The founder of Isshin ryu,Tatsuo Shimabuku began his study of martial arts at the age of fourteen and remained dedicated to the karate spirit throughout his entire life, so much so that he created a goddess to protect the system of Isshin-Ryu Karate.While mastering Goju-Ryu Karate under the watchful eyes of Master Chojun Miyagi, he later completed his study of Shorin-Ryu under Master Choki Motobu. Master Shimabuku devoted over thiry-five years of his life to the mastery of Goju-Ryu and Shorin-Ryu Karate. Still, within this great wealth of knowledge and experience, there lingered the feeling that all was not complete; something was missing.
Continuing his studies of the martial arts, Master Shimabuku developed numerous questions regarding many of the techniques and interpretations. Master Shimabuku asked these questions of his teachers since they had been the constant source of knowledge and enlightenment throughout his studies. Much thought and reverence was given to their answers, but Master Shimabuku was not satisfied.
By this time Master Shimabuku had not only acquired a respected position among the Karate Masters, but he had also developed a large following of loyal students. He taught a system called Chan Migwa-Tein in reverence to his first teacher Chotoku Kyan. His teachings emphasized Shorin-Ryu techniques, but influenced by his knowledge of Goju-Ryu, Master Shimabuku had achieved a high level of success and status, yet his mind became fixed on solving the many questions he had developed. Thus, Master Shimabuku began experimenting with many new theories and ideas. By investigation and experimentation he began to develop insight into these new theories and ideas, while developing and perfecting many new techniques and interpretations to actual situations. Though unaware of it at the time, Master Shimabuku was perfecting the combination of Shorin-Ryu and Goju-Ryu Karate into a new system Isshin-Ryu (Whole-Heart Way)
Master Shimabuku became convinced that his new techniques, ideas and theories were superior. Yet, with all of his great abundance of training, experience and knowledge it would be very difficult to change the old ways. The first obstacle to overcome was his own humility. Despite his own overwhelming natural ability and experience, Shimabuku remained a very humble man. This humility led Master Shimabuku to believe he was neither worthy nor wise enough to create a new system of Karate. The second obstacle to overcome was the Okinawan custom to maintain the ways of the ancients. Okinawan culture reflects a great reverence for preserving the past and pays homage to its ancestors by perpetuating their ways. Finally Master Shimabuku possessed a deep personal respect for his teachers and their teachings. He did not want to do anything that could possibly cause his teachers to lose face. Therefore, he would have to be very careful not to be disrespectful or bring shame to his Masters while creating Isshin-Ryu Karate.
According to Master Shimabuku, as he was listening to the radio late one evening between eight and eleven p.m. he began to doze. Slipping in and out of slumber, half awake and half asleep, he began to see a vision of a woman. At first he allowed himself to slip deeper into his day dream to better see his vision. At first he thought the woman was riding a dragon. Later he realized that the vision was of a goddess who was half dragon and half woman. The woman-dragon spoke to Master Shimabuku as she circled round and round. She told Master Shimabuku that he had studied long and hard, that he possessed great knowledge, and therefore he should go forth and create his own system of karate. Master Shimabuku awoke possessed by enthusiasm for a new beginning while his spirit overflowed with inspiration to create the new system of karate. His beliefs had been comfirmed and his confidence was soaring, for the Megami goddess had blessed him.
Master Shimabuku later commissioned a silk painting of his goddess which he placed in his dojo and officially called it the Isshin-Ryu Megami. In his rendering, Master Shimabuku incorporated much of our present Isshin-Ryu philosophy. The original painting portrayed a great and powerful spirit as she rose from beneath the ocean waves amidst a great typhoon. Appearing with the top half in the form of a woman and the bottom half in the form of a dragon, the spirit remained calm despite the raging wind and water. Her right arm was high in the howling wind with her hand clenched tightly in the fighting fist of karate. Her left arm was lowered with the hand open signifying peace. Above this magnificent and powerful creature's right fist, three stars shone brightly in the gray and turbulent sky. Each star with eight points and a brilliance unto itself, were equally spaced in a horizontal line as to form the Japanese character for the number one. To the left of the spirit high in the sky, Master Shimabuku clearly saw himself, not in his normal form of a man, but as a dragon overseeing this great goddess, for Tatsuo means dragon man.