OF SHOTOKAN KARATE-DO
courtesy of Shihan Kenneth Funakoshi, 9th Dan, FSKA)
2009 marked the 52nd anniversary of the passing of the
Founder of Shotokan Karate-Do, Master Gichin Funakoshi,
while this coming November 10, 2009 will mark the 141st
anniversary of his birth.
always remember him with true gratitude and with great
respect, for without his dedication to the art of karate
the style we study today, Shotokan Karate-Do, would not
exist. How is it possible for us to repay such a debt?
Gichin Funakoshi sensei,
known worldwide as the Founder of Shotokan Karate-Do, was
born in Shuri, Okinawa in Yamakawa-cho district on
November 10, 1868.
The official district
records, however, show that his birth took place in 1870,
but he in fact he falsified his own records in order to
be able to take the Tokyo Medical School entrance
examination. In spite of passing the exam Funakoshi
sensei never did become a member of the medical
profession. Something millions of karate students around
the world, myself included, will always be very grateful
Since he was considered a
frail child many members of his family felt that he was
destined for a short and uneventful life. Little did his
family know just how long and how important his life
would really be.
It was during his early
primary school years that he was first introduced to the
study "Tode" or "Chinese Hand" under
Master Yasutsune Azato, since his family felt that
studying the art of karate might help to strengthen him
physically and thus improve the quality of his life.
A good student Gichin
Funakoshi flourished under the tutelage of Master Azato
to whose home he travelled each evening to practice
karate. Later Master Azato would introduce him to another
important teacher under whom he would also study, Master
Yasutsune Itosu. It was these two men more than any
others who would have the greatest impact on his life.
No longer interested in
entering the medical school it was while studying karate
that Gichin Funakoshi decided to become a school teacher
and so after passing the qualifying examination he took
charge of his first primary school class in 1888. It was
a profession he was to follow for more than thirty years.
A high point in Gichin
Funakoshi's karate took place on March 6, 1921 when he had the honour of
demonstrating the art of "Okinawan te" to then
Crown Prince Hirohito during a visit he made to Okinawa. Then, in the
Spring of 1922, Gichin Funakoshi traveled to Tokyo where
he had been invited to present his art of Tode at the
First National Athletic Exhibition in Tokyo, which had
been organized by the Ministry of Education. After the
demonstration he was strongly urged by several eminent
groups and individuals to remain in Japan, and indeed he
never did return to live in Okinawa.
As it had in Okinawa, the
educational system of Japan was to become a major factor
in the spread of karate. By 1924 Gichin Funakoshi had
started to introduce karate to several of the local
universities, first at Keio, followed by Chuo, Tokyo, and
Waseda to name but a few. It was through these
universities that he was able to reach a much larger
audience and this contributed greatly to the growing
popularity of karate.
Master Funakoshi was
finally able to establish the Shoto-kan dojo in 1936, a
great landmark in the history of karate. Funakoshi sensei
was not only a genius in martial arts, but he was also a
literary talent, and he signed all of his works "Shoto"
which was his pen name. Hence, the dojo where he taught
came to be known as "Shoto's school" or "Shoto's
kan" which was ultimately adopted as the official
name for his style of karate. Funakoshi sensei had
combined the techniques and katas of the two major
Okinawan styles to form his own style of karate, as a
result, today Shotokan karate-do includes the powerful
techniques of the Shorei style of karate, as well as the
lighter more flexible movements of the Shorin style of
The original Shotokan Dojo
In the beginning Funakoshi
sensei taught only sixteen katas, they were: Kankudai,
Kankusho, five Heian katas (known in Okinawa as Pinan
katas), three Tekki katas (known on Okinawa as Naihfanchi
katas), Wanshu, (later to be known as Empi), Chinto, (later
to be known as Gankaku), Patsai, (later to be known as
Bassai), Jitte, Jion, and Seisan (later to be known as
Empi), since he felt that sixteen katas were more than
enough for one lifetime.
After the end of the Second
World War, karate was slowly revived, and a major step
forward took place when the Japan Karate Association (JKA)
was established in 1949, with Funakoshi sensei appointed
by the organization as its first Chief Instructor due to
his advanced skills and leadership capabilities.
Although Funakoshi sensei
was famous as a great karate master he was also
acknowledged as a very humble man. During his lifetime he
emphasized three major aspects of karate-do above all
else, basic technique, kata, and the development of
spiritual values leading to the perfection of the
character of karate's participants.
Master Gichin Funakoshi, in Kamakura, Japan
courtesy of Sensei Thomas Casale, 5th Dan, JSKA-USA)
After training, and
teaching the art of karate for more than seventy-five
years, Master Gichin Funakoshi passed away in Tokyo,
Japan on April 26, 1957 at the age of 88. The photograph
above is of the memorial to Gichin Funakoshi sensei that
is located on the grounds of Engakuji Temple, in
Kamakura, Japan. This photo is one of a series that were
taken by, and very kindly provided to me, courtesy of
Sensei Thomas Casale, 5th Dan, Chief Instructor, JSKA-USA,
to whom I am very grateful.
- Part the
clouds - see the way.
objective of karate-do is to contribute to the evolution
- of the
human spirit through physical and mental training."