Mark Bishop's Okinawan Karate: Teachers, Styles, and Secret Techniques

Makalakumu

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http://www.amazon.com/Okinawan-Karate-Teachers-Styles-Techniques/dp/0804832056

I've been reading this book and enjoying it a lot. I am wondering if any other members of read it. What do you think of it?

IMO, this seems like a pretty good book. Mr. Bishop took the time to interview so many different Old Okinawan Karate Masters, the history and insight they provide is very informative. Some arts just don't have a lot of coverage, however. Like Isshinryu. Weird, that's a very popular style of Okinawan karate.
 

Bill Mattocks

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http://www.amazon.com/Okinawan-Karate-Teachers-Styles-Techniques/dp/0804832056

I've been reading this book and enjoying it a lot. I am wondering if any other members of read it. What do you think of it?

IMO, this seems like a pretty good book. Mr. Bishop took the time to interview so many different Old Okinawan Karate Masters, the history and insight they provide is very informative. Some arts just don't have a lot of coverage, however. Like Isshinryu. Weird, that's a very popular style of Okinawan karate.

I have it and have read it several times. I like it, but I do not know how accurate it is - being a newbie myself. I find myself skipping around in it quite a bit. Being involved in Isshinryu myself, I have to agree with you about the lack of coverage there. I suspect part of the reason is that Isshinryu is so fragmented since the death of Master Shimabuku. I like Steve Armstrong's books for the history of Isshinryu and associated kata - still trying to track them all down, they're a bit rare and pricey.
 
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Makalakumu

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Cool. I'll have to check the Library for that book, Bill. It sounds interesting. One thing that I find interesting is that EVERY Itosu derived karate style also had a kobudo style attached to it. I wonder what happened to the kobudo in Shotokan?
 

Bill Mattocks

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Cool. I'll have to check the Library for that book, Bill. It sounds interesting. One thing that I find interesting is that EVERY Itosu derived karate style also had a kobudo style attached to it. I wonder what happened to the kobudo in Shotokan?

Forgive me, I am a humble beginner, but I thought Shotokan had no kobudo? Gichen Funikoshi was a strong believer that Karate was for defense use only, and that if you needed weapons, you were not yet good enough with your empty hands. Apologies if I got that wrong.
 

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I have the first edition, I have heard that the 2nd edition is more in depth. I liked reading it. The lack of information on Isshin ryu was appearently because he could not get much of an interview with Kinchiro Shimabuku(son of O sensei Shimabuko Tatsuo),
As far as the subject of Shotokan and Kobudo goes, many Shotokan schools are starting to teach Okinawan Kobudo now. No one is quite sure why Funakoshi Gichin O Sensei stopped teaching Kobudo. He was teaching kobudo in the beginning. Many of his students continued to train in kobudo with Taira Shinken(who was a kobudo master and student of Funakoshi O Sensei), Most did not. Apparently only focusing on their karate do and trying to distance themselves from the Okinawan origins, attempting to make karate a truely Japanese art. So I would say that politics had some play in Funakoshi's decision to stop teaching kobudo.
 

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I suppose that in some sense "pure" Shotokan doesn't teach weapons, but in my experience most schools will at least teach the bo nowadays.
 

Bill Mattocks

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I have the first edition, I have heard that the 2nd edition is more in depth. I liked reading it. The lack of information on Isshin ryu was appearently because he could not get much of an interview with Kinchiro Shimabuku(son of O sensei Shimabuko Tatsuo)

Isshinryu is very split, and I do not wish to add to the furor, but from my point of view, the head of Okinawan Isshinryu is Tatsuo's son-in-law, Angi Uezo. Since the book was about Okinawan Karate and not Okinawan-derived American Karate, I would have thought he would have interviewed Master Uezu.

However, my own lineage is from Master Tatsuo Shimabuku to Masters Harrill and Mitchum, to my sensei, to me. So the Okinawan 'who is head of Isshinryu' debate is outside my ken.
 
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Makalakumu

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I have the 2nd edition of the book and I really like it. Interesting about GF and Shotokan. I didn't know that he did teach the kobudo aspect and then stopped. Taira Shinken continued teaching it? When I trained in Shotokan, there were no weapons.

Yeesh, Isshinryu politics sound like they are messy!
 

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Yeesh, Isshinryu politics sound like they are messy!

It can be. The story I hear is that Master Shimabuku named his son-in-law as his successor to Okinawan Isshinryu, passing over his own son, who (I am told) had no interest in karate at the time. However, his family was upset, and they pressured Shimabuku-san to change his mind. Finally, old and sick, he did. However, Master Uezu considered this invalid and ignored it, continuing to believe himself the designated head of Isshinryu.

