Isshin-ryu Karate

About Isshin-ryu Karate

Shinkichi Shimabuku was born September 19, 1908, in Chan village, Okinawa. Growing up working on his parent’s farm helped him develop a strong body. Reaching the age of 12, he began to study karate with his uncle, Ganiku Shinko.

Shimabuku began to further his studies of karate in 1927, training with such noted Okinawan instructors as Chotoku Kyan (Shorin-ryu), Chojun Miyagi (founder of Goju-ryu), and Choki Motobu.

In the 1940s, he began experimenting and trying new techniques, combining what he believed were the best techniques and philosophies from Shorin-ryu and Goju-ryu with techniques he had developed on his own. The early beginnings of what would later become a new karate style began to take shape. When Shimabuku began teaching karate in 1948, he changed his name to “Tatsuo,” which means “Dragon-man.”

Master Shimabuku was not a traditionalist. He was an innovator and continued to experiment with theories and ideas he had on improving karate techniques.  However, while very much an innovator, Tatsuo Shimbuku took a very traditional approach to his training methods.

Over time, his own style of karate began to emerge. In January of 1956, Master Shimabuku began referring to his new style of karate as “Isshin-ryu”, or “One-Heart-Method.”

Tatsuo Shimabuku

Isshin-ryu, a modern martial art, is recognized as one of the four traditional forms of Okinawan karate by the Okinawa Prefecture Rengokai and at its core, is a blending of Shorin-ryu (Chotoku Kyan) and Goju-ryu (Miyagi Chojun) combined with influences from his studies with Choki Motobu. Tatsuo Shimabuku simplified the kata he adopted into his new Isshin-ryu to suit his ideas about what a “complete” system of self-defense should be.


Sensei Arcenio J Advincula, a first-generation student of Master Shimabuku, designed the Isshin-ryu No Megami patch with Tatsuo Shimabuku’s permission using a traced outline of his left vertical fist and Master Shimabuku’s explanation of the painting he had of “his” Megami.

The patch depicts the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, Kannon. Both Tatsuo Shimabuku and his son, Shinsho, called it Megami for short. The Goddess is often depicted as a woman seated on or riding on a dragon. Sometimes the Goddess is depicted standing next to a dragon. Goddess in Japanese is “Megami.” The Kenpo Gokui (Isshin-ryu Code) is represented within the patch.

Isshin-ryu places a strong emphasis on close-range combat, combining effective blocks, powerful strikes, and low kicks, launched from shoulder-width stances while utilizing natural body movements.

Tatsuo Shimabuku died of a stroke on May 30, 1975; he was sixty-six years old. While he is gone in body, his spirit will always be with us.

Sensei Sherman Harrill, also a first-generation student of Master Tatsuo Shimabuku, would often say, “Sensei,” referring to his instructor, Tatsuo Shimabuku, “taught simple block/punch karate.” At its core, Isshin-ryu Karate is essentially a system based on aggressive counter-striking. And indeed, Sensei Harrill’s technique clearly demonstrated a thorough mastery of the scientific and elegant application of focused blunt-force trauma.