(This interview was done
both electronically and
by phone conversations.)
"I had been contemplating doing a multiple member
interview for some time now. I got the idea from an old “Official
Karate” magazine interview in which several prominent martial artists of
different backgrounds (karate, kung fu, tae kwon do, etc) got together
and answered some general questions regarding the state of martial arts
at that time. Originally, I had planned on interviewing four first
generation students who weren’t part of the famous Agena dojo of the
late 50’s/early sixties, and getting a different view of Isshinryu which
was by then, a few years older. Instead, I decided that the Isshinryu
community would get greater benefit from hearing from thirteen first
generation students from different eras. I want to personally thank
these gentlemen (who I affectionately call the lucky thirteen....we’re
lucky that they agreed to do it, not everyone approached was
as....delightful) for agreeing to do this interview and I also wanted to
let the readers know that all participants were enthusiastic about the
project. As always, I hope you enjoy reading the interview as well as I
had doing it."
What was the time frame you trained under Shimabuku Sensei and who were
some of your fellow students training with you at the time?
John Bartusevics - "I spent 3 different
Tours with Master Shimabuku Tatsuo. The first one was a four
year tour from 1961-65. Second tour, was a one year tour from
1967-68. This one was after a tour in Vietnam. I requested to
go to Okinawa, right after my 13 months in Vietnam. My third
and last tour was one year from 1971-72. At the time Master
Shimabuku Tatsuo was not as active as before in teaching and was
letting Sensei Shimabuku Kichiro and Sensei Angi Uezu do much of the
teaching. My fellow students that trained with me were
Sensei’s Shimabuku Kichiro, Kikiyama, Angi Uezu, Harold Mitchum, Jim
Advincula, Bill Blond, Louis King, Jim Westbrook, Paul Heffernan,
David Zaslow, Jim Ruhl, Bob Safreed, Russ Best, Bill Steigner, W.C.
Gardo, W. Booher, D. Christoff, Danny Pickle, Bill Higgs, Austin
Long, Dana Whitney, Vern Miller, Henry Austin and Gayle Beams. All
received promotions to Black Belt while on Okinawa except for Vern
(Grand Master Tatsuo Shimabuku and John Bartusevics)
Russell Best - "In
1964, I was assigned duties as the Legal Chief of Camp Smedley D.
Butler in Okinawa. Special Services directed me to Agena, the
headquarters of Isshin-Ryu Karate and my Sensei, the founder of
Isshin-Ryu Karate, Grandmaster Soke Tatsuo Shimabuku. From this time
on, I began living this system called Isshin-Ryu, the “One Heart
Method” with all my heart and soul. Having a number of legal
clerks under my charge, permitted me to divide my time between the
Marine Corps and the Isshin-Ryu Dojo in Agena, Okinawa. I, at times,
was able to devote 8 to 10 hours a day at the Agena Dojo. When
the AOKA Isshin-Ryu Karate Secretary, John Bartusevics, was being
re-assigned to the United States, he suggested to Soke Shimabuku
that I assume the duties of AOKA Isshin-Ryu Karate Secretary, which
I did until my re-assignment to the United States after my 14 month
tour. I attained the rank of Sho-Dan (1st Degree Black Belt)
directly from Master Shimabuku before leaving the island."
"Some of my fellow students while stationed on Okinawa were John
Bartusevics, Harold Mitchum, William “Bill” Blond, Vern Miller,
and Ronald Barnhart."
(Grand Master Tatsuo Shimabuku and Russell Best)
Jake Eckenrode - "I arrived on Okinawa in
March 1959 and departed in June 1960. I did not start training until
several months after arrival and trained almost daily up to the day
prior to departure."
"My fellow students in no particular order were; Don Bohan, Ed
Johnson, Steve Armstrong, Charles Bennett, David Bently, Rodney Kiaha,
Harold Mitchum, Bill Blond, Charlie Connors, John DeSantis, Sherman
Harrill, Clarence Ewing, David Draper, Ken Boyer, AJ Advincula (I may
have seen him several times - not sure, knew him based upon his
reputation as a skilled karate-ka), Tokumura Kensho, Kikuyama, Sakagawa,
Shigema Genyu, Kinjo Chinjo (sp?)."