Meanwhile, years before, Master Shimabuku had trained a number of American Marines, mostly for a year or two, tops, and had awarded them all high-degree black belts when they left Okinawa, telling them that they should continue to practice and eventually they would be worthy of the high ranks he gave them. Some say that he told them NOT to call themselves by those ranks immediately - some say otherwise. In any case, several of his American students did come back to the US and opened dojos, mostly proclaiming the ranks he had given them. Earned, unearned? The founder gave them - who can say they were earned or unearned if not the founder? But some resented this very much, especially in Okinawa.

Apparently, Master Shimabuku also had a tendency to not to want to hurt anyone's feelings, so he told a number of his American (and Okinawan) students that they were his "number one" student. They each took it to heart, so we have many heads of various Isshinryu organizations proclaiming that they were Shimabuku's 'number one' student - probably all telling the truth, too, in that the founder said it!

Master Shimabuku also visited the US and toured the US dojos several times, teaching and testing and awarding dans and so on. Some say he wrote a letter rescinding all the American black belts high degrees at one time - but most Americans ignored the letter. Later visits were made by Master Shimabuku and he did not make an issue of it, nor did he refuse to recognize the belts they claimed - so what to make of that?

However, Master Uezu has also visited on a number of occasions, and he also has had little bad to say about the various dojos or American senseis he has examined. I am told he has been to my dojo, long before my time. I had the good fortune to work with him when I was stationed in Okinawa, but I did not learn karate from him, to my great detriment.

By and large, I am pleased that I happened to end up in a branch that was taught by Masters Harrill and Mitchum. Not that the others were bad or wrong, but we really do strive to do Isshinryu the way Master Shimabuku taught it. Is it right, wrong, authentic, authorized? I don't know. But it works for me. I'm mostly immune to the politics. I'm just here for the karate.
 

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Forgive me, I am a humble beginner, but I thought Shotokan had no kobudo? Gichen Funikoshi was a strong believer that Karate was for defense use only, and that if you needed weapons, you were not yet good enough with your empty hands. Apologies if I got that wrong.

The Shotokan done today is not what Funakoshi taught, it was modified a fair bit after he died. He did do Kobudo, and taught some at one point, don't think it was ever "officially" part of Shotokan though. ( He's the one with the sai ;))


Isshinryu is very split, and I do not wish to add to the furor, but from my point of view, the head of Okinawan Isshinryu is Tatsuo's son-in-law, Angi Uezo.

A lot of people think that, but then again a lot of people don't.

Isshin ryu, despite being a "Okinawan" style, really is not that big in Okinanwa in my understanding. It grew outside of Okinawa and never really took there, partially due to politics (Kichero having some "baggage" attached to him), and officially it was Kichero that took over the style on Okinawa. Uezo broke away much later.
 

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Bill Mattocks

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Isshin ryu, despite being a "Okinawan" style, really is not that big in Okinanwa in my understanding. It grew outside of Okinawa and never really took there, partially due to politics (Kichero having some "baggage" attached to him), and officially it was Kichero that took over the style on Okinawa. Uezo broke away much later.

Master Uezu was teaching Isshinryu while I was stationed on Okinawa. He was introduced to me as the head of Isshinryu, this was in 1982. He was a Japanese Security Guard at Camp Foster, I was an MP at the same base, so we worked together at times.

Isshinryu may not be 'big' on Okinawa, but it was big with Marines. Most of the Marines I knew who studied karate were either Isshinryu or Shorinryu if they learned it on Okinawa. I didn't know anyone doing other styles at that time - one guy I knew was doing TKD, and another was some kind of sword-drawing-and-slashing guy, he practiced this one move the whole time I was on the island (Iaito, I think I've been told).

I was also told that 'Isshinryu was watered down for Marines', which was not true, I think. Isshinryu uses the meat of the arm for blocks, not the bone. Some have said that this was simply Master Shimabuku's preference after much study, whilst others have said that a) Marines were not tough enough to do 'real' karate or b) Marines were getting in trouble with their commanders for getting broken bones during kumite and Shimabuku had to come up with something else or risk losing his students.

In any case, all the stories are interesting. I like Isshinryu as it is, though. I will admit - I keep getting corrected for having a 'Shotokan' stance (too deep by Isshinryu standards) and I tend to want to roll my forearm up during a high block (jodan uke) with my palm facing out - Isshinryu has it facing in. Funny, since I never took Shotokan - just a natural thing for me.
 
