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DRAGON MAN
by A.J. Advincula (1997)
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"All things in the universe will change."

Shimabuku Tatsuo Sensei, founder of Isshin-ryu Karate and Kobudo

Shimabuku Tatsuo Sensei, founder of Isshin-ryu Karate and Kobudo

 In 1908 a great earthquake shook southern Italy and Sicily killing 150,000 but in the same year Tatsuo Shimabukuro, the founder of Isshin-ryu karate/kobudo was born. Why, you ask, would one start off a sentence with a tragic event such as a deadly earthquake and end it with a happy event as a birth? Because it is fact and Sensei Shimabuku, which he liked to be called instead of Shimabukuro, always said, "There is good and bad in the universe and we should adapt to all situations". This he got from the Kenpo gokui or Secrets of Kenpo better known to those in Isshin-ryu as the Code of karate which came from the Bubishi a book which came from Fujian, China and is associated with Okinawan karate.

     Shimabuku was born in Chan village now called Kinaka in Gushikawa City on September 19,1908. He was given a girls name as was the custom adopted by the Okinawans from the Chinese to fool the malevolence spirits lurking about who would try to harm the new born baby. It was thought that the ill-willed spirits would look for a girl baby only and not harm the the boy baby.

     Only after they fooled the evil spirits would they have given the baby the Okinawan name Kana and the Japanese name Shinkichi. Shinkichi is the name found on Shimabuku's koseki or family register and was also on his passport when he visited the United States in 1964 and 1966.

     Prior to the Japanese making Okinawa a Japanese prefecture in 1879, and later passing laws abolishing certain kanji or Chinese characters for names used by Okinawans to name their children, Okinawan names where given to newborns. The reason the Japanese did this was to subject the Okinawans into being Japanese and stop them from using Okinawan customs . The Okinawans were forced to cut their topknots which they were allowed to wear when they interred manhood and were also told not to speak Okinawan hogen or dialect but to only speak Japanese. Still Okinawans gave their children Okinawan names although they couldn't put them on their koseki.

     Kana first studied martial arts from this uncle on his mother's side Ganiku. Ganiku also taught the young Shimabuku to be a sanjinsoo, a practitioner who engages in fortunetelling, divining, and geomancy and deriving their knowledge from books rather than from the supernatural. The I Ching and kuyumi or lunar almanac besides other books on occult lore are some of the books the young Kana would have to learn. These ancient books would have been written in kanji and he would have to learn how to read the Chinese characters.

     Ganiku thought he did not have enough martial arts knowledge so he sent Shimabuku to study karate from Chotoku Kyan who lived in Kadena. At the time, Shimabuku who was around age 23 or 24, and a poor farmer's son, walked barefooted to study with Kyan. He would stay for six hours and come back home to do his chores with the farm. He studied Shuri te with Kyan for four years. Shimabuku would tell of Kyan practicing Chinto kata on a bridge and said Chinto kata was good for that purpose.

     Shimabuku studies Naha-te from Chojun Miyagi around 1936. Again, he walks but this time a much further distance to Naha. This time he stays with Miyagi for three years. Miyagi was known for his gripping techniques and Shimabuku put a gripping technique into his own kata sunsu.

     In 1938, at age 30, he studies with Choki Motobu again in Naha for one year. Motobu was known for his fighting ability and Shimabuku always told a story about Motobu peeking through a fence to learn naifanchi kata. The reason for this was to show it wasn't the amount of kata one knows but how well one know it.

     In 1939, Shimabuku goes to the Philippines and stays for two years leaving for Osaka before the war begins in 1941. In Osaka he becomes a bucho or general supervisor and stays until around 1944 when he returns to Okinawa to take his family to Kyushu, Japan to protect them from the war. While in Japan, Shimabuku works as a farmer.

     One year after the war, he brings his family back to Okinawa. At age 39, in 1947, Shimabuku begins teaching karate at different locations. At first he calls his karate Chan migwa karate after Chotoku Kyan's nickname. He also takes the name Tatsuo meaning dragon man at this time.

     Around 1951 he was calling his karate Sun nu su karate after his nickname he received from the mayor of Chan when Shimabuku worked as a tax collector a few years before. The mayor named him after a dance that Shimabuku's relative had made called Sun nu su. Sun nu su means son of old man. He later shortens it to Sunsu.

 
* from Chatham Karate Academy's Website

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**And The Dragon Flew Into the Heavens - by A.J. Advincula

 

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