8 Codes of Isshin-Ryu

Master Tatsuo Shimabuku

1.    A person’s heart is the same as Heaven and Earth.

2.    The Blood circulating is similar to the Moon and the Sun

3.    A manner of drinking and spitting is either hard or soft

4.    A person’s unbalance is the same as a weight

5.    The body should be able to change direction at any time

6.    The time to strike is when opportunity presents itself

7.    The eye must see all sides

8.    The ear must listen in all directions

 (see the blog on the 8 codes for some perspective)

A person’s heart is the same as Heaven and Earth.

GalaxyWhat Tatsu was maybe trying to get at here, by focusing on the “Heart” was that part of yourself what was NOT your thinking mind.  Call it heart, soul, awareness, consciousness
….. it’s that part of you that HAS the thought, not the thought itself.

What he’s probably trying to get at here by using the word heart is basically WHO YOU AMoleculesRE.

That concept reaches deep within and finds that we are the consciousness that has as part of it’s expression, our mind, our thoughts, and our body and the actions it can take, which we can lump into the general category of “form.”

So he’s probably trying to get you to see that YOU are your consciousness that expresses itself through form, through thought, body, and the action of activity.  Just like the consciousness of the universe expresses itself in the forms on this planet and on every other planet in the heavens.

Likewise, we can see both on the large scale of the cosmos, and the smaller scale of the molecules and atoms that make up the cosmos, that something is responsible for intelligently, and consciously creating those forms and interactions they have.  It appears Tatsu is implying that it is all connected, and in fact all the same.

Consciousness expressing itself through form, but not BEING of form, as BEING is not form, it is that part of you that enjoys the forms.  If that was his intention, he would be aligning his perspective with that of a long line of spiritual masters over thousands of years who have all been trying to tell us the same thing to help us see ourselves, and our true place in service to the dance of evolution taking place wherever form is found.

The Blood circulating is similar to the Moon and the Sun

SunAndMoonThis is Tatsu’s acknowledgement of the principle of cycles found throughout the universe.  Pretty much everywhere you look, there is a cycle to be found.  The path of a blood molecule takes from the heart to the lungs to digestive tract to the body and back again to the heart.  Likewise the sun and moon are symbolic of the cycle of days, as well as years.  Then there is the cycle of this lifetime, and the periods of expansion and contraction we experience as part of that life.

Similarly our techniques must go out, and then come back, and our katas have a beginning and an end.

Yet while the material world is going through cycles all around us, our awareness of those cycles, our presence while performing kata remains constant, and is in fact without cycle, eternal if you will.

In fact, it is the awareness and presence developed through practicing our techniques and moves…our “forms/katas” that gives us that direct experience that our awareness, our “center,” is separate from our moves, and remains the same regardless of how well we perform those moves.

Oh sure, your MIND might have all kinds of thoughts about those moves, but that’s usually either before because of your expectations, or afterwards as you judge that move with your ego.  During the move if you are practicing correctly, there is no thought, just the move and YOU, your awareness.

A manner of drinking and spitting is either hard or soft

Now what could drinking and spitting possibly have to do with the martial arts?  “I spit on your pathetic punch…”    :-)

Actually, that’s the whole point of this code. By pointing out the manner of two things you don’t associate with the martial arts, Tatsu is trying to get you to practice Isshin-ryu everywhere, all the time.  More specifically practice the same awareness you bring to kata or sparring to anything else.  All you have to do is practice that moment of awareness with what you are doing right NOW, whether that is drinking, spitting, doing the dishes.

I can remember Sensei Kussro once telling us when he was coaching his son’s baseball team that he was also teaching them Isshin-Ryu.   I didn’t quite get it then, but now I know he was trying to explain that the same attention and focus he wanted us to have in the dojo he was teaching to those kids on the baseball field.   Whether swinging a bat, or swing a hook kick, it’s the attention and awareness you bring to the activity that is the essence of what any art is there to teach you.

A person’s unbalance is the same as a weight

UnBalanceThis code is about both the physical philosophy of the Isshin-Ryu style of fighting, in that our techniques are executed from a place of balance that allows rapid reaction times and direction changes.

To understand this code as a metaphor, we need to understand the meaning of both weight and imbalance. There are two possibilities that come to mind.

  1. One is our thoughts as weight.  We have all heard the expression of someone “carrying a heavy burden”, and that refers to their stressful thoughts about some circumstance in their life.  The balance here has to do with our relationship to our thoughts, and here we have two choices as well.  One is the replacement thought strategy. This is your “every cloud has a silver lining” approach.  We attempt to suffer less by giving our mind a positive thought to balance out the negative one.  I call this the “white belt” approach.  The “black belt” approach would be to simply let go of the weight which has the effect of instantly restoring balance as there is no weight to cause imbalance.
  2. The other possible interpretation concerns one’s balance with nature, or the natural laws that govern the universe.  This is what the Chinese cal Tao.  Which means “the way” that is balanced appropriately in the moment for what’s needed right now.  When one can live in that place in each moment, life supports your actions and desires.  When you are way off balance with what should really be done right now, life will drag on you as if you carried a heavy weight around your neck.

The body should be able to change direction at any time

This code further emphasizes the principle of balance by pointing out the benefits of being in balance, as opposed to the previous code which alerted us to the risk of being out of balance.

If your techniques can not be pulled back and redirected in any direction, you opponent will take advantage of this weakness and counter attack in a direction you can not react to.  Isshin-ryu achieves this by snapping punches and kicks from a neutral stance that doesn’t put your body in motion in a way that’s hard to redirect.  As a result, you can go from left to right or front and back in rapid succession with Isshin-ryu techniques.

