This article is about the modern school of karate. For traditional Japanese school of wielding the kusarigama, see Isshin-ryū kusarigamajutsu.

The kanji for Isshin-Ryū Karate-Do

The kanji for Isshin-Ryū Karate-Do
Country of origin Japan Okinawa Prefecture, Japan
Creator Shimabuku Tatsuo
Parenthood Shorin-ryū, Gojū-ryū, Kobudō

Isshin-Ryu (一心流 Isshin-ryū) is a style of Okinawan karate founded by Tatsuo Shimabuku (島袋 龍夫) in 1956. Isshin-Ryū karate is largely a synthesis of Shorin-ryū karate, Gojū-ryū karate, and kobudō. The name means, literally, "one heart way" (as in "wholehearted" or "complete"). In 1989 there were 336 branches of Isshin-ryū throughout the world (as recorded by the IWKA), most of which were concentrated in the United States.[1]


The system is summarized in its kata, and the specific techniques used to punch (vertical fist) and kick (snapping kicks) presented as upper and lower 'charts', most of which are thrown from natural stances and body posture. In many of the various forms of the system, sixteen kata (eight empty-hand, three bo, two sai, a bo-bo kumite kata, a bo-sai kumite kata and one tuifa kata) are agreed upon as composing Isshin-ryu. These kata include original developments of the Master, and inherited kata from the parent styles.[2]

Empty-Hand Kata


Tatsuo Shimabuku learned Seisan from his primary instructor, Chotoku Kyan.[3] Previous to Kyan's instruction, the Seisan form was a staple of local traditions.

This kata is sometimes the first introduced to students after the First and Second Charts of basics have been learned. This is in contrast to other Shorin systems where this kata is learned after other fundamental kata.

The Gojū-ryū curriculum includes a related version of Seisan, but Isshin-ryū Seisan was learned from Kyan, not Miyagi.

Seiunchin (制引戦)

The Seiunchin kata was brought into Isshin-ryū from Shimabuku's studies with the Gojū-ryū founder, Chojun Miyagi. It is theorized by researchers that this kata is an original composed by Miyagi, based on his experiences in Fuzhou, China.[4]

The kata focuses on the stance "shiko-dachi" (sometimes referred to as "seiunchin-dachi"), a low horse stance at which the knees are bent at obtuse angles and the feet are angled away from the direction the body is facing at forty-five degree angles. The kata is broken into segments, each utilizing a specific breathing and muscle-tensing method. The kata has no obvious kicks, but one section contains hints of a rising knee strike.

Naihanchi (ナイハンチ)

Naihanchi [Shodan] comes to Isshin Ryu from studies with both Chotoku Kyan and Choki Motobu (a cousin of Kyan). It is also considered one of the staples of Ryukyu Ti, and is prevalent in most forms of Karate. The Isshin Ryu version is influenced heavily by the kumite of Motobu, with the exception of the turned-in toes (Motobu preferred the horse-riding stance with the toes in a neutral position).

The kata is also noted for its use of the "Nami Gaeshi", the returning wave kick. The kick has many different potentials for application, including the sweeping or redirecting of a low kick, a kick or knee to the inside of an opponent's thigh, knee, tibia, and ankle. It also has the movement training potential for the basics of the sequential summation of movement. Some interpret the move as a low "yoko-geri" (side kick) from naihanchi-dachi to the opponent's farthest ankle, inside-calf, or knee, and returning the kick to the body around the opponent's nearest leg across one's body to the hip and back down to naihanchi-stance.

A popular interpretation of the kata concerns its position: the entire sequence of moves in the kata is to be executed as if one is standing up against a wall and one's opponents are to his left, right, and straight ahead. It is because of this that the kata is usually taught with the back straight and the heels and back placed firmly either on a straight edge such as a board or a wall, or on top of a long piece of tape.

The main stance of naihanchi is a slight variant from the Isshin Ryu stance "kiba-dachi", in which both feet are shoulder-width apart facing forward. "Naihanchi-dachi," as it's called, takes kiba-dachi and turns the balls of the feet (area of foot just behind the toes) and turns them inward and accentuates the continuous bend at the knees Isshin Ryu Karateka are taught from initiation.

Wansū (ワンシュー)

Also coming from Kyan, Wanshū (also known as Wansu) has several iterations on the island of Ryukyu. Popular history has the kata coming from a Chinese political visitor who, during his duties, taught his fighting method in the open.

