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MEMORIES OF SOKE TATSUO SHIMABUKU, SENSEI DONALD BOHAN, AND ISSHIN-RYU KARATE
BY: Frank Van Lenten
(Frank Van Lenten and Don Bohan)
In November of 2006, one of my students informed me of the DONALD BOHAN MEMORIAL WEBSITE. I was saddened to learn of the passing of my Dojo Brother. Time passes quickly and sometimes over the years I reflected upon the years that I spent on Okinawa. I felt a loss for the years that had passed since Master Bohan and I had trained together on Okinawa at the Agena Dojo. I have read everything on the site over and over again in order to fill in the gaps since I had last seen him. I wish that I had maintained better contact with him over the years. Thanks to his loyal students, Wayne Wayland and H. P. Henry, his memory will live on. Almost fifty years have passed since Don Bohan and I trained together, yet I remember him so vividly. I remember one Saturday afternoon that we were training and it started raining real hard. We were working on the heavy bag and we quickly took it down and placed it in the small room that also served as a dressing area. We looked at each other and he said, “we are already wet”, so we went out into the training area and practiced Sanchin, Seisan, and Sei-enchin, in the pouring rain.
Through the site I have re-established my friendship with Master John Bartusevics, one of the best Martial Artists that it has been my pleasure to know and train with. He is like an encyclopedia when it comes to his knowledge of Soke and Isshin-Ryu Karate. I would like to see him author a book about Okinawa, Soke, and Isshin-Ryu.
Reading his interview brought back fond memories of Soke Shimabuku, and has filled in some of the gaps. Master Bartusevics has tremendous knowledge of Soke, as a great teacher and as a man. It was really good to see that Grand Master Harold Mitchum is doing well and that my old friend Grand Master Gary Alexander will be attending the memorial tournament in 2008. Thanks to my new friends, Sensei’s Wayland, and Henry, I have also recognized photos of other Dojo Brothers from the past.
When I first started teaching Karate in the Marine Corps, I combined Goju-Ryu and Isshin-Ryu and called it Goshin-Ryu. Later I changed it to Goshin-Do, and founded the Goshin-Do Karate-Do Kyokai. Robin Reilly wrote a book around 1970 titled “The History of American Karate” in which he called Goshin-Do the first style developed in America. Soke gave me his blessings in 1970, but told me that he would prefer to see me teach Isshin-Ryu. I told him that I had a lot of students in America teaching the combined system and that it would be hard to change back. He accepted this even though I was told later by several of his Marine Corps students that he wished that I was teaching Isshin-Ryu.
There has been a lot of history written about Isshin-Ryu over the years by many people. I would like to add a few of mine. I remember that in 1960 there was a meeting held at a restaurant in Agena with Soke, Chinsaku Kinjo, and quite a few Okinawan Yudansha, and five Marines; Harold Mitchum, Steve Armstrong, Don Bohan, Bill Blond, and myself. This was the first attempt to form the AOKA. The main resistance that Soke was receiving from his Okinawan students concerned the adoption of the vertical-fist punch. Unfortunately, the use of tate-zuki even to this day is identified as the main difference between Isshin-Ryu and other styles. A lot of Karate-Ka do not understand that he taught other techniques a little different, and that his philosophy was to eliminate excessive movements and to attack in the most direct manner. He was the first one that I ever heard or know of to stress the “before, during, and after strategy”. That strategy referred to one being in balance, alert, and having the ability to change from defense to offense, and vise-versa while fighting in close, before, during, and after attack. He also taught that stances should provide for mobility as well as stability. I am happy to see that Isshin-Ryu is alive and well in America. I don’t think that there will ever be unification as there are a lot of practitioners who prefer to be leaders as opposed to being followers.
Even so, this is neither good nor bad as his memory and his system is being propagated.
One last memory that I have of Soke is that even with his limited English, he could teach and make you understand the Katas’ and Bunkai. He would teach by demonstration, and by applying the technique on you and other students present, and he would allow you to practice a technique on him, something which I have never seen at any other Okinawan Dojo. He was such a humble man that if you entered the Dojo and were a little slow in bowing, he would bow first. This only happened once with me.
Frank Van Lenten
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