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Bohan’s Family June 2004 - "Warrior of the Month“

 Grandmaster Harold M. Mitchum, Isshin-Ryu Karate-Do


"Grandmaster Mitchum and I have become much better acquainted since the passing of Master Bohan in 1998. I consider him to be a mentor, and more importantly, a friend.  I have found him to very knowledgeable and willing to assist in anyway possible.  He has shared his magnificent collection of Martial Arts memorabilia, and given some sound advice whenever asked.  I really want him to know that everything he has done to help the Bohan’s Family Memorial Website and me is greatly appreciated.


Thanks for being there for us, thanks for being part of the team!!"

 Wayne Wayland


NOTE: Grandmaster Mitchum has created videos of the  Isshinryu katas as taught to him by the late Grandmaster Tatsuo Shimabuku.  The videos show Master Mitchum performing the katas and explaining the bunkai.  They are a great addition to any collection.   @ TRUE BUDO PRODUCTIONS

Biography of

Grandmaster Harold M. Mitchum

by Lori Clark (Bohan's Isshin-Ryu)

Name: Harold Marion Mitchum

Birth date:  December 17, 1933

Place of birth: Stiefeltown, South Carolina (near Aiken)

Resides: Chattanooga, Tennessee

Occupation:  Retired Marine (25 years)

Martial arts experience: 48 years

Teaching experience: Over 46 years

Other Interest: Playing the Guitar and Horse shoes.


            Harold Mitchum was born in South Carolina on December 17, 1933.   He joined the Marines on July 23, 1953.  He was first stationed in Okinawa in March, 1958.  He checked all of the local karate schools out and chose Isshinryu because he considered it to be more practical and because the dojo was closest to the base where he was stationed.

(This picture was taken April, 1971, when Harold Mitchum was promoted to First Sergeant)

            Being stationed on Okinawa on different assignments during his 20 years of duty, he spent more time directly under Master Shimabuku than any other American.  His time totaled 7 1/2 years.  In comparison, other Marines usually just spent one tour of duty, which was usually one year, and by the time they found the dojo, they only studied about ten months.  Some people claim to have studied 8, 10 or 12 hours a day while on Okinawa.  When asked Master Mitchum just laughed and said that being in the Marines wasn't a vacation.  These people had jobs.

            While on Okinawa, Harold Mitchum was the only American who can lay claim to actually running a second dojo for Master Shimabuku.  Angi Uezu, Master Shimabuku's son-in-law, lived in an adjoining apartment in the dojo and Mitchum said he doesn't believe Uezu had even started karate at that time.  Mitchum was appointed the first President of the American Okinawan Karate Association and was the first American ever promoted to Hachi-Dan (8th Degree Black Belt) by Master Shimabuku.  That certificate is numbered #1 and dated November 5,1964.  Master Shimabuku later promoted Nagle, Armstrong and Long to Hachi-Dan, but he never promoted an American to Ku-Dan (9th Degree Black Belt) .  Therefore Harold Mitchum would be considered his senior American student.

(Front Row L-R) - Kinjo Chinsaku, Miekawa Yekeye, Shinkin Taira, Tatsuo Shimabuku, Kinjo Shimabuku, Unknown, Unknown, David Draper (Second Row L-R) - Harold Mitchum, Unknown, Unknown, Charlie Connors, ? Brantly, ? Gucci, John Desantis, Sherman Harrill, Clarence Ewing, Unknown. (Back Row L-R) - Donald Bohan, David Bennett, Issac Dawson, Ed Johnson, Unknown, William Blond, Steve Armstrong, Unknown, Unknown.  This picture is courtesy of Grandmaster Harold Mitchum.

            Sensei Mitchum was promoted to Ku-Dan on June 5, 1988 by the late Masufumi Suzuki - who was at that time, and until his passing - the head of the All Japan Budo Federation and the Seibukan Academy in Kyoto, Japan.  Mr. Suzuki knew Master Shimabuku quite well and stated that he had heard Master Shimabuku speak very highly of Harold Mitchum.  Mr. Suzuki, in a private conversation with Sensei Mitchum, stated that since Master Shimabuku's death, Isshinryu had died.  What he implied by this was that Isshinryu no longer had any strong oriental leadership.

            Mitchum often talks about Master Shimabuku's #1 Okinawan student, Kinjo Chinsaku.  Mitchum studied Shorin-Ryu for about nine months under Chinsaku.   Mitchum says he had the best sidekick he had ever seen.  Joe Lewis also credits his legendary sidekick to Chinsaku.  Mitchum said Chinsaku often performed Tokomine Bo kata in demonstrations they did and demonstrated more power than anyone he had ever seen - before or since.