Isshin Ryu's version of this form is unique for its inclusion of two side kicks - techniques seen in the system previously only in the Chart Two exercises. Current research hints at this change being made by Shimabuku Tatsuo himself.[5]

For technical content, the form tends to focus on the slipping and in-close evasion and redirection of attack. It also contains a unique movement often described as a fireman's carry throw, or dump. Because of this, many schools nickname this kata "the dumping form". Also, depending on the lineage, Wansu is one of two kata in Isshin Ryu which use the "zenkutsu dachi", the longer front stance seen in other forms of karate.


As with most of the kata in Isshin Ryu, Chinto comes from the teaching of Kyan.[6]

The kata differs from others in that its embusen is a line placed on a 30 degree angle. The footwork is indicative of a slipping, deflecting, and a whipping, relaxed body motion. Some karate instructors consider the previously learned forms of the system, Naihanchi and Wansu, to be preparatory and basic training forms, culminating in the kata Chinto.

Kusanku (クーシャンク)

Of the eight weaponless kata in Isshin-Ryu, five come from the teaching of Chotoku Kyan. Kusanku is one of these.

Kusanku is often referred to as a "night-fighting" kata, or a form which teaches fighting at night. In reality, the kata is set up in such a manner as to allow continual study of application potential from basic standing grappling and close striking in the beginning, to more aggressive and proactive techniques near the end. Its techniques may be utilized in places with low levels of light but is not exclusively a night fighting form.

Depending on the lineage, Kusanku is the second of two kata which contain the zenkutsu-dachi in Isshin-Ryu.


This kata was designed by the founder of Isshin-Ryu, Shimabuku Tatsuo, in approximately 1947.[7] It incorporates several movements from other kata in the Isshin-Ryu syllabus, as well as from kata from other instructors, in addition to techniques and concepts Shimabuku favored. It was used as a dojo kata and as a personal project of the founder, prior to the founding of Isshin Ryu in 1956. Sunsu is the only kata that is only in Isshin Ryu. It takes sequences from the other katas in Isshin Ryu.

The Okinawa Prefecture Karate Kobudo Rengokai has recognized Sunsu as a kata of Okinawa. This represents an acceptance of Isshin-Ryu as a traditional Ryukyu martial art.

Sanchin (三戦)

Coming from Miyagi Chojun, Sanchin has its origins in the Gojū-ryū system. Along with Seiunchin, this is one of two Gojū-ryū katas in Isshin-ryū. Previous to the instruction of Miyagi, the kata was practiced with open hands, turns, and natural breathing methods. With the founding of Gojū-ryū, this form was practiced with closed fists (a more traditional method on Okinawa), no turns, and a controlled, almost hard inhalation and exhalation.

Touted primarily for its physical training aspects, Sanchin also contains many applicable martial techniques.

Shimabuku also thought very highly of the form, saying once, "Sanchin is for health. Without health, how can one have karate?"

Bō Kata

Tokumine no Kun (sometimes referred to as Tokumeni no Kun)

This form comes to the Isshin Ryu system from Shimabuku's time with Chōtoku Kyan.[8] Kyan is to have learned the form either from Tokumine himself, or from Tokumine's landlord after the aforementioned had passed on. Shimabuku Tatsuo also commented that this was his favorite kata. Different isshin -ryu schools spell the name differently by changing the "e" and the "i". Research thus far has shown that the kata was named after someone (Shitsunen Tokumine). However, at this time, no genealogical findings have been found for the spelling "Tokumine" while several are noted for "Tokumeni". (Incorrect. The kanji and the katakana on the 1966 film of Tatsuo Shimabuku clearing shows it is TOKU MINE (pronounced Toe-koo-mee-nei)).

The spelling changes, and pronunciation conflicts, may have indeed come from the 1966 film of Tatsuo Shimabuku and which is readily viewable on YouTube at the time of this update. At timeline 12:38 there is a sign indicating the name of this staff kata. It is not written in kanji (the preferred method when writing a native Japanese name). It is written in both Romaji (romanized spelling for Japanese writing) and in Katakana (a simplified form of Kanji also used for foreign words and non-Japanese names). The Romaji is shown as "TOKOMENI" (noting the "KO" on the sign and the common replacement as "KU" throughout most Isshin-Ryu schools). Yet the Katakana below it was not consistent with how the romanized spelling should have been done. It should have been written in Romaji as "TOKUMINE". The first katakana is definitely "TO", the second "KU", the third "MI", the fourth is not clear but reasonably "NE" and together "TOKUMINE".

