Shimabuku at Armstrong's (1966)

In 1966, Master Tatsuo Shimabuku returned to the United States.  It was his second visit, and was particularly notable for his time spent at Master Steve Armstrong's dojo in Tacoma, where films were taken of Shimabuku performing the Isshinryu Kata, as well as demonstrating warm up routines, and self defense.

As an aside, I have spent years photographing and videotaping martial artists.  Invariably, when I show a film or a photo, someone will criticize the effort, arguing "it could have been done better."

"Tell me something I don't know," is the usual response.

What I do know is getting the right people to the right place with the right equipment under the right circumstances at the right cost with the right amount of time available, is what it's all about.  Of those six essential requirements, we usually end up achieving two.  That's known as the discipline of reality!  At the end of the day, any archivist must ask the important question, "Did someone get the shot?"

While you were waiting for perfect, the opportunity to strike may have already passed.

Getting back to Master Shimabuku.  Depending on which year of birth (1906 or 1908) you accept, Shimabuku was about 60 years old at the time of his second visit.  Remember, this preceeded the advent of video recorders.  In 1966, I received my very first audio tape recorder, and it was a big deal!  No one in my family or extended circle of friends had a movie camera, 8mm cameras were still too expensive.  Even for those who owned movie cameras, Kodak had not yet elevated film photography to its modern level of quality.  Shooting color with an 8mm camera was tricky, and required high skill in the lay person, or an abundance of luck.

Master Armstrong, and his supporters, had the vision and good sense to understand there might not be another opportunity to film Master Shimabuku (he passed away in 1976, 1966 was his last trip to the States).

Master Armstrong once shared how on returning home after his tour in Okinawa, he arrived at Travis Air Force Base, weary, and unable to remember the forms.  The ex-marine knew the only solution lay in getting a film record of Master Shimabuku doing the forms, preserving a standard for the future.  In 1966, that's what he did.  He arranged for Master Shimabuku to be filmed during the visit, and in fact, the forms were captured for archival purposes.  Some of the films can still be located in the Pacific Northwest, most are long since gone, misplaced, or destroyed (8 mm film from those days was by no means a permanent media).  In the 1980's, to ensure the images remained for the future, Master Armstrong began having them transferred to tape media, and copies were dispersed to ranking Black Belts, in turn to be shared with their students.

It should be noted Master Shimabuku is reported not to have been happy with how he appeared on some of these films, particularly in his execution of the forms.  Remember, 8mm photography is a limited medium, and by today's standards, can only be described as primitive.  Some have apologized for Shimabuku, saying he was ill, or that he looked like an old man.  It's not entirely clear what films these comments attach to.

In these clips, he comes across as humble, friendly, and wanting to produce a good outcome.  Despite the limitations of 8mm photography, the strength and dynamic of his technique is obvious.  Allowing for the fog of travel, and the road weariness, he is clearly spending a great deal of time and energy, trying to do it right, and to get it right.  On some of the clips, he stops, unhappy with his execution, and repeats.  That's not looking or acting like an "old man".  That's being a good teacher!

I have digitized images from some of the better quality tapes currently available.  Films from the Armstrong Dojo do continue to surface, and I expect more images of Master Shimabuko may turn up.  When they do, I will make every effort to bring them to light.

What better lasting tribute is there for the founder of Isshinryu?

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Shimabuku with
Steve Armstrong

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Master Shimabuku

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Shimabuku Demonstrates Weapons

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