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Maestro Tatsuo Shimabuku

Tatsuo Shimabukuro was born on September 19, 1908 in Chan village in Okinawa, (today it is called Kinaka, and is part of the city of Gushikawa), he was given the Okinawan name "Kana", while the Japanese name that they gave him was "Shinkichi". This is the name found on your family registry and on your passport. Regarding his last name, Master Tatsuo preferred to be called Shimabuku instead of Shimabukuro.

His family worked the land, and he used to help them in these tasks, which is why it is believed that he developed a special physical strength. It is not clear how old Master Tatsuo was when he began practicing karate, according to his son Shinsho Shimabuku, it began when he was between eight and ten years old (according to other sources, he began at thirteen). What is certain is that he received his first karate training from his uncle by his mother, Ganeku; who also lived in the village of Chan.

Master Tatsuo walked about 20 kilometers a day to go to practice; At first Ganeku would send him back home, but he would return again and again, his uncle finally accepted him as a student. Ganeku taught him mainly Chinese philosophy and literature. It is stated that he was more interested in training him to be a "sanjinsoo" a professional who is dedicated to divination, and geomancy, deriving his knowledge from books rather than from the supernatural. The I Ching and Kuyumi or Lunar Almanac in addition to other books on occult knowledge, are some of the books that he would have to learn, in addition to Astrology. These ancient books would have been written in kanji and he had to learn to read Chinese characters.

In addition, Ganeku taught Master Tatsuo a little karate. Day by day he went to train after finishing the housework on his parents' farm. Master Tatsuo achieved a certain skill in Shuri-te; However, as Ganeku knew very little about karate, he later took Master Tatsuo with Chotoku Kyan, who lived in the village of Kadena.

Chotoku Kyan is the first of 4 famous masters that Master Tatsuo practices with; He began practicing with Chotoku Kyan between the ages of fifteen and twenty, becoming one of his best students. Around 1931 or 1932, Master Shimabuku was 23 or 24 years old, he was walking 12 kilometers to Kadena, where Kyan lived. He would train six hours a day and then return home to help his parents on the farm. Although the dates are not clear, it should be understood that there are not many reliable records of the time, but it is what is known.

The Shorin-ryu style taught to him by Chotoku Kyan, is known for its elegant, explosive, fast and direct movements. Master Tatsuo was of small build, like Chotoku Kyan, therefore he had to develop speed in order to gain an advantage over bigger rivals. Shimabuku developed very fast kicks, which very few could match (even when Master Tatsuo was already older).

Master Tatsuo trained for four years with Chotoku Kyan, and learned from him the kata Seisan, Naihanchi, Wansu, Chinto, Kusanku, and the kata of bo Tokumine no Kun. Later Master Tatsuo trained with Master Chojun Miyagi for three years, from 1936 to 1939. Chojun Miyagi traveled to China to study Kempo. When returning to Okinawa he formed his own style of karate, which he later called Goju ryu, it is a hard karate style, with soft Chinese forms, emphasizing breathing methods.

Chojun Miyagi lived in Naha, which was much further away than Kadena; Regardless of this, Master Tatsuo also walked to attend his trainings. Chojun Miyagi was known for his powerful grips and strength, it is said that he could tear the bark of trees and bend bamboo into shreds, he was also known for his intense training.

Even though Shimabuku was small, he developed a grip similar to that of Master Miyagi by developing the physical strength learned from him, and developing the mental toughness learned from Master Kyan. Master Tatsuo became one of Miyagi's best students, he learned the Seiunchin and Sanchin kata from him.

The next teacher he trains with is Choki Motobu, who was a somewhat different teacher from the previous ones. According to Master Tatsuo, Choki Motobu could not learn karate from his family, because only the first son could; This is how he secretly looked through a grid, at Tomari's Kosuku Matsumura, perform the Naihanchi kata; Regarding this, Master Tatsuo said “it is not the number of kata that a person knows, what counts is how well they know a kata”.

Choki Motobu was known for his fierce fighting ability more than for his karate techniques; He constantly performed the Naihanchi kata, which was very long, later this kata was separated into three parts in order to facilitate its teaching. Motobu, was also known to be someone who had practiced his techniques in street fights.

