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DRAGON MAN
by A.J. Advincula (1997)
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     On January 15, 1956, Tatsuo holds a meeting and names his style of karate Isshin-ryu karate. Eiko Kaneshi his right hand man said, "Why Isshin-ryu, why such a funny name," and Tatsuo replied, "Because all things begin with one."

     Much of what most Americans know about Sensei Shimabuku has been passed down to them by those who studied with him on Okinawa. Most of these Americans were marines with a few Navy, Army and one Air Force serviceman. The majority of them studied on one tour of duty with a tour being less than eighteen months. None got to know him very well, but some came back and stated they were his top student, number one student, senior student, or best student and one claims to have been Okinawan champion as a white belt beating all of Okinawa's black belts. Many times I'm asked if such things happened or what do you remember.

     Each of us remember his own story but ever since I've started I've been taking notes, photos, recording, filming, and now video taping all interviews.

     Many told stories or tales that never happened. Others exaggerated and told unbelievable feats for example; I heard that one person stated that he saw Tatsuo drink boiling hot tea from a tea kettle. Another high ranking person who was never on Okinawa says he personally saw Shimabuku climb upside down up a flagpole at or near the dojo. The thing that's wrong with the first story is its not believable, and the second story about the flagpole that makes it made up is that there was no flagpole.

     Known facts are that Tatsuo could drive a 16 penny common nail into a 2x4 with the edge of his hand and with the heel of his foot. I've observed both these feats. Sheisho Tokumine who started with Tatsuo in 1951 says he saw Tatsuo chop the tops off of the neck of a glass bottle, and saw him climb up a telephone pole head first near Agena dojo and come down the  other side head first. Art Smiley who started in 1956 said he also saw Tatsuo climb a telephone pole in Agena and said he filmed it.

     Tatsuo always said the reason for being able to do these feats was that he was in good physical shape. The training he did to drive a nail through a 2x4, was to hit the edge of his hand on the edge of a tapered 2x4 for about twenty to thirty minutes each day.

     Tatsuo was an innovator and not a perfectionist. He believed in being natural and spontaneous. This is one of the reasons that he rarely did his kata exactly the same way each time. He also believed in change and being a sumuchi, another name for a fortune teller, that uses ancient books from China to tell fortunes shows he was well versed in the I Ching. The I Ching is The book of change. Tatsuo while explaining the 5th verse of the Kenpo gokui said. "All things in the universe will change, and you must accept and go with change. "This is only one of his interpretations of this code.

     He always stated not to be rigid in body or in life. He said to go with the times and be happy and joke for he liked to joke. Major Mike (Maekawa) who started the same time Tokumine did said, "Tatsuo liked to drink sake (liquor), eat yaki soba (fried noodles) and tell jokes." Major Mike recalls that Tatsuo asked him if he thought he was good in karate and Major Mike said yes. "Get a gun," Tatsuo replied to Maekawa's answer.

     Eiko Kaneshi Tatsuo's right hand man who started in 1947 said that he had studied karate from others including Shoshin Nagamine of Matsubayashi-ryu karate but no one had chinkuchi (technique, controlled power, ki or chi) like Tatsuo.

     Tatsuo's feelings were hurt by some of the senior Masters from Naha who did not agree with his new style of karate. Once while sitting in the dojo after class several of us were sitting and drinking. Tatsuo liked to drink Awamori an Okinawan distilled alcohol made from certain type of long grain rice which comes from Southeast Asia. There were many bottles of awamori, pine juice, and beer of various sizes on the table. Others present were drinking beer or mixing the awamori with pine juice a pineapple juice. Tatsuo asked the students "Which is the best bottle?" Those who were drinking beer stated the beer bottles, others picked the largest bottles, and some chose the smaller bottles. Shimabuku said all the bottles were good. All of them served a purpose: to hold what they were intended to. "There is no best bottle," he said. What Tatsuo was saying was each had a purpose and all were good. He was relating this to karate.

     Not all of the other martial arts masters disagreed with Shimabuku. He was good friends with Kanei Uechi of Uechi-ryu and did demonstrations with many of the other top masters.

     Isshin-ryu stems from three different styles of martial arts. As one of his interpretations of the three stars in the Isshin-ryu Megami stand for, Shorin-ryu, Goju-ryu, and Kobudo. Tatsuo said that Shorin-ryu's naihanchi was the mother, and Goju-ryu's Sanchin was the father, and from this union the offspring was Isshin-ryu. At age 51, Tatsuo begins to learn Shinken Taira kobudo and incorporates it into Isshin-ryu. Prior to learning from Taira, Tatsuo taught a sai kata now known as Kyan Chotoku no sai or for short Kyan no sai. He also taught Tokumine no kun which he learned from Kyan.

     Tatsuo Shimabuku in 1951 taught these following kata according to Tokumine and Major Mike: Seisan, Seienchin (Seiunchin), Naihanchi (naihanchi shodan), Wansu, Chinto, Kusanku, Sunsu, Sanchin, Sai kata (Kyan No sai), Kusanku Sai, Tokumine No Kun.

     Around 1959-61, he adds from Taira's kobudo, Chatan Yara no sai, Urashi no kun, Shishi no kun and Hamahiga no Tuifa.

     In 1971, Tatsuo retires from teaching karate and kobudo but still gives out promotions or attends some dojo functions. His last official act in martial arts was to attend the grand opening of the Isshin-ryu Headquarters Dojo in Kinaka in April of 1975.

     On May 30,1975, the dragon of Isshin-ryu died of a stroke. Some say from a broken heart. From his students, all we can say is, thank you Sensei for teaching us.

     Let us in Isshin-ryu commemorate the birthday of one of the first modern karate masters who looked at change in a positive light.

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

 

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