Urashi no Kun (sometimes referred to as Urasoe no Kun)

The form Urashi no Kun was taught to Shimabuku by his kobudō instructor, Shinken Taira.[9] Taira is the founder of the Ryūkyū Kobudō Hozon Shinkokai,[10] whose goal is the preservation of Okinawa's weapons forms.

Shishi no Kun (sometimes referred to as Sueyoshi no Kun)

Shimabuku learned this form from Shinken Taira who learned it from Kenwa Mabuni.

The kata itself uses the bo in a horizontal manner, different from other cudgel traditions.[11]

Sai Kata

Kusanku Sai

This form is a product of Shimabuku's own research into the art of kobudō, the coverall for Okinawa's weapons studies.

The kata was built as an introduction to Sai practice, with the weapon movements replacing the empty-hand applications.

The form is taught one of two ways: with or without kicks.[12] Initially, the kata was taught with kicks as it is a karate-based kata. Later, after 1960, the kicks were removed because Shimabuku wished to emphasize the weapon more so.

Chatan Yara no Sai

Chatan Yara is taught as the second Sai kata in the Isshin Ryu system, coming from Shimabuku's instruction with Shinken Taira.

The form focuses on the development of the "sequential summation of movement", which is the scientific term for full-body whipping motion. This is exemplified by the emphasis on whipping strikes, which make up a vast majority of the offensive movements in the form.

Kyan no Sai

This form comes either from Shimabuku's studies of Sai methodology with Kyan, his primary karate instructor, or was possibly a form taught in its entirety. Shimabuku was teaching this kata in 1951 but by 1959 he had dropped in favor of Kusanku.[13]

Tonfa Kata

Hama Higa no Tuifa

This form is from Shimabuku's studies with Shinken Taira. It is the only Tonfa kata in the Isshinryu system. Shimabuku always referred to the weapon, and thus the kata also, as tuifa.[14]

The kata bears many similarities to the Uechi Ryū empty-hand form "Seisan", and actually contains an entire section from the form, albeit performed with weapons in-hand. It also has several postures seen in other kobudō kata, the most notable posture being "Crane on a Rock". Whether this is from the encyclopedic kobudō of Taira, or was a part of Hama Higa to begin with is not historically verifiable.

Some Isshin-Ryu schools teach the kata in a different order. However, Shimabuku Tatsuo taught the kata in the above order.

Other curriculum

Upper body basics

Developed by Tatsuo Shimabuku and one of his Okinawan students Eiko Kaneshi, the first chart (though some first-generation students learned this chart after the lower-body chart) of basic techniques is unique to the Isshin Ryu system.

Though the technical content and number of techniques varies by lineage, the first Chart One was simply a collection of 15 upper-body dominant techniques Shimabuku felt were necessary for proper development.

Lower Body Basics

Developed at the same time as the first chart, the second set of techniques are, largely, the basic kicking techniques of the Isshin Ryu system. As with the first chart, the number of techniques, as well as actual technical content, vary by lineage. The initial chart contained nine kicking techniques and six stretching and calisthenic exercises.


Kotekitai is the Okinawan term for arm conditioning. Karada-kitai is the term for body conditioning with ashi-kitai for the feet, fukubu-kitai for the stomach, etc. It is not unique to Isshin Ryu, and is also used by similar styles such as Shohei-Ryu, another branch of Uechi-Ryu.

Makiwara (巻藁)

As with the Kotekitai, the makiwara is a rather universal tool in Okinawan martial arts. It is made from an immovable punching post constructed of wood or some firm material, wrapped in straw or other soft padding.

The Makiwara is used primarily in the development of the striking surfaces utilized in karate. Unlike a hanging bag, timing, cadence, and footwork are rarely utilized with this implement, instead using it almost solely as a resistance training aide.

Striking of the makiwara tends to develop the muscles around the joints, strengthening them for the sometimes awkward or unorthodox strikes found in the various types of Ryukyu martial arts. The most common strikes used are straight punches using various hand formations and single, two, and three finger strikes.

Kumite (組手)

Kumite is the practice of free-sparring, that is, sparring in a non-set pattern. Shimabuku was one of the first, if not the first, Okinawan instructors to institute free-sparring using full Kendo armor to allow for full-contact training while minimizing the risk of injury. Current equipment makes free-sparring much easier and safer, allow for a more involved and effective karate training method.