(Rodney Kiaha, Grand Master Tatsuo Shimabuku and Jake
Clarence Ewing - "I trained in Okinawa from about
May of 1959 to Oct of 1960, during an 18 month tour of Okinawa."
(Interviewer's note; Sensei Ewing’s
son Christian has chosen to follow in his father’s footsteps and is
serving our country overseas as a United States Marine.)
(Clarence Ewing and son)
Paul Heffernan - "I trained under Master
Shimabuku from 1961-65. (a) My fellow students were John
Bartusevics, Dan Zazlow, Jim Advincula, as well as many of the
senior Okinawan Karate- Kas."
(John Bartusevics, Grand Master Tatsuo Shimabuku, Paul Heffernan)
Ed Johnson - "I started Isshinryu on December
18, 1959, on my second liberty in Okinawa. Our tour ended in
February or March...I forget the exact date of 1961. Those marine
students I trained with were Steve Armstrong, Bill Blond, A.J.
Advincula, Don Bohan, Sherman Harrill, Harold Mitchum, Tom Lewis,
Jake Eckenrode, John DeSantis, Isaac Dawson, Charles Bennett, David
Draper, Charles O’Connor and David Bentley. Later in 1960, Ralph
Bove arrived. Oh yes, Frank Van Lenten was also there during this
Tom Lewis - "August 1959-Oct.1960. I trained
during the same time as Steve Armstrong, Harold Mitchum, Don Bohan,
Ed Johnson, Ciso Shimabuku, Kensho Tokumura, Sherman Harrill, John DeSantis, Jake Eckenrode, William Blonde, Frank Van Lenten and
Clarence Ewing to name a few, I'm sure there were others. My dojo
mates were not my buddies, my buddies were those from my outfit.
There wasn't a lot
of socializing in the dojo, just working out. The
only people I actually went out on the town with, was Sherman
Harrill and John DeSantis the night I made black belt and that's
Vern Miller - "The only students/instructors I
knew of were W. Blond, J. Bartusevics, and L. King and I remember
seeing R. Best there also."
"Others, whose names are familiar were there but I did not know them
or socialize with any of them. Being an unknown "squid" stationed on
a ship (USS PINE ISLAND AV-12) I was not involved in any other
interaction with the students, other than once we went to a Marine
Base and gave a demonstration."
note; Sensei Miller
was one of the few Navy personnel who trained under O’Sensei Tatsuo
(Ed Johnson, Vern Miller, Tom Lewis, John Bartusevics)
Harold Mitchum - "On March 23rd of 1958, I
enrolled in Karate at the Agena Dojo with Master Shimabuku. I spent
a total of seven and a half years training on Okinawa during various
tours of duty."
of the people I trained with would also become some of my closest
friends...they were - Steve Armstrong, Issac Dawson, Parrish,
Bennett, Dillon, William Blond, Ralph Bove, Kinjo Chinsaku, Gucci,
Shinsho, Tamashiro, and Kikuyama. There were many friends, but these
were considered my closest."
Charles Murray -
"Being young and stupid and oblivious to the fact that the Vietnam
War was going on, I entered the Air Force in 1970 to hopefully have
an opportunity to go to Okinawa and train with Master Shimabuku, and
it worked out that I was able to do this. I trained there from June
1971 to July 1972. I was 18 years old; and I was a Sho-Dan when I
was in the Ryukyu Islands on a one-year remote assignment with the
Air Force. I trained daily at the Agena Dojo during my first and
last months there. In the intervening months I would fly in twice
monthly from Miyako Jima (where I was actually stationed) to train
at the Agena Dojo. For whatever reason, I never went out to the
Camp Foster dojo, though I seem to remember knowing about it and
knowing that Uezu Sensei taught there."
