Features And Code Of Isshin-ryu Karate

 As we know, before creating Isshin-ryu, Master Shimabuku was extensively trained in Shorin-ryu, Goju-ryu and Kubodo (weapons.) Naturally, having mastered these areas meant that he was keenly familiar with the intricacies of each style. Through continual study, observation and practical application over the years, he began to find areas of deficiency in the Katas and fighting philosophy which, he felt, would leave a practitioner vulnerable to an attacker. Additionally, he noticed that training sessions often left students nursing injuries received from blocking and over extending arm joints. The consummate innovator, he always looked for ways to increase his punching and kicking power, and he found that many of the deep, extended stances he had learned often limited his mobility and ability to properly rotate his hips for power.

To overcome these weaknesses, he began to make modifications to the techniques he had learned. Gradually, his modifications began to transform the techniques; much like a woodcarver strips away the outer bark to reveal the carving within.

He figured out that subtle changes to a technique would often reveal a greater potential for power and create self-defense applications that were previously hidden due to limitations caused by body position.

When Master Shimabuku formed Isshin-ryu, he did so by “blending” the best techniques from both Shorin-ryu and Goju-Ryu, in addition to employing techniques that were unique to his own design. Taking what he learned from other styles, and molding it to fit his philosophy of what the ultimate fighting art should provide, Isshin-ryu is the living example of all the martial arts and life influences that were Tatsuo Shimabuku.

The 12 Features of Isshin-ryu Karate are as follows:

  1. The elimination of “fancy” techniques
  2. Combines the best of Shorin-ryu and Goju-ryu to form a realistic, basic system of self defense
  3. Kicks thrown below the waist (for power and balance) and hand techniques thrown above the waist
  4. The use of short, natural stances, which allow better mobility, eliminate wasted motion along with major shifts in the body, and are more adaptable to the American physique
  5. A balance of hand and foot techniques in the Katas
  6. Close-in techniques, which are valuable for street fighting
  7. The application of “snap” punches and kicks where the arm or leg is only 90% extended. This allows for quickness when moving in and out on an opponent and serves to reduce injuries associated with over extending joints
  8. The combination of hard and soft blocking
  9. Blocks are executed with the muscular part of the forearm, thereby, avoiding injury from bone to bone contact
  10. A fist made with the thumb on top of the fist as opposed to the thumb being over the two fingers. Such a position, with the thumb on top, locks the wrist and serves to tighten the fist
  11. A vertical punch, which increases speed and power
  12. Multiple-purpose techniques, which allow a block to become a blow and a blow to serve as a block

Representing Master Shimabuku’s views on life and the practice of martial arts, the Isshin-ryu Code offers advice about how to get the most from Isshin-ryu…and from life.


An early version of the Isshin-ryu Code (the original version of the code predates Isshin-ryu by centuries) is contained in a book Master Shimabuku is known to have studied called, The Bubishi. Simply, The Bubishi is an ancient manual on the complete art of war. The first version, thought to have originated in China, contained information on naval maneuvers, troop deployment, self defense techniques, medicine, herbs, lethal strikes, government, etc. At some point centuries later, a second, condensed version was in circulation. It is the second version that was thought to be in use in and around the Ryukyu Islands, and the one that Master Shimabuku studied to adapt the Isshin-ryu Code.

  1. A person’s heart is the same as Heaven and Earth
  2. The blood circulating is similar to the Moon and Sun
  3. A manner of drinking and spitting is either hard or soft
  4. A person’s unbalance is the same as weight
  5. The body should be able to change direction at any time
  6. The time to strike is when the opportunity presents itself
  7. The eye must see all sides
  8. The ear must listen in all directions

The Isshin-ryu Code in verse (the numbers refer to the appropriate section of the Code)

(1) Be in harmony with all things so that

(2) your movement

(3) can be either blocking (hand) or deflecting (foot)

(4) without your being off balance

(5) so that you can change direction at any time

(6) and strike when the opportunity presents itself

(7) as you look and

(8) listen in all directions.