Taira Shinken was born Maezato Shinken on the 12th June 1897, in the village of Nakazato’on the island of Kumejima. Officially recorded as Maezato Shinken, he often used his mother’s maiden name ‘Taira’.
He graduated from Nakazato Elementary school and later worked at a mine in Minami Jima. It was during his days working in the mine that Taira Shinken life was dramatically changed.
During one of his shifts he was caught in a cave-in and buried alive. Although badly wounded he managed to dig his way to safety. He returned to Kumejima after the accident to rest and recuperate. Because of the accident he was left with a limp which he was to carry for the rest of his life.
When he recovered he continued to work as a miner, but his co-workers were merciless in there taunts to him because of the injury to his right leg. At first he felt embarrassed and ashamed, but resolved to make himself stronger and decided that Bujutsu was the best means to attain his goal.
At 25 he left his work and traveled to Japan intent on studying Judo. Whilst in Tokyo he had a chance meeting with Funakoshi Gichin who, at that time, was working towards popularizing karate on the Japanese mainland. Taira was so impressed with what Funakoshi said to him, he reconsidered his plans of studying Judo. He entered Funakoshi’s dojo as a live-in student in 1922 and studied there for the next eight years, becoming his assistant instructor and one of his closest students.
Taira’s interest in Budo did not stop at karate, in 1929, with Funakoshi’s recommendation, he entered Yabiku Moden’s dojo to study Ryukyu Kobudo. Mabiku like his colleague Funakosi, was also working to promote karate as well as kobudo in Japan.During his study under Mabiku, Taira mastered the use of such weapons as the Bo, Sai, Tuifa, Nunchaku, and Eku.
After completing his training in 1932, he was granted permission to open a dojo, where he taught karate and kobudo. In 1933 he received his formal teaching license in Ryukyu Kobudo from Yabiku Sensei.
In 1934,Taira Shinken invited Mabuni Kenwa,an acquaintance of Funakoshi, from Osaka to receive instruction in Karate and Kobudo. He graciously accepted the invitation and taught Taira until his return to Okinawa in 1940. During those six years, Taira housed and paid Mabuni for his instruction. Taira expanded his knowledge of Kata and techniques of the Bo and Sai under the close scrutiny of Mabuni Sensei.
Whilst teaching in Gunma Prefecture, Taira began to experiment with the idea of full contact weapon sparring. The armor he was trying to develop has to be flexible and strong, so as not to hinder any movement, but also be able to resist the strike of a Bo. He also developed an over size striking post for the Bo, to help improve the accuracy and build power. Taira’s early attempts at developing full contact weapon sparring was later abandoned possibly to a shortage of material due to Japans increasing involvement in WW2. After Taira’s death his most senior student Akamine Eisuke continued Taira’s early attempts.
It was during his time teaching in Gunma Prefecture that Taira allegedly developed the Mariji sai and ifs accompanying kata. The mariji sai has had a long history in China and Okinawa, and Taira’s inspiration for the weapon apparently came after visiting a Buddhist temple to pray for success of his newly opened dojo. It was there that he saw a large manji which in Taira’s eyes resembled a Kobudo weapon. Almost straight away Taira was inspired as how to create a weapon from its shape. After he returned to his dojo, he formulated his ideas for the construction of the mariji sai and the kata Jigan no sai. The kata takes advantage of the manji sai, unique shape and employs many double handed thrusting techniques. The kanji that Taira selected for his new kata, can be translated as the foundation of love/compassion .This maybe due to the source of his inspiration; a Buddhist symbol.
In 1940 he returned to Okinawa and after the death of Yabiku Sensei in 1941, established the Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinko-Kai, the association for the promotion and preservation of Ryukyu Kobudo in Naha. It is based on the organization of Yabiku Sensei’s Ryukyu Kobujutsu Kenkyu Kai.
Taira’s Hozon Shinkokai included instruction in the use of nine different weapons and their respective kata’s that he had learned during his years of instruction or those that he had created himself. He continued to make visits to the Kansai and Kanto areas to teach and promote Kobudo in Japan. In the early 1960’s he published the first book on Ryukyu Kobudo in Japanese entitled “Ryukyu Kobudo Taiken” which helped greatly to popularize the art in Okinawa.
Later in the 1960’s he formalized and strengthened his association by appointing his students to different positions in the Shinko Kai and established testing and licensing standards for his students. In 1963, to further the growth of Karate and Kobudo at an international level. the Kokusai Karate-do Kobudo Renmei was formed with Higa Seiko as the chairman and Taira Shinken as the vice chairman. In 1964 he was recognized as a master teacher of Kobudo by the All Japan Kobudo Federation and awarded his Hanshi certification.
After Taira Shinken’s death, Akamine Eisuke, took over the position as chairman of the Ryukyu Hozon Shinko Kai. In an attempt to expand Ryukyu Kobudo, Akamine Sensie opened his own dojo in 1971, naming it the Shinbu Kan. This was followed by other students of Taira Shinken opening their own respective dojos.
With his mastery of Shorin Ryu and Goju Ryu complete, Shimabuku next sought out the Kobu-Jutsu (study of weapons) Weapons Master, Taira Shinken (1902-1970). At the time, he was the world’s greatest expert in the bo and sai. Master Shimabuku believed strongly in the learning of weapons, feeling a karate system without weaponry was incomplete. He saw the continuation of weapons training as a way of preserving an important part of Okinawan culture and the Samurai fighting spirit. He also felt weapons offered the practitioner a new challenge once he mastered empty hand karate techniques. Ancient weapons are also effective self-defense instruments that can be used during any time period not matter how sophisticated our culture becomes. Master Shimabuku had a great personal love for weaponry and practiced perfecting the Bo and Sai every day of his life. From Master Shinken, Shimabuku learned the following weapons katas, and like the hand and foot katas of Shorin Ryu and Goju Ryu, later refined and modified them into his Isshin Ryu system.
They are: Bo 1, named Tokumine-No-Kun, name means, of the Tokumine family who first developed this kata. Bo 2, named Urashi, Urashi is the name of the village where this Kata originated. Bo 3, named Shishi-No-Kun-No-Dai, means instructor of the big bo because this Kata is the longest Isshin Ryu Bo form. Shimabuku first taught this kata in 1967, after almost 20 years of perfecting it. Sai 1, named Kusanku Sai, means night fighting with Sai. Sai 2, named Chatanyara-No-Sai, name derived from the Chantan village where the Yara family developed it. Bo-Bo Kumite, this form is two Bo practitioners fighting against each other in a set pattern that has ten important techniques inside. Bo-Sai Kumite, similar to Bo-Bo except a Sai is used to fight a Bo attacker. It also contains an important set of ten prearranged movements.