(Charles H. Murray sparing Howard Jackson at the US Open -
Bill Steigner - "I was introduced to Isshinryu
while stationed at Camp LeJeune, Jacksonville NC. I trained briefly
(about a month) in November 1959 under Sensei Don Nagle and I
remember green belt Don Bohan also training there at the time. I was
later assigned to Iwakuni Japan and trained in Wado-Ryu under Sukura
Sensei from 61-63. Before the end of my tour there I was tested for
and was promoted to Shodan by the systems founder Ohtsuka Sensei. I
trained at the Agena dojo from July ’66 to April ’68. During my time
at the dojo I trained under Tatsuo Shimabuku, Kichiro Shimabuku, and
Angi Uezu. I also had the distinct pleasure of training under a
talented young black belt named James Rowe. John Bartusevics was
running the training up north at that time. One day while training,
Shimabuku Tatsuo Sensei told me to catchee brown belt, that was the
last rank I received before leaving although I was told to return to
the dojo before I shipped out. Because of time constraints, I never
got the chance to return before leaving. It would be five years
before I would return to Okinawa. It was upon my return trip in ’73
that I was advised by Shimabuku Sensei (who had by this time turned
the reigns over to Kichiro) to pursue training in Goju-Ryu."
(Bill Steigner is kneeling to the left of
Grand Master Tatuso Shimabuku)
Carl Sutherlin - "I was in and out of Okinawa
between 1966 and 1972. Although I had only brief chances to work out
in the dojo (Agena dojo) until 1969, I had made friends with Shinso,
(O’Sensei’s youngest son), and he and I both talked about Okinawa
history whenever we met. I was first formally introduced to Soke
around mid 1968 in the old fighting area at the Agena Dojo by
69-70, I recall Jim Vodar, Walter Van Gilson, and a Navy Dentist
who’s name I cannot recall. Stuart Darrow and Carol Liskai also
worked out at the dojo while I was there."
people in the dojo when I first worked out, were Shinso, (Sensei’s
youngest son), occasionally Kichiro, Sensei’s eldest son, a tall
rather rugged and “mean looking” blonde Marine, and one of the
Policemen from the Ishikawa Police Department (who I trained with
while I was working with the Okinawan, and Japanese Police forces).
My initial experiences around the dojo were probably a lot different
than many because of my ties with the police I trained with."
able to spend nearly 18 "based" in Okinawa during 1969-1970, and
that is when I got to spend the most time around the dojo in
different classes. I was training riot control forces, working for
the Provost Marshall/Marine CID. Much of my time was spent working
closely with the Japanese authorities when Japan took the island
over in 1970. It was during this time that I was promoted to Sho-Dan
(in Isshinryu) by Sensei Shimabuku."
(Grand Master Tatsuo Shimabuku and Carl Sutherlin)
Frank Van Lenten - "I began training under
Soke in January of 1960. Some of my fellow students were Bill Blond,
Steve Armstrong, Don Bohan, Harold Mitchum (Dai Sempai), Jake
Eckenrode, Kikiyama, Angi Uezu, Sealy, Johnson and others."
Can you share with us your first meeting with O’Sensei Tatsuo
- "When I arrived at the Agena Dojo, after being sent
there by the Third Marine Division, FMF, Special Services Division,
I was surprised at how small in stature Soke Tatuso Shimabuku was.
After watching Soke Shimabuku work with the senior students in the
dojo, the speed and power that was displayed put me in awe of this
A2. - Jake Eckenrode - "I attended the Agena dojo on a weekday shortly
after working hours at Camp Courtney. Master Shimabuku was sitting
on a Tatami mat sipping tea and smoking a cigarette. He got up (I
was amazed at how small in stature he was), greeted me with a bow
and instructed an American karate-ka to guide me by example through
the exercises posted on the wall adjacent to where Master Shimabuku
A2. - Clarence Ewing - "When I met Sensei Shimabuku, I presented him with a
letter of introduction from Don Nagle. The letter, introduced me as
a brown belt in Isshinryu. He acknowledged the letter, and asked me
to do Seisan Kata. I performed my best Seisan, but he was not
impressed. I took my brown off and put on a white one, and said to
him," you teach". From that day on he was my Sensei."
