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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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Gichin Funakoshi Profile

The Name Funakoshi is one of the biggest, most influential and important names in the Martial Arts.

Karate however has existed in different forms, under different names, in different countries and cultures for hundreds of years. But when you think of the popularity of karate today and its world wide appeal there's one man that changed everything and made karate a household name in Japan. His name was Gichin Funakoshi.

Gichin Funakoshi, born on the 10th November 1868 in Shuri Okinawa, by his own recognition and comments in his autobiography 'Karate-Do My Way of Life' was a sickly child who suffered many childhood problems. With Samurai links and heritage surging in his blood however, it is little surprise he grew to love, practice and ultimately live the Martial Arts. 

Beginning training at eleven, and gaining a significant reputation amongst certain groups and styles in Okinawa, Funakoshi Sensei trainined hard. and quickly became the chairman of the Okinawa Martial Arts Society, as well as a teacher at the Okinawa Teacher’s School. At the mature age of 54, he bravely introduced Okinawan karate-jutsu at the first Ministry of Education. 

A further vital step in the popularization of karate was the demonstration of kata that Funakoshi did for founder of Modern judo Kano Jigoro upon his request. This was clearly the start of a major change in attitudes and a real interest in practicing karate in Japan. So what was Funakoshi to do? Leave Japan when Karate was at the brink of real popularity? This therefore meant he decided to stay in Japan, away from his wife and family who still resided in Okinawa.

Since he had decided to stay in Japan, he decided to start teaching it at Tokyo’s Meiseijuku, and it was at this important point in history that he published a book entitled “Ryukyu Kempo Karate.” , which research has found to be the first ever book on this subject in Japan. Further research has also suggested that the popilarity book of karate can be highly credited to this book. As already mention, Funakoshi sensei was published the very popular ‘Karate-Do, My Way Of Life’ which talks at great lengths about his instructors Master Itosu and Master Asato and several other teachers. He also published ‘Karate-Do Nuymon’ and ‘Karate-Do Kyohan’, which have hand many re-prints and are collected by most who study the art even today. 

As the the word karate gained more relevance in the vocabulary of the Japanese, Funakoshi Sensei preceeded to create the first ever “Dan Ranking Certification” in April, 1924, which in hindesight even today is one of the most influential steps for karate.

With increased influence of Zen in his Martial Arts life, Master Funakoshi further developed his understanding of the study, thinking about the concept ‘form is emptiness and emptiness is form.” He could see the relevance of that teaching to his martial art, and ultimately changed the characters for karate from kara + te (“Chinese” + “hand”) to kara + te (“empty” + “hand”).

To make karate, an Okinawan Art, more accessible to the Japanese, Funakoshi took further devlopment steps and renamed the kata which were, as research has suggested, from Chinese and Okinawan terminology. To continue this development he removed the word jutsu from karate-jutsu in 1929 and replaced it with -Do (Way). He was also responsibly for defining the famous Twenty Precepts of Karate, establishing a karate philosophy that we respect and understand today.

Karate was increasingly gaining impressive popularity across Japan, so much so that he established a dojo titled ‘Shotokan Dojo’, ‘Shoto’ being his famous pen name.

However, the air raides of the Second world war left the dojo in rubble. After the war however, the members re-joined.

1949 is a particularly important date as it was the year the Japan Karate Association was formed as an organisation, with Funakoshi Gichin as Supreme Master. 8 years later, in 1957, the JKA became a legal entity after receiving the formal recognition from Ministry of Education.

Sixteen days later, with his dream of karate's popularity realised, with Japan having its own official karate group, Funakoshi Sensei died at the age of 89.

This in itself was date of great change. Funakoshi Sensei however is responsible for taking Karate from the secret practices into the mainstream in Japan. He was obviously highly criticised for this, but because of his vision, millions of karateka practice karate today.