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Gichin (Shoto) Funakoshi (1869-1957)

Gichin Funakoshi, father and founder of the modern Karate, was born 1869 in Okinawa as only son of a simple Samurai family. His father was a master in the fight with the Okinawian staff (Kon). He passed his childhood by his grandfather, a known Confucian savant, philosopher and monk. From him he learned much about Confucian and Buddhistic philosophy.

Already as a young teenager he began to study Karate Do by master Anko Azato. Anko Azato and Yasutsune Itosu were extremely severe teachers and for the young Gichin it was a very hard time. At that time Karate Do was still forbidden and had to be practised secretly and by night. Funakoshi made an education as schoolteacher and worked for a start as supply teacher in Shuri and later as proper teacher in Naha. Every day he practised Karate Do by his teachers Anko Azato and Yasutsune Itosu and became finally a master himself. His two teachers were still living as he already taught Karate Do in schools in Shuri as well as in Naha and acquired in a short time an excellent fame. In his late forties he chucked up his job as schoolteacher and devoted himself exclusively to Karate Do.

As the former Japanese heir to the throne, the later emperor Hirohito, in Okinawa a Karate demonstration saw and in Tokyo thereof spoke, the Japanese school department consequently invited Gichin Funakoshi 1922 to Japan in order to present his art before authorities of martial arts and school system. Subsequently Karate Do was experimentally introduced in school education, e.g. at the Keio University in Tokyo, where the first Dojo (hall for meditation and practise of martial arts) was opened. Under the influence of Gichin Funakoshi other universities followed this example, among them also the Takushoku University.

Before the Second World War the world public already became aware of the martial art Karate and began to be interested in it. Now somebody was needed to bring the message of Karate out to the whole world. Being a very intelligent and educated man as well as a master in calligraphy and poetry and extremely well trained and clever in rhetoric, didactics and culture, Gichin Funakoshi was really predestined.

He also knew always very well how to combine the immense technical knowledge he had gotten from master Yasutsune Itosu with the traditional and severe views of master Anko Azato.

In spite of all the modern and progressive ideas and views of many masters and students of Karate Do, Gichin Funakoshi remained true to his deeply traditional views. His first book, Karate Do Kyohan, simply the textbook about Shotokan Karate Do, was released 1935.

One year later Gichin Funakoshi opened the first school for Karate Do in Tokyo. From this school, which enjoyed of an excellent fame up to highest circles, came finally out Funakoshi’s best students: Takeshi Shimoda, Shigeru Egami, Genshin Hironishi and Gigo Funakoshi, Gichin Funakoshi’s third son.

By the way, it is thanks to a suggestion of Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, with whom Gichin Funakoshi was bound by a true friendship, that eventually Kyu and Dan ranks also were introduced in Karate Do.


Furthermore Gichin Funakoshi completed the Dojokun of his teacher Anko Azato by twenty principles of his own:

  1. Karate Do wa rei ni hajimari, rei ni owaru koto o wasuruna! «Karate begins and ends with respect!»

  2. Karate ni sente nashi! «There is no first attack in Karate!» This principle is typified by the fact that every Kata begins with a defensive technique.

  3. Karate wa gi no tasuke! «Karate fosters righteousness!»

  4. Mazu jiko wo shire, shikoshite tao wa shire! «First know yourself and then know others!»

  5. Gijutsu yoi shinjutsu! «Rather than physical technique, mental technique!»

  6. Kokoro wa hanatan koto wo yosu! «Let your mind roam freely!»

  7. Wazawai wa getai ni shozu! «Inattention and neglect causes misfortune!»

  8. Dojos no mino karate to omou na! «Never think that Karate is practiced only in the Dojo!»

  9. Karate no shugyo wa issho de aru! «Karate is a life-long pursuit!»

  10. Arai-yuru mono wo karateka seyo, soko ni myomi ari! «Combine everything you do with Karate and you’ll find Myo (the mental power which reveals to everyone the magic, mystic and beauty of life)!»

  11. Karate wa yu no goto shi taezu netsudo wo ataezareba moto no mizu ni kaeru! «Karate is like hot water; if you do not heat it constantly, it will cool down!»

