Grandmaster Mitchum, we are very pleased that you agreed to be interviewed for
the Karate Five web page. With your background of five decades of Isshinryu, you
are considered the senior Isshinryu Grandmaster in the USA. The following questions
are presented to you in that light:
1-You started your martial arts training in Okinawa while serving with the US Marines.
Why did you select Isshinnryu over the other styles?
How was it training under the founder of the system?
1. Almost all service men on Okinawa that were interested in the martial
arts joined a dojo that was in close proximity to the base where they
were stationed. However, after I had been in Isshinryu for a couple of
months I started observing other styles farther from my camp. I
determined after having made such visits that, in my opinion, I had
made the right choice.
2-Do you believe that the American Senseis are trying to Americanize and/or
2a. There are many Sensei's that have changed or modified the Katas,
and the basics as well, and perhaps consider their changes to be an
improvement over what Master Shimabuku taught. But who knows if
they learned the correct method in the first place? I think the vast
majority of Sensei's believe that they did learn the entire system as
taught by its founder. I guess we could say that some Sensie's are
knowingly, and some are unknowingly Americanizing Isshinryu.
2b. I personally know of several Sensei's that would not be teaching at all
if they could not earn a great amount of money. This is surely to be
considered commercialism. Others are Sensei's simply because of
inflated egos. Neither of the two reasons are in the true spirit of
Karate. There are a few though that would still be teaching if they had
only one student. God bless these few.
3-Do you consider yourself a pure Isshinryu practitioner?
How do you feel about cross training?
3a. Yes, I consider myself to be a pure Isshinryu practitioner.
b. My thoughts on cross training . I have not yet met anyone serious
about cross training that have an elevated understanding of
c. The best example I can give on this subject is my own Grandson
Chris, who visited me during the 2005 Christmas holidays. He is 21
years old and started his Isshinryu training under his father (James
Tatsuo Mitchum) at a very early age (6). For the past seven years he
has been interested and competing in Grappling, and has several
wins to his credit . Chris asked if I would check all his empty hand
Katas, finesse him up on them and start him on the weapons. He
had so many mistakes in the first three katas that I felt that it was
fruitless to proceed any further. Chris had demonstrated several
good grappling techniques to me but I admonished him, if he was
ever to become anything more than mediocre in Isshinryu that he
would need to buckle down and get back to training and leave the
other disciplines alone. I said "Chris you would be still able to
practice Karate when you are old age, but I doubt if you can still
grapple at age 50. Even so, people should do what they feel not
what others think about what they do.
4-How do American Isshinryu practitioners compare (as to training and
fighting) to their Okinawa counterparts?
Do you believe that those in the Orient receive better training than we
do here in the USA?
4. There were very few Okinawans training in the dojo at any time during
my tours there. The few that stayed on with Master Shimabuku when
he changed from Shorin to Isshinryu did not train for the purpose of
being able to best a person in sport Karate, but solely for the art itself
and self defense; not for agressive offensive fighting.
I think many American Isshinryu practitioners train for tournament
fighting much more than for the in depth understanding of Karate.
5- What is your opinion of tournament competition?
What are your thoughts on the introduction of pads for kumite?
5. I believe it would be near impossible to keep enough students
interested in Karate to pay the rent on a dojo if a sensei did not
involve his students in tournament competition. For the sixteen years
I had an active dojo, I was not interested at all in taking students to
tournaments. Most months I paid more dojo rent, out of pocket, than
from student membership dues.
5a. Safety pads are necessary for tournament competition and training,
otherwise there would be more injuries. For beginners, I think shin
and forearm pads should be worn so that the students can punch
and kick hard when practicing together on their basic exercises. This
will help toughen the arms and legs without undue pain. I might add
though, for a person very serious about learning karate only for the
art, and self defense, need not ever practice with someone else on
the basics, therefore they would not need any safety gear at all.
6-You were the first in the USA to be awarded 8th Dan by Grandmaster Shimabuku.
(a) Why did you hold back on accepting a 10th Dan until last year?
(b) Are there age guides in Okinawa or Japan as to when a person can
be awarded a 10th Dan?
6. Since I was the first to be awarded eighth dan by Master Shimabuku, I
have never felt uncomfortable around anyone with more rank. I was
awarded ninth Dan by the late Masafumi Suzuki, head of the "All
Japan Budo Federation", and a very early Shorinryu student of
6a. If I had never been recognized as 10th dan by the IIKA, I still would
not have felt uneasy aound others in Isshinryu. I have more respect
for others in Karate because of their character and ability than for
their rank. I would hope that others feel the same towards me.
6b. Most legitimate organizations in Okinawa and Japan follow the guide-
lines as outlined by the "Ranking System in modern Budo" adopted
by the Federation of all Japan Karate-Do organizations on March 27,
Note: Above gudelines may be found on page 110 of the book "The Weaponless
Worriors" by Richard Kim published in 1974 by O'Hara publications, Inc.
