various sizes of bottles. Some present picked large bottles and others picked the smaller bottles depending on what they were drinking. Tatsuo replied that all bottles were good and that size had nothing to do with which was the better bottle. He explained that all of the bottles served a purpose. At the time, early 1959, Isshinryu was only three years old and some of the other Sensei from other styles were knocking this new style. I believe that this is the reason Tatsuo told the story so that we would understand that all styles were good. Tatsuo stated that from Shorinryu he took the kata Naifanchi and from Gojuryu he took the kata Sanchin. Tatsuo explained that Shorinryu had no Sanchin and Goju-ryu had no Naifanchi. He said that Naifanchi, the softer of the two kata, was the Mother and Sanchin, the harder of the two because it is performed using dynamic tension, was the Father. From this union came Isshinryu, the offspring or baby. The kata Naifanchi is performed going in the direction left then to right while Sanchin goes forward and back. Between the two bonded in union (+) is Isshinryu. It is from this philosophy that the Tomo No Kai began. The following years, because of this, I have trained in Gojuryu, Shorinryu, Uechiryu, Hindiandi and Kobudo. To this day I will study and learn from other Sensei to get a better understanding of what Shimabuku Tatsuo taught me. He studied from several different Sensei in different styles and continued after he was in his fifties. All martial arts are good and this is the reason for the Tomo No Kai, to get a better understanding of all things Okinawan and to learn not only about Ryukuyan martial arts but also its cultural aspects. I conducted four tours to Okinawa, 1994 to 1997, and billed them as "Okinawan Cultural Martial Arts Tours". In 1994, I was told of another group of people from another style of Okinawan karate that was going to do a group tour to Okinawa and were going to stay on one of the military bases. Someone suggested that I do the same and stay on one of the military bases to save money. I replied, "No, if you want to learn about the cultural of Okinawa you must live with the Okinawans as they do." Mr.Jeff Perkins has already explained this in his article about going on his first trip to Okinawa in 1994. Kensho Tokumura, who was an Isshinryu dojo classmate with me in 1958, and Kotaro Iha who I studied Kobudo and Shorinryu from 1975, have helped me in my quest for knowledge as has Horoshi Ikemiya, my brother-in- law, who helps especially in translating writings in Chinese.

Again, I want to welcome you to Okinawan Karate Kobudo Kokusai Tomo No Kai,......."mensori".


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