Yoshitaka (Gigo) Funakoshi (1906-1945)
Although Gigo, also called Yoshitaka (it depends how the Kanji are read), died early of tuberculosis at the age of 39, he surely had the widest influence on modern Shotokan Karate Do. Very early, at the young age of 7, the fatal disease was diagnosed. Because of it, he really was a weak child. Though, Karate Do helped him to relieve his suffering and to improve his well-being.
And as if that weren’t enough: thanks to his amazing will and unswerving dedication, he even became one of the best fighters of his time.
Very early Gigo Funakoshi had already discovered the value of Budo, the way, to be The Way of Life.
He had perceived that real Budo means to recognise the entity of the universe, to preserve peace and to protect and take care for all beings in nature.
Indeed, the way of life of the Budoka, as well as the Karateka, implies to practise until death! Budo means cultural thinking! It means to preserve traditions and to pass them down to own students. Above all however, it means to exercise oneself in patience. Budo means to succeed in life.
With the help of his father and other students of Gichin Funakoshi like Takeshi Shimoda and Shigeru Egami, Gigo was responsible for the further development of Karate Do and Karate techniques. A kind of Karate completely different from the Karate practised all over Okinawa, a Karate with a character of it’s own. In a proper sense he developed out of the Shotokan Karate of his father the inofficial Gigokan Ryu Karate Do, for his own style of Karate Do had not much in common with the Shorin Ryu his father practiced anymore.
Gigo began with the formal study of Karate at the age of 12. Due to his father he obviously was very early in touch with Karate Do. In the book Karate Do: my way, Gichin Funakoshi tells how often he took Gigo with him to his trainings by Anko Azato and Yasutsune Itosu.
Although Gigo was not very high in size, he had an amazing aura of greatness. He was a real phenomenon of the martial art Karate Do and achieved both a very high technical and mental level.
Many coevals saw in Gigo one of the best Karateka ever, be this technically or mentally. Shigeru Egami even called him a Karate genius.
In his stories Egami tells about how Gigo practised on the Makiwara. He often practised in Kiba Dachi and used his whole body to strike. Gigo stroked so hard that the Makiwara frequently had to be repaired.
Of course there are lots of stories and written records and today it is surely very difficult to distinguish truth from legend. But one thing is sure: Gigo Funakoshi was ahead of the times.
Even more than his father, Gigo was the technical creator of Shotokan Karate Do. The original Okinawa Te (Shorin Ryu) emphasised more the use of the upper limbs and the upper part of the body, high stances and mainly small movements. In the spirit of the time of the Second World War, Gigo introduced in Karate Do low and powerful stances such as Kiba Dachi, Fudo Dachi and attached special importance on strong feet techniques and the use of the hips on every technique.
Gigo developed amongst other techniques Mawashi Geri, Yoko Geri Kekomi, Yoko Geri Keage, Ura Mawashi Geri and Fumi Komi.
Taiji Kase, a student of Gichin Funakoshi and master scholar of Gigo Funakoshi developed later on the Ushiro Geri.
Gigo Funakoshi paid special attention to the lifting of the knee as high as possible before kicking, much higher than in every other style, in order to perform the leg technique with more strength and speed.
Another point was the special practise of the correct use of the hips even on leg techniques.
Gigo was specially focused, as already said, on long attacks with low stances (Fudo Dachi) and on the practise of Oi Tsuki and Gyaku Tsuki.
By all this he really created, as I already said before, out of the Shorin-Shotokan-Ryu of his father his own style which he never officialized or gave a name. This modern Shotokan Ryu could be called Gigokan Ryu.
The training by Gigo was very exhausting for he expected from his students to apply in practise twice the energy needed in a real confrontation with an opponent.
Gigo wanted to be sure that his students were optimally prepared for such a situation. His father accepted these changes without any protest, even if, when directing training, he explained some details otherwise than his son.
Gigo was highly respected by his students and comrades because of his mastery.
Under Gigo’s direction, also the Kumite training changed between 1936 and 1945. Whereas his father attached more importance to the practise of Kata, Gigo emphasised more the Kumite training.
Firstly Gigo developed Gohon Kumite, a fight form he had learned by Kendo grandmaster Hakudo Nakayama. From him he also got many inspirations for the further development of Shotokan Karate.
Then Gigo introduced Kihon Ippon Kumite followed by Jiyu Ippon Kumite. It was also at this time that he introduced Ten No Kata Omote and Ten No Kata Ura (with partner) and that he developed Chi No Kata.
Ten No Kata is still practised, Chi No Kata got unfortunately lost over the years. Gigo adapted Kata out of Naha Te, which were created by Kanryo Higaonna and Chojun Miyagi such as Sanchin, Seienchin, Seisan, Sepai and surely others too, to Shotokan or rather Gigokan techniques, but he also changed, replaced and refined some techniques and stances.
In 1945 he finally introduced Jiyu Kumite, the free fight. Involved in this development were particularly also Genshin Hironishi and Shigeru Egami as well as other Karateka who didn’t participate at the warfare.
1946 the book Karate Do Nyumon by Gigo and Gichin Funakoshi was released. Gigo had established the technical part, whereas Gichin the preamble and the historical part. This book really shows not the techniques of the Shotokan Ryu of Gichin Funakoshi but the Gigokan Ryu of Gigo (Yoshitaka) Funakoshi.
The circumstances of the Second World War, the hard living conditions combined with the almost self-destructive training where surely reasons for Gigo’s death.
It’s easy to speculate about how Karate would have developed if Gigo hadn’t died so early. In any case not as it developed after Gigo’s death. In his book The Spirit of Karate Shigeru Egami speaks clearly about the very negative development of Karate, about the fact that Karate has developed thus that to win a competition or to learn fighting techniques has become more important than to see Karate Do as way of life. With Gigo the Karate world of today would surely be different.
There wouldn’t have been the separation of Shotokan and Shoto Kai, Shotokan would never have fragmented in reams of federations and organisations nor would Karate have become in such a way a competition sport.
Gigo Funakoshi died on November 24th, 1945 in Tokyo in consequence of his tuberculosis disease. With him died the greatest master in the history of Shotokan Karate Do.