Birth of Seibukan:
Many years ago on Okinawa, Karate Masters had very few kata in their repertoire. One, two or sometimes three were all the kata they would master. They would study these few kata over and over until the kata became a part of them.
In 1869 Chotoku Kyan was born. Kyan was destined to become one of Okinawa’s greatest Karate legends. Chotoku Kyan started his studies of Karate at the early age of five or six, under the watchful eyes of his father and grandfather. Every morning he was required to perform specific exercises by his grandfather, who had a very discerning eye, and accepted nothing less than perfection.
The years passed and Kyan became very strong (Kyan was a very sickly child and was often referred to as “small eyed Kyan” due to his small stature and the glasses he wore). Kyan began to think that there was not enough variation in technique with studying from only one master or school of thought. Kyan sought out other instructors in an effort to expand his martial knowledge. During his quest, Kyan studied with renowned martial arts masters, and eventually created what many on Okinawa believed to be the most effective and beautiful style known to date.
Kosaku Matsumora was the first master Kyan studied under and the one from whom he learned the most. Kyan learned from Matsumora the kata Chinto, which is the kata where all the techniques are delivered from 45-degree angles. After several years of study, Matsumora recommended that Kyan seek out two other masters to continue his training. Kyan thus began his studies with Pechin Oyadomare and Pechin Maeda (Pechin is a title given to persons in the employment of the King of Okinawa). Very little information exists about Pechin Oyadomare, except that Kyan learned the kata Passai from him.
There is an interesting story about Pechin Maeda, whose job was to check cargo as it entered and left one of the busy ports in Okinawa. One day as Maeda was overseeing the delivery of cargo; a small boy was helping aboard a ship. There were many boxes piled high on the deck. The seas were rough that day and forced the ship to sway back and forth and suddenly, one of the boxes began to tilt. Maeda saw the box as it started its descent towards the body. He jumped from the dock onto the deck of the ship and pushed the boy out of harm’s way. Maeda managed to save the boy but could not prevent being struck by the box which hit Maeda on his shoulder shattering from the impact. Maeda suffered no ill effects from the falling box, weighing approximately two hundred pounds and falling from a height of over ten feet. Kyan later received the kata Wansu from Pechin Maeda.
Kyan’s next instructor was a master by the name of Pechin Yara. Yara was a small man, similar in stature to Kyan (Yara was only four feet ten inches tall). Kyan sought out Pechin Yara because he has heard that Yara was extremely fast on his feet and Kyan wanted to posses the same skill. Yara was reputed to have been able to jump back and forth, three tatami lengths, a distance of eighteen feet. Another feat, which Yara had often demonstrated to Kyan, was the running down of wild boards and killing them with powerful kicks. Kyan learned the kata Kusanku from Yara.
After his studies with Yara, Chotoku Kyan went to Sokon “Bushi” Matsumura. Matsumura, at that time, was the karate instructor for the royal family and the personal bodyguard to the King. Kyan learned the kata Seisan, Naifanchi and Gojushiho from Matsumura.
The last master under whom Kyan trained was Pechin Tokumine, who was reputed to be the best bo (staff) master on Okinawa. Kyan traveled to the island of Yaeyama to study from Tokumine because Tokumine had been banished to the island by the King for his outrageous actions while still on Okinawa. It seems that Tokumine was a great practical joker, particularly when he had too much sake to drink. One day, having consumed a great deal of sake, he saw some policemen walking towards him on the street. Thinking to himself how funny it would be to bump into one of them and knock him down, he did. Tokumine thought the sight to be so funny that he broke out into laughter and had tears rolling down his face. The other policemen saw no humor in the event and took actions to subdue Tokumine. Tokumine thought their reactions were too drastic and began to resist the police. Soon a fight broke out and one of the policemen ran for reinforcements. Twenty policemen soon arrived and Tokumine began to fight them viciously. Tokumine defeated the police but was later captured at his home and brought before the King. After hearing the accounts of what had happened, the King banished Tokumine to live out the rest of his life on the island of Yaeyama. Regardless of his history, Kyan thought that there was much to be learned from Tokumine and traveled to Yaeyama. From Tokumine, Kyan learned the use of the bo staff and the kata Tokumine-no-kun.
