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Sensei Tatsuo Shimabukuro

two visits to the USA in 1964 & 1966


Sensei was angry and upset after he left Tacoma in 1966, but was also upset when he left Pittsburgh in 1964. He was not treated with the respect he deserved, had a lot of 'cultural problems', like going to the bathroom and not shutting the door, eating strange food, etc., and was over worked. When he again was invited to come to the USA in 1967 he did not want to go anymore. In 1967 his son-in-law Angi Uezu went in his place.

Photo taken in 1966
Tatsuo Shimabukuro and Don Nagle


1964- INTRO

The story of how Tatsuo Shimabukuro came to be here in the United States.

by HGS


   Bill Duessel and Harry Acklin came to Harrisburg seeking me out in order to go to Pittsburgh and teach them. It wasn't as easy as it sounds, we started in a place called Millhall and ended up on Forbes Ave, Oakland, Pittsburgh. I went for $50.00 a weekend. Harry drove me in a Bank delivery truck to Pittsburgh and I came home on a bus Sunday morning.


   The school produced some of the best fighters on the circuit, most were street fighters who wanted to sharpen their skills. Harry and Bill wanted more, rank, the evil thing in karate. Joe Pennywell wanted then what I teach today, he kept asking me, "Is Isshinryu the true way?" Me, I could not answer him because I, myself didn't understand what he meant.


   The dojo went well for a long time and everyone appeared happy. You see every day after class we, Bill, Harry, Joe and Jimmy Lynn, always ended up at a local pub, we became a gang so to speak.


   One day a reporter of KDKA TV came upon the scene and we got lucky and had a chance to appear on KDKA TV, and this is a laugh, the program was called, "Feats for Feet", all about men who did great things with their feet.


   Unfortunately, the gang disintegrated and the camaraderie disappeared. During the week Bill and Harry started their own classes, not keeping me aware and naturally not giving me any of the money. One of their students was a man named James Morabeto, a pizza maker from Oakland, and he had big money.


   Harry, according to Jim Lynn, went through my personal belongings and found Sensei's address and to make a long story short, they contacted Sensei and paid his way here to Pittsburgh.


   One day they were at the dojo the next they were gone. I never knew anything until I got an invitation from Harry Acklin to come visit Sensei, and I never even knew he was in the states.


   Picture this. I entered the dining room of Morabeto's home. They had a long table set up in a small room. Sensei sat at the far end and the side chairs were filled with beginners, those who were new to Isshinryu and none of them knew who I was. I could not get back to Sensei because there was no room to walk around. All I remember was Harry yelling "Show Sensei the picture you have of his daughter". That's how ignorant Harry was, bless his soul.


   Making this longer than I expected. Couldn't even get to speak with Sensei, naturally conversation was not possible anyway so I left. A few days later I accepted the fact that there was nothing for me in Pittsburgh, so I joined the Corp.




   Sensei Shimabukuro stayed for 3 months in Pittsburgh, PA, on invitation of Harry Acklin. He arrived in September 1964 and returned to Okinawa in November 1964. James Morabeto, student of Harry Acklin, sponsored the trip and sensei stayed in Morabeto's home. Most of the time Harry Acklin, William Duessel and Joe Pennywell were present, but none of the original students of sensei. Don Nagle, Harold Long and Harry G. Smith visited Pittsburgh only briefly.

Photo Pittsburgh 1964

Sensei is in the center
Standing behind sensei (l-r): Harry Acklin, William Duessel, Joe Pennywell, John Pringle & James Morabeto

   It was in the winter time and Master Shimabuku wore socks when he trained because of the cold weather. He did not like the food and was mistreated. There were problems with his host family, because of cultural differences, like going to the bathroom and not shutting the door. They did not feed him well; he did not like the American food. Also he was overworked, since he had to teach most of the classes personally.


   Tatsuo went home after 3 months and did not ever want to come to the United States again.




   Steve Armstrong invited sensei to come to Tacoma, WA. Although not treated right during his first trip, Tatsuo Shimabukuro came again to the United States. Sensei stayed for 7 weeks in October and November 1966.

Photo Tacoma, WA 1966

Bob Ozman, Tatsuo Shimabukuro & Steve Armstrong

   The first 3 weeks he stayed with Steve Armstrong in Tacoma. Bob Ozman came over from LA, Harold Long from TN and Harry Acklin from PA. Sensei stayed in Armstrong's house and slept in his oldest son's room. At first he seems to enjoy the stay: he liked to stay in the first son's room, he enjoyed seeing that Steve's son Wyatt was a karate boy-san. But the same cultural problems as in 1964 occured again. In Steve Armstrong's home Sensei went to the bathroom while Steve's wife was taking a shower and Steve's wife started screaming. Sensei did not understand, normal etiquette on Okinawa, he was indifferent to Mrs. Armstrong's presence, and mumbled: 'All American men hen-peck-ee'. Since he did not like the food, he bought his own noodles, and one day he found a burned out cigarette in the package of his noodles in the kitchen.


   After the 3 weeks in Tacoma, Tatsuo stayed for 1 week with Harold Long in Knoxville, TN. Sensei made repeated requests to go see the mountains. Sometimes he would point and say something in Japanese. Mr. Wheeler would say, "He wants to go see the Smoky Mountains." Harold Long ignored that and kept him occupied when not in the dojo.

Photo Bayonne, NJ 1966

Sensei with sai, Ed McGrath & Don Nagle

   Than Tatsuo went to stay for about 1 week with Don Nagle in Bayonne, NJ. Returned to Tacoma for a few days, flew to Cleveland for 4 days and returned to Tacoma for his final 5 days in the USA.


1966 FILM


   During these last days of sensei's visit film recordings were made of sensei performing kata. For many hours daily they filmed, developed and edited kata after kata. Sensei was very tired and over worked but gave his best. He was quoted saying 'Old man kata'. This so called 1966-film became the standard for Isshinryu kata. There was also filmed in 1964 in Pittsburgh and at Don Nagle's dojo. There are recordings that is not used for the 'standard'-film and sensei teaching take-downs and bunkai.

Photo of sensei taken at Don Nagle's dojo in 1966

   Sensei Tatsuo Shimabukuro left the United States with a deep anger and never came back. When he was asked to come again in 1967 he sent his son-in-law Angi Uezu, who stayed his first visit to the USA for about a year teaching  at dojo in New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.




Copyright 2005 Harry G. Smith