Portrait of Ginchin Funakushi – Karate Shotokan

Welcome to this first article of a series of blog posts about Karate Masters. Feel free to leave any comments. Also all suggestions about new portraits are more than welcome!

Full Transcript:

To search for the old is to understand the new.
The old, the new
This is a matter of time.
In all things man must have a clear mind.

The Way:
Who will pass it on straight and well?

Those are the words of a poet, philosopher and a great karate master: Ginchin Funakushi! Perhaps the most influential figure of modern Karate in Japan and the rest of the world.

Funakushi was born the 10th November of 1868  in Shuri, Okinawa. He dedicated his life to transforming Karate from a mere fighting technique to a philosophical martial do (way of life). Funakoshi’s nickname was ‘Shoto’, meaning “pine-waves” (the movement of pine needles when the wind blows through them), which he used in his poetic and philosophical writings and messages to his students. The Japanese kan (from Shotokan) means “house” or “hall”. In honor of their sensei, Funakoshi’s students created a sign reading shōtō-kan, which they placed above the entrance of the hall where Funakoshi taught.

Funakoshi built the first Shōtōkan dojo in Tokyo In 1936. He changed the name of karate to mean “empty hand” instead of “China hand” (as referred to in Okinawa); the two words sound the same in Japanese, but are written differently. It was his belief that using the term for “Chinese” would mislead people into thinking karate originated with Chinese boxing.

Funakoshi’s take on the use of kata was reported to have caused some recoil in Okinawa, prompting Funakoshi to remain in Tokyo indefinitely. His extended stay eventually led to the creation of the Japan Karate Association (JKA) in 1955 with Funakoshi as the chief instructor. He remained in Tokyo until his death in 1957.

Funakoshi published several books on karate including his autobiography, Karate-Do: My Way of Life. His legacy, however, rests in a document containing his philosophies of karate training now referred to as the niju kun, or “twenty principles”. These rules are the premise of training for all Shotokan practitioners and are published in a work titled The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate. Within this book, Funakoshi lays out 20 rules by which students of karate are urged to abide in an effort to “become better human beings”.

To dig deeper into this period of Karate I encourage you to read this article by Jesse Enkamp entitled “How Karate Got Its Name” (link here).