As a metaphor, this code teaches us to basically “go with the flow” of life, as opposed to resisting what is and as a result what can’t be changed.  100% of our suffering is from resistance we put up to what is, even if just a thought that it’s bad or wrong.  Instead we need to be able to change direction to match the direction of life.

Tatsuo while explaining the 5th verse of the Kenpo gokui made this very enlightened statem
ent. “All things in the universe will change, and you must accept and go with change.”WindingRiver

The time to strike is when opportunity presents itself

This code teaches us how important courage is and faith in ourselves to recognize the right moment. This is also another reference to the Tao, which can only really be sensed through awareness.  It’s the attention you have in the moment as you let your consciousness settle on and light up exactly what’s happening NOW.

In our martial arts practice we can related this to the feeling of “suki” or opening.  Every time you punch or kick you have to make yourself vulnerable by either standing on one foot, or by committing a limb to attack that can no longer be used for defense.  When your opponent is in a position to take advantage of that vulnerability, you have committed a “suki” or opening/opportunity for your opponent. Likewise, you are watching for your opponent to “suki” in order to time your attacks at their vulnerabilities.

Because of the speed of our training interactions, your awareness of these openings moves from thought to awareness and becomes simply a “sense” that your opponent has made a mistake, or that you need to defend as a result of your own suki.

As humans we get to choose the actions we make to further our evolution, to improve our practice.   Through kumite, Isshin-ryu gives you the ability to appreciate that split-second, intuitive feeling that “NOW!” is the time to strike.  Refining this sense of the opportunities around you will help you in the actions you take outside of class as well.

The eye must see all sides

Last, but by no mean least, the last two codes brings our attention to the answer of a very important question.  What is it that I am really practicing that will help me the most.  After years of step right, punch right, or doubling up on you roundhouse kicks, what out of all the things you practice  is the most critical to your success?

The answer to that my dear friend, is awareness.  BEING conscious, being present, being aware. Knowing what is happening right now in total thoughtless acceptance that’s free of judgement or labeling by the mind.

It’s that feeling right after you bow in to a kumite session and before one of you makes the first move. You are totally focused, aware, present to this exact moment as anything is about to happen very quickly.

Yet after class, how much of that awareness do you intentionally practice in normal moments when you don’t have your gi on?  The next time you bow out of class, have that ritual be a personal commitment to take the awareness you’ve practiced in class out to the world, as the world desperately needs your higher consciousness in it.  Let go of any judgements about what happened in class, it’s over, in the past.  Any practice is good practice if you are practicing awareness.

One of Sensei Kussro’s favorite reminders in class was not that “practice makes perfect, but that perfect practice makes perfect.”  This was his way of saying that it doesn’t count unless you are practicing being aware of what you are practicing.

While this will improve your skill with whatever movement you are practicing, the real value to you as a person, is the effect that has on your ability to be aware, conscious, and present.  The more you do this, the stronger your awareness becomes.  Eventually that awareness has been practiced enough that it’s always on, and learns to recognize itself.  That awareness essentially becomes YOU, and replaces however you most likely think of yourself now.

That experience will make you realize THAT’s why you’ve been doing this all these years. Knowing how to fight is kind of trivial in comparison, and amounts to a nice party favor.   Knowing yourself is really why you are here.


The ear must listen in all directions

This code and the last one both refer to the senses, and the ones we most rely on in the martial arts. Our taste buds don’t have as much self defense application, although our sense of touch certainly does.

What sight and sound have in common is that they are the two senses most easily used when practicing awareness in almost any situation.  While the martial arts application of being aware of what’s around you is fairly obvious, what is often missed is how sight and sound offer us opportunities to practice awareness outside the dojo.

When you come to a stop sign, that sign offers an excellent opportunity to stop that incessant monologue of thoughts in your head and practice a moment of just awareness.  How far can you push that awareness out from yourself?  Naturally your focus should be on safely getting through the intersection, but after that, how much can you be aware around you right this second?  What’s the weather like, what street are you on, what do the house numbers tell you about the block, are the neighbors taking care of their neighborhood? How many cars are behind you? Are you going the speed limit?   When you take a moment to “take it all in” you will realize how much you usually don’t take in.

What are YOU doing normally instead of taking it all in you might ask?  What’s happening when I’m not intentionally practicing awareness?

MezmorizedThe answer is that your awareness is asleep, or rather mesmerized by that constant stream of thoughts, as if someone turned a TV on inside your head.

The whole point of your practice, is to wake up, and keep that part of you from going asleep, ever again.   It can be done, many have done it already, and Tatsu wrote these codes to help you understand that path.

I know this because quite simply there is only one path, which is to wake up consciousness.  It is the basic principle of human evolution.  It’s just how nature works.  A flower is supposed to bloom, and your consciousness is supposed to be awake and aware of itself.  Both are structured in the laws of nature.

“To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the highest skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the highest skill.”        

 – Sun-Tsu

PS. The reason this is the highest skill, is that through awareness you can see and hear your enemy’s need to evolve and through acceptance of what is true right you are not burdened by attachment to any particular outcome to the situation and thus freed of fear you are able to call on the true intelligence you have within you.  This let’s you feel the Tao or the best path at this moment and see the action or words that can heal your enemy’s pain, or show him that you in fact you are not his enemy.  Thus subdued, you can now both continue on the path of evolution, which is more enjoyable when surrounded by friends, instead of enemies.


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