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Shimabukuro Zenpō Hanshi

Civilize the mind; make savage the body
文明其精神 野蛮其体魄

We are chartered by the International Okinawan Shōrin-ryū Seibukan Karate-dō Association (IOSSKA). We follow the teachings of Shimabukuro Zenpō 島袋善保, 10 dan Hanshi, head of Seibukan and past-President of the Okinawa Prefectural Karate-dō and Kobudō Rengōkai. Our instructors are certified in Japan.

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While there are many ways to become a better person—the Chinese proverb is “there are many paths to the far mountain”—we hold to the Japanese principle that some transformations are only achieved through disciplined physical practice. Such transformations are our aim.

 

We are not interested in karate as sport or competition, nor as a means to lose weight or get toned. We turn away from martial arts platitudes. We do not build confidence; instead, we train for commitment. We do not nurture self-esteem; instead, we train to lose the self, like getting lost in a great story. We do not seek personal growth; instead, while our aim is to become stronger, faster, more precise, more fluid, and more open, we train to become smaller and thereby part of something greater than ourselves.

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We emphasize conditioning; we work for what Nagamine Shōshin 長嶺将真 called the “ecstasy of sweat.” We return to kihon 基本 (basics) over and over again. We practice kata 型 (forms) every class. We use kumite 組み手 (sparring) as a drill; we do not mistake it for real fighting. We train less to fight others than to battle ourselves—our weaknesses, our fears, our shortcomings, our vanities, our ignorance—but we believe that taking combatives seriously makes karate-dō different from other kinds of work on the spirit.

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At the Seibukan Karate Dojo, we constantly work on our understanding of karate as inevitably mid-Pacific. On the one hand, karate should not be separated from its Japanese and Okinawan cultural contexts. It is a serious distortion to configure karate through Western values, such as pride.

 

On the other hand, this is not Okinawa and we are not Okinawan, and we should not pretend otherwise. We see our ongoing project as learning and teaching how our Canadian lives and understanding can be illuminated and elevated by the lessons of Okinawan karate-dō and culture.

A Brief History of Seibukan

Seibukan 聖武館, which means “Holy Art School, ”  was originally the name of the dojo founded by Shimabukuro Zenryō and his son, Zenpō, in the village of Jagaru. Today, it refers to the style of karate-dō that began there, but is now practiced in many countries around the world. The Seibukan Karate Dojo in Edmonton is the only Seibukan school in Canada.

 

In the taxonomy of Okinawan karate-dō, Seibukan is a ryū-ha 流派 (“school”) of Shōrin-ryū 少林流, one of the three major branches of Okinawan karate. “Shōrin” 少林 is the Japanese pronunciation of the characters of “Shaolin,” referencing the legendary Shaolin Temple of China, although Shōrin-ryū has no strong historical connection to Shaolin.

 

The other two major systems of Okinawan karate are Gōjū-ryū 剛柔流 and Uechi-ryū 上地流. Gōjū-ryū came to Okinawa from China in the late 19th century; Uechi ryū was not taught in Okinawa until 1924. But the antecedents to Shōrin-ryū goes back much further.

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The tomb of Matsumura Sōkon in Shuri, Okinawa

The ancient history of the combative methods that would become karate is full of conjecture because there are few written records and the circumstances of the times often prompted secrecy. However, the seminal figure for Shōrin ryū is well-established as Matsumura Sōkon 松村 宗棍 (1797-1890). What he practiced was not Shōrin ryū—the name was not given until 1933 by Chibana Chōsin 知花朝信—nor even karate, but its antecedent, ti. This was a fighting system indigenous to Okinawa, although it was influenced to an unknown extent by Chinese, Japanese, and other foreign arts.

There is a popular misconception that karate was created by farmers and fisherman to fight off samurai. This is not true. Instead, ti was primarily practiced and taught by members of the Pēchin, scholar-officials in the Ryukyu Kingdom, and bodyguards/security to Ryukyu royalty.