(a) What are your thoughts on the increasing number of masters and
grandmasters in Isshinryu?
(b) Do you think that we have too many red/white and red belts? Should we
consider extending black belts only up to 8th Dan, and limiting the red/white
belt for 9th dans and red belt for 10th dans?
(c) Some dojos/associations have very strict standards for promotions, while
others appear to be very lenient? Should we have more uniform standards for
promotions to be used by all dojos and/or associations?
7a. Yes, too many. A friend of mine made the statement many years ago,
"There are more red & white/ red belts in Isshinryu than in all of
Okinawa and Japan, in all other styles combined.
7b. No, I think red & white should be for 7th and 8th dans, and red for 9th
and 10th, which I believe most Isshinryu organizations are following
these guidelines. If all Isshinryu organizations would go a step further
and follow all promotion guidelines outlined by the F.A.J.K.O. This, I
think would slow down the number of Red Belts.
I would like to go one step further and state that All Isshinryu
organizations should not sanction any 9th or 10th Dan rank that
was rendered by any non recognized organization.
7c. I think the more uniform standards of promotion would be better
served if all dojos followed those guidelines as noted in 7b above.
8- Besides the physical satisfaction, do you feel any mental or spiritual
fulfillment from your practice of Isshinryu?
8. For sure, as I get older, a good Karate workout always makes me feel
more enlightened and spiritually well equipped.
9-In your opinion, what is the future of Isshinryu in the USA and in Okinawa?
Do you visualize the return to one person as The Grandmaster of Isshinryu?
…Same as when Master Tatsuo Shinabuku was alive
9a. I think the future of Isshinryu in the United States will become even
more bleak as time goes on unless these various sensei's in all
America rethink the real purpose of Karate and get themselves and
their students grounded in the very basics and philosophy of the art.
In Okinawa, Isshinryu is not even recognized by the legitimate
"Okinawan World Karate Organization". Kichiro Shimabuku is the self
proclaimed head of the Isshinryu System. When I went to Okinawa in
1999, I was told by Ungi Uesu that Kichero only had a few children
coming to his classes. Ungi is not physically able to carry on the
style there (He was the recognized senior by the above mentioned
organization until he became unable to function fully).
Kichiro has many followers in America that only cling to him for
promotions; Unless he has become more proficient in the last 10
years than the previous 10 , the future will also be gloomy for him and
There are too many Grand Masters (most self proclaimed) in America
for the style to, as a whole, recognize just one person as the senior.
If it should ever be proposed by the majority of Isshinryu people,
I'm almost sure several folks would quickly become candidates for
that position. No, I dont think it will ever come to pass.
10-Do you believe that there is a “brotherhood” in Isshinryu?
10. No - I don't personally know of a brotherhood in any state where all
dojos are working together toward achieving any one specific goal. I
wish there was some simple answer to this problem.
11-At the present we have many different Isshinryu organizations in the USA.
In your opinion, are these organizations cooperating or more competing
with each other?
11. The IIKA Isshinryu council was established for the purpose of
addressing and working toward the goal of a more cooperative
atmosphere among the various organizations. I recommend that
someone with unique talent be recruited for the specific purpose
of contacting all Isshinryu organizations and attempting to bring
their leaders back into the council. This would need to be a lifetime
12-What are your thoughts about the Isshinryu Hall of Fame?
Do you agree with all the inductions of the recent years?
12. The original purpose of the Hall of Fame may have become extinct.
I recommended someone to be considered for induction a few years
ago whom I felt had more qualifications than myself or most others
already inducted. This person, I feel was given very minimal, if any,
consideration at all. Also, many years ago I recommended First
generation Tom Lewis personally to Mr. Long, but I never heard
anything further about it. My thoughts are that the entire selection
process may need some re-thinking. I have not known or read
about the accomplishments or qualifications of the many past
inductees, so I cannot make any specific comment on them.
I can honestly say though without any reservations, that most, if
not all, present inductees' qualifications would pale in comparison
to the ones I recommended. Perhaps a few scholarly non-karate
people on the selection board would be more appropriate
13-You influenced the lives of many people, what would you like your legacy to be?
13. I hosted several UIKA members on a trip to Okinawa in 1999. We all
had a wonderful time. We visited many historical sites, including
Master Shimabuku's tomb. They felt privileged for having met and
had pictures taken with the great Kinjo Chinsaku, M/ Shimabuku's
most proficient Karate student. I believe they all feel that their trip to
Okinawa will remain one of the most unforgettable experiences of
Most of these same Karate Ka participated in the production of the
Isshinryu Karate System. Now available on VHS/DVD.
My entire Martial Arts experience has been total devotion, without
change, to M/Shimabuku and his Isshinryu Karate.
My thanks to Karate Five for allowing me this input to their website.
I sincerely hope that it poses no discomfort to anyone.
Harold M. Mitchum
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