  12. Katsu kangae wa motsu na makenu kangae wa hitsuyo! «Do not think about winning, think about not losing!»

  13. Tekki ni yotte tenka seyo! «Respond in accordance to your opponent!»

  14. Tattakai wa kyo-jitsu no soju ikan ni ari! «A fight runs accordingly to how you use Kyo (body and spirit unguarded) and Jitsu (body and spirit guarded)!»

  15. Hito no te ashi wo ken to omoe! «Imagine your hands and feet being sharp swords!»

  16. Danshi mon wo izureba hyakuman no tekki ari! «Leave your home and you face many foes; it is your behaviour that invites trouble from them!»

  17. Kamae wa shoshinsha ni ato wa shizentai! «Learn all stances as a beginner but then rely on natural postures!»

  18. Kata wa tadashiku jissen wa betsu mono! «Kata must always be practiced correctly; real combat is another matter!»

  19. Chikara no kyojaku; Karada no shinshuku; Waza no kankyo wo wasaruna! «Do not forget to correctly apply: strength and weakness of power, stretching and contraction of the body and slowness and speed of techniques – everything combined with the right breathing!»

  20. Tsune ni shinen kufu seyo! «Always think and devise ways to live the Kufu (the principles) every day!»


Together with his students, Gichin Funakoshi built in Tokyo the famous Dojo building, the first Honbu Dojo (main school) of modern Karate Do, which became the name Shoto Kan (Shoto’s house). His surname Shoto – what by the way means pines waves – comes therefrom that he usually signed his poems by Shoto, for which reason his students eventually gave him this surname. After his death some of his students named their Karate style thus, even though Gichin Funakoshi didn’t support this endeavour, for he didn’t see himself as a founder of a style, but rather basically assumed a uniform Karate Do.

From different student and masters the demand for competition became stronger and stronger. So Gichin Funakoshi finally accepted compromises and permitted his son Gigo Funakoshi the introduction of the fight forms Gohon Kumite (five-step-fight), Sanbon Kumite (three-step-fight) and Ippon Kumite (one-step-fight).

After the end of the Second World War the sportive aspects of Karate came more and more to the fore and for many masters these fight forms were not satisfying anymore. Eventually the masters Isao Obata, Masatoshi Nakayama and Hidetaka Nishiyama founded 1949 the Japan Karate Association (JKA) in order to propagate Karate as competition sport all over the world.

Even though Gichin Funakoshi didn’t want to have anything to do with this new orientation of Karate, the JKA used Gichin Funakoshi as calling card. Some of his students but remained faithful to the traditional philosophy of Gichin Funakoshi. First of all his son Gigo Funakoshi, who together with Takeshi Shimoda refined the Karate techniques and the transmitted Kata, introduced lower and stronger stances and developed new Kata.

Other students but leaved Gichin Funakoshi not because he didn’t support the modernisation of Karate – that is competition sport –, but because he accepted compromises and didn’t therefore unflinchingly pursue traditional Karate Do. Shigeru Egami founded the Shoto Kai organisation, which pursues traditional Karate Do – martial art without competition – and represents ideas of compatibility and tolerance accordingly to the original conviction of Gichin Funakoshi. Hironori Otsuka took the direction of Wado Ryu and Kenwa Mabuni created the Shito Ryu organisation.

Approximately at the same time Chojun Miyagi, student of Kanryo Higaonna and teacher of Gogen Yamaguchi (named the cat), founded the Goju Ryu. His successor Gogen Yamaguchi became the head of the Goju Kai organisation and was one of the initiators who created the All Japanese Karate Federation in 1964. Together with Masatoshi Nakayama he is responsible for the introduction of competition rules by what Karate became a competition sport.

Meanwhile other schools and style directions were created. Thus Masutatsu Oyama founded Kyokushin Ryu and Chojiro Tani the Shuko Kai. Later, after Gichin Funakoshi’s death, many, even reams of Karate organisations came out like mushrooms. To name all of them here would clearly go beyond the scope.

In substitution for all others is named here only Shotokan Karate International (SKI) of Hirokazu Kanazawa.

Gichin Funakoshi died 89 years old on April 26th, 1957 in Tokyo. We Karateka owe him so much. We will always remember him as the father and founder of modern Karate Do.

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