The 12 Isshin-Ryu Features

First, before I go into the twelve features of Isshinryu I would ask anyone who is an Isshinryu practitioner to provide me the "author" of these twelve features of Isshinryu. Can anyone provide the author's name? Can you validate it with at least two acceptable sources? I can tell you I can not provide any such information or documentation. 

It might actually be something written by Harold Long and it is believed that it is quoted in his book, "Isshinryu Karate - The Ultimate Fighting Art." I don't have a copy so I cannot confirm it is located there but depending on the year of publication vs. when it first came out in the Isshinryu community would help a bit determining the author. 

Read also "Isshinryu Statements of Fact - NOT [or maybe] where I say, "Some of these quotes are meant to be conveyed as the unique traits of the Isshinryu system and since I have found those traits to be less than accurate I can only say the only "original defining characteristics unique to Isshinryu" at its naming are the vertical fist, the thumb on top of the vertical fist, and the muscle forearm block. I would add that this is important that these particular features/traits, etc. were applicable in the late fifties but today are not exclusive to Isshinryu anymore because many have adopted this stuff." - ... ot-or.html

Lets take a look at the features as they stand at one site:

1. The elimination of “fancy” techniques.

I don't feel from my studies and views of the systems practiced at the time that any of them actually utilized complex techniques. We will assume that since the systems of the late fifties as taught to the military under limited time spans mostly taught strikes and kicks, etc. Only a few remained longer to gain any knowledge of grappling or vital point type training. In the Isshinryu communities I feel confident that most of the military came back with only a rudimentary knowledge and understanding of the system. This was the actual physical stuff, i.e. the upper and lower basics, kata and some predefined kumite drills. 

It is apparent from other systems such as Goju and Shorin, the two major systems Marines were exposed to in those days, that complexities were non-existent to them unless, and I mean maybe on this, they remained for extended tours or returned for additional tours. 

2. Combines the best of Shorin-Ryu and Goju-Ryu to form a realistic, basic system of self defense. 

No one can say this with any validity unless they can demonstrate with authority that these features came directly from Tatsuo-san. We can make some assumptions that Tatsuo-san took what he "perceived" as the techniques he desired from the two systems to form Isshinryu but we still cannot say they were the best, in a blanket statement. The best of anything is dependent on individual interpretations and perceptions. 

As to any combinations actually Shorin is the dominant system of influence with a lesser influence from goju. Just look at the kata of Isshinryu, i.e. two from goju and five from shorin and one in essence a creation for Isshinryu.

3. Kicks thrown below the waist (for power and balance hand techniques thrown above the waist. 

The original intent may be perceived that kicks were taught to strike below the waist but then again many photo's display higher kicks. I wonder sometimes if this comes from the matches or tournaments that flourished in the fifties, sixties and seventies. I can only state that when I took Isshinryu on Okinawan my Sensei actually taught and fostered the lower kicks and in-close strikes of the hands, etc. He also advocated very close in strategies, etc.

Now, as a feature to distinguish it from other systems on Okinawan I have observed the use of lower kicks and a tendency to rely heavily on hand techniques. Since it could be observed in other systems it might actually be a Okinawan empty hand feature and not be an exclusive Isshinryu feature. Observe Goju and Uechi ryu, many kicks are below the waist. 

I feel strongly that my studies would indicate that the lower kicks were the essence of all Okinawan empty hand martial arts. It can still be seen in kata of Goju, Shorin and Uechi, to name just three. Since those were the main stay of empty hand at the time it works for me. 

4. The use of short, natural stances, which allow better mobility, eliminate wasted motion along with major shifts in the body, and are more adaptable to the American physique

First, this is standard fundamental principles of martial systems. It is not something special indicative of a system like Isshinryu. It transcends any system, style or branch of martial arts. It is what makes it work, not something we spout out to indicate just how cool and effective our system is. It is what makes any martial arts work, effective and efficient. Mobility, economic movement, body mechanics and adaptability are indicative of everyone regardless of body type, etc. - a fundamental principal of all systems.

Second, I understand that the lower stances actually came about from the efforts of Funakoshi Sensei to gain acceptance in Japan for Okinawan Karate. It is also used as a means to teach stances and structures as well as build leg strength. Some how the transition to more natural stances at later levels of proficiency got lost and I suspect it may have been due to the sport orientation that took over the martial aspects of karate in the mid 1900's. 

