Expanding our knowledge: is it disrespectful to Isshin-ryu?

Co-written by Master John Ingram (9th Dan) and Master Cindy Ingram (8th Dan)

We hear from some people that expanding knowledge by training other karate and Kobudo styles is disrespectful to Master Shimabuku. Our Sensei, Harold Mitchum was totally ok with it. However, we feel this should be discussed with one’s own sensei out of respect. Mitchum Sensei actually trained Shorin-ryu for an extended period of time in the early 60’s with Master Shimabuku’s “best” Okinawan student, Kinjo Chinsaku. Even though Master Shimabuku’s main instructor was Kyan Chotoku, we all know he later studied with Motobu Choki and Miyagi Chojun. Was that disrespectful to Kyan? We think not.


What we would like to touch on in this article however is Kobudo (ancient martial way). As we know, Master Shimabuku learned Tokumine no Kun from Kyan as well as sai techniques from which he created “Kyan no Sai”. As far as his other Kobudo kata, bo, sai, and tunfa, he learned those from Taira Shinken. He trained for a relatively short amount of time with Taira Shinken in the early 60’s. He learned several Kobudo kata (some of which he did not perform on his “famous” 66 films). 


Master Shimabuku studied karate since he was a small boy therefore his karate was seasoned, and he knew exactly what he wanted in Isshinryu. He obviously trained far less in Kobudo. Although he trained directly under Taira Shinken, he was not a senior student. As some first-generation students have told us, “He was a karate master who sampled Kobudo.” 


Please don’t get us wrong! His Kobudo was strong and respected. However, we feel Kobudo is an area where seasoned sensei should go out and explore. Mitchum Sensei always said, “karate is empty hand, not weapons”. It is our feeling that sampling other Kobudo styles will strengthen our Isshinryu Kobudo.  


Our Kobudo is taught with Isshinryu, but it is not a style of Kobudo. We now see senior sensei offering different Kobudo styles in their curriculum to their students. Kata from these Kobudo styles are recognized on Okinawa and in order to compete at The Okinawan World Tournament you must pick from a list of accepted kata.


Some of the different Kobudo styles to check out are, Ryu Kyu Kobudo Shimbukan, Ryu Kyu Kobudo Tesshinkan, Ryu Kyu Kobudo Hozon Shinko Kai, Yamanni Ryu, Tokushinryu, Matayoshi Kobudo, and Ryukonkai Kobudo, plus we may be missing some! 


So, I guess our answer to the original question (Is expanding our knowledge disrespectful to Isshinryu?) would be no. It’s your/our choice and it is not disrespectful. 


The main reason for this article is to remember not to judge others in their journey. We all have our own journey in the martial arts, and we don’t believe there is only one way. Train hard and keep your mind open, there is always more to learn…….

Just food for thought! Thank you, John and Cindy Ingram.

Our guest article was co-written by Masters John and Cindy Ingram of Ingram’s Okinawan Karate, located in Hudson, FL. They have been teaching traditional Okinawan Isshinryu Karate and Kobudo through Ingram’s Karate locations since 1977. Long time students of the late Grand Master Harold Mitchum, the Ingram’s have been instrumental in promoting good Isshinryu throughout the country and abroad, not only in the dojo but in the competition area as well.