Sensei Gichin Funakoshi

(Photo courtesy of Shihan Kenneth Funakoshi, 10th Dan, FSKA)


Master Gichin Funakoshi

April 26, 2017 marks the 60th anniversary of the passing of the Founder of Shotokan Karate-Do, Master Gichin Funakoshi, while this coming November 10, 2017 will mark the 149th anniversary of his birth.


Please 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 for.


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 karate.




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.



Memorial to Master Gichin Funakoshi, in Kamakura, Japan

(Photo 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.


"The objective of karate-do is to contribute to the evolution

of the human spirit through physical and mental training."

Sensei Peter Lindsay