Thursday, 22 February 2024

Master Gichin Funakoshi

Gictiln Funakoshi was born in Shuri, Okinawa in 1868. As a boy, he was trained by two famous masters of that time. Each trained him in a different Okinawan martial art. From Yasutsune Azato he learned Shuri-te. From Yasutsune Itosu, he learned Naha-te. It would be the melding of these two styles that would one day become Shotokan karate.

Funakoshi-sensei is the man who introduced karate to Japan. In 1917 he was asked to perform his martial art at a physical education exhibition sponsored by the Ministry of Education. He was asked back again In 1922 for another exhibition. He was asked back a third time, but this was a special performance. He demonstrated his art for the Emperor and the royal family! After this, Funakoshi-sensei decided to remain in Japan and teach and promote his art.

Gichin Funakoshi passed away in 1957 at the age of 88. Aside from creating Shotokan karate and introducing it to Japan and the world, he also wrote the very book on the subject of karate, "Ryukyu Kempo: Karate-do". He also wrote "Karate-Do Kyohan" - The Master Text, the 'handbook" of Shotokan and he wrote his autobiography, "Karate-Do: My Way of Life". These books and his art are a fitting legacy for this unassuming and gentle man.

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 Azato, 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 dormitory during the day when the students were in their classes. At night, he would teach them karate.

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 Forties, 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 art.

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 introduced in Tokyo University. Three years later, karate was formally organized on a club level by three students: Matsuda Katsuichl, 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.

Funakoshi visited the Shichi-Tokudo every other day to teach and was always accompanied 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 student 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, of attested skill of Otsuka. It also bore out Funakoshi's philosophy that kata practice was more than sufficient in times of need.

In 1927, three men, Miki, Bo and Hirayama decided that kata practice was not enough and tried to introduce jiyukumrte (free-fighting). They devised protective clothing 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 considered 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 pinan, 3 naihanchi, kushanku dai. kushanku sno. seisan. patsai, wanshu, chinto. jutte and jion. He kept his students on those forms before they progressed to the more advanced forms. The repetitions training that he instituted paid dividends; his students went on to produce the most precise and exact type of karate taught anywhere

Jigoro Kano, the Founder of modern Judo, invited Funakoshi and a friend, Makoto Gima, to perform at the Kodokan (then located at Tomisaka). Approximately a hundred people watched the performance. Gima, who had studied under Yabu Kentsu as a youth in Okinawa., performed the Naihanshi shodan, and Funakoshi 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 ease.

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 decided what they called "soft* karate that wasted too much time. Funakoshi Insisted on hito-kata sanen (three years on one kata).

Whenever the name of Gichin Funakoshi is mentioned, it brings to mind the parple 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 Ms 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 thirrd dan, he will bow to the waist and quietly walk alongside the wall so that people will not see him or notice him”.

Funakoshi was a man of Tao. He placed no emphasis on competitions, record breaking or championships. He placed emphasis on individual self-perfection. He believed in the common decency and respect that one human being owed to another. He was the master of masters.

NOTE:  Funakoshi sincerely believed it would take a lifetime to master a handful of kata and that Sixteen would be enough. He chose the kata which were best suited for physical stress and self-defense, stubbornly clinging to his belief that Karate was an art rather than a sport, to him, kata was karate.

Funakoshi sensei was doing quite a lot to promote his art in his homeland of Okinawa. Word eventually made its way to Japan, which as we all know had a very rich martial history. So, in 1917, Gichin Funakoshi was invited to Japan to demonstrate his karate at the Butokuden in Kyoto.

Funakoshi continued to travel to Japan giving exhibitions. But Shotokan's 'big" break came in 1922. The Japanese Ministry of Education asked Funakoshi to participate in a demonstration of ancient Japanese martial arts at the Women's Higher Normal School In Tokyo. After the demonstration, Glchin was approached by Jigoro Kano. the founder of Judo. He asked Funakoshi to stay longer In Japan and show him (Kano) some basic techniques.

 Months later, when he next tried to leave, Funakoshi was approached by the painter Hoan Kosugi. He also wanted instruction in karate for himself and members of his artists group. So, Funakoshi again postponed returning home and began first organized teaching of karate in Japan at the Tabata Poplar Club. While teaching at Tabata, Funakoshi decided to remain in Japan. He would spend the rest of his life teaching karate to the Japanese people.

While in Japan, Funakoshi wrote the first book ever on karate. Entitled "Ryukyu Kempo: Karate". The book was designed by Hoan Kosugi, who is also credited with designing the Shotokan tiger. Four years later the book was re-released with the new title "Renten Goshin Karate-Jitsu". His next book, "Karate-do Kyohan" was written in 1935.

Funakoshi continued to teach and give exhibitions. in 1928, he was asked to give a demonstration for the royal family of Japan. For Funakoshi this would have been enough but of honor, but It was made all the greater because the demonstration was done on the palace grounds'

Karate's popularity continued to grow. Karate cluos had been and continued to spring up at colleges, universities and businesses throughout Japan. All this time, Funakoshi kept a dojo at the Meisei Juku. However, time on 1923 earthquake eventually created the need for a new place to train. Funakoshi was offered to use a space at the kendo hall of Hiromichi Nakayama. Eventually, Funakoshi was given another great honor. Nationwide, karate practitioners chipped In to pay for the construction of a dojo dedicated to the instruction of Funakoshi’s karate. In 1936, the Shoto-kan was born!