Gichin Funakoshi

Funakoshi (Tominakoshi) Gichin [1868-1957]; Great Japanese Karate master, founder (kaisyo) of the Shotokan Karate-do style, one of importers and developers of traditional Karate in Japan and the initiator of spreading the modern Karate worldwide. Funakoshi was one of the first masters, who confirmed the new approach system of Karate proclaiming the dominance of the "Do" spiritual origin in the martial arts practice. He is credited for several publications describing the secret art of Karate. Strenghtheing the connection between Karate teaching, character development and development of modern teaching methods, sensei Gichin Funakoshi fostered in the transformation of Karate from a mere fighting system into the most massive form of Japanese martial arts.

Gichin Funakoshi was born in 1868 in the city of Shuri in Okinawa at the beginning of the Meiji era (1868-1912), which foreclosed many social and cultural changes in Japan, including Okinawa, by that opening new perspectives for the development of the country in modern world. At that time three directions of Karate were formed known as Naha-te, Shuri-te and Tomari-te. Funakoshi started learning the Shuri-te style at the age of 11 under the guidance of prominent masters Yasuzato Azato and Yasutsune Itosu. Gichin Funakoshi's story is very similar to other great martial arts masters' stories; he started practicing as a weak, sick boy. Dr. Tokashiki prescribed herbal treatment to strengthen his health, and soon after due to the lessons by Azato and Itosu, Funakoshi gained health and strength.


The legaisation of Karate started during the first half of the XIX century. Karate practices during first years of Meiji era were still held in secret conditions, but afterwards that was going to be changed as well. Establishing general military service requirement, the government started paying attention at students' physical development in secondary school. Medical studies conducted in mid-90s discovered significant strength and endurance in a large group of teenagers, who have practiced Karate from childhood. Shintaro Ogawa, special authorised representative of Okinawan public schools in the beginning of the XX century, in his reports stubbornly recommended the Ministry of Education of Japan to include Karate in the physical development educational program of junior and secondary schools, as well as public pedagogical colleges of the Okinawan prefecture. This recommendation is being approved, and starting from 1902 the programin Okinawa enters into force. At the same time the army and naval command, generalising Japanese-Chinese war experience, adopted the usefulness of Kenpo for the preparation of staff.


Later in 1912 the first royal fleet visited Okinawa under the command of admiral Deua. They were the first representatives of the Japanese army military command, who took information to Japan about 'new' martial arts. It wasn't long until large and influential parts of society noticed Karate and its merits. It was time when Karate transformed from its internal, secret and lethal past into the stage of massive interest and service to the society. A green path was opened for Karate. In 1916 Gichin Funakoshi received an invitation to demonstrate his art in Butoku-den (Palace of knighthood courage and martial bravery). This was the master's first and quite successful demonstration in Japan, which took place in 1917. Funakoshi, being a high-level teacher, was able to convey concepts in a brief and systemised manner. He organised the teaching of Karate through three main groups: Kihon, Kata and Kumite. Until XX century the word 'Karate' in Okinawa was written in two hieroglyphs; 'Kara' literally means 'China during the Tang dynasty' but sometimes it was used in a broad meaning to convey the meaning of 'Great China', and 'Te' meaning 'hand'. In 1933 Funakoshi changed the meaning of the 'kara' hieroglyph, which has the meaning of 'empty' or 'emptiness', as well as 'sky'. The art of the "Chinese Hand" with the new definition turned into the art of "The Empty Hand". The 'Kara', "Empy', 'Sky' hieroglyph was first proposed in 1905 by Chomo Hanashiro.


In his book "Precepts about Karate" ("Karate-Do Kyohan") Gichin Funakoshi writes: "According to tradition I also have used in the past the 'Kara', 'China' hieroglyph. However, since people confuse Karate with Chinese Kenpo, in spite of many complaints, we refused from the old hieroglyph and replaced it with the meaning of 'emptiness'. Explaining the meaning of the new 'Kara' hieroglyph, Funakoshi mesnt emptiness as in the purity of intentions, unselfishness, being cleansed of negative ambitions; traits need for spiritual development. Just as mirroring surface reflects everything, just as in a peaceful valley even the smallest sounds are heard, so must the Karate practitioner extract from him/herself selfishness and malice, trying to properly react to all that can happen unexpected. That is 'Kara' or the emptiness of Karate-Do. True Karate-Do is in everyday life. zthe body and the consciousness must develop and perfect in a humane spirit. A person must always be righteous.


Funakoshi described the new meaning of Karate this way: " Karate is not only gaining of certain self-defense skills, but also mastering of the art of becoming a worthy and honest member of society". Development of the character thus was also put into focus. This approach system is accurately reflected in Funakoshi's precept: "Karate starts with respect and ends with respect". In 1935 Funakoshi replaced the 'Jutsu' hieroglyph with the 'Do' hieroglypth. In 1936 the conference of Okinawan masters confirmed the new approach system of Karate proclaiming the dominance of the "Do" spiritual origin in the martial arts practice and symbolising the process of self-perfection. It is being realised by following moral principles and acquiring knowledge, which suggests combination of humanitarian feelings (nindzio), honour (giri), accented sense of debt, aspiration for  harmony by aknowledging the laws of nature and by merging into it, as well as comprehension of mastery in accordance with these laws.


Gichin Funakoshi dies in the April of 1957, aged 88 and leaving great legacy in the development of the art of Karate.

(+374 91)  36 43 39 | info@karatearmenia.org

© 2019 Հայաստանի ավանդական Շոտոկան Կարատե-դո

© 2019 Traditional Shotokan Karate-Do of Armenia

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