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Isshinryu: An Old Way of Karate or A New Educational Standardized Way of Karate?

Blog Article/Post Caveat (Read First Please: Click the Link)

I have been running through some great articles that concern a topic I have written about for a while now, the view and theory on the old way of karate or the traditional practice of Okinawan karate vs. the new educational standard way of karate for a more modern times. In this article I wanted to discuss the practice of Isshinryu.

Isshinryu may, I stress may, be about both a new way and the old way of karate. If you can believe, and I have no reason not to believe, the stories of Isshinryu’s founder Shimabuku Tatsuo Sensei as to his learning karate from some of the old historically understood old karate masters then you might feel that Isshinryu is both of the old way karate and the new standardized educational version of karate. It may be a model of karate that actually spans both worlds, traditional old ways and modern new ways of karate. 

It would come down to the agenda of Tatsuo-san’s teachings to the occupying American military along with many more restrictive requirements of that military, i.e., such as short one year tours, etc., that may, might or actually influenced the what, how and why of teaching karate. 

After all, Tatsuo-san was of that age to be influenced by the educational standardized form of karate but don’t forget that he was known to have trained with masters who were believed to be trained in and proficient with old way or traditional karate. I have speculated why I think it is possible that Tatsuo-san taught his karate and created his Isshinryu to an agenda and gaol to teach and award sho-dan to Americans who would only be there one year while meeting the wants and needs of those Americans whose ultimate goal was the coveted black belt. Remember, most of those who trained diligently for that year left with a black belt and as we know Americans will seek out a source that will provide them a solid opportunity to achieve their goal of black belt and if not, go elsewhere. Tatsuo-san’s efforts lead to a government/military contract of a very lucrative nature and you have to at least consider that his economic state after the war would drive how he set up and taught his karate to Americans. 

I do believe that those who actually made the opportunity to train with Tatsuo-san for longer than that one year tour may have been exposed to those old traditional ways of karate in the form of Isshinryu but in truth there is no way to prove that one way or the other. Did Tatsuo-san actually teach the edu-standard forms when Americans were present and then the old ways when only his Okinawan students trained? Can it be proved by means other than first and second person memories and conversations, i.e., like some sort of documentation and comparison, etc.? 

It was stated and I believe that if true effected how karate was taught to Japan and later to Americans, i.e., Many Okinawan instructors back in the 1920s and early 1930s felt that it was inappropriate to teach "authentic" (old style) Karate in mainland Japan or overseas (except perhaps to Okinawans), and that it was barely acceptable to teach the new standardized form.”

Lets say for the sake of this article and discussion that Tatsuo-san leaned both the old traditional way and the new edu-standard way and lets say the above quote is true. Why would he bother with that mind-set and mind-state teach Americans, the ones who defeated Japan and by association Okinawa, old way traditional karate if they would not teach Japanese or anyone overseas old way karate? I don’t see the incentive except an economic one and with all the restrictions and demands of the inpatient military occupiers, why he would not just teach the edu-standard watered down versions. After all, he understood that he would not see most of them again when they got that belt and went home to the west, right? 

There are going to be Isshinryu’ists out there that will scream blasphemy reading this but the questions are valid. Even if he did teach only the edu-standard version a good many of today’s practitioners have sought out as much of the old ways as possible and some have created what they believer are new ways that make self-defense in karate once again viable making some of modern karate a good thing.

I can say that the way I was taught Isshinryu originally provided me a solid foundation in Okinawan karate that I believe we have a great way of practice, training and study. I believe that there are some aspects and traits that feel like the old way of karate while feeling appropriate and applicable to modern times and dangers. If not for Isshinryu I doubt seriously I would be practicing and studying any form of karate and/or martial arts today for I feel I would have gone only the distance most go, achieve a black belt like completing a subject in school and then quit for some other gratifying endeavor. 

Even as I practice today as a more modern applicability I still hold dear and near the practice of Isshinryu as, at the very least and minimum, the essence and core of my karate and martial arts practice, study and philosophy. But …. I still question ….

Bibliography (Click the link)

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