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"A Collaborative Interview with a few students of Isshinryu Founder Tatsuo Shimabuku"

"PART ONE"

    

 

 

(This interview was done both electronically and by phone conversations.)

Interviewer's note;

 

"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."

 

Respectfully,

H.P. Henry

 

Interview Questions

 

 

Q1. - What was the time frame you trained under Shimabuku Sensei and who were some of your fellow students training with you at the time?

 

A1. - 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 Miller."

 


(Grand Master Tatsuo Shimabuku and John Bartusevics)

 

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A1. - 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)

 

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A1. - 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 Eckenrode)

 

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A1. - 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)

 

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A1. - 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)

 

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A1. - 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 time."

 


(Ed Johnson)

 

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A1. - 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 another story."

 

(Tom Lewis)

 

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A1. - 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."

 

(Interviewer's note; Sensei Miller was one of the few Navy personnel who trained under O’Sensei Tatsuo Shimabuku.)

 


(Ed Johnson, Vern Miller, Tom Lewis, John Bartusevics)

 

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A1. - 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."

 

"Some 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."

 

 

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A1. - 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 went."

 

"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 - 1973)

 

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A1. - 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)

 

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A1. - 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 Shinso."

 

"In 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."

 

"The 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."

 

"I was 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)

 

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A1. - 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."

 

(Frank Van Lenten)

 

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Q2. - Can you share with us your first meeting with O’Sensei Tatsuo Shimabuku?

 

A2. - Russell Best "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 person."

 

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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 was located."

 

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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."

 

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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."

 

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A2. - 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”.

 

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A2. - 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."

 

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A2. - Vern Miller - "I just worked out at Agena and returned to my ship."

 

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A2. - 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."

 

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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." 

 

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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."

 

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A2. - 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."

 

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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."

 

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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."

 

 


 

 

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