Often referred to as the “parents” of Isshin-Ryu, Shorin-Ryu and Goju-Ryu are the two styles that Master Tatsuo Shimabuku blended to create Isshin-Ryu.
Before looking at “why” Master Shimabuku blended the two styles, it is important to briefly discuss where they originated and what their basic characteristics are.
Without revisiting our earlier discussion under Martial Arts Development, let’s come forward to 1903, to a period after the multi-cultural martial arts fabric has been woven into the Okinawan civilization. At or around 1903, there were three primary fighting systems in Okinawa and they were named after the Okinawan cities where they were most widely practiced. Nahate, Shurite and Tomarite. (This is important because most historical references will use one or more of these principle styles as a “lineage tool” to describe a modern day martial art style.) In essence, these three early systems formed the building blocks that comprise modern day Okinawan Karate.
From Shurite came Shorin-Ryu. However, within Shorin-Ryu three main branches formed: Shobayashi-Ryu Shorin-Ryu, Kobayashi-Ryu Shorin-Ryu and Matsubayashi-Ryu Shorin-Ryu. Goju-Ryu and Uechi-Ryu originated in Nahate. Although Tomarite (closer to Shorin-Ryu in origin) is a system similar to Nahate, little is known about Tomarite.
Shorin-Ryu, translated to mean (small woods), is known for its graceful, quick and powerful movements. Additionally, this style utilizes hard, direct and soft circular blocks.
Goju-Ryu, on the other hand, is a hard/soft Okinawan system blended with soft early Chinese forms. Goju-Ryu is most noted for its dramatic breathing methods consisting of two distinctly different techniques: 1) Inibuki --- soft yet firm breathing from deep within the abdomen and 2) Yoibuki --- the hard form. It is this combination of breathing techniques that allows a martial artist to withstand an attacker’s blow or to deliver a lethal blow of his/her own.
Now, return with us to the late 1940’s and the early 1950’s. Tatsuo Shimabuku was a recognized Master in both Shorin-Ryu and Goju-Ryu and had formalized weapons training from the most proficient weapons instructor in the Ryukyu Islands. Even with this level of knowledge and skill, Master Shimabuku still felt that something was missing as he continually searched for the ultimate fighting art. What he determined, as he continued to work on his Katas, was that neither Shorin-Ryu or Goju-Ryu offered what he needed in a complete self defense system. He determined, therefore, to combine the best of what both Shorin-Ryu and Goju-Ryu offered, along with his own techniques, into a more thorough, comprehensive self defense system, and that was the beginning of what was to be Isshin-Ryu.
Most, if not all, of his refinements and innovations to the Katas took place in the early 1950’s and were not made public until later. At the same time, he was conferring with other well respected Okinawan Karate Masters about potential plans to establish his own style of Karate. Due to Master Shimabuku’s reputation, his techniques and ideas began to win gradual acceptance among the traditionalists of the period. After years of study, trial and error and innovation, Master Shimabuku, on January 16, 1954 (alternate accounts promote January 15, 1954, January 15, 1956 and others as early as 1953) presented the world with what would become his legacy…Isshin-Ryu Karate.
For most of his life, Tatsuo Shimabuku poured his heart and soul into the practice and study of his art form. He often found the best of himself, and others, through long hours of training and perseverance. He understood that the lessons learned along the journey formed the basis for a successful life. Then, when Isshin-Ryu finally emerged in the end, it was his gift to us all, nurtured in the journey, and born truly, of the “One Heart Way.”