 

Matsumura’s teacher was Sakugawa Kanga 佐久川寛賀 (1733-1815), also known as Sakugawa Tode, who was a bodyguard and martial arts instructor to the royal family. Matsumura was not born to the aristocracy, but because of his natural ability, he was accepted as a student of Sakugawa and went on to serve as security for the Kingdom. He studied with Sakugawa for five years, but also trained extensively in China

Because of his prowess, he was given the title of Bushi 武士 (“warrior”).

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Kyan Chōtoku 

Two students of Matsumura were particularly influential: Itosu Ankō 糸洲安恒 (1831-1915), who would later teach Funakoshi Gichin, founder of Shotokan karate, and Kyan Chōtoku 喜屋武朝徳 (1870-1945). Seibukan's lineage goes principally through Kyan.

Matsumura was already elderly when Kyan Chōtoku was brought before him. Kyan was already training in ti under his father, Kyan Chōfu, who was a student of Matsumura. It was Chōfu who taught Kyan the kata Seisan. Kyan learned the kata Gojūshiho directly from Matsumura. 

After the death of Matsumura in 1890, Kyan studied with other Okinawan sensei, including Matsumora Kōsaku, Oyadomari Kokan, Maeda Pēchin, and Chatan Risei, and the kata he learned from them are central to the curriculum of Seibukan today.

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Doug and Lucy at the grave of Kyan Chōtoku 

Several prominent karateka trained under Kyan, including Shimabuku Tatsuo 島袋龍夫, the founder of Isshin-ryū, Nagamine Shoshin 長嶺将真, the founder of Matsubayashi-ryū, and Nakazato Jōen 仲里常延, the founder of Shorinji-ryū. But it was Shimabukuro Zenryō 島袋善良 who studied with Kyan the longest,  from 1935 until 1945.

The Battle of Okinawa devastated the island and its people faced a very arduous struggle to recover in the years directly after the war. In 1951, Zenryō began teaching karate, and son, Zenpō, started learning from him in 1952, at age nine.

In 1962, the two of them built the Seibukan Dojo, and that same dojo is the headquarters for Seibukan worldwide  today.

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A young Shimabukuro Zenpō with his father, Zenryō

In 1962 Zenpō accepted an invitation to move to Philadelphia to teach Seibukan. He remained in the US until 1965, and although his karate was always oriented to traditional practice and not sport, he became one of the very few Okinawan sensei to succeed in North American competitions. He won the kata division of the Jhoon Rhee International and placed second there to the renowned Alan Steen in kumite. He won the 1964 Canadian National Karate Championship. And he won the black belt kumite and kata divisions of the Pennsylvania State Championship.

 

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Nakama Chōzō

After Zenpō returned to Okinawa, he learned Itosu-linage kata from Nakama Chōzō  名嘉真朝増 (1899-1982) a good friend of Zenryō. Nakama was a student of Chibana Chōsin. From Nakama, Zenpō learned the Pinan series (1-5), the Naifanchi series (1-3), Jion, and Passai Gwa. Seibukan has these in addition to the ones from Kyan (Seisan, Ānankū, Wansū, Passai, Gojūshiho, Chintō, Kūsankū, and Tokumine no Kun), plus Wanchin, which was created by Zenryō and Zenpō. So Seibukan includes both Itosu and Kyan kata. It also teaches the Fukyugata series (1-3).

In 1969, Zenryō died suddenly from a burst appendix and Zenpō became the leader of Seibukan. He has overseen its expansion internationally and today is one of the most highly respected sensei in Okinawa, a two-term past-president of the Okinawan Karate/Kobudo Rengokai, a leading association of many systems. The Rengokai awarded him jūdan, 10th-degree black bet, the highest rank, and the title of Hanshi, the highest honor for teaching in karate. 

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Doug and Lucy with Hanshi at the hombu dojo in 2020, just before the pandemic