Wrekin Shotokan Karate Club
Gichin Funakoshi
Masatoshi Nakayama
Hirokazu Kanazawa.
Modern Shotokan Karate.

Karate begins and ends with courtesy" - Gichin Funakoshi


Gichin Funakoshi, regarded as the father of modern karate, was born in Okinawa in 1868; he was premature, a sickly baby and a frail child, deemed not destined to a long life. Accordingly, it was suggested to overcome these handicaps he ought to begin the study of karate. This was banned at the time, so he began to study in secret. Karate had helped Funakoshi develop from a frail child to a healthy young man, and he had the good fortune to train under a number of excellent teachers throughout his youth. Also educated in the Confucian classics, he became a schoolteacher, going on to reject career progression in order to pursue his karate development.

Karate-Do. There are two different characters that are both pronounced kara; one means "empty", and the other is the Chinese character which may be translated as "Chinese". Te means "hand(s)". So Karate means "Chinese hand(s)" or "empty hand(s)". In the early 1920's the character for "Chinese" rather than "empty" was used, but the situation reversed over time with the adherence of Funakoshi to the character "empty". The "empty" symbolises the fact that this art of self defence makes use of no weapons, only bare feet and empty hands. So as karate became modern and Japanese "empty hands" became the accepted meaning. Do simply means "way".

Shotokan Karate. The original character for "Chinese" betrays the origins of Karate. For many centuries Okinawa engaged in trade with southern China, and it was probably from this source that Chinese kempo ("boxing") was introduced into the islands. In early times weapons were prohibited and so karate evolved and was practised clandestinely, which persisted right up until the early years of the 20th century. In 1921 the crown prince of Japan observed a demonstration of karate in Okinawa and was suitably impressed. In spring of 1922 a demonstration of Japanese martial arts was held in Tokyo and Funakoshi was asked to introduce karate to the Japanese capital. It was a great success and resulted in Funakoshi remaining in Japan to help introduce this Okinawan art to the mainland, and up until 1935 the art developed and grew. Then around 1935 a nationwide committee of karate supporters solicited enough funds to build the first karate dojo in Japan. In 1936 Funakoshi entered this new dojo, and saw over the door a signboard bearing the dojo's new name: Shoto-kan. They named the dojo after Funakoshi's pen name of Shoto which he used to sign the Chinese poems he used to write, kan is Japanese for house.

Funakoshi chose the pen name of Shoto, which in Japanese literally means "pine waves" because of his frequent walks along Mount Tarao, a local heavily wooded mountain. At such times when the sky was so clear that one stood under a canopy of stars, or when the moon was full, and if there happened to be a bit of wind, Funakoshi could hear the rustle of the pines and feel the deep, impenetrable mystery that lies at the root of all life. To Funakoshi the murmur was a kind of celestial music. To enjoy this solitude whilst listening to the wind whistle through the pines was to him an excellent way to achieve the peace of mind that karate demands. Shoto became a name that Funakoshi was known by to many, and his karate became classified as Shotokan Karate.

However, to Funakoshi the prevalence of divergent schools of karate was a serous problem, and he believed it would have a deleterious effect on the future development of the art. Funakoshi objected strongly to the classification of him and his colleagues as the Shoto-kan school, saying that there is no place in contemporary Karate-do for different schools. His belief was that all "schools" should be amalgamated into one so that Karate-Do may pursue an orderly and useful progress into man's future.

The Tiger. Hoan Kosugi, a well known painter of the time urged Funakoshi, who was his good freind, to write the first book on karate-do. Published by Bukyosha in 1922, the book was entitled Ryukyu Kempo:Karate. Many eminent people wrote brief forwards to the book and the design on the front cover was produced by Hoan Kosugi which was the well known shotokan tiger image. Called the Tora No Maki this symbol came to be the mark of Funakoshi and in turn came to symbolise Shotokan Karate.

The autobiography 'KARATE-DO My way of Life' by Gichin Funakoshi is recommended and is the source of this article.


Next and onto Masatoshi Nakayama


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