Shimabuku also taught a series of 45 self-defense techniques, some devised from movements from the Isshin-ryu kata, some derived from kata that he did not include in the Isshin-ryu curriculum (presumbably Gojushiho, Passai, and Ananku), and some derived from techniques that Shimabuku favored. Collectively, these techniques were listed in the dojo simply as Kumite, but some Isshin-ryu groups call them Shimabuku Tatsuo no Kumite (島袋龍夫の組手).


Tatsuo Shimabuku

Shimabuku Tatsuo (島袋龍夫) (1908–1975) was born September 19, 1908 in Gushikawa village, Okinawa. Shimabuku began training under Shinko Ganeko (Ok. Ganiku), his maternal uncle. Ganeko later sent Shimabuku to study karate from Chotoku Kyan.[1] He was age 18 at the time (1927). Chotoku Kyan would be his most influential instructor (and after whom he initially named his style Chan migwa Te, with Migwa being a reference to Chotoku Kyan's nickname stemming from his wearing of glasses and his small eyes). He also had lessons from Choki Motobu during the early 1940s in Naha, and, after Kyan's death, he continued to study karate privately with Chojun Miyagi at his home in Kyan village beginning in 1947.

Shimabuku opened his first dojo in Konbu village and began teaching in late 1946 after being repatriated from Kyushu. He taught in Tairagawa village and also in Koza City before deciding to teach in his house in about 1948. On January 15, 1956, he held a meeting and announced that he was naming his new style of karate Isshin-ryu. Shimabuku's number one student, Eiko Kaneshi, was at the meeting and he asked Shimabuku, "Why such a funny name?" Tatsuo replied, "Because all things begin with one."[15][16]

At the age of 50 (c. 1959) Shimabuku began studying kobudō, the art of old traditional Okinawan weapons. The kobudō weapons included were the sai, bo, and tonfa, under Shinken Taira. He incorporated the kobudō that he had learned from Kyan and Taira into the Isshin-ryu system.


MizuGami ("Water Goddess"),

Isshinryu No Megami (一心流の女神), or for short, Megami (女神, goddess) is the symbol of Isshin-ryu.It is represented on the Isshin-ryu crest and is often displayed on the front wall of the dojo next to a picture of Tatsuo Shimabuku. As an emblem for Isshin-ryū Tatsuo Shimabuku chose a half-sea-snake half-woman deity whom he had seen in a vision.[1] She represents the strength of the snake and the quiet character of a woman, thus expressing the essence of the style.[1]

Based on the ryuzu kannon (Chief Dragon deity of Japanese Buddhism), Originally the Isshin-ryu emblem was called Isshin-ryu No Megami, which means 'Goddess of Isshinryu.' Some Isshin-ryu karateka also call it Mizu Gami (水神), translating to 'Water Goddess,'. Eiko Kaneshi, Tatsuo's right-hand-man, who was a Shinto priest, was asked if it was Mizu Gami. He said it has nothing to do with water. Isshin-ryu no Megami, or Megami for short, is correct. This is coroborated by Marien Jumelet who asked Shinsho Shimabuku and Kensho Tokumura what was the correct name. The Goddess is the Goddess of Isshin-ryu karate and not the Goddess of water.

The Isshin-ryu patch is rich with cross-linked symbolism where certain features could and do have three or more intended meanings behind them. Between factions exist variations of the patch, the portrait of the Isshin-ryu no Megami, and the symbols contained therein.

The image represented at right is just one of the many versions of the Isshin-ryu no Megami. The ovular shape of the patch represents the characteristic vertical fist of Isshin-Ryu. The border of the patch is always a warm color—usually orange or yellow—and represents a ring of fire that appeared in Shimabuku's vision. The Megami is allegedly a mother protecting her child; she is gentle like a mother, but fierce and threatening towards enemies who may harm her child. In this simplified version of the Isshin-ryu no Megami, one important symbol is left out; in the traditional patch depicts the goddess with a raised right fist and a lowered open palm. Her hands represent a well-known saying among karateka: "fierce in battle and gentle in life." The small dragon above the goddess is a sea dragon of Oriental mythology, which was born at the bottom of the sea, but transformed by ascending to the heavens. The dragon is thought to represent Master Shimabuku. The rough seas and grey background depict a terrible typhoon, which represents the uncertainty of the future, and how trouble may arise spontaneously at any time. In relation to that, her calm face indicates that one must remain level-headed and calm in the face of adversity. Finally, the three stars at the top of the patch represent the three tenets of Isshin-ryu: the spiritual, the mental, and the physical. Each of these core symbols are depicted in each patch, regardless of how different they may seem to the untrained eye.

