Gichin Funakoshi

Shotokan Karate

Official records state that Gichin Funakoshi was born in 1870, in reality he was born in 1868 in the district of Yamakawa-cho, Shuri, Okinawa. Funakoshi falsified his official records so he could take entrance exams for a Tokyo medical school. While he passed these exams he did not attend the school.

At a young age Funakoshi trained with two famous martial artist, Azato and Itosu. Funakoshi was born prematurely and was a frail child. His family did not expect him to live a long life. However years of training with Azato and Itosu devolved Funakoshi into a strong health individual. Funakoshi had many teachers, he describes a few: “Master Kiyuna, who with his bare hands could strip the bark from a living tree in a matter of moments; Master Toonno of Naha, one of the island’s best-known Confucian scholars; Master Niigaki, who great common sense impressed me most deeply; and Master Matsumura, one of the greatest karateka.”

At the turn of the century Funakoshi had an opportunity to demonstrate his karate to a commissioner of schools who was so impressed with Funakoshi’s performance upon returning to the mainland of Japan he gave a detailed report to the Ministry of Education. This report brought Funakoshi’s karate into the school systems on the mainland of Japan. Once karate was taught in the school systems Funakoshi formally began to teach students. Karate gained more momentum and the Japanese Navy stopped in a couple time to watch demonstrations and train themselves under Funakoshi. Again they brought back stories to the mainland of Japan of karate. It was not until 1921 until the Crowned Price of Japan (who was to become the Emperor) stopped at Okinawa on his way to Europe and requested a demonstration of karate of which Funakoshi was to lead. Later that year Funakoshi was asked by the Ministry of Education to hold a karate demonstration in Tokyo. Jigaro Kano saw this demonstration and asked Funakoshi to give a brief lecture for the Kodakan Judo Hall. Over a hundred spectators showed up for this event much to Funakoshi’s surprise. After which Jigaro Kano asked Funakoshi to stay and train him some of the kata’s Funakoshi had demonstrated.

Funakoshi continued to be approached by individuals wishing to learn karate from him so he made the decision to stay on the mainland of Japan to introduce karate to all the people of Japan. He moved into the Meisei Juku, and dormitory for students of Okinawa. While he had a few students Funakoshi had to take odds jobs to pay for his room such as watchman, caretaker, gardener and room sweeper. He even convinced the dormitory cook to train in exchange for a discount on food. Once Funakoshi even brought some of his old clothing to pawn. To his surprise he received a large amount of money for his old cloths, only to find out later that the owner was a brother of one of his students.

Over the years Funakoshi gained many more students. In 1935 a nationwide committee of karate supporters raised the funds for the first karate dojo in Japan. In the spring of the following year Funakoshi entered this dojo. Over the door was written Shoto-kan. The committee chose this name, Shoto (meaning pine waves) was the pen name Funakoshi used as a child to sign the chinese poetry he wrote. This gave Funakoshi a great sense of pride, but also sadden him for he had wanted his instructors, Azato and Itosu to teach here as well. They had already passed on before the dojo was opened.

Funakoshi died in 1957 and never stopped his study of karate. He believed that karate was for everyone, young or old, strong or weak, male or female. While one of the greatest contributors to the martial arts Funakoshi was a humble man. “Karate begins and ends with courtesy.”

Karate-Do My Way of Life

It is because of Gichin Funakoshi that Kosho practitioners are taught the Pinan and Naihanchi Katas.

Gichin Funakoshi wrote several books. Those interested in more about the life of this amazing man his autobiography “Karate-Do My Way of Life” written in 1956 is a must read.