The Features of Isshinryu

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. Combination of 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