of the past
evolution "Tode" or "Chinese Hand"
as it was once called, into what we know today as
"karate" or "the empty handed way",
has involved the contributions of a great many past
Masters, including those of both Chinese and Okinawan
these Masters are know to us today through their
deeds, or in some cases through the deeds of their
students. Other Masters, however, are lost to us
forever, since they either practiced in solitude and
were unknow to the world at large, or they produced
no students who went on to greater things.
always acknowledging in our hearts the contributions
made by these unknown Masters, just a few of the well
known Masters whose contributions have stood the test
of time as as follows:
Shuri, Okinawa, the actual dates of Takahara's birth
and death vary
depending on the source, but the most
commonly held dates covering the span of his life are
1683 - 1760.
member of the upper class of Okinawan society
Takahara was both well traveled and well educated
during his lifetime. He was reputed to be a student
of Chatan Yara (1668 - 1756) who was himself a master
of Okinawan weapons and whose legacy lives on in
katas such as "Chatan Yara no Kon Sho",
"Chatan Yara no Sai Sho", and "Chatan
Yara no Sai Dai". Takahara's most famous student
was "Tode" Sakugawa.
Chinese envoy to the island kingdom of Okinawa,
Kushanku had a brief but substantial influence on the
life of one of the greatest masters of all time
"Tode" Sakugawa. It has been said that they
first met around 1756 when as a young man Sakugawa
attempted to push Kushanku off a bridge, only to find
himself bested and on the receiving end of a lecture
on the proper behaviour of young men towards their
elders. The meeting was to be a fortuitous one for
Sakugawa and it was to change his life forever, as
soon after the episode on the bridge he became a
student of Kushanku's.
after Kushanku's death Sakugawa developed the kata
"Kushanku" and named it in honour of his
former teacher, today the kata is known as one of the
longest in the Shotokan syllabus and is referred to
as "Kanku Dai" or "Looking to the Sky".
There are many versions of this kata in circulation
today and it is one of the oldest known katas in
Born in Shuri, Okinawa
the actual dates of Sakugawa's birth and death vary
depending on the source. The most commonly held dates
covering the span of his life are 1782 - sometime
Sakugawa was a pupil of a Buddhist monk Takahara
Peichin and for a brief period of time studied under
the Chinese master Kushanku. During his brief time
with Kushanku he travelled with him to study in China
returning to Okinawa where he introduced his fighting
style to the local community. In time he would become
known as the "Father of Okinawan Karate"
and amongst his legacy is the concept of the dojo
kun, the kata "Kushanku" which he named in
honour of his former teacher, which is today known in
the Shotokan syllabus as "Kanku Dai" or
"Looking to the Sky".
His proficiency with
the bo is also with us today in the form of the kata
"Sakugawa no Kon Sho." One of Sakugawa's
principal students was Sokon Matsumura, the son of a
prominent family Matsumura was himself to go on to became one of
Okinawa's greatest karate teachers, and the founder
of the Shuri-te style which was later to evolve into
a style known today as Shorin-Ryu.
known photograph of Matsumura exists )
actual dates of Matsumura's birth and death vary
depending on the source but the most commonly held
dates covering the span of his life are 1809 -
sometime after 1896, the year in which he celebrated
his 88th birthday.
Matsumura was born into
the upper class of Okinawan society and first started
studying under the great master "Tode"
Sakugawa. During Matsumura's lifetime he like may of
the other great masters traveled to China where it is
said he studied for a time under Iwah. He was later
in life to encounter a man named Chinto after whom he
was later to name a kata of his own design.
Amongst his many
students was Yasutsune Itosu later to be known as one
of the early teachers of Gichin Funakoshi, the
founder of the Shotokan who would one day be recognized as
the "Father of Modern Karate". Matsumura is
said to have had a hand in formulating the katas
Chinto, Wansu, Passai, and Seisan. It was Matsumura
who took Shuri-te that extra step and created the
style we know today as Shorin-Ryu.
the town of Azato, the actual dates of Master Azato's
birth and death vary depending on the source, but the
most commonly held dates covering the span of his
life are 1828 - 1906.
been born into the upper class and having family
members who were of very high rank within Okinawan
society made it much easier for azato to enter into
the world martial arts. An expert in many forms of
Budo, Master Azato despite his own skill, was to gain
fame in a more indirect way, and that was as one of
the two primary teachers to the future "Father
of Modern Karate", Sensei Gichin Funakoshi.
known photograph of Itosu exists )
Shuri, Okinawa in the town of Shuri the actual dates of Itosu's
birth and death vary depending on the source but the
most commonly held dates covering the span of his
life are 1831 - 1915.
Itosu at an early age
was taken to study under "Bushi" Matsumura.
It is from Itosu's and also Yasutsune Azato's style
of Shuri-te that Gichin Funakoshi later developed the
style we know today as Shotokan, while another of
Itosu's students Kenwa Mabuni, would later go on to
create the style known today as Shito-Ryu. Itosu was
said to have given the first public demonstration of
karate in Okinawa in 1903 and he was a large factor
in karate being introduced into the Okinawan public
school system. Various sources credited Itosu with
using the kata, "Kushanku" to create the
Pinan, or Heian katas as they are known in Shotokan
Today, however, there
is a widely growing belief that the truest source
used by Itosu for the creation of the Pinan and Heian
katas were much earlier known katas, more commonly
referred to a "root katas". In addition to
his skill, Itosu was said to be noted through out
Okinawa for his legendary strength.
10, 1868 - April 26, 1957
- Sensei Gichin
Funakoshi, known world wide 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 falsified his own records in
order to be able to take the Tokyo medical school
entrance exam. In spite of passing the exam Sensei
Funakoshi never did become a member of the medical
- Born a frail child many
members of his family felt he was destined for a
short life and uneventful life. Little did his family
know just how long, and how important his life would
- It was during his early
primary school years in his life he was introduced to
the study "Tode" or "Chinese Hand"
under Master Yasutsune Azato, as it was thought that
the art of karate might strengthen him and improve
the quality of his life.
- A good student
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 establish the Shotokan dojo in 1936, a great
landmark in the history of karate. Sensei Funakoshi
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 or school where he taught came to be
known as "Shoto's school" or "Shotokan"
which ultimately was adopted as the official name for
his style of karate. Sensei Funakoshi combined the
techniques and katas of the two major Okinawan styles
to form his own style of karate. As a result, modern
day Shotokan includes the powerful techniques of the
Shorei style of karate, as well as the lighter more
flexible movements of the Shorin style of karate.
original Shotokan Dojo
- Destroyed March 10,
- in a bombing raid on
- In the beginning Sensei
Funakoshi 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
- 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
Sensei Funakoshi appointed by the organization as
it's first Chief Instructor due to his advanced
skills and leadership capabilities. Although Sensei
Funakoshi was famous as a great karate master he was
also a very humble man. During his lifetime he
emphasized three major aspects of karate-do above all
else and that was, basic technique, kata, and the
development of spiritual values leading to the
perfection of the character of karate's participants.
to 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.
- This is a photograph 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.
the clouds - see the way.
objective of karate-do is to contribute to the
- of the
human spirit through physical and mental training."