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Makalakumu

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Hey, Bill, just curious, were you just not interested in the martial arts at the time you were in Okinawa? Or did you train somewhere else?

As far as Isshinryu's muscle block is concerned, there are techniques in the Shorin kata that use the bone to bang on various vital points. So, I'm curious about that style of blocking.

I liked the section in the book about Chotoku Kyan. His personal life was "interesting" and being his student must have also been equally interesting. Brothels and drinking bouts to round your karate training, people. That's the missing secret!
 

Bill Mattocks

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Hey, Bill, just curious, were you just not interested in the martial arts at the time you were in Okinawa? Or did you train somewhere else?

I was much more interested in getting drunk every night when I wasn't working. What a loser. I missed a golden opportunity, and nobody to blame for it but myself. In some ways, I'm trying to fix that now.

As far as Isshinryu's muscle block is concerned, there are techniques in the Shorin kata that use the bone to bang on various vital points. So, I'm curious about that style of blocking.

As you probably know, Isshinryu is known for snap kicks and the vertical punch (non-torquing). We also practice an unusual forearm block. The side middle-body block is called 'chudan uke' and it is practiced with the forearm facing out to the side, fist vertical. The upper body blocks, 'judan uke' and 'jodan tegata uke' are done with the fist or palm facing in, not out.


This is not our style, but it shows the jodan uke pretty clearly. We would bring the left hand in to the waist vertically, not palm up as seen here, and the palm would be facing in towards our heads, not out as seen here. The stance is also not as deep - we practice heel-toe, with no more than a couple inches between the heel of the front foot and the toes of the rear foot. Here it shows a foot or more space between them.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_uq...965085515&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=6

This is an interesting chudan uke, but we do it somewhat differently. Instead of having the palm facing up, as in the video, we end with the palm facing inboard, top of the forearm outboard. We also 'stack' the first of the left at the waist over the right fist (and vice-versa). Our 'circle' is much smaller than the big movements shown in the video. We don't bang-block in most cases, but use the forearm to guide and rudder the incoming punch - either to the inside or the outside. The punch comes in, we cross the center line, bring the fist up in a circular motion, contact the incoming punch at or below the wrist, and 'set' our block, which is elbow one inche from our body and arm at about 45 degrees out from straight up. If we 'set' the incoming punch correctly, we have ruddered his punch outboard of our body, and we can actually punch straight off the block into his jaw, in an uppercut (jodan tsuki).

We practice kotekitai as well to toughen the muscles and desensitize the nerves for using the muscles as pads to hit with instead of bone.

I liked the section in the book about Chotoku Kyan. His personal life was "interesting" and being his student must have also been equally interesting. Brothels and drinking bouts to round your karate training, people. That's the missing secret!

I found the entire book fascinating, to the extent that I've re-read it a couple times. I'm on the lookout for more books of that sort. I've also spent some time searching old out-of-copyright books found on books.google.com and old issues of Black Belt are there also.
 
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Huh,

I was passing by Borders today, and figured, though broke, I would check the shelves to see if anything new was out.

Wouldn't ya know it. I looked at this exact book. Looks very interesting. Too bad poor astro is just that - poor :)

I leave on May 31st for California to work as a staff member for the NASA Academy. Hopefully Lockheed Martin will pay pretty descently. With a little more cash in pocket I'll be free to expand my library a little more.
 

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Master Uezu was teaching Isshinryu while I was stationed on Okinawa. He was introduced to me as the head of Isshinryu, this was in 1982. He was a Japanese Security Guard at Camp Foster, I was an MP at the same base, so we worked together at times.


Well...

In many people's eyes he was, however on paper he was still under Kichiro's organization. Although he was perhaps the head instructor, Kichiro owned the family business.

There was also a few other people that would have claimed "head of Isshinryu" at that time in the USA that didn't follow either of those two.

I was also told that 'Isshinryu was watered down for Marines', which was not true, I think.

I think that might have more to do with guys spending a tour or two there and leaving with 6th dan certificates. Nowadays that certainly wouldn't go over well ;)

I think the watered it down for ______ arguments are generally a bunch of nonsense, just people thinking that their system has everything that a system could possibly have, and if anyone says there is no rubber guard in karate they learnt the watered down version
 

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Isshinryu is very split, and I do not wish to add to the furor, but from my point of view, the head of Okinawan Isshinryu is Tatsuo's son-in-law, Angi Uezo. Since the book was about Okinawan Karate and not Okinawan-derived American Karate, I would have thought he would have interviewed Master Uezu.


I am in agreement with Bill on this above statement.


And if you interview Master Uezu and you don't talk with Kinchiro, you are asking for a war.