Notable Karateka of Shimabuku

United States Marines of the Third Marine Division (1955-1975)

Okinawan Karateka

• Shinsho Shimabuku (1942-c. 2004), younger son of Tatsuo Shimabuku, began training under his father in 1948.[18]

• Angi Uezu (b. 1935), married to Tatsuo Shimabuku's third daughter Yukiko, started the Okinawan Isshin-Ryu Karate Kobudo Association in 1989.[19]

• Tsuyoshi Uechi (b. 1951) of the Okinawa Isshin-ryu Traditional Karate-do Association led a successful effort to have Isshin-ryu recognized as one of the four traditional forms of Okinawan karate by Okinawa Prefecture Rengokai masters. A student under Senseis Kichiro Shimabuku and Angi Uezu, Uechi presently teaches the style to U.S. military personnel at Marine Corps Base Camp Foster on Okinawa and in his own dojo in Misato, Okinawa City.[20]

American Karateka

South American Karateka


Isshin-Ryu employs a vertical punch with the fingers tucked in and the thumb on top of the fist. Advantages vary with opinion, but it is usually taught that the thumb placement increases the stability of the wrist when punching, and that a vertical punch strikes with the same force at any range instead of at maximum extension as with a corkscrew style punch. Another advantage is that when punching, the thumb will not get caught on an object as opposed to having the thumb sticking up or out.

In Isshin-Ryu it is believed that the vertical punch is faster than the cork-screw punch: three vertical hand punches can be generated in the time of two cork-screw punches.[1]

Isshin-Ryu arm blocks are performed today with the muscle at the intended contact point as opposed to other styles that block with the bone. By using the two bones and the muscle to form a block, less stress is created against the defender's arm, increasing the ability to absorb a strike.

The original arm blocks were taught with palm up, wrist bent, to form a trapping motion as well as to block and/or strike with the radius bone.

Isshin-Ryu kicks are primarily a "snapping" motion, as opposed to placing primary emphasis on thrusting and follow-through.[1] Furthermore, Traditional Isshin-Ryu kicks are aimed almost entirely to the legs or groin. Nothing above the belt.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Bishop, Mark (1989). Okinawan Karate. pp. 93–94. ISBN 0-7136-5666-2.
  2. "Joe Swift: The Kata of Okinawa Isshinryu Karate-do". Retrieved 2015-10-27.
  3. "Kata: Seisan". Retrieved 2015-10-27.
  4. "Kata: Seiunchin". Retrieved 2015-10-27.
  5. "Kata: Wansu". Retrieved 2015-10-27.
  6. "Kata: Chinto". Retrieved 2015-10-27.
  7. "Kata: Sunsu". Retrieved 2015-10-27.
  8. "Kobudo Kata: Tokumine-no-kun". Retrieved 2015-10-27.
  9. "Kobudo Kata: Urashi-bo". Retrieved 2015-10-27.
  10. "Ryukyu Kobudo Shimbukan". Retrieved 2015-10-27.
  11. "Kobudo Kata: Shishi-no-kun-no-dai". Retrieved 2015-10-27.
  12. "Kobudo Kata: Kusanku-sai". Retrieved 2015-10-27.
  13. "AJA: Response to question about by Kusanku Sai". Retrieved 2015-10-27.
  14. "Kata: Hamahiga-no-tuifa". Retrieved 2015-10-27.
  15. "Birth of Isshinryu". Isshinkai. Retrieved 2015-10-27.
  16. "2008 Commemorative". Retrieved 2015-10-27.
  17. 1 2 Little, Phil E. "A Brief Look at the History of Isshin-ryu Karate in America". Retrieved 28 March 2012.
  18. Long, Harold and Tim McGhee. Isshin-Ryu Karate: The Ultimate Fighting Art. Mascot, TN: Isshin-Ryu Productions, Inc., 1997. p. 230.
  19. Long, Harold and Tim McGhee. Isshin-Ryu Karate: The Ultimate Fighting Art. Mascot, TN: Isshin-Ryu Productions, Inc., 1997. p. 25
  20. Isshinryu Hall of Fame. "Tsuyoshi Uechi (inducted in 2012)." Accessed July 9, 2014.
  21. "Ross man, 86, earns 10th-degree black belt in Isshinryu karate system". Retrieved 15 October 2013.
  22. "Willian H. Duessel (Inducted in 2000)". Retrieved 15 October 2013.
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