            On the occasions that Shimabuku visited the States (the most notable in 1966 when he was filmed doing kata at Armstrong's dojo) Mitchum could not be in attendance due to military obligations.  The last time he was in Okinawa was in 1971.

            Upon retiring from the military, Master Mitchum settled down in Albany, Georgia and opened a dojo there.  His three sons, James Tatsuo, Leon and Steve, became proficient karateka and helped in running his dojo.

            When asked why there are so many variations of the kata even by people who trained during the same time period, he said that many people came back to the U.S. after such a short length of time that they either forgot and did the kata the best that they could remember, or in many cases they didn't really understand the kata because of their lack of knowledge (many people learned no bunkai because the old way of teaching was bunkai taught only if you asked - and many people never asked!).   Therefore if they didn't understand they would just change the move to something they could understand.

            Sensei Mitchum is the current Director of the United Isshinryu Karate Association (U.I.K.A.).  He prefers to keep the association a small and close knit group consisting of only sincere practitioners whose goal is to learn things the way Sensei Mitchum learned them.  The association is run similar to a dojo:  with loyalty, patience and harmony within the association being a must.

            When asked about his students Grandmaster Mitchum had this to say : "My senior students John and Cindy Ingram have, in my opinion, done more to bring recognition of Isshin-Ryu to the Karate World than anyone I know.  For the past several years they have involved their students in International competition and  many have won titles and gold medals in the AAU."
            "The AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) has the most stringent guidelines for coaching, refereeing & judging than any other competitions I know.  To win a medal in AAU competition is quite an accomplishment.  Thru their involvement in the AAU, Isshin-Ryu Karate is being recognized as a style of its own merit like Shorin-Ryu, Goju-Ryu, and others."
            "I am very proud of the UIKA and its few members. Their loyalty and dedication to training and teaching traditional karate is very commendable. We are a small group but widespread from Canada to Florida spreading east to west."
            "I would also like to express my sincere gratitude to J.C. Burris, Tommy True, and the IIKA  board of directors for their recognition of me as the most MOST SENIOR LEADER OF ISSHIN-RYU,  and the special JU-DAN certificate presented to me on that occasion March 20, 2004.  I feel their Association is more on track with the promotion guidelines of the FEDERATION OF ALL JAPAN KARATE-DO ORGANIZATIONS than most others."



When asked what his most memorable experience with Master Shimabuku was....

Harold Mitchum -

"I was in the Dojo in Okinawa one day, I had been kicking on the makiwara  for several minutes, I felt especially good that day, and about to finish my kicking exercise, I kicked the 2"X4" board especially hard, and it broke, making a very loud cracking noise.  M/Shimabuku exclaimed "akisamio",  expressing  amazement at what I had done. He thought that I had done something no one else had ever done. He made it a point to tell everyone, (to my embarrassment)  "If Mitchum kick, you die".


Tom Lewis -

"I have always had a lot of respect for Harold Mitchum as do many, and well deserved.  Many years ago, the Isshinryu system in this country was lead by four 8th Dans, Harold being one of them.  The other three were more visible with the promotion of tournaments, publications and just being in the limelight more, I'm not taking anything away from that but Harold was more on the quiet side. I never felt that tournaments was ever a priority for him, nevertheless, there have been excellent Isshinryu people in his company.  He is a man that should be regarded as one of the most knowledgeable and dedicated people in the system of Isshinryu.  I'm proud to have a long time friend like Harold Mitchum."



John Ingram -

"My relationship with Sensei Mitchum has made me a believer in traditional karate.  I have traveled to the largest tournaments in the U.S. and have seen the top forms competitors in the nation.  But when I see this humble man who is over 70 years old do kata, I see true kata perfection - kata the way it was meant to be.   His kicks and punches are the most powerful I have ever seen and maybe those who don't believe in the one punch kill (and I didn't until I saw Sensei Mitchum) have never seen a true karate master in action.  When he demonstrates bunkai, it is very practical and really does work.  The problem is that to become proficient at kata moves takes years of hard work and you truly don't reach your full potential until the day you die.  If you ever see this man and want a demonstration, don't hold your breath because he does karate not to impress people but because it is a part of him and the people he teaches are few in number and that's the way he wants it."


(Sensei Kinjo and Karate Ka from Florida. L to R - Gary Repetti /Joe Trinkas / Cindy Ingram /  Harold Mitchum / John Ingram)