What The Masters are Saying ....


  The Karate 5 Organization will periodically interview well-known Masters to get their views 
  on a number of topics. The words of the Masters are their views on the selected topics. This
   interview is with  Grandmaster Harold Mitchum. He was interviewed by  Grandmaster
  Maurice Msarsa.
 


  
 
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:

 
 
Question: 
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?

Answer: 
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.

Question:  
2-Do you believe that the American Senseis are trying to Americanize and/or 
   commercialize Isshinryu?

Answer:  
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.

Question:  
3-Do you consider yourself a pure Isshinryu practitioner? 

    How do you feel about cross training? 

 
Answer: 
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
        Isshinryu.
       
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.

Question:  
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?

 
 Answer: 
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.

Question:  
5- What is your opinion of tournament competition?

     What are your thoughts on the introduction of pads for kumite?

 
Answer: 
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.

Question:  
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?

 
Answer: 
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 
          M/Shimabuku.
         
         
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,
          1971.
         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.

Question:  
7-Rank

(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?

 
Answer: 
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.

Question:    
8- Besides the physical satisfaction, do you feel any mental or spiritual 
    fulfillment from your practice of Isshinryu?

Answer:  
8.     For sure, as I get older, a good Karate workout always makes me feel 
         more enlightened and spiritually well equipped.

Question:  
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

 
Answer: 
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 
        his followers. 
 
        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.

Question:  
10-Do you believe that there is a “brotherhood” in Isshinryu?

Answer: 
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.

Question:  
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?

Answer:  
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
        commitment .

 Question: 
12-What are your thoughts about the Isshinryu Hall of Fame?

      Do you agree with all the inductions of the recent years?

 
Answer: 
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

Question:                                
13-You influenced the lives of many people, what would you like your legacy to be?

Answer:  
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
           their lives.
 
           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 

Return to Home Page