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Comments on Karate today

by Chris Thomas


   In the 1930's, the powerful karateka Motobu Choki lamented that karate was becoming a weak and useless art. He decried the changes being introduced which were designed to make it more 'acceptable' to the Japanese public. I believe that Shimabukuro Tatsuo was cut from the same cloth. Though I have often heard Shimabukuro called an innovator, I believe that he was really something of a reactionary. Isshinryu karate bears all the ear-marks of old style Okinawan tode-jitsu. Instead of accepting the new karate-do of the public school curriculum, he insisted on teaching an art that was functional and effective. He developed his karate teaching the military -- Japanese troops first, then later, U.S. soldiers.


   It seems today, that Motobu's fears have been realized. Karate has become a weak and useless art. Flash and glitz have replaced function and application. Even Isshinryu, an art based on the practical, has been reduced to politics and prettiness. This makes a man like Harry Smith enormously important. He learned Isshinryu in the beginning, and so, provides a significant historic link to the art's roots. But more than that, he learned Isshinryu in its original context. After his initial training with Shimabukuro in the late 50's, he returned in the 60's as part of Operation Phoenix. He was trained again by Shimabukuro, but this time for the raw purpose of combat. He learned the Isshinryu that Shimabukuro intended, the art of the "one punch kill" (ikken hisatsu), and he has taught Isshinryu that way ever since.


~Chris Thomas




Copyright 2005 Harry G. Smith