After Kyan had studied with the six masters he began to teach karate from his home and in the Okinawan schools. One of Kyan’s most famous sayings was, “Never brag about your karate, there is always someone stronger.”
Kyan soon became famous, many people on Okinawa came to him for instructions, but many were turned down because he could not teach everyone that came to him. There was one perspective student who was very persistent. His name was Zenryo Shimabukuro. Shimabukuro was also a small man, standing only five feet two inches tall. Shimabukuro studied under Kyan for ten years, at which time he started a school of his own where he taught until the start of World War II. During the war, Master Kyan died of starvation, for there was little food on Okinawa. The food that Kyan did obtain, he gave to children in need. Kyan had felt that it was his duty to take care of those who were unable to help themselves.
After the war, Master Shimabukuro returned to teaching. In 1952, Shimabukuro had an exceptional student named Isamu Tumotse (Black Belt Magazine, Oct. 1966) who was later to take Kago Shima by storm. Two other students of note were Zenji Shimabukuro (the master’s nephew) and Zenpo Shimabukuro (the master’s son). Zenji entered the All Japan Karate Championship in 1961 and took second place in the kata competition. Then, continuing to stay in Japan, he opened a dojo in Osaka and started to teach with fellow Karateka Kideyaki Uragami who had studied under Tumotse. Uragami entered and placed in the All Japan Championships in 1960 and 1961. Shortly after, their dojo became well known for producing very strong fighters.
Zenpo Shimabukuro will be remembered by many Americans for his tournament career including: the 1963 Pennsylvania State Championship (Black Belt Magazine, De. 1963), National Kata Championship, 1964 and the Canadian International Championship, 1964. In 1965, Zenpo returned to Okinawa to help his father with the home dojo.
Earlier in his career, Master Shimabukuro, had no dojo and instead taught from his home. In late 1959, soldiers from the 2/503rd Battle Group (now the 173rd) came to see Master Shimabukuro in hope of persuading him to teach them. After some deliberation, Shimabukuro agreed.
Since that time, Shimabukuro produced many strong students, one in particular was a Japanese-American named Edward Takae. Mar. Takae became the All Okinawa Karate Champi9on in 1964.
Zenryo Shimabukuro became a highly respected member of his community, receiving many certificates from city officials for his work done for the betterment of the Okinawan people. Shimabukuro name his dojo (built in 1962) Seibukan, which means, “House of the Holy Arts.” The name Seibukan radiates Master Shimabukuro’s philosophy of karate.
In 1962, the Board of Directors of the All Japan Karate Do Federation awarded Master Shimabukuro the red belt (Judan). In 1966, a new federation was formed, the All Okinawa Karate Do Federation. All the major styles on Okinawa elected representative to form the board of directors of the organization. The style and representatives selected were:
- Goju-Ryu – Meitoku Yagi
- Kobayashi-Ryu – Choshin Chibana
- Matsubiyashi-Ryu – Shoshin Nagamine
- Shorin-Ryu – Zenryo Shimabukuro
- Uechi-Ryu Kanyei – Uechi
These men formed the nucleus of the new organization. In the past these styles kept mostly to themselves, but now there is a growing realization that Karateka must get together for the betterment of the art. This is what they were bent on doing.
Just as anywhere else, there are also frauds in Karate on Okinawa. In actuality there were only about thirty legitimate dojos on the island in 1967. Because of unscrupulous people, the Karate of Okinawa had lost some of its true meaning, but these men sincerely hoped that the karate of their homeland would again take its true and deserved place in the eyes of all. This was the first concentrated effort on the part of all living Okinawan Karate Masters to unify karate.
Walter P. Daily wrote the original Birth of Seibukan in 1967. Zenryo Shimabukuro died in 1969 leaving his son Zenpo the Seibukan Dojo. Birth of Seibukan has been adapted from the Karenzukai handbook compiled by Soke Dr. Bernard Collins.