Master Tatsuo trained with Choki Motobu for about a year in 1938, he lived in Naha, as did Chojun Miyagi; With him he learned the importance of working with makiwara, as well as the practical applications of karate; also learn Choki Motobu's version of the Naihanchi kata.

Master Tatsuo learned the handling of weapons from Master Taira Shinken between 1951 and 1961, this in order to deepen his knowledge about the art of Kobudo. Taira Shinken was the world's greatest expert on bo and sai. Even today, most of Okinawan and Japanese weapon kata can be traced back to Taira Shinken.

Maestro Tatsuo Shimabuku

After having studied with three of the great martial artists of the time, in a great martial arts festival in the town of Fatima, Master Tatsuo Shimabuku made himself known and gained recognition throughout Okinawa thanks to a very good performance in kata. Furthermore, he amazed viewers with his ability to drive nails through pieces of wood with his bare hands.

During World War II, the reputation of Master Tatsuo spread throughout Okinawa. His small business was destroyed by the war and like most Okinawans, he was bankrupt. He did everything he could to avoid conscription in the Japanese army (he did not feel that the Okinawans had to fight a Japanese war) and escaped to the countryside, working as a farmer. The Japanese were desperate to find men, and he was forced to flee.

As his reputation for propagating karate grew, the Japanese began to seek him out, because they wanted to study karate under his instruction. They eventually caught him and agreed to keep his whereabouts a secret, if he taught them karate. This is how Master Tatsuo Shimabuku survived the war. In 1941 (before Japan got involved in World War II) Master Tatsuo went to Osaka where he worked as a general supervisor until 1944. At that time Shimabuku returned to Okinawa to take his family out to Kyushu, Japan, to protect them from the war, while working as a farmer. It is this period of exile that allows him to forge the desire to create his own style.

One year after the Battle of Okinawa (1945), Master Tatsuo brings his family back to Okinawa. He became a merchant, at this time he taught karate privately, his training was of great physical and spiritual exercise. He began to train the small and very select group of students in the courtyard of his house in Agena village, teaching them every day, during these practices he looked and noticed the defects of the system. When he began teaching karate, he adopted the professional name "Tatsuo", which means dragon man. This occurs around his 39th birthday. In Okinawa the dragon is a symbol of happiness and prosperity.

According to his son Shinsho, Master Tatsuo teaches karate at the Konbu dojo in Tegan (1946), at the Tairawa dojo (1947) and at the Chan dojo (1948). At that time he called his style Karate Chan Migwa, in honor of Chotoku Kyan, since this was the nickname of the master Kyan, he wore glasses, (Chan Migwa means small eyes in Uchinanchu, Okinawan language).

Master Tatsuo Shimabuko not only taught karate to the Okinawan people; but he also trained many American soldiers who were on the post-World War II island. In 1955 several soldiers who were at the Agena base sought him out to teach them Karate. In 1956 he began using Agena's dojo, which gives him the opportunity to be closer to the North American bases. From the US Marines he got a contract for $ 250 a month (which was a lot of money at the time) to teach them karate; For this reason Master Tatsuo became one of the first professional karate masters on the island of Okinawa.

Master Tatsuo was an innovator and not a perfectionist. He believed in being natural and spontaneous. This is one of the reasons why he rarely did his kata in exactly the same way. He also believed in change and being a "sumuchi" (another name for fortune teller), who uses ancient Chinese books to divine the future; This shows that Master Tatsuo was well versed in the I Ching. Master Tatsuo always said that you shouldn't be rigid; both physically and in life. He said you have to go with the times and be happy and joke because he liked to joke.

In 1971 Master Tatsuo stopped teaching karate and kobudo, but continued taking grade exams and performing dojo work. His last official act in martial arts was to attend the opening of the Isshinryu Central Dojo in Kinaka City in April 1975.

Tatsuo Shimabuku died of a stroke (some speak of a heart attack) on May 30, 1975, he was 66 years old. Behind him he left an unquestionable legacy, as well as a unique and revolutionary vision of karate.

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