Shimabuku Tatsuo Osensei

Founder of Isshinryu Karate

Shimabuku Tatsuo Osensei

Early Life

In 1908, Shimabuku Tatsuo Osensei was born Shimabuku Shinkichi—it was only later that he began callng himself Tatsuo, meaning "Dragon Boy". The Shimabuku family were farmers living in the village of Kyan (pronounced "Chan" or "Chun").

Shimabuku-osensei's first experiences in karate came from his uncle. One common story says young Shinkichi walked a dozen miles each day to seek training from his uncle, but was repeatedly denied and instead put to work doing chores. Only once Shinkichi reached eight years of age did his uncle finally consent to instruct him.

Learning From the Great Masters

As a young adult, Shimabuku-osensei became one of the top students of Kiyan Chotoku Osensei. Kiyan-osensei was among the most famous praticioners of Shuri-te, which came to be known as Shorinryu karate. In addition to many empty-hand kata, Kiyan-osensei also taught Shimabuku-osensei some Kobudo (traditional Okinawan weapons).

Shimabuku-osensei diversified his practice by learning Naha-te, now called Gojuryu karate. This he was taught by Miyagi Chojun Osensei. Shimabuku-osensei excelled in the art and was once again recognized as a top student.

Around this time, Shimabuku-osensei's reputation as a gifted karateka is said to have spread widely after a festival in Fatima where he performed a particularly impressive demonstration of Chinto Kata.

Later, Shimabuku-osensei continued his Shorinryu training with the strong-willed Motobu Choki Osensei, and furthered his knowledge of Kobudo under the reknowned Shinken Taira Osensei.

World War II

The Second World War devastated the island of Okinawa. It was a time of upheaval for Shimabuku-osensei, who fled his home, and the small business by which he earned a living was demolished in the fighting.

Unlike many Okinawans, he managed to avoid conscription into the Japanese army and survived the war. Japanese officers may have concealed his identity in return for karate instruction.

The Birth of Isshinryu

After the war, Shimabuku-osensei returned home to farm and to teach karate. Over the years he worked to combine what he considered the best and most essential elements from Shorinryu and Gojuryu.. He also experimented with the vertical punch, which seemed faster and more practical than the traditional twist punch.

In 1955 several U.S. Marines stationed on Okinawa sought out Shimabuku-osensei, who was highly regarded across the island. He was soon formally employed as a karate instructor by the U.S. Marine Corps in Agena. With a salary of a few hundred dollars a month, Osensei was one of Okinawa's first full-time, "professional" karateka.

Although the groundwork for his new system had been built throughout his decades of study and teaching, it was on January 15, 1956 that Shimabuku Tatsuo Osensei officially founded the Isshinryu style of karate. His intent was to spread not a tool of violence but rather a source for developing one's own:

  1. mental, physical, and spiritual strength
  2. self-discipline
  3. self-confidence
  4. ability to protect oneself

Later Life

Shimabuku-osensei saw his style spread quickly through the United States, brought back by the Marines he had taught. He traveled on two occasions to the U.S. during the 1960's, and sent his son-in-law, Uezu Angi Sensei, on official visits thereafter.

Shimabuku Tatsuo Osensei, the Dragon Man who created Isshinryu karate, died on May 30, 1975.

Isshinryu in the Present Day

Shimabuku Kichiro Osensei

Isshinryu is now one of the most successful—and perhaps the most widely taught—Okinawan karate in the world, with dojo in many countries.

Before his death, Shimabuku Tatsuo Osensei handed down responsibility for his style to his eldest son, Shimabuku Kichiro Osensei, who continues on as 10th Dan and head of the Isshinryu World Karate Association (IWKA).

While there are a variety of excellent Isshinryu organizations in existence today, this dojo belongs to the IWKA and we follow Shimabuku Kichiro Osensei as Master of the style. Osensei personally instructs Wren-sensei and Pittak-sensei, who are Borthwick-sensei's teachers. In 1985 Osensei visited the Kent State University dojo in Ohio and in 2003 he visited Heath-sensei's dojo in Berkeley, California. Osensei also corresponds directly with our dojo from time to time. In addition, he travels to the U.S. every two years to oversee the IWKA World Championship Tournament, at which he traditionally teaches kata seminars.