5. A balance of hand and foot techniques in the Katas. (often said to have "equal" hand and foot techniques depending on the form presented)

Originally, the one I received, said equal instead of balanced. Both are inaccurate because there are more hand techniques than foot. Take a look sometime. Have several practitioners view the AJA video's and count the hand techniques. Then have different practitioners count the foot or leg techniques. You will find that the balance is not so balanced in the literal sense of the word. You will find this true of any martial arts system.

6. Close-in techniques, which are valuable for street fighting.

One, close in techniques are indicative of all hand-to-hand combatives be they Asian or Western or European in origin. Fighting, street fighting, is messy up close dangerous and damaging and indicative of all street fights. Anything outside the close-in range involve either sport or weapons such as a gun where you can do damage from afar and not get damaged unless the other guy is with weapon.

It seems that this statement alludes that all close in techniques are due to the creation and naming of Isshinryu but this is just not accurate. Goju and Uechi are both chock full of close in techniques. I will say that I emphasize strongly a strategy of close in applications simply because I believe that most conflicts of this nature are quick, close and messy. 

I would go so far as to say that the Okinawan system of te-gumi, a form of Okinawan wrestling which equates to ground fighting, etc., relies heavily on in close techniques as any system similar in fighting strategies. 

7. The application of “snap” punches and kicks where the arm or leg is only 90% extended. This allows for quickness when moving in and out on an opponent and serves to reduce injuries associated with over extending joints.

Ahhhh, this one truly is not an exclusive domain of Isshinryu either then or now. It is in contention to whether Tatsuo-san's system actually taught snap kicks and punches vs. say thrust kicks and punches. I believe the hard line on the snap stuff comes from Shorin influences where one notable Isshinryu person actually spent more time in Shorin than Isshinryu but teaches a mix of both as Isshinryu.

If you take into consideration a set of fundamentals you will find that in actuality all systems make use of both the snap and the thrust along with other variations depending on the application and counter applications. It depends on the particular application being implemented at any given moment.

8. The combination of hard and soft blocking.

Again, take a look at what is practiced on Okinawa and you will determine that all of them use a variation of both hard and soft when blocking. Then you get into the contention that what is considered a soft block is actually a deflection vs. a block. Blocking is a whole nother post that can cover many views and perspectives. It is not exclusive to Isshinryu so not really a distinctive feature of Isshinryu. 

9. Blocks are executed with the muscular part of the forearm, thereby, avoiding injury from bone to bone contact.

This one I truly feel is something that is a part of Isshinryu that may not be exclusively a feature of the system but rather a model that was pushed to the front of the mind since it was and is often used in matches or fighting, etc. Like the vertical fist, that seemed to be obvious in matches or tournaments was not acknowledged in reality over the twist punch until Tatsuo-san stepped out of the box and thought differently and openly. 

10. A fist made with the thumb on top of the fist as opposed to the thumb being over the two fingers. Such a position, with the thumb on top, locks the wrist and serves to tighten the fist.

I will not address the exact physics of the thumb but will readily admit that even today this particular form of the fist and its use are still a distinctive feature of Isshinryu yet you will find that a good deal of today's Isshinryu dojo don't actually use it. 

11. A vertical punch, which increases speed and power. 

A vertical rising punch might be a bit more accurate. In reality when observing the use of the vertical fist you find that only in the rising punch does the fist actually remain vertical. In truth it shifts slightly to one side or the other depending on targeting and where that target aligns with the height of the person applying it to the person on the receiving end. This is pretty much truth to all forms of the punch.

Now, as to fundamental teachings this is a feature of Isshinryu that has since been adopted by many other systems except that most don't actually put the thumb on the top vs. down the side, etc.

12. Multiple-purpose techniques, which allow a block to become a blow and a blow to serve as a block.

Every system and every style and every branch, both then and now, advocate the ability to turn a blow into a block or deflection into a blow, etc. You can say this is a feature of Isshinryu but it is not an exclusive feature that speaks to the uniqueness of Isshinryu. 

There is another source for these features that mentions kote-kitae as a feature of Isshinryu but in reality that is a feature that comes from predominantly the harder system of goju. Kote-kitae is actually one part of a whole, karada-kitae or body conditioning.

In my view there are only "three" features that can be attributed to Isshinryu in the fifties/sixties that were more or less exclusive to this new system, at the time, and they are the "Vertical Fist," "Muscle/bone blocks," and "Thumb on top of vertical fist."

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