I hadn’t gotten too far along on my Isshin-ryu Karate journey when I heard rumors of something called Master Tatsuo Shimabuku’s “Secret Scrolls of Kumite.” I envisioned Master Shimabuku walking over to a dusty intricately carved old chest in the corner of the dojo and opening it. After the dust had settled, he’d reach in and take out an ancient cloth wrap containing a traditional scroll. With much reverence, he’d remove the cover, unwrap the scroll and share some of its ancient and mysterious knowledge with a chosen few.
Imagine my disappointment when someone told me they were just listed on the dojo wall in plain sight. The reason they were so secret is that they were very cryptic. Most Marines were not stationed on Okinawa long enough to get to a point where they would learn these techniques. A typical tour for a Marine on Okinawa might be 14 to 18 months. That is barely enough time to get a thorough grounding in a system’s basic techniques, never mind lessons from the “Secret Scrolls.”
From discussions I’ve had with my Sensei, Sherman Harrill, and others, It has become clear that these techniques were mostly taught to his Okinawan students. This was simply because they lived there and therefore trained long enough to have a base of knowledge sufficient to make practical use of them.
But we got lucky …
First, Sensei Sherman Harrill was lucky enough to be in Tatsuo Shimabuku’s dojo when he was teaching his kumite techniques to a group of his Okinawan students. Sensei was drafted to be “uki,” meaning Shimabuku’s students practiced these techniques on him. I guess Master Shimabuku figured if they could make them work on a big, strong U.S. Marine, they understood them properly.
Second. Sensei Arcenio Advincula made repeated trips back to Okinawa. This was for several reasons. He remained in contact with Master Shimabuku’s wife and his second son, Shinso. He also visits his in-laws, having married Michi Nakamashi in 1961. And he continued to train and research Okinawan Karate and Kobudo. Because of his additional time on the island of Okinawa, Sensei Advincula did learn Tatsuo Shimabuku’s Kumite.
Sensei Harrill would often incorporate these Kumite techniques into his classes in the dojo, depending on what he was teaching at the time, and did not “separate” them out for special classes. At one point, he did compare notes with Sensei Advincula to ensure what he remembered from being on the receiving end of these techniques jived with what Sensei Advincula was taught. Once satisfied, they were both on the same page, he began teaching them more openly as Tatsuo Shimabuku’s Kumite.
One of the early seminars Sensei John Kerker did for us in Clinton, Tennessee, covered Tatsuo Shimabuku’s Kumite. John was Sensei Harrill’s Sempai and inherited the Carson Dojo when Sensei Harrill passed away in 2002. This seminar, held in March of 2005, was a real eye-opener for many Isshin-ryu folks who attended because they had not seen these “secret techniques” before.
So, what are these Kumite all about?
Essentially, they are keys to understanding Tatsuo Shimabuku’s karate. From my experience, they are multi-faceted in that they are solid techniques on their own. They also give examples of how Tatsuo Shimabuku viewed the techniques in the kata he taught, and perhaps why he modified them as he did when incorporating them into his system.
There are fifteen Kumite Techniques. The last five are knife defense techniques. I will list these below. When you look at the list, I think you will understand why they were “secret.” If someone did not actually show you what each technique was, you would be hard-pressed to figure it out on your own.
Also, several have multiple variations, so the fifteen expand to about forty-five if you look at the “official” variations. Personal variations are really only limited by your level of knowledge, your imagination, and, of course, the rules of body mechanics.
Tatsuo Shimabuku’s Kumite
- The left hand hold the right wrist
- Outside block, punch inside
- Punch back of the hand
- Knuckle block for kick, counter kick
- Hold arm, use against a punch
- One handhold gi, grab, twist, kick
- Full nelson, karate cut groin
- Bear hug waist, hands-free, grab one finger, break, or hit back of the hand
- Devil’s handshake, grab your fist, pull, kick.
- Two-hand straight choke, break, grab adam’s apple
- Straight stab, grab hand and writs, twist kick, trip kick.
- Ice pick stab, block across, kick.
- Straight stab, both hands up, karate cut block, kick.
- Straight stab leaning forward, grab the hand with both of yours, pull. trap at elbow
- Two knife straight stab, squat kick
Well, there you have them, or at least the primary fifteen. The Secret Scrolls of Kumite is not so secret anymore. I do think, however, you can see why a young Marine standing in Master Tatsuo Shimabuku’s dojo might look at this list and say to themselves, “what the heck is this?”