A2. - Paul Heffernan - "My first meeting with Sensei was in 1960 at Agena
with Ed Johnson. On first appearance the Master was a very quiet and
a humble man."
Ed Johnson - "My first meeting with Tatsuo Shimabuku (here after
referred to as “Sensei”) was when I arrived at the Agena dojo and
entered next to the benjo (toilet). Shortly after that, the neighbor
to Sensei built a wall there and the only entrance was through the
front gate. When I entered the dojo, I looked to my right and saw
mostly Marines in short pajamas doing punches and kicks in all
directions. I thought “Uh-Oh!.... What’s this?” Then Sensei who was
sitting down to my left, said “Newboy”? I said, “I guess so”. I then
paid $3.50 for a gi of unbleached domestic cotton (which had quite
an odor before being washed) and Sensei took my special services
attendance card and said, “where you stay”? Though somewhat puzzled
as to his meaning I replied, “Camp Hansen”. Sensei thought for a few
seconds and said “ahh, Ken”, meaning ken village, the nearest
village to our base and wrote that on top of the attendance card. He
then called over a Marine black belt and said “Newboy, you teachee”.
Tom Lewis - "The first night I entered the dojo, I went in with two
Black Belts from my outfit and they had prepped me on how to bow and
shake hands with Sensei. Immediately, he put Tokumura, Kensho on me
for the basics."
Vern Miller - "I just worked out at Agena and returned to my ship."
Harold Mitchum - "My first meeting with Master Shimabuku was pretty
uneventful. He welcomed me like most people and didn’t pay much
attention to me until after I had learned my basics."
A2. - Charles Murray - "Upon arrival in Okinawa (at Kadena Air Base [AB]) I
took a taxi down to Naha AB, which is where I was to go to
in-process. As soon as I dropped my bags in the room, I walked to
the main gate and caught a taxi to Agena. The taxi driver had
calloused knuckles and when I asked him he told me that he studied
Karate (one of the Shorinryu varieties I seem to remember). Anyway
he knew where the Agena Dojo was and took me right to it. As I
walked in the door, (by the way above the door it said it was the
International Isshinryu Headquarters [though it just looked like an
old room that had been added on to the small house there]). Master
Shimabuku was in what looked like skivvies (it was hot and he didn't
have a shirt on) and was chasing a grandkid around the dojo floor.
It was a few minutes past nine and so I was told to come back
another time as they were closed for the day, which I did."
A2. - Bill Steigner - "The day I entered the Agena dojo for the first time,
Sensei called me over to the kitchen area and questioned me on my
background. I explained that I had trained in Wado-Ryu and he had me
do Pinan Sandan several times. He pointed out that the elbow
technique in this kata was very similar to the one used in Sunsu
kata. I found Sensei to be very down to earth and realized early on
that if you showed a desire to train hard and sweated during your
workout, he would enthusiastically work with you. If you didn’t, he
spent very little time with you."
Carl Sutherlin - "Sensei seemed very friendly, but almost shy when I
first met him. He commented on how tall I was, and compared me to
Bob Bremmer, if I remember right. I couldn’t get over how small he
seemed. Then I saw him teach, and I couldn’t get over the speed and
explosiveness of his punches and kicks. I also "loved" the way he
would often show several varieties of how to do certain things
within the kata."
A2. - Frank Van Lenten - "When I met Soke the first time I was impressed
with his humbleness and his kindliness. He didn’t mind that I had
trained in another style before and made me feel welcome. Some
Sensei’s on Okinawa did not like students from other styles joining
their Dojo’s, especially Yudansha."
A2. - John Bartusevics - "My friends Adams & Carter who were green belts
during that time, took me for my first lesson at the Hamada
Dojo-outside Camp Hanson. I was surprised that Master Shimabuku
Tatsuo was a small man, but watching him move with flexibility,
strength and speed, I was impressed. As the training days extended
into months, I was more and more impressed and in time gained
ultimate respect for him."
Copyright © 2010 Wayland's Isshin-Ryu Karate LLC.
All Rights Reserved
www. bohans-family. com