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Gichin Funakoshi


Funakoshi sensei 
The history of Shotokan Karate allows us to approach the life of the person whose photograph decorates most of the European dojos, Gichin Funakoshi. Born in Shuri in 1869, young Funakoshi begins to practise Okinawa-Te at the age of 15 under the instruction of his school teacher. At that time, the martial art of Okinawa was not taught to the wider public. 
Later, when Master Azato taught Gichin Funakoshi, courses took place during the night. The technique which Gichin Funakoshi would later use for the creation of his own school is owing to Master Itosu. But the spirit of practice, the rigid aspect (repetition of the same kata) derives from Master Azato. In 1906 Gichin Funakoshi takes part in the first public demonstration of Okinawa-Te in Okinawa. Representatives of the Japanese Administration as well as officers of the Imperial Navy attend that demonstration. However, it is in May 1922 when Gichin Funakoshi carries out his famous demonstration in Tokyo, on the occasion of a great athletic event, organised by Butokukai. He was now 53 years old and that demonstration was going to change his life. Master Gichin Funakoshi had carried out a first demonstration of his art in Kyoto in 1916. In November 1922 Funakoshi publishes his first book, "Ryu Kyu Kenpo Karate", in which he mostly expresses his historical and philosophical thoughts. The clichés of this book were destroyed during the 1923 earthquake. This led the writer to publish a new, entirely modified edition, entitled "Rentan Goshin Karate Jitsu". In 1935 Funakoshi published "Karate Do Kyohan", an original work which among other things provides a description of all the kata in the way Funakoshi conceived and taught them. This book was republished in 1972 with the permission of Funakoshi family and under the supervision of Master Oshima.

The origins of instruction in Japan

Gichin Funakoshi held until the end of his life a deep respect for Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo. The two men were linked by mutual respect. At the time when Gichin Funakoshi began to develop his teaching, Kano, who already was a renowned master in Japan, invited him to demonstrate in Kano’s dojo, the famous Kodokan. On his arrival in Tokyo, Master Gichin Funakoshi led a humble life. At the beginning, he held the position of guardian of a dormitory for students at Suidabashi, where he taught his first courses. He also taught at the dojo of a great master of lai-Do, Sensei Nakayama. But it is mainly in universities that the Okinawan Master attracted public interest and left his mark. The first university karate group was established in Keio in 1924 and the second in Ichiko (Tokyo University) in 1926. In 1927 three new groups were added to the list – Waseda, Takushoku and Shodai. From then onwards the development of Funakoshi’s teaching grew rapidly. By 1930 Funakoshi supervised a dozen university dojos. His course, totally modern, seemed to be at odds with what he once did. It was not anymore the students who came to the Sensei’s dojo but the Sensei who established dojos almost everywhere. Funakoshi followed his friend’s Kano’s devices, especially with regard to hierarchy and progress, adopting the grades “Kyu” and “Dan”. Three of Funakoshi’s students, on their own initiative, exercised free attacks, using the protection they used for Kendo practice. Furious, the Master never set foot on that dojo again.

The "Shotokan" dojo.

The construction of the Shotokan dojo (as a physical structure) began in 1953 and finished in 1954. The dojo was found in Meijuroko area in Tokyo. Money was raised from all over the country. In the beginning, ‘Shotokan’ referred to the building, not the style. “Kan” means place, the dojo, and “Shoto” was the pseudonym Funakoshi used for writing his poems (literally, “Shoto” means ‘pine-trees undulating in the wind’ or wind streaming through the pine-needles’). In his first demonstration in 1922 Funakoshi did not only show the techniques. He also explained them and commented on them, to his audience’s great satisfaction. The majority of today’s most famous Japanese specialists had visited Shotokan at some point. Shotokan was destroyed during the American bombing in 1944-1945 but was rebuilt after the war thanks to a huge solidarity chain created by Funakoshi’s students.

Most of the great Japanese masters of the post-war era went through Shotokan before they created their own styles.