IF THERE IS ONE MAN WHO COULD BE CREDITED with placing karate in the position
it enjoys on the Japanese mainland today, it is Gichin Funakoshi. This meijin
(master) was born in Shuri, Okinawa, and didn't even begin his second life as
harbinger of official recognition for karate on the mainland until he was
fifty-three years old.
Funakoshi's story is very similar to that of many greats in karate. He began
as a weakling, sickly and in poor health, whose parents brought him to Itosu
for his karte training. Between his doctor , Tokashiki, who prescribed certain
herbs that would strengthen him, and Itosu's good instruction, Funakoshi soon
blossomed. He became a good student, and with Asato, Arakaki and Matsumura as
his other teachers, expertise and his highly disciplined mind.
When he finally came to Japan from Okinawa in 1922, he stayed among his own
people at the prefectural students's dormitory at Suidobata, Tokyo. He lived
in a small room alongside the entrance and would clean the dormitouy during the
day when the students were in their classes. At night, he would teach them
After a short time, he had earned sufficient means to open his first school in
Meishojuku. Following this, his shotokan in Mejiro was opened and he finally
had a place from which he sent forth a variety of outstanding students, such as
Takagi and Nakayama of Nippon Karate Kyokai, Yoshida of Takudai, Obata of Keio,
Noguchi of Waseda, and Otsuka, the founder of Wado-Ryu karate. It is said that
in his travels in and around Japan, while giving demonstrations and lectures,
Funakoshi always had Otsuka accompany him.
The martial arts world in Japan, especially in the early Twenties and up to the
early Fourties, enjoyed ultra-nationalists were riding high, and they looked
down their noses at any art that was not purely called it a pagan and savage
Funakoshi overcame this prejudice and finally gained formal recognition of
karate as one of the Japanese martial arts by 1941.
Needless to say, many karate clubs flourished on mainland Japan. In 1926,
karate was instirudes in Tokyo University. Three years later, karate was
formally organized on a club level by three students: Matsuda Katsuichi,
Himotsu Kazumi and Nakachi K.,Funakoshi was their teacher. He also organized
karate clubs in Keio University and in the Shichi-Tokudo, a barracks situated
in a corner of the palace grounds.
Funkoshi visited the Shichi-Tokudo every other day to teach and was always
accompained by Otsuka, reputed to be one of the most brilliant of his students
in Japan proper. Otsuka's favorite kata was the Naihanchi, which he performed
before the royalty of Japan with another outstanding atudent named Oshima, who
performed the Pinan kata (Heian).
One day, when Otsuka was teaching at the Shichi-Tokudo, a student, Kogura, from
Keio University who had a san-dan degree (3rd-degree black belt) in kendo
(Japanese fencing) and also a black belt in karate, took a sword and faced
Otsuka. All the other students watched to see what would happen. They felt
that no one could face the shinken (open blade) held by a kendo expert.
Otsuka calmly watched Kogura and the moment he made a move with his sword,
Otsuka swept him off his feet. As this was unrehearsed, ot attested to the
skill of Otsuka. It also bore out Funakoshi's philosophy that kata practice
was more tah sufficient in times of need.
In 1927, three men, Miki, Bo and Hirayama decided that kata practice was not
enough and tried to introduce jiyukumite (free-fighting). They devised
protective clothig and used kendo masks in their matches in order to utilize
full contact. Funakoshi heard about these bouts and, when he could not
discourage such attempts at what he consedered belittling to the art of karate,
he stopped coming to the Shichi-Tokudo. Both Funakoshi and his top student,
Otsuka, never showed their faces there again.
When Funakoshi came to mainland Japan, he brought 16 kata with him: 5 pinam, 3
naihanchi, kushanku dai, kushanku sho, seisan, patsai, wanshu, chinto, jutte
and jion. He kept his students on the before they progressed to the more
advanced forms. The repetitious training that he instituted paid divedends;
his students went on to produce the most precise, exact type of karate taught
Jigoro Kano, the founder of modern judo, one invited Funakoshi and a friend,
Makoto Gima, to perform at the Kodokan (then located at Tomisaka).
Approximately a hundred people watched the performance. Gim, who had studied
under Yabu Kentsu as a youth in Okinawa, performed the naihanshi shodan, and
Fuankoshi performed the koshokun (kushanku dai).
Kanso sensei watched the performance and asked Funakoshi about the techniques
involved. He was greatly impressed. He invited Funakoshi and Gima to a tendon
(fish and rice) dinner, during which he sang and made jokes to put Funakoshi at
Irrespective of his sincerity in teaching the art of true karate, Funakoshi was
not without his detractors. His critics scorned his insistence on the kata and
dectied what they called "soft" karate that wasted too much time. Funakoshi
insisted on hito-kata sanen (three years on one kata).
Funakoshi was a humble man. He preached and practiced an essential humility.
He did not preach the is rooted in the true perspective of things, full of life
and awareness. He lived at peace with himself and with his fellow men.
Whenever the name of Gichin Funakoshi is mentioned, it brings to mind the
parble of "A Man of Tao (Do) and a Little Man". As it is told, a student once
asked, "What is the difference between a man of Tao and a little man?" The
sensei replies, "It is simple. When the little man receives his first dan
(degree or rank), he can hardly wait to run home and shout at the top of his
voice to tell everyone that he made his first dan. Upon receiving his second
dan, he will climb to the rooftops and shout to the people. Upon receiving his
third dan, he will jump in his automobile and parade through town with horns
blowing, telling one and all about his third dan".
The sensei continues, "When the man of Tao receives his first dan, he will bow
his head in gratitude. Upon receiving his second dan, he will bow his head and
his shoulders. Upon receiving his third dan, he will bow to the waist and
quietly walk alongside the wall so that people will not see him or notice
Funakoshi was a man of Tao. He placed no emphasis on competitions, record
breaking or championships. He placed emphasis on individual selfperfection.
He believe in the common decency and respect that one human being owed to
another. He was the master of masters.
by R. Kim