Just because one believes in the modern, one should not forget the old.Zenpo Shimabukuro
An instructor who believes in both traditional and modern approaches to Karate training, Zenpo Shimabukuro believes that is up that it is up to a student to find the appropriate balance in their training.
On 11 October 1943 Zenpo Shimabukuro was born in Chatan, Okinawa. He was the fourth of five children born to Zenryo and Tsuru Shimabukuro. His father worked as a baker and also as a tatami maker.
Zenryo Shimabukuro was a long-time student of Chotoku Kyan, who had learnt his Karate from many of the top Okinawan masters, including the legendary Sokon Matsumura.
On 7 December 1941, Japan mounted a surprise attack on the Pearl Harbor Naval Base in Honolulu. This brought the United States into World War II on the side of the Allies.
Between 1 April to 22 June 1945, the Battle of Okinawa took place between Japan and the United States. The battle with the bloodiest of the Pacific War. The three-month battle saw over 12,000 American deaths; over 100,000 Japanese deaths; and around 100,000 Okinawans civilian deaths.
Zenpo Shimabukuro lost one of his sisters near the start of the war, and a brother shortly after the war. His father Zenryo also lost his teacher Chotoku Kyan, who had been his only teacher.
Growing up Zenpo Shimabukuro would help his father in the bakery. He would also help the family by fetching wood and water.
In 1952, aged 9, Shimabukuro and his cousin Zenji began learning Karate from Zenryo Shimabukuro. They would train at the family home and sometimes at a nearby graveyard.
Zenryo Shimabukuro was given a contract to teach Shorin-Ryu to American personnel at Fort Buckner. 16-year-old Zenpo Shimabukuro assisted his father with the teaching. He also began learning English.
In March 1962 Zenpo Shimabukuro graduated from Futema High School. That year his father was promoted to 10 Dan by the AJKF (All Japan Karate-do Federation) Okinawan branch.
1962 also saw Zenryo Shimabukuro borrow some money to buy land in Chatan, to build a dojo. Named the Seibukan, meaning the “Hall of the Holy Art“, the dojo was one of the biggest in Okinawa. Many of his students helped with the building of the dojo.
Zenpo Shimabukuro was sent to Philadelphia, United States in September 1963 by his father. He stayed with Walter Dailey who had learnt Seibukan while stationed in Okinawa. Dailey had established the first Seibukan dojo outside of Okinawa. Shimabukuro had been sent to the United States to help organise and teach Seibukan.
Apart from teaching, the young Shimabukuro also competed in regional and national tournaments. He entered the Jhoon Rhee International Tournament, where he won the kata competition and finished second in the kumite competition.
Through 1964 and 1965 Shimabukuro also became kumite champion at the Canadian National Championships, the Pennsylvania State Championships, and the Canadian International Championships.
In 1966 Shimabukuro returned to Okinawa to help his father run the Seibukan dojo.
Looking to expand his Karate, Shimabukuro began training with Chozo Nakama in 1969. Nakama was a close friend of his father and a student of the legendary Chosin Chibana.
On 14 October 1969 Zenryo Shimabukuro died from a ruptured appendix in Mainland Japan. He was only 61 years old.
Zenpo Shimabukuro succeeded his father as the head of the S.eibukan He was 26 years old.
With his father dead, Shimabukuro continue training with Chozo Nakama, until Nakama’s death in 1974.
In 1975 Shimabukuro returned to the United States for a three-month stay. During his visit, he helped establish the International Seibukan Karate-do Association. By this time there were Seibukan students in America, Japan, Malaysia, Germany, Poland, South America, the Middle East, and India.
By the 1990s Seibukan had grown from strength to strength. Shimabukuro was fast becoming recognised as one of the Karate world’s top masters. In 1996 he performed a demonstration at the 1996 Olympic Games held in Atlanta. This was followed by a seminar conducted with four other teachers from Okinawa.
Shimabukuro return to the United States between July to August 1998. He conducted a 10-city teaching tour, starting in Atlanta and finishing in Seattle. He also conducted a seminar at the USANKF (USA National Karate-do Federation) National Championships, held between 29 July to 2 August. He also gave a demonstration during the finals.
2012 marked the 50th Anniversary of Shimabukuro’s father’s Seibukan. Between May-June, he travelled to the United States to celebrate the Anniversary.
2020 saw the publication of Shimabukuro’s book, “Shorin Ryu Seibukan: Kyan’s Karate“, co-authored with Dan Smith. The book provides valuable background on Chotoku Kyan and Zenryo Shimabukuro. It also details the syllabus of Shorin Ryu Seibukan.
Zenpo Shimabukuro is married with five children (three girls and two boys).
Away from karate, Shimabukuro runs a successful Real Estate business and also co-owns a restaurant with his wife. He has also served on the board of directors for the Nago Crippled Children’s Home.
Shimabukuro currently holds a 10th Dan. His son Zenshun has followed his father’s footsteps into the arate world.