I am also with Bill on not wanting to add to the fire.
 
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Makalakumu

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A couple of things that struck me upon reading the book are the descriptions of how the old karate masters taught before there ever was a thing as "Okinawan Karate."

Basically, a "class" consisted of weight training and conditioning, direct instruction in kata and application, and lots of time to drill with a partner. On top of this, various kata were altered by the teacher in order to fit different students. The teacher would come and look at what you were doing and if it worked for you, then the kata would be taught to you so that it reflected that.

This stands in direct contrast with how karate is taught today. The old way was much more fluid and alive. It allowed the art to evolve. The way it is practiced now, captures a moment of time and attempts to carry it forward unchanged.
 

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A couple of things that struck me upon reading the book are the descriptions of how the old karate masters taught before there ever was a thing as "Okinawan Karate."

Basically, a "class" consisted of weight training and conditioning, direct instruction in kata and application, and lots of time to drill with a partner. On top of this, various kata were altered by the teacher in order to fit different students. The teacher would come and look at what you were doing and if it worked for you, then the kata would be taught to you so that it reflected that.

This stands in direct contrast with how karate is taught today. The old way was much more fluid and alive. It allowed the art to evolve. The way it is practiced now, captures a moment of time and attempts to carry it forward unchanged.

I will have to read this book!
 

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A couple of things that struck me upon reading the book are the descriptions of how the old karate masters taught before there ever was a thing as "Okinawan Karate."

Basically, a "class" consisted of weight training and conditioning, direct instruction in kata and application, and lots of time to drill with a partner. On top of this, various kata were altered by the teacher in order to fit different students. The teacher would come and look at what you were doing and if it worked for you, then the kata would be taught to you so that it reflected that.

This stands in direct contrast with how karate is taught today. The old way was much more fluid and alive. It allowed the art to evolve. The way it is practiced now, captures a moment of time and attempts to carry it forward unchanged.

The conditioning and weight training was big with the styles often referred to as "Naha-Te" (such as Goju and Uechi).

The reason why Isshin-Ryu is not big on Okinawa is that it is still considered a substyle of Shorin-Ryu and many of Shimabuku's okinawan students left and went back to the other styles so that they would be recognized by a large organization.

Many of the things that Isshin-Ryu has are NOT unique to that style alone, other styles have the snapping punch, and a vertical fist. Also, the double bone block for example is used by other styles as well in application. The difference is that in Isshin-Ryu, you stop the motion there and don't continue with the rotation to the traditional "thumb side" out position so that it helps to recieve and parry the strike away from your body. This goes back to the idea that "uke" means to block, when it means to receive.

It also depends on when you studied with Shimabuku. There are some who claim and still teach the traditional horizontal punch that Shimabuku put back in at one time. Also, look at footage of Shimabuku and he didn't always do the "snapping punch either".

Look at his Seisan:

Look at his Wansu:

The "snap" at the beginning of Seisan isn't a snap at all, it is 2 seperate techniques. The vertical punch and then it goes into chudan uke. So there are also schools of Isshin Ryu that don't use the "snap punch" but thrust with their vertical punch.

So what you have is a BUNCH of different organizations based on WHEN each person studied with Shimabuku. Since they were all there only short periods of time, and it was during constant revision and refinement, each person has a very different view of what IsshinRyu is.
 
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astrobiologist

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As I'm beginning in Isshin Ryu, I'm trying to keep an open mind and take in what I can about this style's history and technical applications.

I'm still unsure as to whether or not I actually feel stronger using the vertical fist with the thumb on top. My father had mentioned how our Sensei had shown him how the thumb on the side, as it is in most japanese and korean arts, is weaker by snapping his thumb back, but then I had my thumb on top and our other Sensei unintentionally snapped my thumb back (it was sore for over a month and I still can't rotate fully). I've heard the story that Okinawan Masters all use the vertical fist and they only teach the traditional twisting punch to us foreigners, but I have to say that I think this story is probably a fabrication for justification rather than truth. I'm using both variations for punching now.

If it is true that in the past Masters would selectively teach kata to students based upon the student's need, I find that a much more student-based approach to teaching rather than everyone learning the same curriculum in the same progression. When women begin in martial arts, they usually have a lot of grace but need to learn the strength and power. Likewise, a lot of men are strong, but lack the grace to make their technique flow. There are some students who need to work on their grappling. Some need more work on striking. There are students who learn fast and some who learn slower. Selectively teaching based upon a student's need would be an awesome approach. I wonder how that could be implemented though in a school that has more than a few students and a set training schedule.
 
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